Novel Updates – II

Yes, there was a Novel Update – I and it came out in February. You can read it here – https://mashedmusings.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/novel-updates/

My life has always followed a pattern. Every fabulous news is accompanied by a disaster. It is God’s way of telling me that I cannot have it all, that he will never ever let me have a perfect day. For example, if I have decided to take a week-long holiday two months later, there will be a sudden avalanche of work two days before I go on that holiday. It will be God’s way to squeeze out every ounce of pre-holiday happiness out of me. I am sure this happens with everyone but every fucking time?

So, last Friday (two days before Diwali), I was gung-ho about spending the weekend with my family. It was also Anika’s first Diwali. Now add to it the fact that a few days back, I was shocked to see a letter from a publishing house in my inbox stating that they would like to publish my novel. I was eagerly waiting for the agreement letter from the publishing house before they could change their mind. Diwali and an agreement with a Publishing house – now this was too perfect to be true. “Hmmm, let’s do something about it,” God said.

Now my office has an air conditioning system that no own knows how to operate. It stays at 21 degrees and there is no power that can budge it from there. We phone and phone the guys at the facility and they promise to save us from dying. To fulfil their promise, one of them appears with a futuristic machine in his hand to check the temperature (as if we were lying) and once he is satisfied that it is actually freezing, he unsuccessfully tries to increase the temperature.

It so happened on Friday that my wife called me to tell me that the agreement has arrived. I told her amidst chattering teeth that it was a great news and I was not feeling well because of the cold. By the time I reached home, I was coughing and sneezing to glory and had a look at the agreement with watery eyes. Some harsh medicines and a wasted Diwali later, I signed the agreement and sent it over.

You might call me a pessimist. You might say that getting a novel published should have overshadowed everything in my mind. And you are correct. It was just a bloody cold. I just wish that things would have been perfect. I am tired of paying a price for my happiness. Believe me, it is irritating when you have done this throughout your life. Sometimes I am scared of an impending happiness thinking of the baggage with which it will come.

Anyway. Let me stop being a blithering idiot and share my happiness with the readers of this blog. Most of you have already congratulated me on Facebook but those of you who haven’t and those of you who would like to repeat the act, please feel free to use the comment box.

Let me end by saying that all of you have given me courage. I would not have gathered the confidence to write a book if all of you would not have encouraged this blog. I hope my book(s!!!) live up to your expectations and I am able to entertain you. I will keep you updated with the proceedings. Hopefully the book will be out next year. Thank you everyone and I will need your support in this new adventure, to make it perfect despite you-know-who’s alternate plans.

p.s. It gives me joy that I will change my blog header very soon. I am going to strike off that ‘trying to be’.

20130203-123404.jpg

An Unusual Arrangement

Today I am hosting KayEm who blogs at Never Mind Yaar. She is also the author of the novel ‘Never Mind Yaar’ that was recently published in India. I have been following her blog from some time now and she always come across as a very level-headed person who is passionate about changing the world to become a better place. Her posts like Does Multiculturalism breed IntoleranceOne of the Greatest Strengths of Social MediaFootpath Vendors and Rape – Where’s the Connection? were insightful. She also writes short stories and collaborated with Abhy (A cartoonist) to create a unique way of telling one of her story – Babhuti, the Barber. You can also read about her journey and experiences of writing her first novel here

Over to KayEm

Charlie, Sammy and doggy 3

Photo provided by KayEm. Samson is on the right

Mummy Diaries! We named him Samson because he was puny and had the softest of curls. He grew. His curls became stubborn and tight. They were – still are – a nightmare to brush. But when they are and when he’s asleep he looks angelic. 

Sammy is the friendliest of dogs. With his owners. He slobbers all over us. He brings his little toys and invites us to play. He looks at us quizzically when he’s trying to understand the sudden sweep of an arm, an accusing index finger pointing at him and the loud, wailing sounds like no-ooooo barking or go-ooooo away that humans emit from time to time. He sleeps by 8 pm, waking up constantly to follow us around, distinctly droopy, from room to room. But let a stranger pass our fence or come to our door and it changes him completely. He turns into a wild, untamed beast. He barks like barking were going out of fashion. He dodges the owners to reach the door first and usually succeeds. He is impossible to rein in. We’ve tried many things including a dog training school. He holds the equivalent of a PhD but as soon as we have strangers at our door our learned friend forgets all his weighty dissertations. 

That’s where Steve comes into the picture. Steve is our house-sitter. Whenever we go out of town he stays at our house, making it look lived in and taking care of the dogs.

Early this month we decided to meet up with our other kids – the human kind, and asked Steve if he was free to house sit for us for a few days. To our luck he was. Steve had met Kara before but it was his first time with Sammy. We told him how unfriendly Sammy was with strangers but it didn’t seem to worry him. His girlfriend, wanting to reassure us, said that even the growliest of dogs soon became his doting shadow. I smiled weakly, sure Sammy would prove to be the one exception.

Sammy didn’t take to Steve. Our hearts sank. We’d booked our tickets and couldn’t change our plans at the eleventh hour. I felt nervous. Steve seemed confident and relaxed. He had two dogs of his own and took them for an hour’s walk down by the riverside every day. Perhaps Sammy would enjoy that and the company of other dogs. With fingers crossed we handed our dogs and house keys over to Steve and left.   

