Woman – Just Look at the sky

woman

look at the sky

no matter what they say

that’s where you belong

let your spirit soar

your ambitions fly

your fertility is a gift

don’t allow it to become a chain

that binds your dreams

take pride in it

flaunt it, savor it

but don’t let anyone else

own it

you are capable

of chalking your own paths

of making your own decisions

leading your own life

your ability to love is a boon

Don’t let it become a bane

to love is to give

but also to take

put others first if you must

but be aware of the stakes

and know always

that there is a choice

a choice that’s yours alone to make

don’t let anyone tell you

there is no other way

woman

you are a river

you cut your own course

you are the wind

no one tells you where not to blow

you are the mountain

unrelenting, majestic and bold

Woman

be fearless

there is nowhere you can’t tread

and if ever

the task daunts you

if ever you feel restrained

just look at the sky

no matter what they say

that’s where you belong

you will surely find the way

Tomorrow is Eighth March. the day we in India, celebrate as women’s day. In the last 66 years of independence, Indian Women have taken great strides. Many of us have managed to step out of the confines of our homes  and carved out a niche for ourselves in the social and political sphere. Many others have stayed within their homes and still managed to fuel revolution and bring about change.  There has been immense positive change. But much more remains to be achieved.  Ours is a society in transition. Days like this are reminders of the direction this change needs to take.

Happy Women’s day everyone!

Blueprint for change – making a difference!

5:30 a:m

I  wake up, just as the alarm goes off. Quickly choking its shrill voice lest it disturb Arjun, my husband. We both had a late night yesterday at Preeti’s place. I quickly freshening up, and head to the kitchen to whip up our ‘dabbas’. I work in a school and have to leave home by 7:30. At 6 :30 just as I have finished packing Arjun’s dabba the bell rings and I open it to let my maid in. Shanti has worked for me since the past five years. She is a hardworking young lady a mother of two girls. As I let her in today, is obvious that she has been crying. What happened I ask her. “ what else mem saab! He beat me again last night”

‘Why?” I asked

“Does there need to be a reason mem saab? Because he drank too much. Because I have two daughters. Because the younger one is not well and I wanted some money to show her to the doctor”

“But you earn yourself! Why do you need money from him?”

We talk as I rustle up a breakfast from Arjun. Some aloo parathas, they are his favorite. Arjun leaves for office at 10:00 and I like to leave him a breakfast. I am angry, at men like Shanti’s husband who are irresponsible and violent.

“He takes away everything I earn. The little that I manage to hold on to gets spent on buying food and vegetables”

Shanti says as she cleans up last night’s utensils. As I finish morning’s cooking I make tea for Arjun and me and  carry it with a newspaper to the bedroom.

“Tea” I say smiling!

He murmurs incoherently and sleeps again.

“Get up” I say going into the bathroom for my bath.

When I come out after tying my saree, almost ready to leave for school, Arjun has still not woken up. I sit down on the bed and gently nudge him awake. I take my cup of tea and sit down next to him.

“When will you ever learn to make tea properly?” says Arjun

“What happened? Is something wrong? ” I say

“ No nothing Its awful like usual” he snaps

“I will just make it again. Maybe it got cold”. I return my cup of unfinished tea back to the tray and head out to the kitchen.

“Don’t bother! It will be terrible again” he retorts

My eyes fill up with tears. I want to say something to defend myself. Something about mutual respect and appreciation but I know where that will lead. There is no time to argue. Much simpler to remain quiet. I go to the kitchen remake the tea . Check his breakfast and lunch tiffin are in order and dash off to school.

Shanti make sure sahib eats his breakfast and carries his lunch box to office”

7:55 a:m

Driving to school, I reflect on my life. I am an epitome of successful career woman. But in the ways that matter is my relationship with my husband any different from Shanti’s? True, there is no physical violence. But is that a result of well cultivated images or actual difference in the natures of our relationships?

I shrug off these negative thoughts. I am getting late and its necessary to focus on the driving. I have almost reached but it is taking forever to get to the school gate. there is a long line of cars carrying children in front of me. Many of these are vans, their windows rolled down and blaring music. Others are cars being driven by harried mothers or fathers or crisply dressed drivers. In either case the movement is slow, as drivers look for appropriate parking spots to park their vehicles and drop off the students. I honk, even though I know it’s no use.  I am in-charge of the assembly today and I can’t afford to be late.  even in my nervousness I can’t help reminiscing about the time I came to this school myself as a student. My brother and I rode our cycles to school. Other friends from our colony cycled too and it was easily the best time of our day.

5 p:m

“Why don’t children cycle to school anymore?” I ask my friend,  a mother of two young wonderful children. As we set out for our evening walk. “What? Cycle to school?” “ Have you seen the state of the city’s traffic? ” “I wouldn’t feel safe sending my children to school on a cycle. When I was a child, my sister and I took the school bus. Some of my strongest friendships were formed in the school bus”

“But most schools don’t run them any more. All we have are vans plied by private drivers that the school administration has no control over. Many of them are young and rash and frankly quite unsafe” She says

I can’t disagree with that. As we finish our walk and hit the main road to head back home  four young boys cross us on their motorbikes. They slow down as they come close to us. One of them whistles another passes a lewd comment, and the others laugh. When my friend and I shoot them an angry look. They rev up their motorbikes and take off. Billowing a cloud of smoke from their exhaust pipes right onto  our faces.

My friend and I are disgusted.”What is it with these young boys?” ” Why can’t they pass a woman by any woman of any age without making cheap cat calls”

—————————–

Above I’ve given you a capsule of an average day of not only my life but of  the life of thousands of other  middle class educated  women in India. There are many problems we face every day. Discrimination at work,  corruption, red tape, etc. But I will limit my essay today to the five problems brought forth in the events recounted above.

