Open letter to my maid

image from here

image from here

My dear Maid, 

I know guys don’t write letters to maids and they definitely don’t call them ‘dear’ and I hope you do not take offence in me addressing you as someone who is dear to me. So help me God. I have seen women write incessantly about the love-hate relationship they share with their maids but guys usually shy away from it. I blame our system for it, much like Rahul Gandhi. We are not supposed to feel affectionate towards our maids. I am breaking the barriers here and that is why it is so important for me to call you ‘dear’. It is not a word, it is a hammer and I am using it to break the wall and show my gratitude to all the lovely ladies who have worked in my house over the years. 

Let me begin by saying that I was brought up with a sense of being higher up in the pyramid of society. My grandma used to keep a separate plate and glass for you to eat breakfast and drink the tea she provided with a sense of charity. We were not supposed to touch those utensils and it was blasphemy to eat in your plate or drink water in your glass. You were supposed to be a lower class nobody who could never be satisfied with what has been given to her and your whole community was supposed to be like you. Well, let me tell you dear, that the phoniness of this unabashed display of superiority pissed me off as a kid and I gleefully indulged in numerous acts of blasphemy when I ate in your plate and drank water from your glass, much to the utter shock of my grandma.

Dear maid,

I remember so many unintentional hilarious and sad incidents involving you that I have lost count. So, thank you for the doses of laughter and the pauses of pondering I have collected over the years. I remember, when grandma in her rare moods of philanthropy, started teaching you the Hindi alphabets. I was surprised to know that you could not read or write. I was young. And then, grandma and you reached the alphabet ‘sh’. She would say ‘Sh se Shatkon’ and you would say ‘Sa se Satkon’ and it went for such a long time that I thought that only a calamity like grandma grinding all her teeth to dust or an astroid hitting the Earth could possibly stop the loop. And your name was Geeta which is one of the many ironies of life. Then you transformed into Bhagwanti. You were usually beaten blue and black by your husband when you came to work. You were 2D thin. I always wondered how much endurance you had for doing such physically challanging work when half of your body was swelling with pain. You made me laugh by the way you cleaned the utensils with all your might as your sari danced like waves with your movements. Then you turned into Sheila, who used to steal spoons for reasons I could not understand. It was hilarious because once mom caught you while you were trying to hide a spoon in your salwar. You said that you were itching terribly and merely rubbing the spoon over your skin. Then you turned into wide-eyed Sampa who would, in excited shrieks, tell her sisters over the phone that you went to the mall with us and saw a movie in the theatre and had chow mein in the food court. 

Dear Maid,

I know sometimes people are ruthless and you end up doing more than you could endure. You are constantly pestered at times, even when you are doing fine. Sometimes, you rebel and then you are told that you belong to a category of society that can never be thankful for what is being given to them. Have you noticed the crazy flip-flop of hatred and harmony you experience with a family? At one hand, you are sitting with them and having tea in your designated cup, telling them the story of your life and how miserable everything is, expecting some gift on Diwali and New Year and on the other hand you are blamed for being lazy and not doing things properly. How do you handle such relationships when you are at the receiving end? Of course, you grin and bear it, just like all of us who take shit from people above us in the pyramid, conveniently forget it and do exactly the same to the people below us.

Dear Maid,

I would like to thank you. Thank you for cleaning my room, my wash-room, my clothes, my utensils. Thank you for dusting my house, for making the food, for folding my clothes, for making tea for me, for being there. I know it would be impossible to survive without you. I know everyone knows that, no matter how high in the air their nose is, no matter how much difficult they find it to give you a raise which is equal to the price of a plate of chicken tikka kabab in a mall. 

And in the end, a small note for my present dear Maid –

It has been a month since your mother-in-law died. I know you have no love for her (and I am quoting my mom here), but you have already extended your 15 days break to 30 days. Yes, unbelievable as it may sound, my household has been operating sans you for a month now. It is a miracle and we are enduring one day at a time but a day does not pass when we don’t remember you. What you have done is unprofessional but it is OK. As always, mom will forgive you after giving you a nice piece of her mind. And then everything will be as it always was. It has nothing to do with the pyramid, believe me. So, you should return now. We are somehow, barely holding the fort but we need reinforcements. We have never told you how important you or your successor (who might be a reality soon) are to us and that is what this letter intends to tell you in addition to the fact that we are dying without you.