[We had a super time with the kids. Much refreshed and reassured to see them reasonably happy with life, we returned home to our canine family.]

I’d been worried for Steve and Sammy. At the same time an idea had begun forming in my mind. I desperately wanted Sammy to be friendly with humans. I believed it would enhance the quality of his life – he could be free of his leash when I took him walking, for example. He walked off the leash only with Steve and my husband.

When Steve came by to drop off our keys the next day, Sammy barked like crazy. Oh no. Was it back to square one? Steve tried to give him a little pat but Sammy backed away, still barking. “Forgotten me already?” said a disappointed Steve. And then it happened. Once he was in the house and sitting down, Sammy jumped on to his lap and gave him an affectionate nudge. Oh joy! Both Steve and I felt relieved – he, for having proved Sammy had taken to him and I, for realising there still was hope.

It was now or never. Wondering if it was quite the wrong thing to ask and aware that no one might have put such a proposition to him, I asked Steve if he’d continue walking Sammy along with his own dogs for a couple of months. In exchange I’d cook him and his partner a dish, daily. A desperate situation calls for desperate measures. I waited. At worst, he’d say no.

From the way his eyes lit up at the suggestion I think he liked the idea. What a relief. 

Today was the first day of this unusual arrangement. Sammy came back excited and happy. Steve said he got along famously with his own dog, Charlie. The most telling proof – when it was time for Steve to leave, Sammy didn’t bark. I am beginning to think this just might work.

 

A failed suicide attempt

Suicide

I held the blade close to my wrist. Its cold, sharp edge ready to slice my skin and spill my blood. It reminded me of cold winters. I tried hard to slash it, to end everything. My hands did not tremble but that was not courage. Courage is much more than that.

I do not remember my parents forcing me to become a doctor or an engineer. Maybe they were confidant that I will choose either of the professions eventually because I topped every year in my school. I, on the other hand had pretty much no idea. It is sad that we are asked to make important decisions of life at such a young age, when we do not know our mind and the implications of our decisions. That is why it is so easy to mold a person into thinking that what the rest of the herd is doing is best for him too. I did not prepare for the IIT entrance exam with much zeal and failed. My parents, teachers and friends felt bad. They always thought that I was destined for bigger things, like I was supposed to be the Prime Minister. 

During my stint in Delhi University, I saw everyone prepare for the GATE exams conducted by IIT. Yes, the mammoth was again in front of me and I was supposed to tame and ride it. Everyone in the college believed that our best shot at a decent job was to somehow get into an engineering stream, otherwise you would end up being a PhD student which a lot of us abhorred. My parents were silently observing my moves. They had too much faith in me. And so I started preparing for the GATE exam.

I gave it a year and put my heart and soul in it. I would study for hours and lose track of time. I would study travelling in the bus to college. I would study late at night till I would realize with a start that I was drowning the book in my drool. I believed that there was no college mate of mine who was putting in so much hard work as I was. I found out later that everyone had the same notion about themselves.

I took my entrance exam with half of India. Thousands of us were fighting for a few hundred seats. When you see such a rush of students who sit with you and solve those questions, you are always hit by a wave of doubt. Maybe you should have prepared more. Maybe you should have prayed harder so that God would have sneaked in an extra one hour in your daily routine.

I was at a friend’s home when the results were announced. Both of us immediately went to an Internet cafe near her house and checked the results. My name was not there. I checked again and again. Maybe there was a mistake. My friend looked at me with pity and rubbed my shoulder. I checked the result for another friend who I believed had studied very little. He was selected. I got up from the seat and told my friend that I was leaving for home. She ran after me and called my name but I was not listening. I kept walking towards the bus stop. I felt desperately lost. It was as if my life had come to a grinding halt.

On my journey home, I thought about various ways to commit suicide. I thought of jumping off the terrace but I knew I would never be able to do that because of my fear of heights. Drinking poison was also out of the question because that might turn extremely painful. Finally I came up with slashing my wrist at night when everyone was asleep. I thought that I would bleed to death by morning and no one will know.

When I reached home, I did not disclose the result to my parents. After dinner, I sneaked into my parent’s room and took out a blade from dad’s shaving kit. That night, when everyone was asleep, I held the blade in my hand and tried to cut my wrist. I tried for almost the whole night, building up courage again and again and then failing like a coward. I imagined the scene in the morning. I imagined my mother crying after seeing my corpse and the bedsheet stained with my blood. I imagined my father and sister going in an uncontrollable grief. I imagined their world crumbling to pieces. I imagined their life ahead.

I was not able to slash my wrist that night. I was awake when the sun arrived, when the birds started their morning rituals, when people started coming out of their homes for a morning walk. Then I got up and kept the blade back in my father’s shaving kit. It was not worth it. My death would not have been an isolated incident. My family would have died with me.