Problem number one:

Though most women my class will tell you that problem number one is finding efficient maids. I think problem number one is creating a safety network for maids like Shanti. These women toil all their lives. Put in longer hours than any of us ‘working women’. Yet they are not entitled to any health insurance, life insurance or pension. They have no formal system of saving, no ‘social security net’  they can rely on, in time of distress. Though the government can and must do more to ensure that all working people whether employed in the formal or the informal sector have access to medical insurance and pension. As an employer I can make a change.  I can find out more about the various governmental and private insurance schemes available and sign up to ensure that my maid gets health/ life insurance. Sure, it will cost me some extra money but the satisfaction I derive will be worth it.

Problem number two:

Almost all of us agree that the problem of violence against women is rampant in our country. Many of my friends have often recounted  gory tales about their maids, washer women, malish walis,  bartan walis, who are routinely beaten up by their husbands. What can they or I do to end this violence? There are no easy solutions to this problem. Steeped as it is, within the structure of our society that considers women inferior to men.

What  you and I can do is speak up. The tendency to keep silent creates a vicious circle in which the abuser thinks it is okay to beat up his wife. Next time Shanti complains of being beaten. Instead of simply tut-tutting and  expressing my sympathy.  I will takeout the time to meet her husband. I will try to speak to him about the violence and tell him  it is not acceptable for him to hit her. I can also meet Shanti’s in-laws or women from her neighborhood and ask them to stand up for her. I can offer her my home as a shelter if she needs it.

Problem number three:

It is not true that violence exists only in lower working class families. Violence both – mental and physical are very much present within our homes too. While we easily acknowledge and speak about the violence to others. There is a culture of silence, that keeps us,  educated middle/ upper class women quiet about our own experiences with violence. It is always easier to buy peace by keeping quiet.

We  have to begin to stand up for ourselves. Next time our spouses/ in-laws/ families are disrespectful or insensitive to us. We must respect ourselves enough to demand that we be treated better or have the courage to walk out.  I am an educated independent career woman. I know I am capable of managing my finances and my life myself. I don’t need to stay with a man at the cost of my self-respect.  The fear that binds me is the fear of society. I won’t let this nameless fear hold me back from living my life as I wish to. In the same tune, next time I come across an independent woman living on her own I will not make assumptions about her character.

Problem number four

Eve teasing! Why is it than not only men but even boys feel it is their birthright to make cat calls at every woman they see. Boys when alone do not usually misbehave but the minute they are with their friends they think it is manly to tease women/ girls.

Talking about grown ups around me. I am struck more and more by how biased and misinformed people are about people different from themselves. People are petrified of Muslims, apathetic about economically disadvantaged ,  and the men are complete insensitive to women’s issues. These are people who are very ‘well educated’, most of them with respectable professional degrees. One can’t help wondering how they managed to complete 18 to 22 years within the education system and still missed the basics.

The recent Delhi rape case brought forth a lot of discussion about changing the way men thought and behaved.  I have come to believe that gender sensitivity is a matter of an attitude/ a perspective and the place to impart that perspective is at school. I think we lay too much stress on academic achievements and don’t touch upon inculcating a sensitive humane personality.I feel it is imperative that we speak about gender and social equity with children at school. Talking about gender should be about developing an understanding of society’s assigned gender roles and expectations. It should include talking with children about what they consider ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’ thing to do. We need to break these constraining role models handed over by society so that our future generation is not tied up with this false sense of macho-ism and femininity.

I propose to start from home. To talk to the children around me about gender and social equity. I also propose to approach the school next door  to talk with students there about gender and concepts of equity. I envisage “Talking gender and social equity” as a short course – two to three weeks to be conducted with school children as a part of their curriculum. The course would have exercises that would encourage children to reflect on socially constructed  roles and expectations. I am imagining a kind of capsule learning programme that can spark children’s sensitivity. The program would be adapted to different ages and can  be repeated a couple of times during a child’s school life.

Problem number five 

Traffic and road safety. Though this is unrelated to the problems discussed above. It is a very real problem that most of urban India faces today. We need to urgently address this issue or else it will become impossible to survive in our cities which are choking up with car fumes. The most important step will be to create good quality public transport systems. Though that is the work of the government and we can not undertake that on a personal level. We can still take some steps that will help in addressing this problem. We can raise our voices in our children’s schools or in the schools we teach that at least these schools provide good quality, efficient and safe transport facilities to the students. Next time we speak to a local MLA, or go to vote, we need to raise the issue of public transport. If we as voters demand better public transport most probably we will get it.

This post is a part of Weekend contest at BlogAdda.com in association with Chanakya’s new manifesto

The forgotten God

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 36; the thirty-fifth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is “and then there were none”

Here I sit upon the hill

where I was placed so long ago

with rituals, ceremonies

and immense pomp and show

Much feared and celebrated

everything  that happened

attributed to my ‘divine’ will

bathed, anointed, glorified,

so revered

that I lost sight of my own flaws, my innate failings

Each day I was inundated

with requests and with pleas

“A little more money”

“A good job”

“Please god some peace!”

