Saturday, 18 December 2010

Life in a metro

THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION

I never associated myself with a metropolis. I come from a small town in central India, where you could sweep the entire ambit with just a bicycle. Usually such small towns are remote and devoid of many privileges that a nearby city offers. But ours was more fortunate. Due to the presence of army cant, our town could afford to have fancy stores, nice restaurants, and big brands. At the same time it was peaceful and tranquil.

The southern outskirts of the town, beyond the Army War College, were enveloped in lush greenery. The woods used to flourish in full bloom in the month of August, which was when monsoon drenched the town with showers. The air was damp and environment tranquil, it was nothing short of paradise. It was in some of the sporadically scattered ghettos in these woods on which our family business thrived. We used to offer consultancy and help to illiterate villagers who wanted to apply for various rural development schemes of the government.

My father was always short of hands and I used to offer one, I filled up forms in lieu of a hefty pocket money. I knew nothing beyond this town, I didn’t need to, it offered everything one could ask for. But after high school I was confronted with the prospect of making a career. Everyone around me was studying something extra apart from school books. They joined various coaching institutes and read bulky books. There was enormous pressure on me and I conformed. I too joined a good coaching. I was not more than an average student. With whatever I had, I managed to get admission in a reputed college in nearby city.

And finally my average academics landed me a job in this metropolitan. It had its own pace, which was very fast for a rustic like me. Huge vehicles moved with incredible pace; people walked around in a hasty manner and usually treated each other as inanimate objects which was the only option given the crowded streets and public transports; you couldn’t see many stores, people usually bought from malls; trains were the veins of this city, they were fast and had an elaborate network.

In fact trains were the only option for large distances since roads were frequently blocked due to traffic jams. Railway stations were built every two kilometers or so. Typically on a railway station a train would come every five minutes. On larger junctions, the frequency could be double or even triple. As soon as a train halted, cohort of people will alight and board in a very small window of time since a train would halt for not more than thirty seconds. Needless to say they were overly crowded, working class commuters filled every inch of it. And it ran with unrelenting pace, in fact no one was allowed to walk near railway lines because speed of these trains tested quickest of reflexes.

I had no qualms about this metropolis. I had adjusted to its idiosyncrasies in my own way. I rented an apartment in suburbs which was at a distance from bustle of the city, I would rise early in the morning and stay in the office till late, that saved me from burgeoning crowd. The suburb was actually a small village around which I had built pretty much of my metropolitan life.

One frosty night, one of the trains, which enormously contributed to the identity of this metropolis, ran over four pedestrians trying to make their way across the railway line. Before they could get out of the way, the magnitude and intensity of this beast unnerved them.

The metropolis somehow lived with the loss of few of its inhabitants. Its daily chores resumed next day. It couldn’t stop; it was carrying too much responsibility for that matter. But in its heart, it must’ve felt grief for such a loss, for a brief moment though. 