Thank you,

A humble dependant.

p.s. I will be a bit erratic for a while on my blog and all the amazing blogs I regularly read because I am working on my second book. Please forgive me.

Daddy Diaries : Beds and Hobbitses

Dear Diary,

The day for which the Sharma family was eagerly waiting arrived a few days back. Anika started crawling on all four (more like an alligator) a few days back and the house was buzzing with gossip about how long we had before she would fall off the bed. Everyone was of the opinion that her crawl was more of a slither and that she won’t be able to pass the single pillow barricades. How wrong we were! It so happened that one fine evening when Geet was stuffing stuff in her overstuffed almirah while Anika sat sprawled in her pillow cage, she suddenly heard a thud followed by a blood-curling wail. Anika had broken the cage and fallen off the bed.

image from here

image from here

There was a sudden buzz in the house. Anika was passed from one hand to another, like a stack of bricks at a construction site. It was one of the landmark days when you realize that your child has crossed a very important milestone. We almost had a party to celebrate the bump on her head.

Anika has also started reacting to all the food that is never going to get into her mouth for a long time. She hates her Cerelac and mashed bananas but stares gluttonously at the aloo paratha in my hand. She then licks her lips and makes sound with her tongue as if she has not eaten in months. She stares beseechingly at Geet’s dinner plate but closes her mouth the moment I try some fruit juice on her. She seems to be a pretty good actress.

Geet and I left Anika with her grandparents and had some ‘us time’. We watched the desolation of Smaug and had pasta followed by brownie dipped in boiling chocolate sauce and got nostalgic about the good old days when we used to eat chocolate off each… never mind. So, we came back home and I decided to create a Lonely Mountain in our bedroom. The trigger was the fact that Geet was feeling tired and wanted to have a nap. So I turned Anika into Bilbo. I was Thorin, the Dwarf king and Geet was Smaug who was lying under her comfortable duvet which was actually millions and millions of coins. I commanded Bilbo to go into the mountain and find the Arkenstone which was nothing but Geet’s hairclip. Bilbo quietly slipped into the mountain of coins but she wasn’t very quiet. She woke up Smaug but before the dragon could shoot fire at the hobbit, Bilbo snatched the hairclip and pulled it with all her might. Smaug bellowed and Bilbo and I ran for our life. Thankfully, that was not the day Bilbo fell off the bed but Smaug made us feel sorry that we woke her up.

Dear Diary,

Seven months have gone by and Anika has turned from a sleeping beauty to a roadrunner. It is hard to catch her and make her stay still. As much as Geet and I are scared of the terrible twos, we are also looking forward to having a full night sleep, an act about which we have very faint memories. Recently Anika went through a phase of nightmares and would wake up screaming like the heroine of a Ramsey movie. We had to eat Crocins before going to work during that horrible phase.

We have realized that with a child you never know what the next day holds. And as a wise man once said – The smaller the package, the smaller the problems. I find solace in believing that nightmares followed by screams, diaper rashes and hobbitses falling off beds are smaller problems as compared to what lies ahead.

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. 

Boiling Water – II

image from here

image from here

Read part 1 here – Boiling Water – I

I wasn’t late. As I waited for my turn, I looked at the people around me. They were petrified. They carried a façade but I was a fellow traveller. I knew what they craved from inside – to sleep with a grin on their face. No one was as old as I was. At least they realized early in their life that they needed help.

“How are we today, Shubh?” Dr. Kapoor, the kind psychiatrist asked as I settled in his cabin.

“Same old same old,” I said.

“How are the dreams?”

“They still visit me every day without fail.”

The doctor sighed. I was a complicated case. No amount of medication has helped me in the past year. He was the most reputed doctor in Delhi but I had an ever-growing inkling that he was as helpless as I was.

“Tell me about the dream,” he said finally after a few seconds of scribbling on his pad.

“It was different this time but related. There was a huge vessel of water kept on a cooking oven made of bricks in a corner of a hut. A lot of firewood was burning.”

“Go on.”

“The water was boiling. Bubbles were breaking the surface, making a hissing sound. There was a lot of steam coming out.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

“And you woke up?”

“And I woke up.”

“This might be an improvement.”

“It isn’t. I have had this particular dream before. It is not very frequent.”

“You have never told me about it.”

“I thought it was not important.”

“What terrifies you about this dream?”