It has been 10 years since that incident. Now when I look back, I understand what a fool I was. I was about to kill myself because I did not pass an entrance exam. Had I done that, I would have missed everything that happened in my beautiful life in the past ten years. The bonds of friendship that I created during my stay in Kurukshetra (where I did my M.Tech and finally became an engineer) would not have existed. All those amazing memories of the time I spent in Bhubaneshwar and Chennai would not have existed. I would not have visited Kodaikanal, Rameshwaram, Munnar, Pondicherry, Konark, Agra, Amritsar, Goa, Manchester, Paris, London, Scotland and Switzerland. I would have never seen snow falling like soft cotton from the sky. I would have never got married and fallen in love (yes, it happened the other way round). My daughter would not have existed. I would never have seen those tears in the eyes of my parents when they held my daughter in their hands for the first time. 

When I think of all the beautiful memories of the past ten years, I shudder to think of the consequences if I would have slashed my wrist that night. And then I burst with happiness that I didn’t. I have realized that our life is too important to lose it over such minuscule hiccups. It is more grand than any of us can imagine. It has so many unknown twists and turns that it can leave us breathless.

Trauma hits everyone of us and we do certain things in the heat of the moment that we later repent. For better sense to prevail, it is a good strategy to allow things to cool down. Maybe I would not have taken the drastic step if I would have thought about it for a day or two.

Nearly a million people commit suicide every year. They leave behind a trail of destroyed families who might never recover from the shock. I wish everyone is as coward as I was that night. They would then know that Forrest Gump’s mother was right. Life is indeed like a box of chocolates.

ssp (1)

[image from here]

Related reads – Suicide Warning Signs, Suicide Awareness Day

Blogging For Suicide Prevention Badge

USC’s MSW Programs Blog Day.

Message in a Pen – III

fork-in-path

Read part 1 & 2 of the story here –

Message in a Pen – I

Message in a Pen – II

Neelam came to take the exam. She was flanked by two burly cousins who did not allow any male to come near her. She had a chat with Ruchi, Sneha, Amrita and Kiran for a few moments. The girls were left shaken. Neelam’s left eye was surrounded by a black patch. There was an ugly red bump on her forehead and her lower lip was swollen. She was walking with difficulty. She took the exam and went quietly back to her home in the car. No one saw her slip a pen in Ruchi’s hands which she later gave to Saahil.

The five of us gathered in Saahil’s room as soon as we reached the hostel. He opened the pen and a paper protruded out of it. There was no refill inside it. The paper was folded multiple times and pushed in the base. Saahil pulled it out and opened it. It was a message from Neelam. He read it and passed it over to us. 

Saahil,

I might not be able to write again. They have locked me up in a room. Dad beats me up everyday. I don’t feel the pain anymore. My left hand is numb. He twisted it too much.

My love, I have agreed to marry someone else. Dad says that if we try to elope, he will dig us out and hack you to pieces in front of me. He can do that Saahil. I am not able to sleep at nights.

Sweetheart,

I want you to go and find happiness without me. Our friends were right but we were hopelessly in love. I will never regret loving you but I cannot bear the thought of seeing your dead body. I will live happily knowing that you are alive somewhere.

I know what I am asking will be unacceptable to you but time will heal everything Saahil. You will fall in love again. And me. Don’t think of me as heartless. I have to think of happiness so that I don’t go mad in these walls.

Give my love to the gang.

Neelam 

                                                *           *           * 

“You think I chickened out that day, don’t you? The day the message came in the pen?” Saahil asked.

“No, I don’t. This is not a movie,” I said. The breeze was still playing with the swings.

“You think ours was not a true love?”

I remained silent.

“I loved Neelam. The day I saw her during the exams, I was furious. I wanted to go and kill her dad. How could he do this to his own daughter? And what would it have solved?”

“It’s just that I think you and Neelam gave up too easily. It’s like…”

“It’s like Neelam and I am glad that we parted, that I do not live with a sad expression on my face, that I do not always remember my past, that I do not  make my wife realize that there was someone else in my life earlier and was snatched away from me,” Saahil completed it for me.

“I am sorry but yes, that is what comes to my mind. It is as if both of you were relieved that you got rid of each other.”

“No. We were not. You saw how I barely passed the exams, how I used to sit in the hostel room and cry all day.  You were there. Do you expect me to do that all my life? Our happiness is not confined to one person. I had to dig out my happiness again after she was gone. I had to because I was going nuts. And now I should feel bad that I tried to find love again and succeeded?”

On an impulse I looked towards my left and saw Kirti standing at the door of the house and looking at us. She was far away and could not hear us but her expression said it all. She then smiled and went inside.

“Did you talk to the others about it?”

“Of course I did. I wanted to talk to you too but you were so unapproachable. You had drawn walls around yourself. We barely talked in the last three years. Thank God you are back.”

“I was completely shaken up by the incident. I always thought our country was progressing.”

“Outsourced jobs, more money and shiny cars cannot change the mindset,” Saahil said.

“I guess you are right. I am sorry for everything. I should have talked to you earlier. I don’t know what I was thinking,” I said after sitting silently for a dozen heartbeats.

“I cannot live my life starting every thought with a what-if. I had to forget Neelam to live. That does not mean that I did not love her and that does not mean that I love Kirti less.”

I nodded and looked up at his face. Both of us smiled and then stood up and hugged.

“Welcome back,” Saahil said. 

