I’ll set the alarm…

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The night was slowly moving towards dawn. The city was asleep; neatly wrapped in blankets warm and cozy. But Charu could not sleep. She had the best time ever. And after the magical time she had with Vibhas, she could have fallen into the sweetest and deepest sleep. But she forced herself to remain awake. She could not spoil what she had with him. After years of being denied the love that she craved for, Charu had allowed herself to fall in love with someone. After years of lonesome nights she had finally given herself the chance to feel the warm embrace of love. She had decided to come out of her world of fantasy and live the real passion; passion that drives you crazy in love, and then tires you to a night of comfortable sleep. While she allowed herself the love, the warmth, the comfort, she refused to sleep…”I will not fall asleep. I will not spoil this relationship,” is all she kept telling herself throughout the night.

The darkness of the night had begun to fade. Charu went out to the balcony. “It will be good day” she told herself. She made coffee. Vibhas stirred a little and then opened his eyes, “Hello gorgeous, when did you wake up? Umm…Someone’s been making coffee.” He said. It looked like the night’s sleep had charged his boyish charms. He looked as handsome as ever. Charu felt elated. They sat in the balcony and spoke for a while…Charu made an exhaustive effort to stifle her millionth yawn. Soon it was time to get ready for the day.

Charu was a software engineer in a well-known IT firm. Vibhas was an IT consultant for the firm Charu worked for. They had been associated with each other for the last couple of years over business calls and video conferences. But six months ago Charu, along with three other male colleagues was sent on an onsite project to Vibhas’ city, Hyderabad. The project members had meet for an informal get together on the first Saturday of their arrival to Hyderabad. Vibhas being the project consultant was also invited. A 28 year old Charu Sen was captivated by the charms oozing out of a vivacious Vibhas. Vibhas Nanda did not look like he had a good 32 years behind him. Vibhas spotted a silent Charu at one corner and began talking to her. The talking led to an interesting conversation. It did not stop at the party.

Charu was falling in love with Hyderabad. The food was great, the parks were green, the clamor of the bazaars were inviting, and her service apartment was peaceful with a serene view of the residential complex. It was different from her city. The loudness was more earthly here. The people seemed more rooted. And the greenery was natural. But what made her most attached to Hyderabad was the physical presence of Vibhas. His funny comments, his quirky sense of humor, his sharp professional acumen, and definitely his drop dead good looks.

Slowly they started meeting outside office. They visited the Charminar while Vibhas proved to be a knowledgeable Guide. “It is fabled that Qutub Shah constructed the Charminar on the exact spot where he had first looked at Queen Bhagmathi. As the folklore goes here, it is symbolic of feminine beauty and romance” Explained Vibhas with a twinkle in this eyes. Charu blushed a little but maintained a curious innocent look on her face. “Oh well the actual thing is that Qutub Shah build this structure to commemorate the eradication of plague from the city. But such a beautiful monument with a dry history of plague did not go well with the locals. So they still choose the romantic tale over the fact.” Vibhas said trying to abate the curiosity reflected on Charu’s face.

One day Vibhas took Charu to the famous Laad Bazaar which housed rows and stacks of colorful bangles. It was as if they were in a Bollywood movie scene. Charu chuckled at the thought.

“What’s so funny Charu?” Vibhas asked.

“Nothing much. This place reminds of Bollywood movies, especially of Kajol in Kabhi Khushi Khabi Gham, and…” Charu’s sentence was fielded midway by Vibhas

“…and Fanaa right?”

They started laughing together and their hands brushed against each other. Both felt the spark of the touch…There was something romantic in the air of Laad Bazaar. The clinking of the bangles was like the background score of a love song. With heartbeats racing, Vibhas held Charu’s hands. Charu locked her fingers with his and the two began walking…

As much as Charu had opened up to Vibhas, she was also scared of an embarrassing truth. It was the sole reason as to why she had left home soon after her education to live on her own in a strange new city. It was the same reason she did not ever give marriage or romance any thought. She had made many friends in the new city, but always maintained her distance. But with Vibhas she was tempted to take the next step, in spite of the embarrassing fact of her life.

