Don’t flinch

Don’t flinch.
Stare at three year old Aylan.
Stare at him lying on a beach, his face half buried in the wet sand.
Stare at his bright clothes.
Stare at his tiny hands, his shoes.
Stare at his future that drowned with him.
Stare at the million ways he could have been saved.

Don’t look away.
Feel numb. Feel hollow. Feel anything.
But don’t look away.
Don’t close the window hastily because you can’t see such pictures.
Don’t look away because you won’t be able to sleep.
Don’t thank god that this wasn’t your child.

Imagine this was your child.
Imagine that was your country you were running away from.
Imagine you holding your family, praying for a better future.
Imagine you holding their dead bodies, staring at the ocean.
Imagine you wishing the earth to break in million tiny pieces.

Imagine you are the police officer who picked him up.
Imagine you looking at the boy when you turned him to pick him up.
Imagine the lightness of Aylan’s tiny body in your hands.
Imagine the heaviness of your heart.
Imagine you going to your home that night and stare at the mirror and wonder if God exists.

Don’t flinch.
Don’t flinch when you see a vulture waiting for an African boy to die.
Don’t flinch when you see a naked, terrified Vietnamese girl running on a street during a war.
Don’t flinch when you see the body of a dead, three year old on a beach.
This is our legacy. This is what we are leaving for our children.
These pictures.
The pictures that our children will judge us by.
If they live.

Hope.
Hope that our children grow up.
Hope that one day they will see these pictures.
Hope that that day, they will come home and look straight at us. Through us.
And flinch.
Hope, because that would mean the world will be a better place one day.
Hope, because that would mean our children won’t repeat our mistakes.

So, don’t flinch.
Stare at three year old Aylan.
Stare at him lying on a beach, his face half buried in the wet sand.

Why homosexuality should be encouraged in India

image from here

image from here

When the Supreme court acts like a Khap and bans homosexuality in a country like India, it is indeed a dark day especially when allowing it would have done wonders for the country. Decriminalization of homosexuality would have turned us into better humans over the coming decades but by making it a criminal offence, all we are doing is being consistently thick-headed

This criminalization bit basically means that two consenting adult men or women cannot indulge in ding-dong inside their own house behind close doors. Strange and insane as it may sound, from now onwards they will always be haunted by images of God wiggling his finger at them reminding them of the ‘natural order’ of things. They will also be haunted by Baba Ramdev trying to seduce them into their ashram so that he could cure them by teaching them how to tie themselves in a knot. And this happened after giving four years of hope to those consenting adults that they would be treated like ‘normal’ human beings.

I am disappointed majorly because this was such a golden chance for India to set a few things in order. Take the example of population control. Now we all know that two men or two women cannot produce a baby because of chromosomal complications. That would be like Rakhi Sawant spelling Czechoslovakia correctly. This decriminalization would have helped India to solve this problem of babies popping out of every nook and corner of the country. We would have slowed down this production line of wailing babies for a while.

Another major change would have been lesser dowry deaths. The LGBT community does not believe in arranged marriages and matrimonial websites could not have possibly exploited this aspect of our society. We usually burn around 8000 brides every year which would have considerably reduced. We would have also reduced cases of marital rapes, which by the way, are completely legal at the moment as per the natural order.

Consider female feticide as well. Parents might not kill their daughters when they would realize that after attaining adulthood, their daughters might leave with another woman. There would be no need to save money for their dowry and marriage for the rest of your life. In fact parents would have encouraged it (at least in case of women) and we would have seen ‘Become lesbian in 10 days’ posters on the rear windows of autos. 

“Hello Mrs. Chadha! Where is your daughter nowadays?” asked Mrs. Ahloowalia.

“She got married to her lesbian lover,” Mrs. Chadha replied with pride. 

“Really! How lucky! Our daughter turned out to be one of those silly normal ones. My husband spent his entire pension and savings on her marriage.”