 I looked on helplessly

wondering at the irony

of men with brains and limbs

begging from a ‘stone’ like me

I ‘left’ them to their fate

the human race

to hunger, to pine , to starve,

to cry, to die, destroy and hate

They bore it stoically

waiting for the ‘miracle’

their eyes  blind with devotion

just couldn’t see

the paradox

of my creators

relying on a ‘miracle’ from me

For long they bided

my human  ‘subjects’

to reveal my ‘holy’ plans

but when it finally seeped

into their rhetoric drugged minds

nothing could make me act

not gifts, nor sacrifice, no amount of time

They left…

their belief though vast

turned out to be but finite

their love though copious

turned out to have a limit

their patience though immense

was tested

On the day when they could take my indifference no longer

when just seeing my stony face wasn’t enough

when the promise of a future heaven was no longer sufficient

they stopped coming

the children, men and women

in that order they fled

The priest hung on for a little while more

the  look he gave me as he went

beseeching…

as if to say

I am going too! now!

At least now take an action

prove you exist

Prove that the dreams I showed those people were real

show that you care

that you are really there

that we are your children

and that you are in control of our lives

I remained silent

stonily I watched as he too left

now I sit alone

perched on my throne

surrounded by the paraphernalia of their dead faith

A faith I didn’t deserve

a faith I didn’t demand

a faith that was thrust upon me

by the  statue maker’s hands

A faith that expected  miracles

from a piece of ‘stone’

a faith that absolved

them of their own indolent ways

and hateful deeds

I can’t say I don’t miss them

Those faithfuls who called me ‘God’

the endless chants barely hiding

their long list of demands

Here I sit upon the hill

forgotten and forlorn

I once had a crowd of  followers

and then there were none

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Introduced By: SIS, Participation Count: 6

The last tree standing – A story

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

 

I am the last tree standing

Like a sentry I guard this world

I still remember the day I sprouted

Two tiny leaves shyly peeped out

Fresh from the womb of Mother Earth

I looked around

There were many like me

Tiny saplings

All frail and flailing

The tall trees welcomed us

Into this magical world

Shading us from the harsh summer sun

Protecting us from rough winds

As we became older

Standing taller on our stalks

We became more

Aware of the world around us

The birds that rested with us

The squirrels that fed off us

The cat that slept on our branches

The bees that buzzed around us

But my favorite were the human kids

When they came to us

Climbing, giggling, laughing

I felt the happiest

The elders

Fell in a hush each time they came

Humans they said

Were not our friends

We were standing at a crossroad

With the human race

Why don’t they like us?

When I asked

They laughed at me

One of them said

It’s not that they don’t like us

They just don’t value us enough

Land, money, roads, development

Take precedence in their minds

What can we give them?

That’s more important than these

I pondered upon this

Many an eves

To me the human mind

Was a mystery

And then I met her

“Her” being a human girl

Dusky and lithe in long pigtails

She was different from the rest

There was calmness in her being

She watched every step she tread

Careful to not mistakenly

Squash an ant or trample a reed

Under her bare human feet

The first time she made her way to me

She patted, as if saying hello to me

Then gracefully she climbed aboard

And seated herself upon my fork

There she sat for very long

Mostly quiet

But sometimes breaking into a soft song

When she fell asleep

I made sure

I didn’t sway in the heavy breeze

As evening fell she left

I wondered when I would see her next

The next morning before the sun got harsh

She was again in our park

Climbing nimbly she took her place

And spent with me another day

Next day she was with me again

And next and next again and again

She always came alone

Often bringing a book along

Using my bark as a pillow

She laid reading

Sometimes dozing off as

My leaves fanned her

To sleep

We developed a bond

The girl and me

She softly whispered her secrets to me

Her hopes and dreams

She shared with me

There was no one at home

To listen to her

I became her friend

But what was really strange

It seemed she could hear me too

My questions about the human race

Were answered with patience and amazing  grace

“All this development and rat race

Will one day kill us” she wisely said

“Humans are not bad you see

Just confused about what life really means”

“And what does life mean” I curiously asked

“Life is a gift, a special treat, to absorb and understand all one sees

To do what one can for other beings,”

“For other beings?” I said

“Like you” she smiled delicately

“You give shelter, you give air

Firewood, fruits you always spare

You protect this earth

You my tree are life’s sentry”

Conversations like these we often had

Our days began to roll along

I don’t know for how long she would have come to me

This wise human child who befriended me

Maybe our game would have lasted forever maybe not

I will never find out

Because that day

While we sat talking – The girl and me

The bulldozers came in a throng

Their roaring noise disturbed our peace

Birds squawked and flew away

Before we knew what was going on

We heard the old Mango tree groan

He had been hit at the bark

The girl jumped off me with a start

She rushed to where the men stood

“Stop” she said

To the one in-charge

“Stop”! I beg you with all my heart “

But the men ignored the little child

The machines continued their noisy grind

Soon the elderly tree lay on the ground

Killing the saplings upon which he fell

The girl shouted, screamed and wailed

But nothing would halt the killing trail

When my turn to be mowed came

The girl flung her arms around me

“No” Not him, I won’t let him go

The men tried their best

To wrench her off

But there was godlike strength in her arms so frail

She stuck to me and sobbed away

As the trees around me fell

I wept too for my family and friends

I don’t know exactly when

Something hit the girl’s head

But even as she slumped and fell

Her arms didn’t leave my swell

Just before night-time came

A lot more humans made their way

To where the little girl lay

Men muttered and women wailed

“So brave” “so kind” they began to say

Photographs were clicked

And meetings were held

No one had the heart

To tear the girl and me apart

That is how it came to be

The girl was buried under me

And a lot of little saplings were sown

Around us

A boundary was made

A guard posted and a sign that read

“Vaishali national park”

Cause that was her name

The girl with pigtails

Who lost the battle and died

But in her death

She brought new life

The saplings are growing

Fast and tall

I guard them now

With my All

And when they ask me about the human race

I tell them her story

“Humans are brave” I say

The best kind of mates

They fight till death

To save a friend!