“Doctor, the dream is the same. Only she is not in it. I am still terrified of what I was terrified earlier.”

“All right, Shubh. I think it is an improvement but we will wait for a few days and see. And, it is not just the sound of boiling water that terrifies you and you know it.” 

I reached home at six. She was watching television.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“Medicines and no conclusion,” I said.

“Have faith,” she said with a sad smile. 

                                                *           *           * 

Shyamli was bright. She was the only girl in her class. A few boys teased her for being foolish enough to study and I had a fight with them. One of them ended up with a bloodied forehead. No one dared to tease her again. Both of us walked the 3 kilometres to school every morning. If we were lucky, we would get a ride on a bullock cart while coming back. Sometimes we took a dip in the village pond while returning. Sometimes we would ride buffaloes on the way.

            Shyamli went to school with me for three years before her studies were abruptly stopped. Baba was worried that he would not be able to find a suitable match for her if she studied too much. He was of the view that I too should start working on the farm instead of going to the school. I objected and stopped eating food. Ma took pity on me and talked to father who reluctantly agreed to continue my studies. I asked her to talk about Shyamli too.

“No Shubh! She has studied enough. Now it is time for her to put her mind to household work. She is already eight. She will be married in a few years,” Ma said.

“You were not sending her to school because it was the right thing to do?” I asked her. Ma looked at me for some time.

“No son. We sent her because of you. It is time to end the games and be serious about life. We have to marry her off and these books are doing her no good,” Ma said.

I started going to school alone. In the afternoon, I would come back and teach Shyamli as much as I could. I became her teacher. Sometimes she cried and I told her that she will complete her studies. I promised.

Shyamli was thirteen when Ma and Baba decided that it was time for her to get married. There was a sixteen years old boy called Raghu in the village whose father had a lot of land. They married her to Raghu who raped her on the first night of their marriage. I was not aware of this or I would have strangled him. She told me about it years later.

I was seventeen the year Shyamli was married to Raghu in 1967. My parents had started hunting for a bride for me while I was packing my bags to go to college which meant leaving the village and going to the nearby town to study. Baba was aghast. Ma was petrified as if I was going to fight in a war. No one in our family had ever left the village. In the end both of them gave in after a lot of shouting and cursing. I told them that I did not want to end up like them. I told them about the dream that was killing me from the last fourteen years.

“How many times have you committed the crime? How many?” I screamed.

Baba slapped me hard. I told them what I thought about them. That put a lock on their mouths.

                                    *           *           * 

I washed the dinner plates. She cleaned them with a towel. We then watched television for sometime. She stopped talking after a while. I looked at her. She was sleeping on the sofa with her mouth open. I smiled and woke her up.

“Go to bed,” I told her.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I will try to avoid it as long as I can.”

“Don’t stretch yourself Shubh. We are not young anymore. Your body needs rest.”

He was holding her upside down by her right foot. She was naked and her crying filled the room. Her body was smeared with blood, the blood of her mother. There were other men in the room, watching the act. Two of them were chewing tobacco, another one was yawning. It was a way of life for them. This was not the first time they were witnessing the act. Another man was digging the ground outside the hut. Someone was wailing nearby.

            He took her to the corner of the hut where water was boiling frivolously over a brick oven. Water, that was unaware of the crime of which it was going to be a part soon. He lowered her towards the water. Steam was rushing up to condense on her face. Her tears mixed with water and dripped in the bubbles breaking the surface. Her shrieks were reaching a crescendo. Her face was close to the hissing water. Oh! So close.

I woke up with a start and with horror in my eyes. I gulped air. My hands were trembling. After a few minutes as my breathing came back to normal, I looked at the clock. It was 4 am. I sighed and got up from the sofa. I needed fresh air.

The same dream. The same dream ever since I could remember. 

*           *           *

I lived in a hostel. Every evening, I would take tuitions to pay for my college fee and other expenses. I was a good teacher. I would go to the village on the weekends to meet my family. I went to Raghu’s house to meet Shyamli. I wasn’t welcomed there. They were unsuccessfully trying to have a baby. Shyamli always beamed on seeing me. I was the only happiness in her life.  She never reminded me of the promise I had made a few years back but I remembered. She would complete her studies. She lived with Raghu and his family for four years. They sent her back home because she could not bear a child. A year later Raghu married someone else.

“I knew it was a mistake to save her,” Baba said.

