Being me.. ( short story)

Ananya stared blankly at the giant cup of coffee that lay in front of her. The café wore a forlorn look and Ananya noticed that she was the sole customer. It wasn’t surprising as at eleven, on a Monday morning, people generally do not have the time to relish a leisurely cup of coffee. They are busy running the race called ‘life’. But Ananya was in a pensive state of mind. She was never the ‘brooder’. She was organized, cautious and a stickler for perfection. But, life had a different path laid down for her. As she recapitulated past six months of her life, for the nth time, she wondered why it had to unfold the way it did for her.

***

Ananya was the only child of her parents, both of whom were engineers and working in different MNCs. As far as Ananya could remember, she had been an ideal daughter. She was a good student and after graduating from a prominent college, landed a job as a journalist in Hindustan Times. Ananya had always wanted to become a journalist and she was surged with excitement the day she started working for the newspaper. This was six months ago.

What transpired in the coming days was beyond her understanding. Ananya was young, she was enthusiastic in her career pursuits, but she never had many friends. She was not a loner per se. Yes, she had friends in school and college, but she was not thick with anyone. She never had any amorous inclinations towards the opposite sex. Like girls her age, she never really swooned over boys and craned her neck to peek at the cute lad in the seat behind her, while her way to college. She blamed her disinterest in all things mushy to the fact that she was focused and these things could wait.

It had been a month since Ananya had joined the newspaper. The work was exciting and each day she learned something novel. Her co workers were a pleasure to work with and almost everybody welcomed her graciously onboard. Jiten was her colleague who sat next to her. He had lent a helping hand to her many a times whenever she needed a second opinion on something. Of late, Ananya noticed that, he was being extra sweet to her. One day he asked her out and Ananya couldn’t decline. Why would she? Jiten was smart, caring, funny and was decent to look at (not that she fell for looks).

In the next few months, Jiten and Ananya became a couple. Ananya was ecstatic to say the least. She liked being the object of affection of such a fine young man. But, something felt amiss. She could not spell it out exactly but something was awry. Like any regular couple they progressed from holding hands to kissing. But, to her dismay, Ananya did not like such physical intimacy. She thought that since this was the first time she was in a real relationship, she was jittery.

It was Ananya’s birthday and as she made her way through her workstation, everyone screamed “Surprise” in unison. She looked at everyone and felt loved. Jiten stood in the centre and held a big bouquet of red roses. As Ananya looked at him lovingly, her eyes transfixed on a face, a new face.  She was a girl about her age, with long curly tresses and a smile so vivacious that Ananya felt mesmerized. She felt something. She thought the girl was beautiful.

In the next few days, she got acquainted with the new girl. She was Riya, the newest employee. Ananya and Riya became really good friends in no time. Riya had the same taste in books and movies and she too like Ananya had harboured the dream of becoming a journalist since she was a little girl. Riya was looking for a house as she was new in the city. Ananya offered her to stay at her place till the time she was on her own. She felt happy whenever she was with Riya, she also felt something else which she couldn’t quite figure out.

That day, she knew. The feelings which she had hitherto dispelled, gave her a new identity. For days together, she was in denial. But, she was not someone who believed in self pity. She always looked for solutions, whatever the travails life offered. She made up her mind to meet a counselor, who would help her realize whether her feelings made sense or she was just going through a phase.

The session with the counselor was exhausting, mentally. He reinstated her beliefs. He told her she was not abnormal. He told her she should not be ashamed of herself. Lastly, he told her it was natural to feel stifled, distressed, owing to the stigma attached with homosexuality in the Indian society.

***

As Ananya slurped her coffee in a jiffy, she made a decision. She had come to terms with her identity and she realized that she would only be able to move on with her life like a normal person, if the people around her too come to know of who she was. She owed it to them and most importantly she owed it to herself.

