A Little Bit of Sunshine…

15 April,2016

It was a day that went by much too fast. Just a while ago, I was waking up in my bed…having overslept by normal working day standards. Running around, multi-tasking at unbelievable levels, crashing into doors and banging into tables, I stumbled my way to office. I step in and tasks come flying at me; it is half an hour before I have time to keep my bag in place and drink a sip of water.

Summer is raging, and the sweat trickling down my back. I had rushed up the stairs but a much-needed breather does not come until lunch time. The madness continues…meetings, discussions, Excel sheets and Google docs!! I rush out with a colleague for a meeting, but that meeting turns out to be pretty much ‘a waste of time’. Back to office and it is almost time to wrap up the day. Just then, I get a text from my husband. We had to deliver some containers to a friend and the meeting time just got pushed up to an hour before the scheduled time. So basically…..that meant I was back on my feet and maneuvering my way through traffic. Once again, I am rushing up the stairs, grabbing the bag and running down to my bike. Back in to the traffic. Having delivered those containers just on time, I am out to buy some groceries. I walk, hoping to finally breathe a sigh of relief, but diversions in roads leading to traffic jams don’t spare a chance. Having finally managed everything, I make my way home. 

Tired and waiting to just crash straight in to bed. I turn in to our parking area, with a desolate expression on my face. I am driving mechanically, when I suddenly brake hard! A girl, about 4 years old, leaps straight in front of my bike. I give her a shocked expression, she simply smiles in return. She is the caretaker’s daughter, someone I know by sight and name. I wave her Goodbye when I leave for office; she dances in my path with a welcoming smile when I return.

Today, she is flaunting a new dress! Holding it up, twirling it and jumping with excitement  as she screams, “Didi!!” I see it in her eyes, I hear it in her voice. She has been waiting all day for me to come back; just so I could admire her new dress. It is possibly someone’s discarded dress…but in her eyes, I realise its value. Her smile is contagious and before long, my tired expression breaks into a grin! My heavy footsteps get a spring in them as I walk up to my house.

And just as I turn a corner, I come face to face with the lady and daughter who live a floor below us. Again, someone I know by sight and name. She is dressed up in a fancy saree, and the smell of perfume envelops her. She smiles at me, and I smile back. I expect her to just walk away, when she suddenly holds my hand. “You look so tired, just look at those eyes!!” For a moment, I don’t know how to react. She asks me about my day, she tells me about the birthday party she is heading out to attend and she warns me to relax when I get home. I nod, acknowledging her advice and continue my walk up the stairs. Just as I fumble around for my key, I hear her voice floating up the stairs, “What a sweet girl she is! What a pretty face! She’s always so polite and smiling…it is good to have her around. She brings a little bit of sunshine to this building…” She is talking to her daughter, and I am smiling over these unexpected compliments coming my way.

When I was about to reach home, I was waiting for the day to come to an end. Now I think I might last a few hours and happily. You spend the day, looking out for life but you realise, Life is also out there…looking out for you.

It just doesn’t always lie in great achievements and lengthy meetings. Sometimes, just sometimes, it peeks out from an innocent child’s grimy smile and through a polite conversation with a neighbour. It brings the warmth back in to the world. 

Just like a little bit of sunshine does, after the clouds have moved on.
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In the Land of Stories…

26 March, 2016.

One of my favourite photographs from my childhood is of me lounging in a chair and reading a book with a furrowed brow. Upon closer inspection, that ‘book’ is actually a phone diary…but my intent look shows a thirst for reading. I must have been about 3 years old then. That was the beginning….of me lounging about, reading a book and being lost to the world.

Growing up, my snack times were focused more on the book I was reading than the food I was gulping down. A good habit or a bad one…it was always a matter of debate in my household. But the ‘madness’ that ensnared me then, never really let go. English became an obsession; calling it a passion would be modesty. Through school and college, I found many people who encouraged this madness of mine and added fuel to the fire by introducing me to new worlds.