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Story Behind Missing Shoes


Suhana waited for her childhood friend in the coffee shop. Youths, college students, young couples swarmed the place and created a na├»ve ambience. Suhana hadn’t seen Madhvi for almost two years now. Madhvi was forced into a marriage by her parents a month ago. She wanted to marry her college boyfriend Nikhil but her orthodox parents denied her that luxury and made her tie the knot with some suburban software programmer. The absence of Nikhil only exacerbated her predicament. Nikhil had gone abroad on a trip sponsored by his company’s.
Suhana knew that much from their telephonic conversation and was eager to listen how it all happened. She was earnestly waiting to hear the story of her friend’s journey from forced marriage to coming together with the love of her life.
Madhvi arrived, in gray jeans and a skin-tight, purple, silk top which revealed her chubby figure and outlined her round bosoms. Suhana felt that her friend had put on a little weight over the last couple of years, nonetheless she looked appealing. She noticed that Madhvi had improved her dressing sense immensely, except for one thing. She was looking such an adorable darling this evening, but one important thing in her attire was missing; she had no footwear. She arrived barefoot in Barista, which was more than just a coffee shop.
As Madhvi came near to embrace her, Suhana enquired intuitively, “Where in world are your shoes?”    “Oh it’s a long story, lets order some coffee first” said Madhvi rolling her eyes. Broad grin on Madhvi’s face exuded an ecstatic delight she felt after the ride on emotional roller coaster was over.
“Where is he?” Suhana asked while looking over at the door if her friend’s lover was coming after her, probably after parking his vehicle.
“We were coming together to see you when we got the news that his boss had a minor attack this morning. He went to see him while I took a cab to reach here. He’ll be with us in a couple of hours” Madhvi said transmogrifying expression on her face as if blaming her misfortune.
“So tell me how it all happened” Suhana was earnest now. Both sipped cappuccino while Madhvi began narrating the events of the month that passed:
On the night of our marriage a month ago, I told Jay that I didn’t love him.
“You did, right on the first night? Poor guy must’ve been drowned into sorrow. What did he say?
He rubbed his forehead with his hand and gave out a forlorn cry “Madhvi, what have you done! You should’ve told this to me before marriage.”
“I wanted to” I said “but I never got a chance. You know everything happened so quickly and it was this archaic tradition of disbarring the couple from any kind of conversation before wedding. I am really sorry Jay, I should have told you before.” I started sobbing before him. “I don’t know what to do” I lamented.
“Anyways, better late than never, who is he?” Jay asked blatantly, he made out that my only reason of not loving him was probably that I was in love with someone else.
I said “We did our MBAs from the same college. It was only at the end of our two year term that he gathered enough courage to propose to me. We were together for some eight months during which we decided to tie the knot as soon as he returns from his three month company trip to Singapore. And you know what happened thereafter.” He was listening intently to whatever I said. I got scared of the way he was staring at me.
“I am sorry Jay I should’ve told you” I started wailing and wheezing. “I don’t know what to do!” I cried.
“Where is he right now?” Jay asked. I was afraid as I had no idea whatsoever what his intentions were.
“He hasn’t returned from Singapore yet.”
“When will he come back?”
“In one month or so” I was petrified.
“You must understand Madhvi that you have no other option left…” my heart sank after hearing this. May be I should accept my fate I thought, he gave a small pause and finally informed me of his intent “…except to wait for him.”
As soon as I heard this from Jay tears began falling from my eyes. I just couldn’t believe my luck. It was surreal, is it happening to me! I thought I was dreaming.
Suhana interrupted her “Ohhh! Poor Jay, he was such a darling.” She empathized with him.
But my happiness was short lived. I realized Jay could not have pulled it off on his own. What would he say to his parents, to my parents, to everyone? This was no child’s play, we were talking business here. Jay seemed to have read my mind “Don’t worry about tomorrow Madhvi, sleep well, we’ll work something out”. He tried to soothe my anxieties. I went to sleep with mixed feelings of delight and apprehensions.
We spent next few days under the pretense of a married couple. I made friends with his younger sister-Mitali. And his five year old niece Kapila was such a sweet heart. I had fun spending those days with them.
One evening Mitali found an old album of their family pictures. Mitali, Kapila, and I spent that evening watching those pictures. Kapila showed me snaps of her and her brother getting their clothes dirty in the garden when they were five year olds, their family trip to an amusement park. In one picture Jay was sitting on a heap of raw cotton; he must’ve been a couple of years old then, in another he stood with his right hand on that part of his body where it hurts the most.
Suhana laughed.
As we were enjoying ourselves in the drawing room Jay came back from office. I showed him his childhood pics. “You were cute” I remarked.
“Yes, I was” he put too much stress on ‘was’ while looking intently at one of the pictures. I was grinning as I noticed where it was going.

“You still are” I said such that he could barely hear it, looking at him with an awry head.

“You think so?” He asked me wearily. We both laughed.

“Jay was a passive guy wasn’t he?” asked Suhana.

“He was shy. And introverted,” Madhvi replied.

Jay and I became friends. I started sharing a lot of things with him. I told him about the incidence when Nikhil and I fell off the bike as he was trying to make an impression on me by displaying how well he skidded. He laughed out loud when he heard that Nikhil had to get his broken hand plastered after the incident and flunk mid-sems due to that. I got a little too carried away when I talked about Nikhil. I began to weep silently, or as less noisily as I could. He tried to commiserate with me.
“its okay its okay! It’s just a matter of few days” he said while striking my hairs.
“He was kind of…” Suhana was looking for the word. Madhvi found it for her
“…Selfless. But he tried to flirt with me on one occasion.”
“Tell me about it.” Suhana was surprised to learn the other side of her friend’s ex-husband.
On Easter holiday Jay’s father asked us to visit his uncle’s farms for the weekend. Jay didn’t want to go. We had developed a deep friendship and he didn’t want to give the false impression that we were happily married. “What will I tell them, ‘what happened’ after you leave” he would tell me. But his father insisted and finally Jay gave in. When we were coming back from Uncle’s farm on Sunday, Jay had grown very tired of travelling in the bus. It seemed like his head was suspended and was oscillating under gravity. I would admit that I am guilty of enjoying him banging his head twice on the windowpanes but I suggested him- although laughingly as I couldn’t contain myself- that he can rest his head on my shoulder if he wants to sleep.
An impish chortle appeared on his face, he said “If I keep my head on your shoulders, I won’t be able to sleep.”
“Wo-Ho! He wasn’t a cow” said Suhana admiring her Madhvi’s ex-husband’s sense of humor.
“Don’t you think he was” Madhvi said playfully.
In fact several such incidences occurred after that day. Many a times when we watched cricket with his family our hands would touch and we will smile at each other. He was so shy that once Mitali asked to take picture of just two of us. Mitali repeatedly asked him to come near me. He would move just an inch. And finally when Mitali thought we were close enough, she commanded him- rather obtrusively- to put his hand on my waist, and he lifted his hand, put it around my waist, but kept it away ever so slightly so as not to make a contact and still make it appear that he had me in his arm.
“You gave a lot of pain to that poor chap.”
“Yeah sometimes I feel guilty about that. May be he would remember those days for a long time. But eventually he will forgive me or maybe he already has, I can tell that much as far as I know him.”