As, Ananya dialed her mom’s number, she felt something at the bottom of her stomach, it was like that feeling you get before an important test. But, like all the tests life threw at her, she suddenly knew that she would come out triumphant in this one as well.

 

 

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Sisters (short story)

“Mom, I am already late. I do not have time for this, I will have something in the canteen”, exclaimed Avantika, pushing away the glass of milk that her mother lovingly brought to her. Jyotika, who was sitting at the dinning table looked at her sister with a sense of  awe as always.

Her sister Avantika, who was two years elder to her was a charmer. She was pretty with those big expressive eyes and long curls which further accentuated her beauty and added a mystic element to her persona. She was an all rounder, college President and a gifted stage artist. She was the star performer of the college theatre group ‘Goonj’.

Jyotika on the other hand was what she liked to think in her head ‘A Plain Jane’. She was an average student and was not very outgoing. She was demure and was one of those individuals who preferred not to stand out in a crowd. The very thought of being in the spotlight unnerved her. As far as she could remember, she had been living in the shadows of her elder sister. She was not jealous of Avantika, in fact she looked upto her. But owing to her elder sister’s knack of being a perfectionist , Jyotika often considered herself insignificant and worthless.

Her parents loved the two of them equally but inadvertently everyone talked about Avanika.  Jyotika did not blame anyone but herself for this. Had she been gifted with some kind of talent , had she brought some laurels, however paltry, people would have stopped and noticed her presence. She despised herself for being the ‘mediocre’ person that she was.

Jyotika was restrained and shy in front of people. But, furtively she also dreamt of acting in one of those plays, in which her sister acted. She would often stand in front of the mirror and enact lines from the plays she would watch her sister perform in. Her favourite was the portrayal of Olivia in Twelfth Night. Avantika had played the part with such flair that Jyotika was spellbound. She was fascinated as to how the characters disguised themselves and wore the garb of a different person, just like that. How she wish she could do the same and become someone else, even if for a day. But, alas, such things do not transpire in the real world.

Jyotika and Avantika studied in the same college. Avantika was unarguably one of the most popular girls of the college. Today, as Jyotika made way towards her class, she could sense that the college was abuzz with activities. The annual fest ‘Rendevouz’ was to commence in a couple of days.

After a day packed with back to back classes Jyotika reached home, exhausted. As she plonked on the living room sofa, she saw her mom frantically looking for something. “Mom, what are you looking for?”, she enquired. “Beta, do you know where the first aid box is? Avantika is down with fever.”

Next day the entire family was in the hospital as Avantika was diagnosed with Malaria. As Jyotika sat next to her sister, holding her hand, she could see her listless eyes which were usually full of life. “Hey, you will be fine, di, why do you look so upset”. Avantika smiled and told her that she was very excited about the re enactment of the play Twelfth night in the college fest. “It was such a huge success the last time we performed and I so wanted to be a part of it on a bigger podium like this where so many other colleges were participating as well”, Avantika said, with a tinge of sadness.

“The group will have to suffer because of me. How will they find another actor at such a short notice?”.

“Do not worry di, they will find another Olivia soon, not as good as you are, but they will.”, Jyotika made an earnest attempt to console her sister. Suddenly, as if on a whim, Avantika uttered, “Hey, Jyotika, why don’t you play that part. I know you practice Olivia’s lines secretly in your room. Sorry for eavesdropping, but I know you know most of the lines. I will call Akash and tell him we have found our Olivia. You will be perfect”, she exclaimed with a surge of excitement.

Jyotika looked at her sister unbelievingly. How could she be so confident that I could act in front of all those people. “But di, how will I? I am not that good. Besides I will be nervous”.

“Don’t you worry, I will help you. All those jitters will vanish once you step on the stage. Trust me, ok”.

The next couple of days, were like a dream for Jyotika. She took centre stage , practiced her lines. She was Olivia. The feeling was still sinking in.

On the day of the play, her parents came to cheer her. Jyotika played the part beautifully. She was not that bad, she thought. For her the very fact that she faced a hall brimming with people , was an achievement it itself.