As we moved towards the house, I slowed my steps so that Saahil got a bit ahead of me. I took out a folded piece of paper from my pocket and tore it in two. I then crumpled it and threw it away. The wind took the pieces towards the swings. There was no need for me to preserve Neelam’s message anymore. It was time to move ahead.

“All ok?” Rajat asked as we entered.

“All ok,” I said.  

Saahil went and sat with Kirti and put his arm around her as she placed her head on his shoulder. 

                                                *           *           * 

The train entered the tunnel and a cool breeze brushed my face as I mulled over what had happened today. It came to me that the way we look at it, our definition of love is quite monochromatic. But when you go through the layers of your life, you begin to realize that our understanding of love is very similar to our understanding of the universe. Unimaginable dimensions of it will always remain unexplored and so our characterization of love will always remain elementary. It is not just the warmth that spreads through our heart; it is not just the pain that obliterate our soul. We discover it when we are not searching for it; we find it in remote inaccessible corners of our heart, when the light of hope has almost diminished, when we believe that our soul is too ravaged to mend by its touch, when we are sure that we are done with it.

[image from here]

Message in a Pen – II

angst-of-existence

Read Part 1 of the story here – Message in a Pen – I

The gang of ten was now two concentric circles – eight of us as a surreptitious circumference around Saahil and Neelam.  We savoured their melting. We were elated when their meetings multiplied, when their eyes oozed their enviable blissful future. I kept raising doubts at intervals in various octaves, sometimes guilty of vehemence because I was scared for them. Neelam and Saahil would then sit with me and pacify me. They were devastatingly optimistic. It almost broke my heart but I always smiled in the end. Sometimes the gang agreed with me that the gap between their communities was too wide to be filled up in our lifetime. Honour killing was still a rampant reality. But Saahil and Neelam were sanguine, with a thick veil of love settled on their existence. 

“If the need arise, will you contemplate running away?” I asked both of them once over a cup of coffee in the canteen. It was just the three of us.

“We haven’t thought about it but we might,” Neelam said.

“You haven’t thought about it or you are scared to think about it? Do you realize what will happen to Saahil’s family after both of you elope?” I asked. Both of them looked at each other.

Saahil had discussed the relationship with his family and his parents had no problems with the match but they made it very clear that their family getting insulted will never be a part and parcel of the deal. If Saahil had to elope or marry secretly, then he was on his own. 

The couple persisted. The courtship was now about to complete a year. It was the first time that I had seen a woman blush a beetroot red at the sight of a man. The smile won’t leave their faces as their fingers found each other’s hands. Their eyes gleamed with dreams of their future together.  

                                                *           *           * 

The lunch was eventful. The five of us talked about various lecturers and professors who taught us during the one and a half years we studied together. There were too many people we had mimicked and made fun of during that time. We lived it again, choking on our food as we laughed. Arnav clapped his hands while Kirti moved her head from one side to another and smiled. Our past danced around the dining table but the girls were not in it. It was a tacit decision to erase them. I had no idea how much Kirti knew and so I went with the flow.

I loosened up a bit by the time we finished eating. We clicked a few pictures. One of them had Rajat and Saahil sitting in front while I, Gaurav and Sumit stood behind them. It was exactly like a photograph clicked during our college farewell. The faces were not the same. Mouldings were seeping into our pictures with time.

“Arnav needs to sleep. I am going in the bedroom for a while,” Kirti said to Saahil and went inside.

“Come,” Saahil said as he held my hand and asked me to get up.

“Where are you guys going?” Rajat asked in alarm.

“We are taking a stroll in the park. The three of you can take a nap,” Saahil said.

I got up and went out of the house with Saahil as Rajat, Sumit and Gaurav gave difficult-to-comprehend expressions. 

                                                *           *           *

We had a preparatory break twenty days before our final examinations. Most of us stayed in the hostel because they were our last few days together. Neelam went home as Saahil would not let her study. She talked to him in the evening after reaching home and that was the last time any of us got a phone call from her.  

No one had any idea what had happened for almost four days when a call came on Saahil’s phone one evening. The five of us were in his room discussing what to do next when the phone rang. It was Neelam’s father on the other side. He was shouting so piercingly that all of us could plainly hear his words. Saahil tried to reason with him but his reasons were not working against death threats. Fifteen minutes and an avalanche of swearwords later, the phone was abruptly disconnected. We sat in stunned silence. It was a perfect I-told-you-so moment but I kept my mouth shut. Saahil was blinking away tears.

“I have to go home and talk to my parents,” he said as he suddenly got up and started packing.

“Tomorrow,” Gaurav said.

“No, I have to go now.”

“I said tomorrow Saahil! You are in no position to ride a bike on the highway,” Gaurav said.

Saahil threw his bag violently on the floor. The clothes tumbled out of the bag. I got up to pick them up and kept them back in the bag.

He went home the next day to convince his parents to talk to Neelam’s family. They were very clear that Neelam’s family has to spit out the anger and talk to them in a civilized manner. Saahil called up Neelam’s father to convince him for a meeting. He was told that the next time he calls, his family will not find a single piece of his body.

“Please tell me if she is alive,” he pleaded. The line went dead.