“Pity! We are going on a Euro tour next month. But your son did turn out all right, no? He is gay, right?”

“Yeah, and thank god for that!” said Mrs. Ahloowalia. 

“What about the family tree?”

“Oh fuck trees! They are adopting!” Mrs. Ahloowalia beamed. 

We would have also seen a rise in the number of adoptions happening in our country. Usually same-sex couples end up adopting children to complete their family. This would have taken the burden off the conscience of parents who leave their children in garbage bins. Of course, our ultra complex adoption laws would have to be amended. They anyway need an amendment at present because by the time a couple is able to finish the formalities of adopting a 6 months old child, he/she is already 18.

Maybe decriminalization followed by making same-sex marriage legal would have made us more tolerant to people who are different from what we consider normal. It would have opened doors for other kind of kindness too. For example, we would have stopped looking down upon all the Chinese from the Eastern states of India or the people who work in our houses or collect garbage for us or who pull the rickshaw or who live under the flyovers or who are not married or who are differently-abled or who are raped. One kind of acceptance would have opened doors for another kind.

Another good thing that would have come out if it is that the country would have shown a middle finger to all the people who are the mouthpiece of Gods. It is strange how God has nothing better to do other than frothing via the mouth of his fan club dying to set the world straight. All around the world, the countries that have moved away from conservative religious zombies and madmen and have kicked them in the ass are the ones where people have a much better living standard. This was our chance to be progressive. And we supremely fucked up.

It does not matter if we hurl a hundred rockets towards Mars or set up an Indian colony on that planet. As long as we poke our nose in the affairs of two consenting adults and do not give them freedom of choice, all those scientific advancements don’t mean a thing. As long as we do not open our minds to the fact that it is every one’s right to be happy irrespective or their orientations, gender, caste or religion – we are still very much where our ancestors were. On the trees.

Money in the blouse and other stories

images from here

images from here

The Toofani Couple

A few days back I had an early morning live implementation. As my cab driver played Need for Speed on the roads of Delhi at 5.30 in the morning, I kept an eye on his nitro consumption which basically means that I was wide awake ensuring that he does not squash me in the rear of a truck. Suddenly, a car overtook us near Hyatt. I noticed that it had two toofani couples in it. Now the couple at the rear seat opened their respective windows, pushed their sorry head and torso outside and planted their butts on the windows. They then went ahead and smoked the same cigarette, passing it to each other from the top of the car.  The eyes of my cab driver went wide while I studied them with mild amusement. I was more worried about my cab ramming into their car and the driver flying out to join them. They smoked the whole cigarette and went inside like the neck of a scared turtle. I narrated the whole incident to my team at office and one of them remarked – What’s so toofani in that? It would have been toofani if they would have exchanged the cigarette from the bottom of the car.

I guess I am getting old.

Another not so lucky Toofani couple

The same week, while returning home enduring my rickety office bus, I saw an accident on the highway. A motorbike was racing in the wrong direction (Yes! On the highway!) and rammed into an Audi. People actually stopped their cars and came out to help (Surprise!). The woman and the bike ended up between the front and rear wheels while the man was dragged to safety. Now they were not able to pull out the women because the Audi went over her. So they tried to get the Audi off the woman by picking it up. I hope she survived but the chances are slim. This happened a day before Diwali.

I wondered if I could show this whole sequence to the Toofani couple in the earlier story, would they still think what they did was cool? Would they care more for their life?

Money in the blouse

Why on earth do people keep their money in their undergarments? The other day, I squeezed myself in a shared auto, which is basically a metal entity used to carry 10-15 people crammed in a space for 6. Sitting in a shared auto will be the closest you would come to understand the feelings of Jews jostling for space in a gas chamber. So, while I shrunk my butt to adjust in the pitiable space provided to me, I saw an elderly aunty ji sitting opposite me, staring in infinity. As the auto traversed the potholed roads, the aunty ji suddenly realised that her stop was near and thrust her hand inside her blouse. After my initial shock subsided, I realized that she was not trying to seduce me but frantically searching for her purse. She fumbled her right breast first but could not place the purse. Then she took out her left  hand and in went the right one to disturb her left asset. While all this was happening, I was obviously not looking at her but I could comprehend what was happening from the corner of my eye. Finally, she was able to find her purse that was hidden in some remote corner and the trauma ended.