As her parents embraced her lovingly, complimenting her for her performance, she wondered, ‘If I had low self esteem, how could I have done what I did tonight?’

She had conquered her fears and unshackled the chains that had hitherto pulled her down.

Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

 

 

 

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Stop labeling a Single child

It starts with a look. A cold judgemental look which seems to almost well, deride you.

Since the time my daughter turned four, I have been at the receiving end of such looks from an array of people. They ask me if my daughter is my only child followed by “oh” which implies that you fall into the breed of ‘selfish’, ‘want to live for myself’ parent category . For some it is just a customary ‘oh’ while some feel that just the ‘look’ is not enough. They believe in imparting wisdom to the less wise. So, they start off with the following:

  • Your child is old enough to manage on his own (well, how do you know, you live with me?)
  • He/she will be alone  later in life
  • “Poor kid” (bichara) all alone without a sibling to play with.
  • If you have two kids , it will help you when you are old ( so basically procreate to ensure a safe haven when I am old and withered).

Out of all these justifications, which are often thrown at me ,like those darts aiming at the target, the one that annoys me the most is when my kid is being labeled as the ‘poor kid’.

It really unnerves me. More so because my shiny four year old does not seem like the one anyone ought to pity. She is an opinionated girl, who talks to wits end, who likes to mingle with children her age and most importantly who is ‘happy’ in the space that her parents have created for her.

It infuriates me to the core as, I as a parent do not give the right to anyone to give my child such a label. They may as well channelize their idiosyncrasies somewhere else if they so desperately feel the need to ooze out the yarns of wisdom that lay inside them.

Whether or not to have more than one child is the most debated topic of these times. Though here I would like to mention that I have no qualms against parents who have multiple children, I really don’t. Also I do not doubt the numerous advantages of having a sibling. But what fills me with indignation is when people try and enforce this decision of having two or more kids on others unwittingly.

They do not realize that the woman might be having problems conceiving, her financial status may not be conducive enough for her to take the plunge, she must be going through health issues, absence of family support or may be she just isn’t ready to be a mom again. The last point (she isn’t ready to be a mom again) is the most frowned upon in our society for reasons I fail to understand. It is presumed that since you are born a woman, you should have a motherly halo around you and love and compassion should flow through your veins.

Also, it startles me that men are never questioned as to when they are planning to have another child. Is’nt it amusing that they are never or very scarcely loaded with such questions. May be because it is the mother who has to carry a baby in her womb and it is the mother whose body goes through radical transformation, many a times bringing irreversible changes. But still, a child is the responsibility of both the mother and the father, so why the society at large assumes that if there is no child, the culprit must be the woman.

So, please stop judging parents who have a single child and stop labeling the child as ‘the poor lonely kid’  as labels are vicious. Stop projecting ‘single child’ as selfish, uncaring and introvert, as it can hamper the whole social milieu.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Missing Piece (Short story)

Neha was completely immersed in her work, when her phone beeped. She looked at her phone, stretched a bit, cracked her knuckles so as to let go of the tiredness that had taken over her. Sitting at the desk, staring at the computer screen for hours together, made her exhausted, the kind of exhaustion which looms large over you and you feel spent.

She picked up her mobile and saw a text message from her husband Jiten. He wanted them to meet after work and have dinner at their favorite restaurant. Neha grinned from ear to ear and could not wait to see Jiten.

Jiten and Neha got married a year ago. Theirs was a match made in heaven as everyone said. They were childhood friends who went to the same school, had the same set of friends and had similar anecdotes to share when they reminisced about their childhood. They knew they were destined to be together. Jiten was a software engineer while Neha worked for a leading newspaper.

Neha checked the time in her watch and switched off the computer in a jiffy. As she sat in the auto that was her ride to her destination, she felt a little uneasy. It was windy and she could feel the chill in the air and so did her body as she had gooseflesh. She clutched a stole from her bag and wrapped it around her hastily. Having stayed in Bangalore for over a year now, she knew it was customary to carry something to guard you from the British weather of the city.