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Audience of One – A letter to God

The Daily writing prompt today was

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

Though , I am not participating in the challenge. Here’s my letter!

Do you really exist

Jesus, Ram, Rahim

Whatever be your name

Are you really there

Watching over us

As we go about our mundane lives

How much of what happens to us

Is really your doing

How do you decide

Who to reward

And on who to inflict the pain

Who will live

And who will die in vain

How does it feel to be all-powerful

Do our tears , sorrows or wishes

mean anything at all to you

Or is it all pre-decided

perhaps you’re like a writer

spinning long tales

and we just  playing the roles,

delivering our lines

According to your plan

Or are you helpless too

Tied

by our karma or the lack of it

Like the doctor

Who’d want to save everyone

But simply can’t

How does one reach to you

Make sure you understand

That your human puppets

May need to be held
In  more humane hands
Check out the entries in this challenge:

Forgettable Memories

Some memories

are barred

like old friends who fell apart

never to be revisited

Some memories

are best erased

like incorrect answers on a test

never to be retraced

Some memories

bring only pain

like  sutures on the jugular vein

never to be reopened

Some memories are sad

bringing with them

a sharp ache

that I’d rather never feel

Some memories

I wish to discard

but am shackled

by my foolish heart

Some memories

I am forced to keep

cause within their bitterness

there is something  sweet

Daily prompt – last words

The challenge was to write one last blog.

You have the chance to write one last post on your blog before you stop blogging forever. Write it.

On reading the other entries I realized that almost everyone has interpreted this as their last words. And to be fair that makes most sense. I have on the other hand written a sort of ode to WordPress. What can I say in my defense? Maybe at 35+ I still consider myself invincible. :) It seems like I have a lot to learn and grow up to :) :)

Goodbye WordPress (WP)!

I came to thee in pain and agony. Having recently lost my most trusted sounding bench to misunderstanding and rife. Bursting with unexpressed sorrow. Feeling cheated and undermined . Your pages healed me.

The writing providing a vent. Gave me the safe space to express myself.

I found new friends, to share my insignificant life with. The comments on my posts  replaced the now empty folders of my cellphone and became the reason to wake up each day.

You  brought me new role models. People to look up to. Survivors who’ve gone through more than I can even imagine. That helped me put my pain in a perspective.

 You allowed me to meet authors and poets and creative writers of immense talent. They inspired me . Gave me  new dreams.

Riding the WP reader  I  visited many countries without moving an inch. Gathered experiences from around the world.

Sitting on your shoulders I watched mothers with better parenting skills as they raised their children. Spouses with better communication strategies bind their relationships more firmly. Busy women with great time management tricks get impossible amounts of work achieved daily. I watched and learned, becoming  in turn a better parent, wife and worker.

At WP I was awestruck. Awestruck by the clarity of thinking and broadness of views of the younger generation of my country. Here I met the future of my country and the world. And if what they say here is anything to go by, my children will surely enjoy a world that’s safer, more inclusive and better in every way.

Besides all this WP, you entertained me. Short stories, anecdotes, humorous posts, cartoons, doodles, movie reviews, craft, cooking, news, publishing latest books, political views…… In the last one year I’ve been here. I’ve never been bored. having WP in my life has been like having a gaggle of lively friends. In whose life something interesting is always “happening!”

WP you  gave me a safe shoulder to rant on, helped me fine tune my writing skills, made me a part of a this large creative community, brought me new friends,  and most of all you humbled me! by showing me all the talent in this world.

But all good things come to an end they say. And what “they”  say is usually true! Its with a heavy heart thus that I bid you adieu! And I sincerely  thank God  for the day, I met you !

Check out these wonderful entries on today’s prompt

  1. Daily Prompt: Last Words « perjalanan menuju entahlah
  2. The Last Words « The Chatter Blog
  3. One Last Post….Or Not | Neurotic Pixel
  4. Daily Prompt~Last Words « The Cheeky Diva
  5. I’VE MEET SOMEONE « hastywords
  6. Unspoken Apologies | Going the Distance
  7. Last Words | Bullets & Dreams
  8. Daily Prompt: Last Words (of Advice) – waldina
  9. Dear Dead Child, Stop Haunting Me. I’m Squeamish Already. | All Those Small Things
  10. Daily Prompt: Last Words | thematticuskingdom
  11. Want To Feel Good About Your Life? « Spirit Lights The Way
  12. Tongue Held Adventure « Sisters of Christ
  13. Famous Last Words | Shadoza: In My World
  14. Goodnight, Goodnight | A Little More Documentation
  15. Last Words | The life of one hot mess in a wolf pack circle
  16. The Awkward End Scene « Fish Of Gold
  17. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu | Seriously Seeking Grannies
  18. My Last Words | Happy Clam
  19. The show has been cancelled… but the adventure is just beginning. | rarasaur
  20. Daily Prompt: Last Words « Something Unspoken
  21. For a group of silent bits and bytes

colorless in my pallet

Hollow silence

absent dreams

stripped spaces

Un-uttered screams

Lost desires

Unlit fires

Pillaged memories

unmoving   streams

vacant tomorrows

the world within

bare

void of  color

But then

like red and blue

isn’t colorless

a color too

The prompt at We Write Poems this week is “Color a Poem”.  “Colorless in my pallet”  is my attempt towards the prompt.

Weekly photo challenege: “Purple” (The colour purple – A story )

Purple

They say Purple is the  color of magic

the color of mystery

But to me Purple

will always be “Vrinda”

The color of vivaciousness and kindness……..