I have also seen men putting hands in their underwear to take out money. Please someone tell me what is so irresistible about rubbing cash on your private parts?

Exercise in Patience

I have realized that writing a book is an exercise in patience. When you are doing research, you are impatient to start writing. When you are writing, you are impatiently waiting for the day when it will finish. When you finish, you are impatiently sending it to publishers. Then you wait very very impatiently for the publishers to respond. After a positive response, you patiently twiddle your fingers and wait for the book to hit the market. So, it you are a very impatient person, try not to write a book unless you have some sort of a mental asylum fetish.

By the way, I have started writing my second book. But now there is a kid in the equation, so it will be a while before I finish it. Deep breaths. Patience.

Mars and Traffic signals

There is a very busy traffic intersection on the highway near my home. Since the last two years for which I have been here, I have hardly seen the signal working on this intersection. Although people living in the country of Uttar Pradesh don’t believe in traffic signals and treat them the same way we treat a stray cow and beggars, I still believe that some day we will find people capable enough to mend the said signal. I know that there is some extremely complicated machinery inside it but I am sure that since we have sent a rocket to Mars now, we will be able to find people suitable to handle the neglected signal. Maybe we can consult a few top scientists at ISRO?

I usually do not write random posts but I had to share the ‘money in the blouse’ story and since I do not want to come across as a pervert, I added four intellectual stories to the post.

Boiling Water – III

image from here

image from here

Read part 1 and 2 of the story here –

Boiling water – I

Boiling Water – II

                                                *           *           *

I stood in the balcony for a while. It was dark and the city felt dead. I wondered what will happen if the Sun does not rise tomorrow. Everyone will gape at the sky for a while and realize how minuscule their blip of an existence is. Then the world will mould itself around its absence. We are good at forgetting. There is so much misery in the world that it would be foolish to think otherwise.

Her chair was propped at a corner of the balcony. She always observed the world sitting on it, with a cup of tea in her hand and a storm of thoughts in her mind. She travelled sitting on it. It was her time machine. I smiled as I looked at the empty chair. After a while I got tired of standing and I lowered myself on it. It was 4.30 am and I knew that sleep will not come near me now. Like me, she too was scared of my dreams.  

Sleep was having a good time with the woman inside. Thank God for that. 

                                                *           *           * 

When Shyamli saw my one bedroom house in Chandni Chowk for the first time, she broke down. I still remember the look on her face. She had been waiting for this for so long. All I can remember of her first day in that house is her arms encircled around me while she cried like a broken dam. My shirt was completely drenched from one side by the time she stopped and went to sleep. I took off my shirt and looked at it. I touched the wetness of our past one last time and threw the shirt away.

Shyamli finally completed her school. She was the oldest student in her class. She then went to college and finished her Bachelors. I too did well at my job and was promoted many times in the next few years. We moved in a bigger house. A few months after we moved, Shyamli got a job of a school teacher in a nearby school. The day she got her first salary, she bought me a shirt. It was same as the one I threw away on her first day in the city, the one soaked in her sorrows. 

“You should get married,” she said once.

“I won’t. I have to take care of you,” I said.

“Don’t do this. I will not be able to carry this burden.”

“We left all our burdens in the village.”