After a lot of thought, temptation got the better of her. Charu was determined to let her emotions take over…she resolved to let her bottled up passion to flow into the loving embrace of Vibhas.

So on a weekend eve when her colleagues decided to visit the history laden site of Badami, Charu intended to get a little adventurous. The relationship had grown quite deep within a couple of months, and so Vibhas lapped up Charu’s invitation.

They had a crazy love filled peaceful night. In the morning Charu made coffee for the two. And soon it was time to get ready for the day. They got ready to head to the temple town of Warangal for a long lazy drive. But Charu found it difficult to keep her eyes open even while picking her attire for the much awaited trip. As soon as they touched the highway, Charu fell fast asleep. Vibhas was a little taken aback. But the sleeping form of Charu looked like a baby who had fallen into a sweet slumber after playing the whole day. Yeah she played well indeed. Vibhas thought to himself and smiled at the recollection of the events of last night. He knew he was in love with this simple girl. She was not full of herself, she was a great listener, she was disarmingly pretty, and there was a charm about her that is only evident in women who are oblivious to their loveliness. And to top it all Charu was extremely intelligent and bright as a person.

“My past may have seen a horde of gorgeous women, but it was this that I was looking for so long. She fulfills me and compliments my being. I think I should propose to her soon.” Vibhas kept thinking while he drove.

Charu was as fresh as a daisy when she woke up. Vibhas had brought her to a beautiful resort near the temple town. Throughout the day, the two lovebirds kept chirping while roaming the temples, and before they knew night had fallen. With the fading of the daylights, Charu’s heart began to feel the darkness of an embarrassing truth .

“How will I remain awake today? Yesterday it was a tremendous task. Today my body is already craving sleep. My muscles will refuse to act in some time. What will I do? How will I be awake tonight. How will I keep Vibhas away from me when I sleep? Oh God…I don’t want this thing to end right here.” Charu was getting frantically worried.

“What’s the matter Charu? You don’t seem to be in your element today? What happened sweetheart? You know you can share everything with me.” Vibhas stroke her hair to comfort her.

Charu could not tell him. It was too embarrassing. So she said, “I am just so happy to be with you here. Away from all the chaos. And tomorrow we have to leave. The project will also get over in another two months and I will have to go back. I don’t know how I will manage without seeing you.”

Vibhas helped Charu on her feet and led her to the poolside restaurant in the resort. And then came the big moment!

Infront of vacationers and others present, he went down on his knees and said, “Charu Sen all your worries can be fixed if you nod your approval to my fast approaching question…Will you marry me?”

Charu’s heart could have burst with joy at that precise moment. She held Vibhas’ hands ever so tightly and feverishly nodded her head. The audience clapped and cheered to a movie scene. Charu’s life at that moment was nothing less than a super hit Bollywood flick.  

Unable to contain the excitement the newly hitched couple went into their room. The passionate pulsating breaths culminated to a crazy crescendo as the two wildly got entangled into each other. It was perfect. Most satisfying. The best ever. But just as happy ending do not happen without a twist, the elation of the two was interrupted by Charu’s sobs.

“Oh Charu. Darling what happened to you? Did I hurt you in anyway? Why are you crying? What is the matter?” A concerned Vibhas inquired.

“Vibhas I have a secret. A horrible embarrassing secret. I can never be with anyone. No one will accept me with this flaw. I am sorry. But I guess we cannot be together.” Charu managed to utter in between her sobs.

“There is nothing, no flaw in you that I would not accept Charu…There are flaws in me too. See I have seriously dated at least five women before you. I have been a maverick. I drink. I am a spendthrift and cannot save any money. I am not good at arts, I am growing a paunch. I am an emotionally dependent person etc. See but that does not deter you from loving me, does it? Then why will I have any problems with your flaws?” Vibhas tried to lighten up her mood.

But Charu was inconsolable. “No Vibhas, my problem is different. It is not something that a woman of my age usually has. Oh my god, how will I ever be able to tell you. My parents are ashamed about it. They never took me to any relatives place. We did not go to any weddings if it meant travelling or staying overnight. I was sick and tired of that life. So in spite of getting a good job in my own city I chose to settle in a completely strange city all by myself. I have never had a roommate. I have never had any relationships. I am a mess Vibhas.”