The day I met Vrinda was the best day of my life. every detail of that day is etched in my mind as if it happened yesterday. I was sitting in the college canteen by myself. When this girl in jeans and a purple top walked by. I had seen her around, she was a junior not particularly beautiful, but charming. I saw her observing me as she passed by.  I am used to curious looks. I don’t blend in here.

But instead of passing me by as most do. Unexpectedly, she slid in the chair next to me. I was in no mood for a chat. After that disgusting argument with Akash. Akash is from my batch and he is the president of the student union. The past six months since I have been here its no secret that we don’t get along. We don’t agree on anything. Like the last tiff, this morning. About four boys who were caught cheating. The principal decided to rusticate  them. Akash wants the student council to oppose the decision. keep all students out of classes till the decision is reversed. During the heated discussion in the  assembly hall half an hour back I was the only one who stood against the decision. What kind of precedence are we laying? Are we saying that any student can break any rule and we will use our might to ensure they do not bear the brunt of it. As expected I was vetoed and hooted down. Akash plays to the crowd. Who wants to speak the truth and be unpopular, much easier to say things that please. “Student union is for the students. We support our brothers”. Brothers my foot! scoundrels and losers all of them.

“Hello!” Vrinda interrupted my thoughts.

“Hi!” I said a bit absentmindedly.

“Why are you sitting alone? Mind if I join you?”

“No, Go ahead” I said not completely sure of what she wanted.

“It’s  not a nice feeling being lonely” she said softly.

” Many times being lonely doesn’t mean we are wrong just that no one else understands the language we speak”

I looked up at her. As if for the first time. The purple top she wore fell off her right shoulder somewhat to reveal a beautiful collar bone and delicate petite shoulders. Her eyes were  looking at me intently, as if she could read something in mine that I wasn’t aware of myself.

“Why do you say this?” I asked a bit bewildered.

“I have been observing, whats happening with you “. “You are new here!”

Yes, I  was new . A rare case of transfer in the senior years. The part of the country I came from was very different. Language, food, ideals, beliefs – I just didn’t mix in here!

“You won’t believe it, I was very popular back in Trivandrum” I found myself saying, completely out of context.

No sooner had I said it, I was embarrassed! That was so childish, boasting about one’s own popularity.

“I am sure you were” Vrinda said and smiled at me tenderly.

The words just rolled off then. Conversation flowed and when the bell rang for my class, I looked at my watch but ignored it. She too just sat there and rattled off her stories. That girl could talk! In an hour I knew almost everything about her. Her family, her dog, her friends, her love for books. I felt myself relaxing and smiling for the first time in weeks. I took out my cigarettes from my pocket, looked in askance at Vrinda.  she nodded a yes and I lit one. Completely relaxed now! She asked me why I smoked. I said, a bit cheekily, to keep my hands busy! Why not write/ or text to keep your hands bus? Much better for your lungs. she shot back. “There is no one to write to” I said. Try me, she said and burst into laughter. The tension just ebbed out of me. When we did separate , with a cheery “see you around” from Vrinda,  I found myself humming on my way to class.

The next morning my phone rang me awake. “God who could be calling at this hour, I looked at the phone with bleary eyes” “Vrinda” it said , I picked it up. “No one said anything. Hello! Hello! “give me that phone Kia” . I heard vrinda shout. and then what sounded like a child’s laughter. The whoosh of the air as the phone seemed to change hands and then Vrinda’s voice. every bit as bright as it was yesterday! “so sorry about that, my niece dialed the last number. hope you were not sleeping. sorry!”  Vrinda had taken my number yesterday and given me a missed call so I could get hers. “Its OK! I said no problem”

After putting down the phone I wondered if I had been too brusque with her. I didn’t see Vrinda the next two days. I texted her a joke. She wrote back asking why I was texting during a class. “To keep my hands busy” I wrote. she replied to that with a smile. The next day I found her sitting in the canteen with a group of girls. She and her friends were chattering non stop. Her friends seemed to be just like her, talkative brats!

She wore a long white block printed skirt and a brown simple t shirt, with long ear rings. The ear rings caught my eye . The way they shook each time Vrinda said something. When she noticed me she waved , mouthing a “Hi!” and then beckoned me to join them. I am not shy. Far from it actually. I was always  surrounded by at least a dozen boys / girls at any time back in my college in Trivandrum. Only here I was alone. Seeing my reluctance, Vrinda walked up to me caught my hand and took me to her table. She placed me on a chair next to her and then continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.

I soon got used to the idea that Vrinda had made it her job to make me at home in the college. Realizing I was alone in my PG she started to bring me food in her tiffin. Saturday nights she would include me in her plans of a movie or whatever her friends and she were doing. When Holi came. She insisted I came to her place. There were other college friends too. Two boys and five girls who also didn’t have family in town. Vrinda seemed to collect waifs. People lost and alone like me.

Over time we developed a ritual. Once in a couple of days we would share a coffee in the canteen and talk. She had a sixth sense about me. Guessing things I had never told her. Like the time she asked me “are you not talking to your parents?” . How did she know I wasn’t? Or the time she suddenly said “I have a feeling you sing. Do you?” I did in fact sing. But had given it up after Prabha. Prabha was the reason I was here. So far away from home in exile. Prabha, the girl of my dreams. The girl my parents just wouldn’t accept. The reason I went into drugs. Watched two years of my life slip by. Changed the course of my dreams. The reason I didn’t speak to my parents. The reason I no longer fitted in, anywhere!