It never came to me getting married. I somehow couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was scared for Shyamli. I was scared that a slight hint of aloofness would push her over the edge. It was bound to happen if I brought another relationship in the equation. I talked to her about a second marriage but she recoiled at the idea. Maybe it was the rape. Maybe it was the fear of leaving me behind. In the end, both of us found solace in each other’s company. People often mistook us for husband and wife. We laughed them off. Sometimes they looked upon us as a strange pair – a brother and sister living together. Sometimes there were hints of suspicion, hints of our relationship going beyond the limits set by the society. But over the years, we made more friends than enemies. It was a good, fulfilling life. We didn’t have any regrets. 

                                                *           *           *

I went to sleep sitting on the chair. Seconds later, a gentle touch of a hand woke me up. I opened my eyes and Shyamli was standing over me with a smile on her face.

“Shubh, it’s seven o’clock. Come I will make you some tea,” she said.

“It’s seven? I don’t remember the last time I had such a sound sleep.”

“When did you wake up?”

“It was around four.”

“There is a function at my school today. They have invited all the retired teachers.”

“I know. You told me a week back.”

“Did I? I am invited too. Would you like to come?”

“No, you go ahead and enjoy yourself. I will go over to Srini’s for a game of chess.” 

I did not go anywhere. As Shyamli left for her school, I switched on the television and watched some news and eventually dozed off. The last thought before my eyes closed was that I would tell Dr. Kapoor that I slept soundly for two and a half hours after the dream. This has never happened before. 

                                                *           *           * 

I wasn’t supposed to be there. If I had any idea that the incident would haunt me for the rest of the life, I would have jumped in the pond and hid myself in layers of water. But of course I had no idea. I was a curious three years old.

Somewhere in the nearby hut, the women were wailing, Ma one amongst them. I had no idea why. All I knew was that Ma had a swollen tummy till yesterday and she told me that a baby brother would come out of that. When I asked her why not a baby sister, she hushed me up.

There was a small gap between two of the bricks in one of the walls where all the men were huddled. I saw the nightmare unfold through the gap. Baba lowered the crying newborn into a vessel in which water boiled furiously. My eyes widened as her head went inside. She thrashed for a while as chocking sounds filled the room. I stared from the hole as Baba pulled out his dead daughter from the water. He then took the dead body outside and threw it in the hole that has been dug for her.

That night the dream haunted me for the first time. I won’t call it a dream now. It was as if life decided to play a part of my past again and again to me. It was like a number burnt on the skin of an animal. I had to live with it.

Ma was again pregnant next year. She told me that I was going to have a baby brother this time. The women went into our hut for the delivery and soon a wail rose from there. The man standing outside the adjoining hut started digging a hole. A fire was lightened to boil the water. The crying girl was brought into the hut where all the men were grouped.  

I was shivering. Sweat ran down my face mixed with tears as Baba lowered the girl towards the vessel. I got up and ran towards the door of the hut.

“Baba! Please! I want to play with her!” I shouted as I reached the door.

He stopped and looked curiously at me.

“Daughters are a burden on the family. We are poor, son,” he said still holding the crying chid over the steam.

“I will take care of her. I promise,” I said. Baba laughed and took his daughter in his arms. A few men sitting in the hut laughed.

“Don’t forget your promise Shubh,” one of them said.

“I won’t!” I said looking straight in his eyes.

Baba gave the little girl in my arms. She had stopped crying.

“What will you call her Shubh?” he asked.

“Shyamli,” I said. I kissed her and held her tight.

The women were still wailing. A man was still digging the hole. But it did not matter anymore. I had made a promise. I was going to take care of her. 

~The End~

I was completely disturbed when my father told me the story of Shyamli. Murdering a female child is not uncommon in India. We have already killed 10 million girls and haven’t stopped yet. Shyamli somehow got lucky.

The ending of the story is completely true but I have fictionalized the rest of the story a bit. I have changed the decades in which it happened. Also, in reality, Shyamli did get married again. In fact, that is the reason why I am able to share her story with you. She was my great-grandmother. 

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’.