“Ok now come out with it. I promise I will not throw away the imaginary ring that I am putting on your beautiful, slender finger.” Vibhas took out an imaginary ring from his pocket and put it on Charu’s finger and began to listen to Charu’s embarrassing tale of life…

It was exactly six months from the day they had been to Warangal. The family was exhausted with the wedding rituals. The guests were gone. The gift were stacked in one part of the wedding hall.

“Ma, we will take everything tomorrow. Let’s just all go to sleep now. Vibhas and Charu are also worn out.” Vibha’s elder brother told their mom.

The newlywed couple was ushered to the majestic bedroom, adorned with red roses and candles.

As they said their night greetings and locked the door behind, the two got all mushy. And then Vibhas opened his travel bag and took out the rubber cloth. He neatly put it under the bed sheet.

“Come sweetheart. I have made the bed for you. Hope you did not drink a lot of water or eat too many sweets. Remember what the doctor said? These things after 5pm in the evening increases the pressure on the bladder. And don’t worry, go to the washroom just before you sleep. I will set the alarm at regular intervals.” And then the husband and wife got busy…

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic Swing

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She was rejected in the final round of interview. “So Mrs. Roy, do you have an ITIL certification? The senior recruiter asked? “Um, well I have completed the course, but I am yet to write the exam.” Aranya replied. And that was it. The recruiter politely told her that he will get back to her in case she was selected. Aranya knew what it meant. Rejection.

Feeling dejected she left the multinational company’s premises and waited at the bus stop. ITIL certification; only if she had taken the exam and postponed the wedding date. But three years ago she was fascinated by the idea of marriage-the idea of living with a gorgeously handsome man; under one roof; in one bed. Today she realized her foolishness. The handsome man had become a stranger and although she was living under one roof with the stranger, the bed had separated. All that remained of the marriage was her name, Mrs Aranya Roy. Only if she had not over romanticized the idea of marriage, today she would have had her certification and the job.

The sudden rush of people running towards the approaching bus broke her train of thoughts. She got on to the over crowded bus. It was becoming suffocating – physically as well as emotionally. So she decided to get down one stop before her destination. The warm breeze provided her cold heart with some relief. She began walking towards her house. Soon the warm sun gave way to heavy clouds. She looked up to see the reason behind the changed weather. The dark heavy clouds were a reflection of her own heart. Her footsteps fought with her will to move on. As she was looking away from the sky her eyes caught sight of a tiny balcony at a distance. There were two figures perched on a swing like love birds. She began to walk towards it to get a better look…What she saw made her cheerful and morose at the same time…

It was an old couple. Really old. Probably in their late seventies. The woman had wrinkles etched on her face. The man was bald with a white mustache. They were having their early evening coffee. The man’s toothless smile made the wrinkled better half blush. They kept talking to each other with no care of the world. It was a blissful moment that Aranya witnessed. But she could not experience the beauty of the moment for long. It would look weird if she kept staring at them. So stealing one last glance at the couple she hurried towards home.

Suhas returned late at night. They had dinner in silence. Then Suhas sat before his laptop in the living room and was soon immersed in work. Aranya, inspite of the gulf between them, wanted to share her experience. So she started. “I found a new route to our house from the main road. It joins our lane from the left side of the Lakme Salon. There is a nice house with a…”

She was cut short. “Yes I know it. I take that route in the morning to avoid the main road traffic.” Suhas said even without looking up from his laptop. Aranya went to sleep. There was no point sharing any story of man and wife between two strangers.

The next evening Aranya went out for a walk. She chose to take the route which would lead her to the house with the swing. Again she saw the old couple. Today the wife had worn a ‘gajra’ (a string of flowers) on her salt and pepper hair. They were drinking coffee and talking. There was something about their companionship that emanated a positive vibe. They must have been married for decades and yet the lovers’ charm was evident. The romance had not been wrung out of the relationship, unlike Aranya’s marriage.