I told her everything. How Prabha and I had discovered each other only after finishing school even though we had been in the same school forever.  The two years we had spent every evening together while  preparing for entrance examinations  in a city away from home. My parents refusal. My cowardice in not standing up for what I wanted. Her marriage to someone else. My Drug habit. The dark hole into which I plunged myself and then the jolt that brought me out again. Determined to make a fresh start.

Vrinda understood.  She had this infinite patience and wisdom much beyond her years. Her words managed to calm me, though I never let that be known to her.  I got to know even more about her. We gave our own names to each other. She called me ‘mad’ and I called her “Miss purple” – her favorite color. Not particularly creative, but they were special.   Being in the final year I was always very busy. Even so,  on weekends Vrinda managed to drag me somewhere or the other with her friends. We went to the sea-side, Haji Ali – the mosque in the middle of the sea , all kinds of cafes and restaurants that only Vrinda knew, and theatre! Everywhere we went, she inundated me with stories telling me why the place was special to her. I always pretended to be a bit aloof, serious, unconcerned. But the truth was Vrinda had sucked me into her world. She had managed to give me a ground in this strange city and  the stories and places she shared had made me start forming ties with this alien land. She had also coaxed me into getting back in conversation with my family.

She hated my smoking and constantly nagged me to give it up. She loved my voice and almost I was constantly inundated  with requests for songs. She and her friends would double up with laughter with the way I pronounced the words and teased me mercilessly!  I pretended to be angry, and refused to sing. But in truth, I enjoyed it all, it  reminded me of my sisters and family back home.

Vrinda often spoke about her fiance, Amar. He was Vrinda’s next door neighbor and their families were close. When Amar was leaving for the US, for his PHD. His mother had suggested they get engaged with each other. Vrinda’s family had accepted and Vrinda was happy too. She knew him well and they had shared a close friendship since childhood.   They would be married after Vrinda’s medical college. All of us teased her mercilessly about him. She always took it in good humor.

Ananya, was Vrinda’s closest friend. Gorgeous with long wavy beautiful hair and eyes that sparkled.  Every warm-blooded boy in college was hot for her.  She was enchanting and she knew it and enjoyed the attention.  I often asked Vrinda to tell me more about her. She did, but it was evident that she never really liked it. One evening when we all hung out together, I spent a long time chatting with Ananya . I could make out Vrinda wasn’t too pleased with that. She told me that though Ananya was a nice girl and her best friend. It is best if I keep away from her. That spiked my curiosity. I cajoled Ananya’s story out of Vrinda.   She told me about Ananya’s long-term relationship with Arvind. A politician’s son, who besides being rich and powerful was very jealous.  If he found anyone getting close to Ananya he got violent and abusive. Vrinda said, she didn’t want me to get in any mess.

I met Arvind at the college festival. I was walking down the path with Vrinda. When suddenly he came face to face with us. She jumped a bit at the unexpectedness of it. They exchanged a formal hello, and she moved on. I followed, looking back to size up the guy.  After that I would often ask about Arvind. The normally talkative Vrinda, never spoke much about Arvind. Saying she didn’t know him well. He traveled a lot and they didn’t really hang out together much. One day when we were having coffee together she got a call. It was from Arvind. They had a long conversation. From Vrinda’s end I could make out that he was angry about something and she was trying to placate him. “No Arvind that’s not true” she said. “”There is no one else “. When the call ended she seemed low.

On asking she told me, sometimes Arvind called her up to talk about Ananya. Like today he heard Ananya had gone for a movie with someone. He was very suspicious and jealous. Vrinda told me, Ananya may not be happy to know Arvind had called her. Ananya hates it that Arvind is so suspicious about her. She explained and asked me to not tell Ananya about the call.

I found that odd. After that I started noticing that Arvind called Vrinda quite often. Whenever he would call, she would be upset.  The conversations would be long. And after them Vrinda seemed a bit per-occupied and distant. She used to stonewall all my inquiries about Arvind. So I started doing my own snooping around. From a reference here or there by Vrinda’s friends I gathered that Arvind, had in the past hung around with the group. Till something had happened and he  stopped. What that something was I did not know. I tried . I cajoled, I asked! I confronted! I threatened. But each time Vrinda said the same thing. That there was nothing. Arvind just called her when he was very angry with Ananya and she placated him. Ananya could not be told about this because she would confront Arvind and then there would be major fights. Besides she had made  a promise to Arvind that she would not tell anyone, and wanted to keep it.

Vrinda started keeping away from me. A bit aloof. She no longer texted me twenty times a day. Or pestered me to come out with her friends and her on weekends. The more distant Vrinda grew the more I realized how close I had come to her. I wanted to be privy to her every thought and deed. I was convinced there was something that  Vrinda was not telling me.

One day I took matters in my own hands. I got Arvind’s number and called him up. Admonishing him to not call Vrinda again. Arvind was livid. We had a mad session hurtling abuses at each other. Half an hour later Vrinda called me up. I had never heard Vrinda so angry before.

“Vijay,  How dare you call up Arvind. You betrayed my trust. Who gave you the right? Why won’t you believe me? And Why are Ananya and Arvind so important to you anyway? Why won’t you understand me?”

I didn’t understand her! I was hurt and angry. This Arvind was ruining Vrinda’s life, He was making her upset and lie to her closest friend and yet she was siding with him. Then it struck me. Maybe Ananya’s suspicion was right. Maybe there was something between Arvind and Vrinda. But she could tell me that. I was her friend. Hadn’t I told her everything about Prabha and even my drug habit. Surely she could trust me with a little secret.