I kept calling Saahil that day but he did not pick up his mobile. Optimism was now an unrecognizable corpse buried deep within the soil of practicalities; the practicalities of staying alive. I had never thought that I would wait for Saahil in our hostel room with my heart ramming into my ribcage with a deafening ferocity. I imagined reporting him missing to the police and then identifying his body. I imagined Neelam hanging from a ceiling fan, her battered body swinging slowly. Love had turned into a blinding pain from being blind.

Saahil came to hostel the next day. His face was different now. He had woken up from the dream. 

                                                *           *           * 

We sat on a bench in the park. The weather was agreeable.

“Neelam is in America with her husband. They went to Egypt on a holiday. She loved the Pyramids,” Saahil said. I stared at his face for a while.

“Are you in..”

“No. Rajat told me. He got an e-mail from her one day. Now she writes to him sometimes to let us know that she is happy.”

“What about you?”

“What do you think?”

I silently stared at the swings moving slowly with the winds.

“You really don’t get it, do you? You saw what I went through, what Neelam went through. You saw her when she came to write her exams. After going through all that turmoil when I had no intentions of staying alive, here I am sitting with you. I am married and I have a kid. Would I be able to lead my life like this if I still loved Neelam?”

“But how can you fall out of love with a person like this Saahil? You were crazy about each other.”

“I am in love with Kirti and Arnav. Right now that is all that matters. Our life is not as one dimensional as it seems. The seasons change for a reason my friend. The pendulum swings without rest. The first few months were difficult, when she was forcefully married but there was nothing I could do. Her house had turned into a fort. I tried reaching her. You had left for Chennai. Rajat, Sumit and Gaurav were there but I knew that I had to come out of it or I would have gone crazy. Even then, when Kirti was refereed for an arranged match, I said no initially.”

“I know.”

“I told her about Neelam the first time we met. She was very understanding. She told me that she liked me but I cannot enter her life with the burden I was carrying. We started talking and said yes a month later. Neelam was already in America by then.”

“And now?”

“I am madly in love with Kirti. Don’t you see? She healed me. I was never so much in peace with my life as I am now. When I see Arnav’s face, I don’t remember any sadness that existed in my life. It was always about Kirti and me. This is where the path was destined to lead me.”

“I am happy for you,” I said as I caressed a piece of paper in my pocket. 

to be continued…

[image from here]

Message in a Pen – I

meetingBased on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the identity. This is a 3 part series. 

I stared at the flaps as they extended. A few moments later the wheels were kissing the airstrip amidst roaring air. It was a strange feeling. The city felt alien and that too in just three years. My parents were waiting outside the airport, scanning strange faces for a glimpse of familiarity.

“You are dark,” mother said the moment she filled her hands with my face.

“Don’t worry, winter is almost here,” father said and smiled. I smiled back. 

Even if you have lived in a city for years, there is something inexplicably uncomfortable when you see it after a gap. The sunlight feels different. The air smells strange. New bridges and buildings have sprouted. There are monstrous pillars on road-dividers with trains snaking on them. Faces are buried in more lines. 

Rajat called in the evening. The cheerful baboon wanted the gang to meet even before I had unpacked my bags.

“Where shall we meet?” I asked.

“Saahil’s place. Tomorrow,” he said. 

The four of them have been meeting regularly. I was the outcast, thrown away by destiny. I had been to Delhi twice in the last three years but the trips were fleeting, not stretching for more than four days. I haven’t seen any of them. Saahil was married now – the only married man of our gang. Who would have thought? 

I was late. I bought a box of chocolates and a kilo of apples. Kirti opened the door. I had never met her before. There was a one year old in her hands who was playing with her gold chain.

“He is here,” she turned around and shouted at the living room.  

There was a sudden roar from the sofa and a crowd of faces filled my eyes. The moment was surreal. Rajat, Gaurav, Sumit and Saahil encircled me like an eight armed octopus, the way they had done three years ago on our last night in the hostel. I was engulfed in sounds of laughter, questions and recollections of the better days my complexion has seen.

“Chennai does that to you,” Gaurav said.

“I will be ok in a few weeks. It doesn’t matter,” I said.

“Really?” Gaurav asked raising an eyebrow.

“It’s just skin.”

“How is the job?” Sumit asked.

“I pay my bills regularly,” I said and smiled.

“We missed you. Every time we met, we always wondered if the five of us will ever be together some day,” Rajat said.

“At least all of you met. All I did was sulk.” 

I tried not to look at Saahil and he noticed the gesture. My face was brimming with questions. It would have been an embarrassment. He was holding his son as Kirti had sprinted towards the kitchen after greeting me.

“I am still angry with you for missing my marriage,” he finally said as Kirti appeared with a cup of tea and some biscuits.

“I know,” I said staring at the tea. 

There wasn’t any reason to be cross with Saahil but I was. I could not explain it to myself. It was immature. He made a choice and he was blissful but then how could he just whisk away all that had happened? I wanted a moment with him to give my mind some rest. 

“Is anyone in contact with the girls?” I asked. Chatter fell off the air and everyone looked up at me. The question was a mistake.                                               

*           *           *

Kurukshetra was a scary place. The fact that I had to travel through unknown villages and towns of Haryana in a roadways bus to reach my college made it scarier. I had never lived alone in a hostel and my parents were failing miserably to put a brave front. My mother behaved as if I was a soldier going to war. Dad tried to be emotionless and strong. The college was three hours from Delhi and I promised to be back every weekend with loads of opportunities to use the washing machine.