“Where did we go wrong? When did we begin to drift apart? Why did the life go out of our marriage?” Aranya began asking herself.

They were completely head over heels in love when they got married. On their honeymoon they couldn’t keep their hand off each other. Suhas even went to the extent of celebrating their monthly wedding anniversary. Aranya had always thought that it was a little too much but enjoyed the undivided attention and pampering. And then one day there was nothing. Days turned to weeks. Weeks to months. ‘Let’s go out’ became a lost phrase. ‘How was your day’ was just a customary phrase and was met by monosyllabic response or silence. Kisses became figments of imagination. Love making a fantasy. But she still could not pin point a specific reason. Maybe they had grown too used to each other’s presence. They had become like the walls of the house to each other. No one really paid attention to the walls and yet lived within them. Aranya got busy with television soaps and e-books. So most of the time she was on her laptop. Suhas’ dedication was channeled towards his work and he got busy preparing project plans and presentations. So most of the time he was on his laptop. Then suddenly after some time, the gulf expanded to a bay and building a bridge seemed impossible. However, they could not deny the fact that socially and legally they were united still. So they kept living on two separate sides of the bay…till Aranya saw the blessed couple on the swing.

That day Aranya came back and after giving their marriage and the current status of their relationship a good amount of thought she took a decision. She decided to call her lawyer friend, Amrita in the morning. The night passed. The morning looked gloomy. As Suhas left for work, Aranya called her friend. The lawyer heard everything and they decided to meet at her office the next morning.

Suhas came home early that evening. Aranya noticed a certain restlessness about him. Instead of monosyllabic orders like water, dinner, he was making an effort to use long sentences like “Aranya could I have a glass of water…oh forget the glass, give me a bottle from the fridge.” Now this was a new development. Aranya was surprised.

“You did not tell me about the interview. What happened?” Suhas asked out of the blue.

“Well I got rejected because I did not have the ITIL certification.” Aranya responded keeping her tone as technical as possible.

“Weren’t you supposed to write it on the day of our wedding? Remember I had told you to write it. But you were stubborn. You wanted to be a bride first.” Suhas said the last thing with a smile on his face.

Aranya’s heart skipped a beat. This was the same gorgeous man she had fallen in love with. That same drop dead smile. Wait. What was this emotion that she was experiencing? Was love coming back to her? How could it? It couldn’t be. She knew it just couldn’t be.

Taking a hold of herself, she said, “Yes. You are right. I was too eager to start my life as someone’s wife. I wish I wasn’t so eager. Look where all that excitement has landed me in.”

And then she left for the kitchen, lest her statements gave rise to an argument.

She was busy kneading the wheat dough when she sensed a presence in the kitchen. She chose to ignore it. “He must have come to get something.” She thought. But Suhas lingered on.

When she turned to see why he was still there she was shocked at what she saw. Suhas was standing leaning on the wall and there were tears streaming down his face. “What happened Suhas?” Aranya asked panic stricken.

“Do you still love me?” he asked. His voice was earnest.

“Suhas, tell me what is wrong? Why are you behaving this way?” Aranya replied

“You avoided my question Arny. Do you still love me?” he was pleading for the answer.

It was Aranya’s turn to break down. “Why are you asking me this after all this time? You chose to ignore me for so long. You strangled the marriage till it was dead. You were devoted only to your work and promotions. You did not care for me all this while. And here I was still waiting for you to come home. Cooked for you, so that you enjoyed your dinner. Kept track of your clothes so that you could look your best in office. Packed lunch so that you stayed healthy. I have become a machine for you Suhas. My love for you turned me into an emotionless robot that does everything without expecting anything in return.

I cannot live like this anymore. I am going to see the lawyer tomorrow and be done with this marriage.” Aranya was crying uncontrollably  and pouring her heart out.

“Whether you tell me or not I know you love me, Arny. My Arny. I have missed you so much. I am guilty of all that you have said. I am sorry. I will make everything alright. Things will be like our early days I promise. Just don’t let go. I love you.” And saying that Suhas hugged Aranya.