“Okay enough of Jay now! Tell me how did you came to meet Nikhil” said Suhana finishing her final sip of the coffee.

To be continued...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Souvenir



M
onsoon always brings the sweet fragrance of wet soil, and nostalgia along with, for him at least. It always beat him why, until today. Today was an overcast day, just like the day of his convocation. He could remember the day vividly. He remembered all the fine details. He had mixed feelings that day, that of overwhelming happiness and the pain of knowing that this was probably the last he was seeing her for a long time. He was one of the brighter students of his class; president of student’s association and editor-in-chief of the college magazine. That’s why he would be receiving the gold medal, more popularly known as The Medal of Honor, this evening.

It was right from the first semester that he began to fall for her. Not love on the first sight, but something more gradual. He saw her dating a few pupils, change a few boyfriends, but there was nothing serious. He had his reasons of not letting her know about the soft corner he had in his heart for her, they were beyond the fear of rejection and need not be mentioned here.

The dean felicitated him with the Medal of Honor, with fifty four percent of gold in the 10 gram coin and a red ribbon hanging around it, around his neck and complete batch applauded for the man of the evening. Everybody knew him not only for his brilliant intellect, but for the compassionate compatriot he was. He was always there for close friends, and also for not so close ones. He ranked second in most of the academics, but would still receive the Medal of Honor, no surprises for the entertainer he was. His stories in the college magazine moved even the sternest of faculties.

The evening was nearing an end. People started leaving- his eyes were involuntary searching for the face.

She was with her friends; schmoozing, laughing, bantering. He was looking for a private moment and finally got one. This was the moment; he was there, standing in front of her, looking in her eyes. He had played this tape so many times in his head. He never took off his eyes from her. He gently expressed himself, in a hushed tone, “May be you know but may be you don’t, that ever since I saw you I have been falling for you. I just wanted to let you know, I have a small corner in my heart, soft like a feather, where you reside.”

She frowned and transmuted the expression of her face as if she was completely taken by surprise, but the frown was a lie, he always believed she knew. She spoke “Umm, I never saw that coming” another lie, “don’t you think it’s a little late?”

The ballroom was almost empty now except for few boys bantering around the corners. “On the contrary I feel it’s just about the right time, and you know precisely why. I just want you to keep this, as a souvenir” he gently tucked the gold coin with red ribbon hanging around it in her right hand. He began retreating, his eyes locked in hers and at last he muttered “Goodbye!”

Five years down the line…

Today was the get-together of his batch. It was an overcast day, just like the day of his convocation. Monsoon always brought the sweet fragrance of wet soil, and nostalgia along with, for him at least. It always beat him why, until today. He was early; his eyes were involuntarily searching for the face. Finally it appeared. It felt like it was same as it was back then. All those years hadn’t affected her in the least. Mauve and beautiful, it felt like those years of college had just passed by. He was still the editor-in-chief and president of the student's association. He looked for the souvenir, did she preserve it? If she did, is she carrying it today? He scanned her all over; it was there—entwined in her purse chain. An involuntary smile appeared on his face. She was coming to him. His heart was pounding, it was a magical moment. She sat next to him on a bar chair. Quickly they were engaged in a conversation. After few trivial topics came the inevitable. “So, did you get married?” he asked. “Yes as a matter of fact I did, and just a few days have passed when I got the news that I am carrying a baby inside me.” She had a look of amazement in her eyes as she revealed, goose bumps on her sleeveless arms were palpable.

“Did you?” she asked.

“No, not yet but soon I will be. I am engaged for over a couple of years now.” After a few minutes of badinage they bade goodbye to each other, for one last time. They went on to pursue different goals and never met after the get-together. He watched pictures of her and her family few times, on orkut perhaps.
He never understood what she felt for him. Why did she preserve the souvenir for so long and why did she carry it that day? Out of love, reverence, or just courtesy? But for him it always remained a College Love, not forgotten.