The land of stories is a fascinating one. You can switch destinations and loyalties with the flip of a page. You can develop friendships with characters and feel bereaved when the storyline demands their death. You can sit in a corner of your house and yet live many lives, fictional and heroic. It fascinates me; this language, those words. And especially the travels…

Today, I attended a session where a lady narrated her experience of solo backpacking through Italy. Her presentation started off with a very interesting quote : “Mixing business with pleasure is not a sin…” It made me smile and it made me think. About the time when I mixed studies with pleasure. A pleasure beyond words. A feeling so pure. It made me reminisce of the time when my backpack and I went for a hike through the land of stories…

It had always been my dream to study English in England. As a child, the dream made perfect sense. As a teenager, the dream seemed impossible. But as someone with a family who nurtured her love for the language, the dream was within reach. All set to study M.A in Linguistics in England, I set off…far more excited about exploring my storyland than about the course!

Solo backpacking by a woman has its safety issues. You are scared, apprehensive about the treatment you would get and the looks you would have to deal with. But as I set out to explore the settings of my favourite books and the birthplaces of my favourite authors, I realised they were all women too. And woman to woman, this travel was going to be safe. Because in the land of stories, the good always defeats the evil…

I walked through the streets in Bath that Jane Austen once walked on. I looked yonder at the moors that the Brönte sisters once wrote about. I shed tears of joy in Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I shed tears of grief at Sylvia Plath’s tombstone. I paid my respects at Ted Hughes’ house and I tipped my hat at 221B Baker’s Street. I gushed upon the birthplace of the Canterbury Tales. I relived my childhood at the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition. But what thrilled me most, is that I lived the Enid Blyton experience!

The creaking stair in the house and the whispering trees of the Enchanted Forest. Scones, mince pies and Yolkshire puddings. The laughing brooks and the thrill of Guy Fawkes’ night.

It was all straight out from my stories. They say, a piece of fiction hardly ever matches reality. But standing there in England, as I absorbed all these parallel realities, I acknowledged what a fantastic job these authors have done, absolute years ago. They created words so strong that imagination would never be far away from reality, and yet the magic in it remained intact. And the little me who spent hours in the fictional world, opened her grown -up eyes to a world just as perfect.

The stories might be fictional, but the land exists… 🙂
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Unsaid Goodbyes…

14 March 2016.

Sometimes images refuse to leave your mind. Memories flood in and leave you washed out. Devoid of emotions, just a blank dull ache. You try everything to distract yourself but the images insist. You want to smile but it seems you have forgotten how to. Your smiles were tied up with those images, the creator of those images. And all of a sudden, that creator had to leave. For whatever reason.So often in life, a person walks away. Without rhyme or reason. You are left there, all alone…with your broken heart in one hand and the other hand raised in a half-goodbye. But he never waited to see you wave Goodbye.

That unsaid Goodbye hurts. Over months and years.

No matter how old you grow, that sudden moment of separation always hurts immensely. While you are oblivious to the world, a friend leaving you alone in the playground hurts. When you grow up, the contexts change. The feeling never does. You just learn to put up a mask and move on with life. Do you really grow strong with growing years?

In your mind, you are still holding strong to thoughts of creating so many memories together. You refuse to accept it is all over.

All you do…..can really do, is shed tears and hope you get all washed out. From those images, from that guilt.

Of not having been there to say that final Goodbye.

The opportunity missed, that Goodbye will always remain unsaid.

  

The Silent Spectator.

28 February 2016.
Do you remember how we met?
I don’t.
The more I try to stretch my memory, the more I am lost. There is no ‘screaming’ memory of having met you. Because since forever, you have been a quiet little,sweet little girl. Fair with chini-mini eyes, the kiddo version of you was nothing less than a doll. Dressed up in lacy clothes, I almost felt you were one. Afraid to touch you, lest you break. Somehow your fragileness always kept me away; regarding you always as someone’s sister and never as you yourself.