Aranya hugged him back tightly. Their emotions were flowing like the tears in their eyes. Suhas began to wipe her tears. He touched her cheeks and then her lips. And then they kissed. They kissed like it was the last time. Basking in their renewed passion for each other they went into the bedroom together…

They were lying under the sheets, tired yet happy. They were quiet. Just listening to the love filled breathing of one another. And then Suhas broke the silence.

“I was mad with the rush hour traffic and so I discovered a new route that led to the junction way ahead of the main road. And one day while driving i saw an old couple sitting on a swing in their balcony. They looked so happy and in love despite the years. I saw them every day on my way to office. When people were busy rushing to work, the old man and his wife seemed oblivious to the worldly cacophony. They sat on the cushioned swing and enjoyed each other’s company. It was like life started and ended for them in each other’s company. They did not need anything else to be happy. They were the perfect picture of happily married…

And then today when I was going to office, I saw the swing empty. It was like a fairytale that had just met a tragic ending. I don’t know what happened to me. I kept thinking about them the whole day. I could not concentrate on work. No banter, no work news seemed to interest me.

I was searching for a way to feel better, when your face showed me the way. I sped to come home to you. I wanted to share my experiences with you. As I entered the house and saw you, I knew that I wanted to spend my entire lifetime with you. All these days, I was chasing something unreal, when the real bliss was right here with me. I am sorry for everything. Forgive me Arny. Let us grow old together, like the couple on the swing.”

It was morning. Aranya was lying comfortably in Suhas’ warm embrace, listening to him. There was a peaceful smile on her face. The impossible had happened. Her Suhas was back. Her marriage was miraculously brought back to life. It was the swing. It had to be the swing. It was the magic of the swing…

Her phone beeped Amrita calling…

Aranya disconnected the call and snuggled up to her husband!

 

 

 

(De)tangled

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It was hot! Really hot. I was sitting on the side seat of a passenger train. I was on an eleventh hour work assignment. So the last minute booking. And needless to say I failed to get reservation in the AC coach. Every passing second was a torture. I tried to think of the last bad thing I had done…stuck a chewing gum on the side mirror of my boss’ car. Well that was not such a bad thing. He deserved it after making me slog for 48 hours and then taking away my moment of glory by presenting it to the clients himself. I know it’s getting boring here. But wait. This story is not about office stress, not about a sadistic, mean boss, not about employee exploitation. It is a fairytale. It is about someone I would like to call Rapunzel.

So going back to the stuffy, ugly, and tormenting train…I had to travel for another three hours. My back was wet with my dripping perspiration. The makeup had come off. The thick black kohl I wore was smudged, thanks to the sweat. The people around were speaking incessantly in a tongue I did not understand. It added to the overpowering frustration I was feeling. The women were clad in cotton sarees and had no care whether their bellies (read: storehouse of cellulose) folding and flapping, were visible to the world or not. It was totally disgusting!

The wind outside was harsh. I was sure it was God’s way of punishing me for the chewing gum scam. But the train was at least moving and that was the only saving grace! No sooner had I started getting used to the harsh hot wind than the train came to a halt. I looked out and saw a little station. Daspura. The name and the place both seemed down market. Reserving my comments for myself I thought of closing my eyes for some time. There was a lot of chaos about seat numbers, luggage space occupancy etc. I was training my mind to ignore all that and finding some peace…

“What? You forgot to bring my wooden comb? I had carefully kept it beside the bed so that you could pack it safely,” I heard a girl’s voice cry out.

I opened my eyes to see who was complaining about a comb of all things. She was a girl, probably in her late teens. She was dark and wore a cheap looking synthetic pink salwar suit. She was thin. Her face was ordinary but at that moment her eyes looked teary with grief.

So much sorrow for a wooden comb? How vain kids are these days! I thought to myself.

Her mother looked apologetic. “I am sorry Mampi. I was busy getting the medicines packed and completely forgot about the comb. I will get you one as soon as we reach the city.”