Even after draping herself cozily, Neha felt ill at ease. She felt as if she had left something behind. Remember that feeling , when you get out of the house and have a sudden urge to go back and check if you  put off the lights. As she reached the restaurant ,  Neha made an earnest attempt to shoo off the shroud of emptiness that had overcome her unwittingly.

Jiten sat at their usual table and smiled at her as she sat by his side.

“How was your day, N?”, he asked animatedly.

“It was good , usual,” Neha answered.

After that Jiten started telling her about his day and asked her about the story she was doing on nursery school admissions. Neha kept answering him like an obedient child, but that lingering sense of void never ceased to leave her. She was happy. Here she was with the man she had loved since forever, sitting in an upbeat restaurant, satiated after a fruitful day at work, but all she could feel was an all pervading loneliness.

As they got home, she could not help but notice how spick and span the house looked. It was eerily spotless. As, Jiten plonked on the living room sofa, flipping tv channels, Neha picked up a book she was half way into. She felt that the book might uplift her spirits, but in vain.

Yet again that feeling crept up from nowhere telling her something was amiss. She could not conjecture what was wrong with her. Was the monotony of her days getting on to her? She felt she needed to be somewhere and that she was unmindful about something.

“N, sleepy head, wake up, will you?” ,Neha opened her eyes with a jolt and saw Jiten standing near the bed.

“You slept like a log today. Someone wanted to be with mumma.”

And there she was, her little munchkin Kiara, beaming away when she saw her mumma awake.

So, I was asleep. It was a dream. Neha realized she had been dreaming all along. Though what all she saw in her dream was a déjà vu of sorts. But , despite all the happy things why did she feel wretched.

What was missing in that impeccable dream of hers.

“Mumm mumm mumma”, Kiara spoke along with few more words that were all gibberish.

“Oh,it was you baby”. Suddenly the realization dawned over her that she was missing her ten month old daughter in her picture perfect dream.

Since the time Kiara as born, her life changed drastically. She started working from home, the conversations between Jiten and her revolved around ‘when is kiara due for vaccination’ to  ‘what brand of baby food was the best’. She was mostly fatigued juggling  work and taking care of her hyper active toddler. The house was a mess. Visits to restaurants was substituted by home deliveries devoured in pjs.

Life had veered from the steady and programmed course that they were treading during their pre- baby days. Now nothing was spontaneous other than the outbursts in the baby’s diaper which came when they least expected it.

All this was at times too much to handle for Neha. And many a times she went off to sleep reminiscing about the days before they became parents. Yesterday was one of those nights and as she was thinking about the good old days, so it manifested in to a dream, she thought.

But, she now knew what was amiss in the dream. Why she felt uneasy and what did she yearn for. It was her little bundle of joy. Neha knew she was not the same person any more. She may remember those days but her life was not the same anymore.

She looked towards Jiten who was making baby food for Kiara. Today she did not see Jiten her childhood buddy, but the father of her child. She smiled and looked forward to the new phase of her life.

And she knew that it was going to be as wonderful as the previous one.

 

 

 

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The Iron Lady

She was born in the Seven Sister States,

Which witnessed insurgency since decades.

An activist and someone who heralded the urgency of

Human rights,

She protested when the “Malom massacre” brought forth

Fellow men’s plight.

 

Treading the footsteps of the Mahatma, to hunger strike she resorted

A tube inserted through her, her spirits could not be thwarted

Sixteen years transpired but she carried on undeterred,

Her ideals of Peace and Democracy were all that mattered.

 

Felicitated with an array of awards she was declared a ‘prisoner of conscience’,

Also christened “The Iron Lady” she rose to prominence.

The support of people came from far and wide,

It steered her through, and she took things in her stride.