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The assassin who tried to kill my family

assassin

Image from here

I am one of the few blessed people who live in a city away from their relatives. Less noses in my affairs. Less Gyan. Less plastic smiles. More peace of mind.

So when a relative is about to come to our house, it creates a frenzy equalling that of cyclone Phalin. I must admit that the frequency has reduced after the death of my grandparents but there was a time when there were regular visitors. It was one such visitor whom I remember very clearly. He was the guy who tried to kill my family.  The assassin.

This assassin was a cousin of my grandma. He was from the hills. He was rotund, had pink cheeks that were dropping off his face because of old age. His eyes were sharp and always scanning everyone in the vicinity, as if trying to find avenues in case he had to escape. His voice was muffled, as if he was standing behind layers of cotton. He never brought gifts for us children but always hugged us whenever he came, swathing us with smells of trees and his unwashed underarms. He would sit for hours with my grandma talking in their local language, sometimes laughing his terrifying laugh. His laugh always reminded me of a serial killer who while trying a dress made of the skin of his victims realized that the dress fits him perfectly.

Grandma was very fond of him. She had no idea that he tried to kill us every time he visited. Every single time.

I distinctly remember the first time he tried to murder me. I was sleeping and suddenly there was this deafening roar that shook me out of my slumber. For a second I thought that a gang of lions have attacked our apartment. My heart was in my mouth when I heard the roar again. I sat up hurriedly torn between screaming and hiding under my bed. Then a third roar happened. A thin crack appeared in the ceiling. It was as if the house was unable to stand the vibrations. I gathered courage and got off my bed. I reached the adjacent room where the assassin was sleeping. I was at the door when another roar brought a warm gust of wind towards my face, leaving my hair in an upheaval. I almost choked at the moist wind smelling of a mixture of chicken curry and bad breath. The roar happened again and I saw the windowpanes vibrate and the ceiling fan sway. I was terrified that the house will not be able to withstand the strain of such powerful snoring. Soon, I realized that my whole family was up, confused and shocked. My grandfather almost had a heart attack. Our hearts were in our mouth. We were so close to our deaths. Eventually, mother stuffed some cotton in my ears to ease the suffering but I was not able to sleep.

In the morning, the assassin tried to kill me again.

There was just one loo in our house back then. I was desperately in a need to use it but the assassin was taking his own sweet time. Maybe he was skinning a rat alive. Its not that we had rats in our house but he might be carrying one from the hills to play with it before slaughtering it. Finally, the door opened and he came out. I rushed inside and locked the door. What followed was the stuff hell must be made of. Even though the assassin had the good sense to flush, the loo reeked of such unimaginable smells that I choked for a good five minutes before I decided to stop breathing. I opened the window but the smells were not leaving. I eventually pushed my mouth towards the open window and took a lungful of breath because I was in a danger of turning blue and collapsing. It took me a good fifteen minutes to save myself from this lethal attack of the assassin, during which I completely forgot the real reason for which I entered the gas chamber.

It was not just me, every member of my family who had the misfortune of entering the death room after the assassin met the same fate. They came out wide eyed, clutching their throats, panting like a man with a fish bone stuck in his throat.

We were all terrified. We huddled together night after night, morning after morning, trying to survive the attacks. Thankfully, none of my family members died of choking or heart attacks but the assassin left no stone unturned as he tried to wipe us off the planet.

He visited us again and again, year after year. Everytime the news of his arrival was shared by grandma, we all sent a silent prayer towards the almighty. Mom used to run towards the small temple in our house and pray for the survival of our family. His visits dwindled after my grandma passed away and now I haven’t seen him in years.

Even now I shudder when I think of those terrifying days where my family was attacked mercilessly. We survived the odds. The trauma brought us together, binding us in neverending love.

I am proud of that time when all of us held hands together and fought the assassin. The assassin who tried to kill MY FAMILY.

Confused Scared Dirty Angry

image from here

image from here

What can a guy possibly know about sexual abuse? After all, he can only have a second hand experience of what the female population of this country goes through on a daily basis. That is why I have to tell you my story.