My parents were grieved by her presence in the house. She was a burden now. They treated her like a servant, beating and cursing her for minuscule reasons. 

I completed my college and gave entrance exams for clerical posts in government organizations. I got through one and was posted in Delhi. I took a small one room house on rent in Chandni Chowk and shifted there. I went back to the village on the weekend and asked Shyamli to pack her belongings.

“What are you doing Shubh?” she asked with fear in her eyes.

“I made two promises that I intend to keep,” I said.

Baba stood in my way and slapped me. I was a bad son in his eyes. He then held Shyamli’s hand and tried to push her away. He pulled her hair. I slapped him. He held a hand to his cheek and stared at me with disbelief. I slapped him again and again and again till he crumpled on the ground. Ma stood in a corner gawking at me. She did not recognize me anymore. Now she knew how I felt all those years. I took Shyamli’s hand and both of us walked out of the house, never to return. 

to be concluded…

Boiling water – I

Image from here

Image from here

(Based on a true story) 

“I had the dream again.”

She walked and sat next to me, taking my hand in hers, caressing the folds of my skin.

“You have to forget her. You saved me,” she said.

“I can’t,” I whispered.

“It has been sixty years.”

“Yes. Sixty years. And her sound still wakes me up.”

“I know.”

Tears ran down my crumpled face. It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t going to be the last. She had wiped my tears infinite times before. She was going to wipe them now. She moved her hand. I held it tight.

“Don’t,” I said.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

We sat silently for a while. Then I sighed.

“The sound that woke me up today was different.”

“What did you hear?”

“Boiling water,” I said. 

                                                *           *           * 

I don’t know what it means to be completely happy. Can anyone be completely happy? Don’t we always have something running in the back of our mind – a tragedy, a horror story, a sorrow, a nightmare? Over the years, I have realised that even though I might be giddy with my so called achievements, despondency runs through me like blood.  I can never get rid of it. It is like the fingers on my hand – a part of me that cannot be cut away without pain.

            It is not as if I cannot pretend to be happy. I can. I retired from my job two years back in 2011. If you go and ask the people I worked with, they will tell you what a clown I was. I had a wand of laughter. It was my way of making my staff comfortable. I would sit with them and tell them funny stories. They respected me. They cried on my farewell. They gave me flowers and gifts. But then they did not see me sitting alone in my cabin, staring at the wall, tossing the paperweight. They did not see me gulping those medicines so that I could sleep peacefully. They did not see me getting up in the middle of the night reaching for air like a drowning man, drenched in my sweat, my hands on my ears. That is what I mean when I say that you can never be completely happy because when you are happy, you sleep with a grin on your face. When you are happy, someone wakes you up in the morning and you smile and put your head beneath the pillow so that you could sleep for five more minutes.

                                                *           *           * 

“But you never heard just boiling water before,” she said.

“I did a few weeks ago. It keeps coming back.”

“Did you hear her as well?” she asked reluctantly.

“No. Not this time. I prefer water as long as I don’t hear her.”

She patted my hand. I looked into her eyes.

“Can I?” she asked.

I nodded. She wiped the tears off my face.

“You have an appointment today,” she said after my tears were on her hands.

“I know.”

I saw pain on her face when she got up from the chair. Her joints were troubling her again. She stood holding the sofa for a few seconds before moving to the kitchen.

“I will make tea,” she said.

My appointment was at 4 o’clock. I have been going there since the last one year hoping for a miracle. 

                                                *           *           * 

It was difficult to get out of the village. Baba always wanted me to be a farmer like him. I knew I had to find ways, run towards any door that could take me away from this life. I asked Ma to send me to school. She laughed. Boys in the village hated going to school and here I was, coaxing my mother. She talked to Baba.

“He won’t like it there and drop out in a few months. What is the harm?” she told him. He grudgingly agreed to it.

The school was not in my village. There was a single school for 5 villages in the district.  It was 3 kilometres away. I walked. I did not feel tired. It wasn’t a choice to attend school. It was a resolve.

I was seven. I did not drop out like the rest of the boys of the village. After one year, Baba tried to get me out of the school but I was adamant. Ma helped calm him. She saw that I was interested in studying. Had she known that I was growing wings to desert her one day, she would have turned into someone I could have never recognised. I barely recognized Baba for what I had seen him doing four years back. Of course, now I know that Ma was an equal partner in the crime. 