 

On August the ninth , sixteen years after she took the vow,

She declared her will to break the fasting row,

She wished to live, she wished for matrimonial bliss,

But her own people made her feel that something was amiss.

 

She longed for love, she longed for a life less ordinary,

She, who was a paragon of steadfastness and love.

But the world had arrows in its trove

Unwavered by the world’s indifference, she held her ground

No wonder she was called ,

Irom Sharmila- The Iron Lady !

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rift

“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you and everything you do…” the phone reverberated with the hauntingly beautiful melody and vibrated at the same time. Akshay languidly looked at his cell phone and saw ‘unknown number’ etched on the screen. He answered the call to hear a frantic voice saying, “Is this Akshay Gupta, I got your number from this man’s wallet, Mr. Rakesh Gupta. He and his wife met with an accident. We are on our way to the hospital. Are you their son? “

Akshay could not utter a syllable for a moment as he struggled to register what he just heard. Then with a sense of urgency and worry pervading him all over, he said, “Yes, I am his son. What happened? How are they? How did the accident happen? Which hospital are you taking them?”

After the ‘unknown caller’ gave him all the information, Akshay sat there, in his two bedroom flat looking listlessly towards the wall. When was the last time he spoke with his parents, he wondered. It had been around two years he reckoned.

***

Akshay was the only child of his parents. And he had a normal middle class upbringing in the slumbery yet serenely beautiful hill station town of Nainital. Both his parents were professors in a city college. Akshay was a good student and he excelled in everything be it academics or sports. He loved Nainital, but like every teenage boy, he yearned to get out in the ‘big bad world’ and experience life at close quarters.

After Akshay passed 12th grade with flying colors, he prepared for engineering exams. In no time he secured admission in a reputed college in Mumbai. He was ecstatic. He loved his parents but he wanted to soar high. He wanted to be one of those ‘cool boys’ whom he saw in various reality shows, the ones who boozed and had flashy tattoos and trendy phones.

Akshay had always studied in an all boys school. And though like any boy his age he was enamored with the fairer sex, he for one could never muster up the courage to talk to a girl without stuttering or stammering. It was before Riya came in to his life. Riya was a year junior to Akshay and she was the opposite of him. She was feisty, unconventional, and forthright. But she was also high maintenance.

Her bold character drew Akshay towards her as she was what he had wanted to be forever. Soon, they started going out. Akshay’s parents would call him every day to ask after him. They wanted to know whether he liked it there, whether he was eating properly. Initially Akshay called them up regularly but as he became high on his new life in the dream town of Mumbai, the calls dwindled. Thereafter, he called whenever he needed money. And he needed quite a bit of it.

He wanted to dine out with Riya in the best of restaurants, movies had to be seen in multiplexes and weekend getaways were planned as well. Many a times his father enquired as to why his monthly expenditures were uproarious. But, there were many reasons he could quote like some course that he had to undertake which had a hefty fee and so on.

Gradually Akshay drifted apart from his parents and life in Nainital. He hardly spoke with them.

At the end of his fourth year Akshay got placed in a prominent firm. He had to relocate to Bangalore to join. He was absolutely excited though he was crestfallen when Riya, who would continue staying in Mumbai, broke up with him as she did not want to have a long distance relationship.

Akshay had sincerely loved Riya with all his heart and he was wretched. But, he tried to keep himself busy with work. Gradually he made a name for himself in the new company. He stopped calling his father for money the moment he starting earning. At times he felt lonely. He wanted to call his mom but two years had created an abyss between him and his parents. They still called him once in ten days but Akshay felt too ashamed to open his heart to them. His pride was like a big wall that just would not crumble. And finally the calls stopped coming at all.

***

Today, as he got this call, he was aghast. He pictured his parents in a pool of blood. He pictured them dead. He thought of his perennial ‘pride’ and ‘ego’ that stopped him from making amends to his parents, because of whom he existed. He wanted to hug his mom and tell her that he needed her. He wanted to have those ‘father –son’ conversations with his dad. May be it was too late. The guy on the phone had mentioned that they were ‘serious’.