Dad went with me to the hostel and helped me clean the room. Thankfully I did not have to share it with anyone. He gifted me a Nokia mobile so that I can call them in case someone was trying a sword on me. Certain narrow-minded communities in Haryana were famous for their flair for weapons. Dad stayed for the night in a hotel in case he had to take my body back. He was relieved to see me alive the next day and bid me farewell. Suddenly the fact that I was all alone in a town in Haryana manifested itself in all its glory and I went weak in my knees.

I met Rajat, Saahil, Gaurav and Sumit in the hostel. I clung to them as I found them surprisingly calm. I was later told that this was not their first time in a hostel. Saahil and Rajat were from Sonepat which was another small town in Haryana. We were ragged incessantly by our seniors but the versions were mild as we were post-graduate students.

Classes commenced and I met inhabitants of the girl’s hostel. There were five of them – Neelam, Ruchi, Sneha, Amrita and Kiran. The fact that the ten of us were away from our families brought us closer. Also, there was a hope that five love stories might blossom in the process. It was too much of a coincidence that the gender equations were so levelled out. Our dreams were shattered a few weeks and a few unsuccessful wooing attempts later when Ruchi and Sneha confided that they already had boyfriends while Amrita and Kiran were too scared of their families to even think about it. Neelam gave a mysterious smile and did not disclose anything. Their heartbreaking revelations were made during a game of truth-or-dare in the ruins of Sheikh Chilli’s tomb, a Mughal monument in Kurukshetra. By the time we reached hostel that evening, Saahil was having great difficulty in breathing.

“Neelam is not engaged to anyone!” he screamed with joy the moment the five of us were alone in his room.

“Yes, we noticed that and also the drool from your mouth reaching your foot,” I said.

“I am going to propose to her tomorrow,” Saahil said.

“What!” the four of us shouted. The windowpane vibrated.

“What is wrong in that?” Saahil asked innocently.

“What is right in that? She belongs to a Jat family from Haryana. They are influential businessmen,” I said.

“So?” Saahil said.

“If you want it so bluntly loverboy, then here goes. You belong to a Scheduled Caste community. If her family comes to know of your affair, your family will end up collecting pieces of your body from farms all over Haryana,” I said.

Rajat, Gaurav and Sumit nodded. There was silence while the news sank in.

“I think I love her,” Saahil said.

“Oh for God’s sake!” I got up and threw my hands in the air.

“They can always talk to the parents. They might agree,” Sumit said nervously, with an unconvincing tone.

“Don’t encourage him! He will die!” I shouted and stormed out of the room. 

*           *           *

“Lunch is almost ready,” Kirti said from the kitchen. She and Saahil were making the chapattis. Rajat, Gaurav and Sumit were cutting salad while I was playing with Arnav, Saahil’s son. Arnav held my finger firmly in his hand and was staring at me as if trying to place me from his previous birth’s memories. It is said that children remember their previous birth till they begin to speak. I looked at Arnav’s face and wondered if that was true. And then I wondered how his face would have turned up had Saahil married Neelam. I suddenly felt ashamed.

“There was no need to ask about the girls,” Gaurav whispered.

“I am sorry,” I said.

“As you know Ruchi and Sneha are married to their respective boyfriends and happily settled in Bangalore. Amrita is divorced as her parents married her to a jerk and Kiran is in Sonipat, married to a businessman,” Rajat said.

“Amrita is divorced? When did that happen?” I asked a bit taken aback.

“Two months back. She is in Gurgaon working in an MNC,” Rajat said.

“And…,” I said.

“And nothing,” Sumit said pointing to the entrance to the dining area where Kirti has appeared with the cutlery.

“Why are you so glum? What has happened to you?” Gaurav asked.

“I don’t know. All of you have moved on but for me our life together is frozen in that hostel. I can’t time travel,” I said.

“Pretend to be normal. Ok?” Sumit said. I nodded. Rajat wiped tears from his eyes. He was slicing onions.

Read part 2 here    

[image from here]                        

Report Card of my Mistress

To tell you the truth, I was not expecting a readership when I came back after 2 years of blogging break. I bet a lot of you don’t know that this blog was dormant from Jan 2009 to Oct 2011. I wanted to finish my novel before it poisoned my brain. I had to throw the story out of my system. Yes, it is done and lying on its ass in my laptop since a month awaiting another important decision of my life. In layman’s terms, it is in queue. I have gone through the story so many times that it seems that all that exercise of throwing it out of my system was in vain. It is flowing in my blood now.

Anyways, another thing that happened in those two years of sabbatical was that I met Geet and we got married. We did it the old-fashioned way by not even meeting up before we said yes. Wait! Don’t faint. We had a webcam chat or two and a month of telephonic conversation. It feels surreal now that I write it. What if she had 4 legs? You surely can hide that in a webcam chat. And no it wasn’t a sex chat. So, we got married and moved to Manchester for a year and explored each other (Ahem!) and the beautiful Britain. I spent all my savings and we went to France and Switzerland and bought coats worth 10000 Rs. In short, we lived that year in a very expensive Yash Chopra movie.