I went to her home.  I could see she had been crying. I told her I had figured it out. What she was keeping from me. Why she was trying to put a distance between herself and me. “You have!” she looked at me, hesitantly. Yes, I said I have figured out that you and Arvind got  involved. Ananya had found out and that is what is making you upset.  “You can trust me” I said. I can help you. You should have seen the anger in her eyes when she heard that. She walked away and said she would never see me again.

Now I was mad. Did she take me for a fool. I had seen the world more than I her. This was not like the Vrinda I knew at all. This anger, these words, they had to be someone Else’s – Arvind’s! But why was she playing in his hands? Why was she not trusting me or Ananya. The answer came to me in a flash. He was blackmailing her! Holding her to ransom over something. I tried to contact Vrinda. But she would not hear me. I wrote messages telling her I knew he was blackmailing her. Maybe he had some letters of hers or a picture. These things happen! She called me a fool with baseless ideas.

Seeing no other way I got hold of Amar’s e-mail address and wrote him a mail. I explained to him what I suspected. That   Vrinda and Arvind may have had a relationship and now he was blackmailing her and holding her ransom. I urged him to do something to help Vrinda.  The next day I got a message saying he didn’t care.  She is a free girl to have  a relationship with anyone. That he is no longer involved.  That was strange! I went to Vrinda’s home again that day. She opened the door but didn’t invite me in. “Vrinda, listen to me. Don’t talk to Arvind. Whatever it is you have with him. Stop it. Even Amar seems to be angry with you because of Arvind” . She just said. “you have no idea why Amar is angry so shut up” . I will speak to Ananya and tell her everything, I warned. “Go ahead” she said resignedly. You won’t believe anything I tell you anyways.

I called up Ananya and told her everything. How Arvind called up Vrinda and how it always made Vrinda upset. And that Amar too had left Vrinda because of this.  Ananya, didn’t say much. Just thanked me and put down the phone. The next day   in college  during break time when everyone was milling around the canteen.  Ananya came up to Vrinda and slapped her. I was too far to hear what she said. But everyone froze and stared at Vrinda. Vrinda just stood there crying. After that day I never saw Vrinda in college again. She stopped coming. She didn’t answer my messages or take my calls.

That was the last thing I did. I went home for ten days. Trying to forget it all. When I returned final exams were upon us. I didn’t see Vrinda again or hear from her till today. Today when I found her in the room on my rounds. She was sleeping when I went in.  Straight black hair, tiny face, that beautiful collar-bone. Vrinda! What was Vrinda doing here? I listened as the interns read out her case to me. Last stage leukemia. My Vrinda. The lively, vivacious, girl. I went through the day on auto pilot. After my shift I went back to her room. This time her mother was there. She recognized me, immediately. “Beta! You are  Dr. Kumar? ” We never realised. Yes aunty! That’s my dad’s surname I never used it back in college. How is she? “What can I say beta. you are the doctor” she started sobbing. I too couldn’t hold back my tears.

Just then Vrinda murmured something and woke up. “Mad”!  I looked down. I just couldn’t look up in her eyes. Afraid of the anger I may see there. “Mr. Mad” she said again happily! I looked up. She was smiling at me. Correct that, she was beaming. I went up to her.  “Miss Purple ” I said. It may have sounded silly, but we didn’t care.  She held my hand. “How are you?” She said. So like Vrinda. She was on the hospital bed and she wanted to know If I was fine? Yes,  I nodded, not trusting   my voice.

“How is your mom? your sisters? and nieces? Did you become an oncologist? Where did you disappear? Didn’t you get to know about my wedding from anyone? Are you married? Do you have kids? I have one! ” She started blabbering. I started laughing! This was the Vrinda I knew. My Vrinda. The talkative brat!

I sat down next to her and we shared stories. 13 years flew past. Vrinda didn’t marry Amar. After the incident with Ananya, She never went back to medical college. She skipped the year and then got married to a businessman in Delhi.  I was sorry, I changed her life. She said I did but it was Ok.  She had no regrets. God had been kind to her. Her husband was nice and they had a beautiful 10-year-old daughter.

Vrinda had refused chemotherapy. She wanted to enjoy whatever time she had left in sanity, surrounded by hr family. I saw her everyday.  I told her several times that I was sorry! for her break up with Amar. I supposed, the call that I had made had ruined their relationship. Vrinda never replied to that. Always choosing to keep  quiet.

The last day I saw her. It was Sunday night. I got a call at 1 a:m from the nurse. Vrinda was in  great pain. I hurried back to the hospital. Her husband and mom were there. When the nurse and I walked in. They went to the corridor. I checked her vital stats. She was in a bad shape. there was nothing I could do except give her a stronger dose of pain killers. I injected them myself. Relax I told her. Patting her on her forehead as I made to leave. “Wait” she said weakly. I motioned for the nurse to leave. Sitting by her side.

“You know Vijay. I told you the truth. All along. There was nothing ever between Arvind and me” .

I am sorry I said. Because of me you lost your career and Amar – your love.

“Amar wasn’t my love.”

“He wasn’t? ” I asked

“No,! The week before you wrote to Amar, I had called up Amar and told him that I was in love with someone.”

With who I asked, puzzled

“With you”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me”  I asked, barely whispering

I tried, but  you weren’t listening!

Her family walked in just then. And I had to leave.

I didn’t go back home though. I sat in my room at the hospital all night long. At 7 in the morning the nurse called, to say that Vrinda had passed away!

I gathered my coat, told the nurse I would be on leave that day and walked away.

Purple

They say Purple is the  color of magic

the color of mystery

But to me Purple

will always be “Vrinda”

The color of vivaciousness and kindness

and the color of a mistake

the biggest mistake

of my life.

I don’t usually write stories. the credit for inspiring this one goes to Mukesh  Rijhwani of  My words, My world.  