I was a very shy kid in school. I never bullied anyone or picked up a fight. All I did was study diligently and top my class every single year. When not studying, I was neck deep into Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle. My sports teacher were perplexed to come across a boy who did not like throwing and hitting balls. I had great difficulty in striking a conversation with strangers and was terrified at the prospect of leaving the warm embrace of known faces in my school and join a college. To my utter discomfort, that is exactly what life had in store for me.

I got admission in a good college in Delhi University. The college was a one hour bus ride from my home. In those Metro-less days, The DTC buses as a mode of transport were as good as Manmohan Singh as our Prime Minister. So, the only way to get to the college was to board the notorious killer machines called Blueline buses. Sometimes, the buses were so crowded that you won’t find space to expand your chest to breathe. All I could see was a mass of hands holding the metal rods and pressing the windowpanes for support. The crowd was like a giant, single animal with multiple hands protruding from all sides.

The year was 1997. It was a time when we still talked about a lot of topics in hushed voices. Topics like rape, sexual abuse, child molestation, sexual orientation were not openly discussed. And yes, Rape and Sexual abuse happened only to women. Add to it my complete disconnection to the real world because of my nature and you would realise that I was shockingly naive.

So one fine day, I left the college in a hurry to get away from the awful place full of strangers and boarded a Blueline bus chock-a-block with more strangers. I squeezed in somehow and stood completely surrounded by unidentified torsos. A few moments later I felt a hand on my crotch. At first I ignored it, considering the number of people in the bus but then I felt that the hand was not there by mistake. It was slowly rubbing my crotch. I looked down and traced the hand back to the human attached to it. The person who was doing this was an elderly uncle in his late 50s. He looked straight into my eyes and kept rubbing. 

The first emotion that hit me was complete confusion. Why would a person who is of the age of my grandfather rub my crotch? I knew he was somehow getting aroused by this but I failed to understand how. I went red in the face and moved away from him. To my surprise, he came after me. He again stood near me and tried to rub my crotch. By this time, I was completely agitated and it showed on my face. I had no idea what to do in such a situation. I was this scared, timid boy who did not have the courage to push him back. When I look back, I understand that courage and anger are the last of your thoughts, especially when it is happening for the first time. Confused and scared – that is what I felt at the moment. Why was this even happening? I again moved away from him and this time he sensed trouble and did not follow.

When I reached home, I felt anger erupting inside me. I still could not make sense of an old man touching me like this. I felt dirty and disgusted. I did not discuss this with anyone but my parents did notice that I was a bit sad. I encountered the man two more times in the bus back home. He recognized me and tried to come near me but I was not going to let him get away with it, so I always moved near to the driver where I was not completely surrounded by people. He gave up after that.

It took me a long time to get over the incident. 

I told my wife about this incident a few days back. She asked me that how would such an incident play on my psyche if it happened again and again. I told her that I would be devastated till the point that I will require medical help to come out of it. She told me about numerous incidents that happened to her while traveling in buses. She told me how she was groped many times and how she sometimes received help. The women not only survive such abusers but they have to then survive the fingers pointing at them. I cannot imagine someone coming to me and telling me that what that uncle did was my fault. I would spit in the person’s face. 

So you see, I know a bit about sexual abuse. It is a tiny blip in comparison to what happens to women in India but I understand what they go through. I understand how it plays with your mind, how it makes you jittery in the presence of strangers, how it makes you wonder about a life in a parallel universe where you are respected, where people will not touch you without your permission, where they will not treat you as objects. 

I still feel angry that he got away with it. I feel angry that so many people get away with it in our country, in this world. Yes, the world around me has changed in the last 16 years. We are more vocal, more angry. But the abuses haven’t subsided. 