While all this was happening, my blog was always calling me back. It was like a wailing, abandoned child whom I have left behind and felt guilty about it. So, when I returned back to India, dust, honks and heaps of people (read Delhi) in 2011, I thought of picking up the child again. It wasn’t easy. The readership was almost gone. My blogging friends of old had almost vanished. But once I started writing in Dec 2011, the joy knew no comments. The dam was broken. I found all of you, one by one over the course of last one year. Some old friends returned and were happy to see me back. It was all exhilarating.

Geet was shocked. She hasn’t seen me giving attention to anyone except her and here I was juggling her with a blog, a novel and a movie novels and watching movies (corrected the sentence after readers thought I was writing a movie script! 😐 ). It took her some time to stop calling MashedMusings my mistress and absorb the juggler in me. I told her that it was like preparing Rice, Rajma, Paneer Makhni, Chapati and Dahi Bhalle all in one go – like I did for her on Karwachauth in 2 hours flat. I bought her a diamond to pacify her.

So, thank you everyone for reading this blog and appreciating what I write. It means a lot to me because I do not think very highly of myself (I keep telling Geet that she must have been really blind to marry me. I say dialogues like – ‘what were you bloody thinking?!?!’ while she gives me a really scratch-head-confusing smile). So, all this appreciation is very humbling.

Now you must be wondering why I am in a self-critical mode today? Well, I accidentally read my Yearly Report Card on WordPress today and felt good and thought of thanking everyone which now that I read it, is more of a blabbering.

Cheers!

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Guest Post on Rachna’s Blog – The Invisible Wheelchair

When Rachna asked me to write a Guest Post on her blog, I went weak in the knees. She is one of the Legends of the Blogging world and the cold sweat was understandable. When I finally sent the mail to her, I almost chewed all my nails in anticipation of her reply and was deflated like a balloon when she replied that she liked the post.

I was very sure that I did not want to write something with my usual funny streak. I wanted to write from a very important experience from my own life. Something that has stayed with me for so long. I wanted to write about Rajeev and the important part he played in turning me the way I am.

And thus emerged this post – The Invisible Wheelchair

Do take out time to read the post. I hope you will like it.

Say this hypo, mean that crisy

1 ## He drives really well.

He breaks every traffic rule, drives as if his car is a batpod, is traffic signal blind, experience orgasms by honking, derives sadistic pleasure by making people run in front of his car.

2 ## She is a homely girl

She knows how to knead dough, doesn’t talk to strange boys, loves to cry while cutting onions, worships Balaji Telefilms, comes with a remote control, has cobwebs between her legs.

3 ## He is a homely Boy

Does not know what an erection is, urinates in his pants when a girl comes and say ‘Hi’, puts loads of oil in his hair, stammers while talking to his father, eats food only from the hands of his mother, watches Jai Santoshi Maa.

4 ## He is very rich

He is malevolent, is politically connected, has goons available on the snap of his fingers, does not remember the face of his children, has an extramarital affair, has a sobbing sexually deprived gorgeous wife at home who is having an affair with the gardener, has a high-class bitch of a mother, must die of AIDS.

5 ## His wife is too modern

She goes to gym, wears body hugging clothes, shows her enviable cleavage profusely, has a social circle of spoilt rich ladies like her, does not cook for her family, has a very depressed husband at home, drinks like a fish, has a shocked mother-in-law who wonders what she has got her son into.

6 ## She is a very good actress

She has done loads of semi nude dance numbers, has worked with all top heroes, has big breasts, has the same laughing and crying face, is a virgin, is beautiful, is white.

7 ## All politicians are corrupt

I do not have as much money as those illiterate bastards have; I want a Swiss bank account, I want that power. I want to be a politician so that I could earn that money. My life is pathetic. God hates me.

8 ## My only solace is in the feet of Gods

I donate loads of money to temples, I donate my hair, I give milk bath to the Gods, I follow all the top religious gurus, I help build temples in parks meant for children. I hate other religions. My God bestest.

9 ## What was she doing outside the pub at 12?

How dare she have a life? How can others enjoy when I am suffering my boring miserable existence? How can a woman have such freedom? I completely support molestation of the bitch. She is a slave. Rape her. She deserves it because she is not my sister.

10 ## The maid is a part of our family

I give food to her in a separate plate, she sits and sleeps on the floor, she is not allowed to touch my food, she is a potential thief and I have to be careful, she might murder me for the gold I have bought with my black money, she is a low life.

11 ## Poor, hungry people!

Thank God it is not me in their place, filthy people, they are a menace to the society, that is where criminals come from, don’t encourage begging, let them die – that is the best way to wipe them out. Someone incinerate them!

12 ## What a marriage!

They spent lakhs on the decoration, they must have given a heavy dowry, the bride and groom looked like an extension of the red carpet, the quantity of food could have fed the entire population of Zimbabwe, pride = show-off = puffy chests, my marriage was pathetic.

13 ## What a movie!

The hero stood on two running horses, we laughed on comic sequences which won’t make a mentally stable person laugh; the heroine had bucket butts, the hero killed ten goons by throwing them at the moon, jeeps and tomato ketchup flew, there was a romantic song after the hero’s family was butchered.