He threw me a challenge that I had to accept! :) On his suggestion I have sent the story to Grapevine publishers

They are having a contest for sad love stories. Check it out!

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Parenting! At the traffic signal…

The tap  at the window makes me look away from the countdown of the clock at the traffic light. A woman dressed in a shabby saree has stuck her face to my windowpane. Seeing that she has caught my eye,   she makes a gesture to indicate that she wants some food. I look into her eyes, the desperation in them seems genuine. I look at the purse kept next to me. But my hands don’t reach out to it.

Instead, my mind goes to all the horror stories I have heard about  organized begging. Children being pulled out of schools / kidnapped/  forcefully restrained and even maimed and made to beg, drug habits cultivated to ensure ‘victims’ stay in the begging circle, babies being rented from slums to increase the  “pitiable” factor. “When we give alms to beggars we do them more harm than good”, I have sometimes been told. I have never been able to make up mind about this though.  And every time a beggar approaches me on the road, the dilemma pops up – fresh as ever. Always Unresolvable!

I look at the woman again trying to make up my mind. I nod negatively, trying to indicate that I will not give her anything.  But my ‘no’ doesn’t have enough conviction or determination. She senses the doubt and lingers at my side.  Tapping, making the same desperate gesture, trying to appeal to the doubt in my eyes.

My six-year-old son sitting on the rear seat has been watching all this intently. ” What happened Mumma?”. I decide to put my dilemma to him. Kabir she wants some money.  I can’t decide what to do? “Give it Mumma” , pat comes the reply. Unhesitatingly, quickly, without a trace of doubt.

Just then the traffic light turns green and the impatient honking of the cars behind me forces me to move on! Kabir, quickly stands  on his seat , Turning around to scour through  the rear windshield.  “Mumma there she is! Should I call her?” . ” No baby, we can’t stop now”. “Yes, but we can call out to her and then we can take a U-turn and go back” he replies innocently. I can’t help smile, at the easiness of it.

I had intended to explain to him the depth of the issue. About  the racket! How the money we give may end up in the hands of a mafia and  cause more harm than good. How we may be inadvertently encouraging  children  to be kept away from schools, or kidnapped or maimed. But the guileless sympathy in his voice, kept me quiet. It was too precious! why be in a hurry to kill it right now? It may die soon enough!

I recalled the incident that had robbed me, of mine. I had just started my first job as a junior researcher for an NGO. During my training as a social worker. I had met gangs of street children. Heard their heart wrenching stories of abduction, forced begging, drug habits, rape and violence. I had begun to appreciate the complexity of the issues in their lives. I had learnt that they needed much more than just a few coins to regain their lives.

Going on my scooter I spied an obviously pregnant young woman being supported by an older woman. From the way they dressed they both looked like village women. Up ahead they were approaching the other commuters, obviously asking for help. No one paid any attention to their obvious plight. My heart ached. I called out to them. It seemed the younger one had started labour pains and they wanted money to take her to the hospital. I offered to drop them on my scooter. But they refused. “She needs an auto-rickshaw.  she can’t really go on a scooter.” Seemed sensible and I was in-fact,  getting late for work. I pulled out all the money I had in my bag.  Rupees three hundred and gave it to them. Other commuters looked on. I glared at them, silently admonishing them for their lack of sympathy.I thought about the woman all day.

Three days later at another signal I came upon the same duo. Instead of being angry or challenging them, I felt  ashamed.  Ashamed, that I fell for their silly trick! Also a bit ashamed that they needed to resort to such lies to earn a few bucks. But looking back I can say, that at least some seeds of cynicism may have been  sown that day. From them on, I have no clear policy on dealing with begging. Each time a beggar approaches me I make  on the spot decisions .  Sometimes handing over some loose change, at others buying them some food (so at least they can eat), sometimes refusing outright. My stand is not clearly defined. And no matter what I do,  it always leaves me the uncomfortable feeling that I may have done them more harm than good. Or certainly not done enough.

Should I explain all this to kabir. Help him see the various aspects of the issue. Make him understand that begging is a manifestation of a larger socio – economic problem – poverty. And that simply handing out money while assuages our guilt may be doing nothing to really help the beggar. How should I word it so while he appreciates the depth of the problem he  does not lose his sympathy for its victims – the beggars!

At the next signal, a little beggar girl, in a dirty frock and matted hair came to us. As she knocked on our window, I looked at her. Even if the dirt and desperation were an act. The poverty was real. I turned back to see Kabir, looking at me intently. I instantly made a decision. I reached into my purse and handed him some coins. He opened his window and gave them to the girl.

Better to teach him the lesson of sympathy than understand the complexities of life at this age. Let him coin his own dilemmas when he becomes older.  I relaxed and  turned on the radio. Even though it may be ‘wrong ‘ Giving (even though not enough)certainly brought more satisfaction than not giving at all. Just when we were about to reach home. Kabir spoke up again. “Mom how much did we give that girl?”. “Two coins” I said. “How many rupees was that?” he asked. “Two I think”. I answered. “Mumma is that enough to get her food?” That hit me like a bag of stones. I mentally kicked myself . Where was my mind? Had I just taught my son a lesson in empathy or  ‘tokenism’?

Not sure about what to say,I kept quiet.  “I am sure two rupees are a lot! Aren’t they mumma?  My friend gets two rupees a week for pocket -money!” and he happily skipped away.

I was glad the moment was over. Thank god for  innocence! I know I will get a second chance. And then I will be better  prepared, to teach the lesson better.

Have you ever faced a similar dilemma? What do you do when a beggar approaches you?