Medicines. Well the mother did look frail and tired, as if she was suffering. I felt bad for the mother and angry at the girl for making the mother feel apologetic just because she forgot to pack some comb. And then my eyes went to ‘Mampi’s’ hair. It was gorgeous. Had she not been so lower middle class looking, she could have easily been mistaken for some hair ad model. It was jet black and shiny. Long and thick. She had two thin braids from the sides joined at the center with pink clips. The rest of the hair was let loose. She sat down quietly. Her mom offered her water and she declined the offer. Then she bent down and took out a worn out bag. From the side pocket she took out a white plastic carry bag. It read Ma Manosha Variety Stores. She took out a brown hair brush from it and then kept the plastic bag in its place and pushed in the big worn out bag. She was on the aisle seat. Her eyes were looking out of my window. While everyone kept complaining about the severe weather, this girl opened her braid and began brushing her hair. She brought her hair to one side over her shoulder and delicately brushed them over and over.

“Is she mad? She is treating her hair as if it was a baby or something. What’s wrong with her? I am feeling so hot even with my hair tied like a top knot, and this girl with her long thick hair has left it loose?” I was feeling hot looking at her, but she had no care. She seemed oblivious to everything. It looked as though it was just about her and her tresses. I agree that they were beautiful, but obsessing over them like this? It was a little too much. I couldn’t help but look at her activities. She wasn’t doing much. Except of course neatly brush her hair. I don’t know if my mind was playing games with me or if it was reality but after a while the hair seemed to emanate a certain glow. It was smooth and shiny. Like straight out of a Sunsilk or Pantene Advertisement. The girl kept gazing out through my window and kept brushing her hair…

I do not remember when I had fallen into a sweet slumber. The selling phrase of a chaiwalla woke me up (‘Chai chai bole, chai chai’). The train was almost empty now. The heat seemed to have reduced a little, or maybe I was used to it by then. The girl Mampi had also fallen asleep on her mother’s lap. Her lips were chapped and suddenly she looked pale. The brown comb had fallen out from her hand and was lying on the floor. I looked at the mother, and our eyes met. She smiled at me and I reciprocated. Then my eyes went back to the fallen comb. The mother’s sight followed me and she tried to bend down to pick it up. Immediately I got up and signaled to her that I will pick it up. For some reason unknown I did not feel like disturbing Mampi’s sleep. As I picked up the comb and handed it to the mother, she asked me where I was going. A little chit chat followed…

“Oh so you are from Siliguri? Yeah I know the Bazaar area. My friend’s father has a shop there.” I said. “Aunty your daughter has the most beautiful hair I have ever seen. How do you maintain it? You should take her to modeling auditions for shampoo advertisements. Anyways you are going to Kolkata, there are many ad agencies there.” I suggested.

The mother suddenly had a look of pain on her face. “Her hair is her most prized treasure and she loves every strand of them. But the hair will not last for long dear. I am going to Kolkata for her first chemotherapy session to BP Poddar Cancer hospital. She is suffering from lymphoma!”

I was aghast. I did not know how to respond. And the mother went on “She was blessed with such good hair since her birth. Her father named her Alaka which means beautiful lock of hair. Though our financial condition has not been very good, we always took good care of her. But after her father passed away a couple of years ago, it has been very hard. Soon after her father’s demise Mampi’s health began to deteriorate. Initially I thought it was stress and grief. But then the fever became persistent and she developed a lump under the skin on her arm that refused to go away. Recently she was diagnosed with some kind of lymphoma cancer called Hodgekin Disease.”

I felt goosebumps on my skin and had tears in my eyes. How wrong I was to think that she was vain. She was trying to cherish fond moments with her treasure that will soon be gone. The heat, the discomfort, the humidity, the harsh wind, the manager, work, everything looked so trivial in front of Mampi. She was Rapunzel…a princess who had to let go of what she loved for the sake of survival. I looked at the sleeping Rapunzel and my heart went out to her. I opened my handbag and took out the new Vega hairbrush that my hairstylist had given me yesterday for easy brushing of frizzy hair. I put it in Mampi’s palms and told her mother that I will pray for her recovery and good health. I wish I could cast a spell on the hairbrush so that it would detangle the problems in her life as well!