14 ## I need a cultured girl for my son

I need a maid who works for free, I need a girl who produces male heirs, I need a hen who lays golden eggs, I need a slave who follows my finger. I am the queen of this 2 bedroom flat. I will die a queen. Only I will buy underwear for my son.

15 ## I belong to a cultured family

I don’t have a brain, I take permission from my parents every time I pick my nose, I don’t have any hobbies other than making money and watching porn, my parents have a long pokey nose and we breed girls as cows.

16 ## We don’t need any dowry

I hope you are wise enough to understand what we mean *wink wink*? Make sure your daughter is not visible under the layers of jewellery, don’t give any stupid middle class cars, our family is shitty because we sell our son, our son is a mule.

17 ## Your girlfriend drinks? Wow!

She must be good in bed, you must be having a great time in cinema halls. Lucky bastard! My girlfriend sucks. I want your slutty girlfriend.

The frenchie and the frivolity

2003 was the scariest year of my life. I left maa ka anchal (mom’s errr skirt) and went into the big bad world. No I was not going to school but was going to the hostel to do my second Masters. Yeah, I was that old and had never left home and was shitting my pants at the prospect of going and living in a hostel in Haryana – the land of Jats and bodybuilders and goons (that is what Haryana meant to me then). Although Kurukshetra is just a three hour drive from Delhi, Momma was drowning in tension as if I was going on a space mission to detonate a nuclear bomb on a meteor hurling towards Earth. I reassured her that I will come every week with a bag full of dirty clothes.

I took Pops with me to Kurukshetra because I was scared that the moment I will enter the hostel, I will be surrounded by 10 burly goons who will beat me to pulp on the pretext of ragging. Nothing of the sort happened and everything went pretty smooth. Pops even cleaned my room with me. Soon, it was time for him to say goodbye and leave me alone. My fears returned and all the horrible ragging stories danced around me like African tribal men. As Pops bid me farewell, I decided to skip the dinner in the hostel mess, switched off the light of my room, covered myself with a bed sheet, stopped breathing and pretended to be dead.

An hour later something happened that stopped my heart.

“No. 7!!!” Someone screamed from outside. It took me some time to realize that 7 was my room number and the voice was not coming from the door but from the garden outside my balcony. I ignored it and dropped dead again.

The boy kept screaming the number of my room again and again giving me massive consecutive heart attacks. I had visions of me stripped naked and asked to dance to ‘Babuji zara dheere chalo’ in the middle of a crowd of hostellers in the ground as they whistled and clapped and japed.

I finally had to get up before the whole hostel would have been on my doorstep. I unlatched my balcony door and peeked outside and to my relief found the garden empty. I was still scared and cautiously stepped outside.

“No. 7!!!” the voice thundered again somewhere above my head. I looked up and saw a boy wrapped in his towel staring at me.

Flying Frenchies!?!

“My underwear,” he said.

“What?!?” I gasped. This was the last word I would have imagined a stranger boy speaking to me.

“My underwear is in your balcony. It flew off. Can you throw it up?”

I looked around and found a blue colored Frenchie lying like Kareena Kapoor in Ran One’s arms on my balcony railing. The wave of relief that bathed me (because I was going to live some more) was intoxicating. I had never picked up another boy’s underwear before in my life and this was certainly not an encouraging experience on the first day of my hostel life. I picked it up like a lizard and threw it up. The boy caught it, thanked me and went inside.

There is a stranger in my lap!

As I settled in my bed again and pretended to be dead once more, someone knocked at the door. The way I reacted, it looked like a scene straight out of a horror movie. With one hand on my heart, I opened up my door and saw a puny guy beaming at me. He said hello and told me that he was my classmate. Then he barged in and as we sat on the bed, he placed his head in my lap and began chatting as if he was my wife. It was surreal that minutes ago, a guy had asked me to toss his underwear and now this head of a complete stranger was bobbling and babbling in my lap. I was speechless. What had I landed myself into?

My classmate’s name was Raj and we went to the mess together. No one jumped at me. The food was pathetic. Over the course of the next 1.5 years, I made great friends for life and spent the most beautiful time of my education in Kurukshetra. When I came back to Delhi in a hired car, the driver thought that I have left my girlfriend behind the way I alternately wept and sulked the whole way. I could not smile for two months after reaching home and behaved like Nirupa Roy and that worried momma like crazy. He son was not the same guy who walked out of the house 18 months ago.

Hostel turned me into a fiercely independent guy and I developed a rhythm to do things my own way. I also started eating anything mom made instead of throwing tantrums (as I used to do earlier) because I now knew how bad food tastes. When I look back, those two incidents on the first day played a massive role in helping me to take it easy and let go of my frivolous attempts to be an introvert. Hostel completely transformed me and I thank God for that.

Help me God. This senior better not be gay.

Although I was ragged later, it was very mild as we were post-graduate students. And horror of horrors, a senior (male) took fancy to my meek baritone and asked me to read newspaper to him as if he was my granddad. Ahem! Weird, I know.

Crazy days they were.

*Pops = Daddy, Father, Pitaji, Papa (In case you were wondering)

[images from 1, 2, 3]