I am a different person from how I was in 1997. I have lived alone, managed my affairs and have shed most of my phobias. And if it is any consolation, if that incident happens now, I would grab that uncle by his balls and toss him out of the moving bus. It would save many more youngsters the trauma they would have gone through by his hands.

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]                        

Misanthropically Yours

I am turning into a misanthrope. I don’t want to but when I see a five year old raped and tortured, when I hear news of a bottle and candles retrieved from her vagina, when I see a policeman offer Rs 2000 to the raped girl’s father to let go of the thought of an FIR, when I see a policeman telling the survivor’s family that they should be thankful that the girl is alive, when I see a policeman slapping a protesting girl, when I see politicization of the issue, I don’t see how I can stop myself from hating mankind.

My generation has not seen the World Wars but I have read enough books, seen enough movies, seen enough documentaries to understand what happened. I know how a culture was obliterated, how it was turned into gaseous fumes coming out of a chimney of a camp. I know how millions of carcasses were shoved into pits using trenchers, I know how two entire cities where vapourised in the name of peace. The images are entrenched in my mind. I can never forget the image of a four year old naked Jew boy running towards a barbed fence of a concentration camp as a German shepherd chased him. I felt lucky that I haven’t lived in those times but the ironical bit about history is that it doesn’t matter. It is an embarrassment everyone wants to forget and then commit again. And no, you are never lucky enough. The end of barbarism can never be a done deal.

Has the world turned into a better place to live? Is this a meaningless question? Can our society function without brutality or will it crumble to pieces in its absence?

I do not understand this race anymore. I do not understand why I have to live in a constant fear of losing my loved ones. I do not understand the brutal images of what could happen to my family that spring in my mind every other day. I do not understand the utter abjection with which we treat each other.

I sometimes feel that my mind will explode into a million tiny pieces. I sometimes want to howl with pain, scream so loud that the sound exterminates every human from the face of Earth. I want to give this planet another chance, something that is not possible till humans infect it.

They tell me that I should be grateful for the good life God has given me. I have a loving family and a happy life. Is that good enough reason to be satisfied, to count my lucky stars? How can I be happy when I look around and see misery? How can I be happy when I read about men exploding themselves in marketplaces to serve their God? How can I be happy when I belong to a country where the fragile culture is all about encouraging rapes and molestation? How can I be happy when I see a doctor telling the parents that they can wrap the dead female fetus in a newspaper and throw it in the dustbin on their way out? How can I be happy when I see the subjugation of the weak at every nook and corner? I don’t know how people cocoon themselves and live a detached life. I feel violated.

They tell me that there is good in the world. I would like to believe that but how is good a part of the solution? Is it growing? Is it reducing the coldness? How many more sacrifices before it takes over?

No. Telling me that there is good in the world is not good enough. Tell me how the world is getting better because that is what I want to know. And don’t call me a pessimist. I am only numb with horror. I see things getting worse all around me.

I am scared to bring a child in this world. I am scared that I will spend the rest of my life worrying for the safety of my kid. Apathy has no boundaries. It is a limitless ocean, it is a black hole that has sucked everything that was good in this world. I don’t want my child to live in its shadow and I don’t want to put a cage around my child. I don’t want to live the rest of my life pretending that I live in a war zone.

I wish to meet that 5 year old girl. I wish to hold her in my arms and tell her that it will be all right. I wish she looks at me and smile. I wish to live in a world where this heavy burden of fear does not exist on my chest. I wonder how it feels to live without it. Just thinking about its absence makes me feel rejuvenated, makes me feel like a freed slave. I wish to live in a world where power is not brutal, where humans are not derailed psychopaths, where life is treated as an invaluable gift, where happiness is not insulated and confined to a selected few, where God has no face.

The night sky fills me with awe. The stars and planets are nature’s way of telling us about our insignificance, about our diminutive presence in the universe. And we still have the intrepidity of hurting each other, of clawing at each other’s soul, of raping a 5 year old.

Isn’t that enough reason to be a misanthrope?