It is funny how Life had other plans for us. All those years when we played together, performed in dances together…all we really exchanged were smiles. But out of those four protective walls and suddenly we were the thickest of friends. Starting off together as instructors on Ground was a leap I couldn’t have taken without you.
And till date, I am thankful it was You and no one else.

Because that one step made me walk many a mile with you. Literally we’ve walked all over Pune (at your speed too!!) and metaphorically we’ve walked off the years. Today the path we’ve left behind is filled with nothing but sweet memories. The lingering fragrance is a reminder across the miles, that someone somewhere is always going to be there for me.

Your crazy infectious laugh and your willing feet that accompanied me everwhere, your enthusiasm in planning surprises and your fright upon receiving them yourself….every moment spent with you is crystal clear in my memory.
Only one aspect of you remains obscure. You see, nowhere have I mentioned ‘talking’ with you….so often have we made you our ear. The ‘trikut’ is incomplete without the one person sitting in between, listening to two randomly parallel stories, one in each ear…..always there for us, always a silent spectator.

And yet, every single life needs that silence. A person who doesn’t need to be heard but who listens to all that needs to be said.

For without that silent spectator, life would be meaningless.

Now and forever.

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True Love… is just You.

14 February, 2016.
The memories force me to look back. I remember that bandana on your head, the t-shirt you were flaunting, the shorts you were wearing. I remember hearing your name; I remember seeing your face. But there is one thing I have long since forgotten…the way we met.That first look we shared.

Awkward, shy and almost non-existent was I. But you walked in and threw colour into a bleak life. Sometimes, late at night, I sit and wonder…were you sent in my Life for a reason? May be to make me smile, may be to teach me to love. Love myself and embrace the world. Looking up to you (and literally!) I stood up on my own feet and actually bore my own weight. It was a young age, the age of infatuations.

And I was deeply infatuated.

I was convinced my heart was lost forever. Never would I find it back, although I knew who it had crossed over to. You spent ages convincing me to take it back, but stubbornness is a trait synonymous to me. I was determined to make this crush last as long as I could, try your advice on yourself. ‘Love yourself and the world will love you too…!”

For me, the world was You.

….I still remember that day you invited me home. After a million ‘Oops I forgot to introduce you to my mom’ meetings, there arose a day when your mom opened the door for me. A door into your house, and into her heart. A random opportunity of entering your house, and I seized at it shamelessly.

Never have I stopped ever since.

….I still remember that moment when you drew me close and told me you loved me. If there is a Heaven we can experience while on Earth, for me it was that very moment. It was my moment of success, of having proved you wrong. It wasn’t an infatuation. It was Love. But above all, that moment was our moment of happiness.

The first of so many more to come.

In the days that followed, there began a mad rush to know each other. As friends, there are some boundaries you never cross but as lovers, there hardly remain any. You drew lines, I walked over them. I insisted, you gave in. There was every possible way of communication used, because any amount of time spent together was too less. I wish there was some way of ‘saving’ your touch because every other interaction between us could be archived.

You left me hungry, desperate for you any time of the day.

…I still remember looking at you across the hall and feeling your eyes find me amidst that crowd. The smile we shared then and so many more times later. A world of our own amidst the bustling crowd. Your searching eyes when I walked out of sight, my lost gaze when I didn’t see you around and the almost instant ‘Where are you?’ messages that followed. The walk you led me on through a million lanes, watching from a distance and enjoying my desperateness. And then that moment of relief when I finally saw you…!

When Joy knew no bounds.

…I still remember those moments of pure jealousy I went through on various occasions, because I was so sure you had lost all interest in me. All throughout, my failure to notice that your eyes were still on me, your thoughts still revolving around me. But the arrow that pierced through me each time a girl walked too close to you. It killed me and it healed me at the same time. I knew your worth better than before and I held you closer. You reacted, you walked off and then came laughing back on my possessiveness. I relished those moments but until then, my mind went through gruesome turmoil. Each time I made a new mistake and each time you forgave me, with varying bouts of silence.