Ting, ting, ting…the alarm clock buzzed frantically. Akshay opened his eyes. He was shivering. Where was he? He was on his bed and it was the routine morning alarm that woke him up each day at seven. He suddenly thought about his parents and a fleeting image of their faces flashed in front of his eyes. It was not long, before he realized he had been dreaming all along. He took a sigh of relief. What a horrendous dream, he thought. It felt eerily real.

Akshay quickly grabbed his laptop and started booking tickets. Nainital beckoned him. His parents beckoned him. The ‘wall of pride’ had at last collapsed, giving way to overpowering selfless love.

“Dreams have a strange beauty, no matter how terrible”. It was indeed true. The dream was terrible but it was beautiful as it had brought home a wandering son.

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Sania Mirza and the Eternal battle against sexism

Sania Mirza, one of the ace tennis players produced by our country has been in limelight umpteen number of times ironically more for her various controversies than her glittering sports career.

As she launched her biography, “Ace Against Odds”, little inkling did she have that she will have to smash another ‘ace’ to the questions of a senior and well respected journalist. Sania was questioned as to when will she be ‘settled’ and that her biography spills no beans about an impending motherhood or retirement from tennis. Sania who is currently ranked World Number 1 in Women’s doubles ranking is at the top of her game. She has had an illustrious career as a sportsperson and is still going strong.

But, even such unparalleled and laudable precedent could not help her not fall prey to the eternal question that hound women all over irrespective of color, creed or nationality. The million dollar query that is smashed across us time and again without fail is “When are you going to settle”?

When it comes to women, there is a universally laid out path, which if tread, will lead to her ‘being settled’ and probably fulfill the very purpose of her existence. She is to get married, then bear children and eventually sacrifice her career goals to be the epitome of sacrifice and be a devoted mother whose only purpose in life is to look after her off springs.

I believe you have already labeled me a feminist per se, but I believe feminism is a concept that has been ill construed invariably. It does not imply giving special treatment to the fairer sex but to ensure the formulation of a world, that is based on ‘equality’. But this utopian state will come in to being only when we treat our women at par with men. Like men, women ought to have a right to determine as to how she needs to lead her life. Happiness is not objective.  Women are the ones who have this gift to bring a new life in to the world. But nevertheless, she is more than just a womb. She is a person who like her male counterpart wants equal opportunities and who should be heralded to pursue her career goals than being forever judged, so much so that she has to justify herself repeatedly, even after proving her mettle professionally.

The good news is that women from all over the world have started questioning and challenging this warped up concept of how a woman should lead her life. We are bashing the body shammers, we are following our hearts ,taking up professions that once were stereotyped for men and finally as Jennifer Anniston beautifully put in her recent write up, taking steps towards creating our own ‘happily ever after’.

But it is not an easy road. It is a formidable task as the society took generations to be the way it is. And hence it cannot alter its judgmental temperament just like that. Even now, if you are single, you are haunted by queries as to when do you plan to attain the ‘matrimonial bliss’. Once you are married they want to know if there is a ‘bun in the oven’ as yet. If you have a baby, then you are a vile and selfish parent if you do not intend to get a sibling for him/her. So, the expectations keep soaring and it is exhausting to keep pace with them. What is alarming is that even the most successful women have to justify their actions to the scathing society.

But women like Sania Mirza who have the grit to stand up against sexist remarks and thwart them, thereby unconsciously standing up for women around the globe, give us hope. “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all”, Emily Dickinson penned long ago. And  so all I can do is hope, hope for a better tomorrow for women, hope that a day will come when we would not be put on a pedestal and expected to behave like saints, but looked at like human beings who just want to be happy. And I hope one day, no one will question the road that will lead each one of us towards our own individual happiness.

 

 

 

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