The year was 1959. I had been studying for two years now when I asked Ma if my younger sister could attend school with me. Mother was milking the cows. She laughed again but this time she did not talk to Baba.

“Girls don’t study. They learn household work,” she said running her hand in my hair. Droplets of milk stuck in my hair.

“Ma, how were you saved?” I asked.

She stopped milking the cow, the fingers of her right hand curled on one of the teats. She could not understand my question. Then I saw realization dawn in her eyes. She turned around and looked harshly at me.

“Go, help your Baba,” she said. She stared at me as I walked away, suddenly scared.   

I requested my school teacher to talk to my parents so that they send my sister to school. She was a kind lady who came to my house and successfully drilled some sense in my parents. Shyamli, my sister, started going to school with me on a promise that she will still do all the household chores assigned to her. Sending her to school made my parents the laughing stock of the village. Baba was very angry but Ma asked him to be calm and let her handle it.

“No one will marry her!” he said. 

“What are you teaching your daughter for? Will she become a doctor?” the village women would laugh at Ma when she went to fetch water at the village well.

“I don’t want her to use her thumb as a signature,” Ma would reply.

“You will pay for your madness one day,” the women would retort. 

To be continued

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

Daddy Diaries : The terrorist and the fountain of milk

Dear Diary,

Anika is not well. She has spluttered and splattered throughout the last two weeks. The clan typically went for home remedies which as usual did not help. Finally when the bouts of cough started bringing a crimson tinge to her face, the alarm bells went off and she was taken to a doctor. The poor girl is recovering now and always ends a cough marathon with a ‘Hai’, just like old people. The tribal dances are back with a vengeance.

A few days back Anika was drinking milk from a bottle while Geet and I were bitching about our neighbours. Suddenly, I sensed a cough taking shape from Anika’s throat and removed the bottle immediately. Well, the milk was still in her mouth when the cough finally made an appearance. There was this brilliant fountain of milk that sprouted from her mouth and drenched me and Geet. You could have seen the shock on our faces. We were talking a second ago and suddenly there was this spray of milk on our faces and the bed. It was like one of those days when it is raining heavily and you are trying to cross a road and then a car swoosh by, transferring the muddy water on you.

Now look what have I written! How can I compare a mixture of my child’s cud, saliva and sputum with muddy waters? Let me make amendments by saying that Geet and I enjoyed the spray. It was splendid.

Dear Diary,

During Ashtami, we dresses up Anika all in red and mom bought a red chunni and a lot of colourful bangles for her. Then all of us washed her feet and took blessings from her while she chewed the bangles to we-were-once-bangles shapes. It was hilarious. She was so perplexed and had no clue what was happening. Mom gave her a bit of halwa and she made a disgruntled face and threw it out of her mouth. While washing her feet, I asked her to give me a lot of money so that I could buy her tickets to Switzerland. I think she was excited by the wish.

Image from here

Image from here

Dear Diary,

Anika is getting very very active. Her hands and feet are constantly moving. Tell me this is normal? There is a four month old girl in our building and she is so quiet and never moves her limbs. And look at our child! I am disturbed because of Anika’s behaviour because she cannot understand that her pulling, biting and pounding might hurt someone. She tries to pull out my eyeballs, my lower lip, Geet’s hair, her teddy’s butt. This little terrorist is terrifying at times.

You won’t believe how many times she has kicked me in the balls. I have been telling her again and again that she is the only heir to the Sharma Empire and Geet and I will never ever have another baby but she does not believe me. She keeps up her efforts to crack my walnuts to make sure that there is no rival. I have never seen someone attacking her own source of existence with such vehemence.

Diary ji,

Diwali is almost here. It has been a year since I wrote the Sita and Draupadi Costa chatter series which everyone liked so much. Anika was a tiny, few centimeters thingy wobbling inside Geet’s tummy back then and we were preparing ourselves for the biggest change in our lives. Now she is here and sometimes this all feels like a dream. She is five months old now and can turn on her tummy. We have started giving her dal and soups. The moment she sees a spoon hovering over her, she opens her mouth eagerly.

A very Happy Diwali to you Dear Diary. I hope you grow fat and healthy.

And a very Happy Diwali to the readers of this blog. I and my family wish success and happiness for all of you.

Anika in her red dress and bangles and a tikka way off the mark

Anika in her red dress and bangles and a tikka way off the mark

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.