That silence kills.

…Your eyes flashing with anger and your voice struggling to stay calm, it is one of the serious fights we have occasionally. These moments are far and few but they are always true. When two strong characters collide, there is bound to be noise and chaos. Emotions flying in the air and words hiding behind silences, we have always preferred to keep quiet rather than give vent to that rage. Thinking of each other even in those times though the arguments would never support this claim! Complaining about each other yet holding fast. Threats of ending the relation but never really gathering the courage to walk away.

Maybe because there isn’t any other place we’d rather be.

We fall, we hurt and we cry. Sometimes we ignore each other’s pleas for help and sometimes we are the first ones to wipe the tears. People worry about us, people warn us but we have never listened to people. For in our world, there is no space for people. Admirers walk in and out, jealousies soar and subside; the love still holds strong.

Maybe it is Destiny; that you walked up to say Hello…

I take a moment here and break the spell. So many memories later, it seems a lifetime with you already. The rush of memories has not lessened its intensity but the mind needs to take a break. The heart forces it too. The love that has surfaced, the sudden urge we have always joked about…it is threatening to spill over. And I am trying to fill a glass that is already full. All around, I see and hear so many bad things…upheaval in the world, resulting in frustrations abound; and for a minute I steal myself a prayer. I am thankful for my piece of Heaven amidst this chaos.

I am glad every once a while you slip on the garb of Prince Charming and make me live a Fairytale…

…I still don’t remember when I realized You were the one, or when you figured me out to be your lifetime choice. But I do remember every single time I looked at you and my heart did a somersault. I do remember wondering every single time what was it that made me drool over you so much. And I also remember every single time you questioned me over the same. I don’t think I have found the answer yet.

In fact, I have stopped looking for the answer.

All I know is that for me, True Love lies in your smile. I find it every single time you yell at me or ignore me. I see it when you look at me and talk to me. I hear it when you answer the phone and crib about being woken up. For me, True Love is in all the moments spent with you and in your absence, thinking of you…

For me, True Love is just You.

Dog-gone Days!

09 February 2016.

Late at night, my phone beeped. Late night messages and late night phone calls; both scare me. As far as I’ve known, neither have ever brought good news. I twisted and turned in my bed, a restless night lying ahead of me. A sudden thump woke me up completely at dawn. Eerie howls echoed through our street. About 8 – 10 dogs were gathered around someone, or something slumped. Fear gripped me. Had there been an accident? Cold air came swooping in as I pushed open the window, pushing sleep completely out of my eyes.

As the sun rose and a beautiful morning greeted me, I saw the slumped something. It was a dog, perhaps the victim of a road kill. The animal lay there, still and cold. Life had ebbed away as a new day began for everyone else…

I have never really been a dog lover. In fact, as a child, I held a fear or perhaps some sort of dread for this species. For years, I screamed, hid behind doors or relatives, and at times possible even ran away at the sight of a dog. But then, people around me started to have dogs as pets. Both my aunts, a best friend…all these families opened their doors and hearts to this creature. I adjusted to the idea of sharing space with dogs, but never really petted them willingly.

Today, as I watched the carcass of this animal, I didn’t realise that another dog, miles away from me, had already lost its life. Absentmindedly, I checked that late night message and I suddenly felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. The message began…’A sad news…’ The rest remains a hazy nightmare.

A fluffly hairball, a crazy grey and white dog came rushing towards me, the first day I stepped in Hagen. It was the summer of 2007 and I was in Germany for a cultural exchange programme. My host family had come to receive me at the airport but the first one to welcome me into the house hadn’t been a person, but this dog. Fenya.

She was a baby, a lovely dog with her whims and fancies. My first instinct had been to back off; a dog leaping on me was one of my nightmares. But this dog did not know how to take No for an answer. She welcomed me not only into her house, but also her life. My 5-weeks long stay in this house would have been incomplete had it not been for dear Fenya.

7 years later, while in the UK for my post-graduation, the proximity to Germany tempted me for a visit. I was back in Hagen, back to the same house, back to my family. And once again, Fenya was running out….her ready wag telling me that I had been missed in this house, by everyone. She still guarded my door, she still caught me by surprise by sleeping on the stairs, she still growled if I crept up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. We went for walks in the lovely woods, we played ball in parks, we even had crazy fits for no reasons whatsoever.

All my life, I have seen a lot of pets. I sat next to few, even allowed them to occasionally sniff me. But Fenya was the first and the only dog I shared house with. She was someone who taught me that dogs are a part of the family too. The first animal to show me unconditional love.

Today as I read the news of her death with a lump in my throat, I realise I can never truly explain what Fenya means to me. I can just know, I can just feel, I can just remember and I will, always miss…

Thank you for the memories…

26 January 2016.
A blaring sound wakes me up from a dreamy sleep. I rub my eyes and scramble toward consciousness as I realise it is my alarm going off. I splash some water on my face, tie up my hair; all set to kick off the routine. Just then, a realisation hits me. It’s a holiday today. I don’t have to go to work. But I do have to be somewhere today….
I dress in the darkness, lest my husband wakes up. I bundle myself up in warm clothes, heading out. I am excited about this early morning ride albeit travelling down the same route as usual. I stop enroute, pick up a friend and on we head.
I reach my office, and yet after so many years of coming down this route, I take the ‘right’ turn…
The campus seems smaller somehow and yet innately familiar. The steps are cold and yet we seat ourselves there. Welcome strangers into this ambience. A familiar tune plays up and a voice on the microphone catches our attention immediately…
“Rashtriye zende ko salaami denge, salaami de!” Flashback to the 90s. Dressed up in warm clothes, sagging socks desperately trying to stay on. An ironed uniform, bleary-eyed me still recovering from last night’s dreamy sleep. I gaze up at the stone building, the big round window my focus of attention. The last time I looked up at that window and sang the school song with such gusto was 9 years ago.
Funny how it took so long to turn right when every single morning I just take a left to reach my office. And that one turn transported me to times long gone.
My friend and I sat through the Republic Day function; each aspect that we once counted our way through, now being thoroughly enjoyed. Function over, we walked over to the teachers with hesitant footsteps. It had been long, we weren’t regulars, no chance they’d recognise us…we consoled ourselves. And yet the first teacher who spotted us, immediately smiled at us. As we gazed back into her eyes that had lit up with recognition, we were there. In the moment. In the school campus. In the building that gave us so many memories and perhaps still preserves them for us…
We slipped up the staircase, touching each surface of ‘our school’ with a deliberate reverence. We peeked through windows. We strained our eyes to see if the benches we once sat on, still bear our imprints. We skid down corridors, our laughter echoing through the building.
“Remember, how we used to wave Hello here to each other?” “Wasn’t that where you used to sit?” “Who was your bench partner then?” “Oh no, I had been punished outside this class in Std 6…” The memories flowed freely and we realised being ex-students was just a state of mind. In reality, we hadn’t really moved on. Our childhood was still safe here, still very much alive. We rang the school bell, just as slyly as we used to back then. We cast around guilty glances lest some kaka or moushi rushed to scold us.
Everything was just where we had left them; the classrooms, the libraries, the staff rooms. Exulting in the nostalgia, both of us came to a standstill in front of a classroom. We smiled at each other. This was the classroom where we first met. Where we first looked at each other. And where we first started to avoid each other despite being neighbours.
13 years later, as we stand outside the same classroom minus heavy school bags and an embarrassing uniform, a realisation hits us deep. School taught us many lessons. But the greatest teaching ever was of Friendship.
And here we are, outside the shrine where we first bowed down to a long-lasting friendship…

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