Mia walked slowly on that mid-June evening, with clouds gathering and the wind picking up speed. Monsoon was expected, and the sudden change of weather did not bother anyone. In fact, the people of Mumbai were looking forward to it.
Mia had left her office early that day. She had an appointment to keep. Till last week, she was a young, unmarried, carefree woman in her early thirties. She realized she could not be carefree anymore. What she was about to do today would ensure that. She would still be young but never carefree. In one moment, she was going to hand over her life to someone else. Mia knew she would stand out in society. People would question her decision, would ridicule her, and some would blemish her character even. She had braved all that for the last few months. She had faced opposition from family, colleagues and even her best friend. Only a handful of people had stood by her.
Mia had learnt to put the pain of that behind her. She had made up her mind. Her heart had told her to do this and now she was committed. The dark clouds descended further and the early evening grew dark.
Mia held up her own umbrella in one hand and a second one tucked in her arm for later. She reached the ancient building and took a deep breath before going inside. She had barely crossed the courtyard when tiny fingers entwined themselves in her own shaky ones. Mia looked at the puppy eyed girl she was going to adopt today and they walked hand in hand toward the office that would officially make them mother and daughter. Behind them, the sky sang and showered the city with the much needed refreshing rain.
The kind of love that is selfless, not driven by need to posses, not bound by a duty, not restricted by social norms is the kind of love that inspires me the most. I think it can help every one of us be a better person…
It was a windy night, with the wind howling in the narrow streets and banging on grimy glasses of closed windows.
The little child walked slowly through those narrow streets but her occasional sobs audible inside the homes with paper thin walls had no effect on the families inside, for food was scarce for their needs as well.
No one saw the mad old lady living in a tent at the end of the street giving her only piece of bread to the hungry child, but everyone saw the child crying over the old lady’s body the next morning.
“See… I told you na ke iss hum tum ki jodi kabhi nahi ban sakti…. :'(”
I read the message from my friend Kunj once more. I had just come out of a grueling two hour meeting and was surprised to see five missed calls and three messages. Kunj’s message was the first I read, and it didn’t make any Sense to me. I read the other messages. One was from Prachi and the other from Vidya. Both college friends. Both wanted me to call them. Four of the five missed calls were from them.
The last call was from my boss and I promptly returned it, only to be told to rush to another meeting. It was late afternoon when I emerged from the second meeting and like before, there were calls and messages from Prachi and Vidya. I dialed Prachi and she answered before the first ring was over.
“Where have you been?” She sounded excited and loud enough to be heard even without using the phone.
“Busy in meetings yaar. Kya hua, both you and Vidi are going bonkers”
“Arre, bahut achchi news hai. Guess kar”
“Prachi, mujhe bahut bhookh lagi hai. I’ve been in meetings since morning and am really pissed at some people.”
“Oho, madam is in one of her famous moods”
“Ok. Ok….. bataati hoon. Bhavna is getting married”
“Yeah, shaadi fix ho gayi uski”
“Oh, kab hai?
“Kal?”, I nearly screamed “Kal Shaadi hai?”
“No baba, shaadi 6 months ke baad hai. Kal sirf engagement hai.”
“Oh”, I said quietly. A feeling of shock and anger came over me. Shock at the suddenness of things and anger at getting the news so late.
“When did this happen?”
“Last week. The guy is an NRI. Came down to meet her last saturday. They met and now tomorrow is the engagement. Cool na?”
“What happened to you?”
“Nothing, I gotta go. Got a big campaign coming up. Haven’t had last weekend off. Will have to work tomorrow as well.”
“Oh, then how will you come?”
“For the engagement”
“In case you haven’t noticed, she didn’t invite me.”, my voice was seething with sarcasm, and a silent anger. An awkward silence followed, and Prachi wasn’t sure what to say. I knew she wasn’t at fault, and I shouldn’t have snapped at her. So I apologised.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. But I am really hurt Bhavna didn’t call me.”
“We were trying to call you. Me and Vidya and Bhavna in a conference.”
“Oh, ok. But still yaar, can’t come.”
“Ok, take care. we’ll catch up one of these days”
I walked into the canteen and looked around for something to eat. The food was over, all that was available was cold samosas or sandwiches. I ordered for two grilled sandwiches and sat down to eat. It was then that Vidya called me.
“Hi Vidi…. main call karne waali thi tujhe”
“Yeah yeah, I know… Prachi called me after she talked to you”
“No, I’m not going”
“Am busy this weekend. It’s not like I don’t have a life of my own and am simply sitting around waiting for someone to call me at the last moment and I’ll jump up and go.”
I could see that she was angry. As angry as I was. “What about you”, she continued in the same stream “what will you say?”
And that’s Vidi for you- always presumes things and presumes them right.
“I have a pitch coming up. Can’t go even if hell breaks loose.”
We chatted for a minute about this and that, with the same question running in both our minds – Why had Bhavna not informed us?
While nibbling through the sandwiches, I thought about Kunj’s message. It made a lot of sense now, and behind the deliberate tone was a lot of hurt. I could see that. I decided to call him.
“Hello ji. Kyaa haal hai aapka?” There was a tone of false cheerfulness in his voice.
“Kunj. I just heard. Am sorr” He broke in between saying “Arre, why are you sorry re? Tu kuch kar sakti thi kya? Dekh Ami, sympathy mat dena mujhe. I am very sad for myself. But happy for her. Ladka achcha hai. Bhavna khush rahegi. That’s all I want yaar. And you are one of the three people who know my feelings for her and the only one who knows the whole story. Don’t just tell anyone. I am closing this chapter of my life”
“Arre, chill kar re”
“Yeah. Best of luck. And hope you find a girl who’s even better than Bhavna”
“Nobody can be better than Bhavna yaar. But it’s ok. I’ll be fine”
With that the call ended. I thought of the brave front Kunj was putting on and the intense disappointment in his voice when he’d said “Nobody can be better than Bhavna”
It was about six months ago when I learnt of Kunj’s feeling for Bhavna. An idle evening being whiled away on the net, resulted in a heart-to-heart with Kunj, a classmate of mine in college. I was never very close to him and knew him only through Bhavna. Bhavna, Prachi, Vidya and I were pals. And close ones at that. That’s the reason I was irked more than ever by Bhavna’s attitude towards us. For the last one year, she had broken off all contact with me and Vidi. The calls were unanswered and messages ignored. It was during this time that I had my conversation with Kunj. He wanted Bhavna’s contact number – for the one final time when he wanted to tell her of his feelings, instead of throwing about hints as he had been doing.
It wasn’t love at first sight. Kunj saw Bhavna on the first day of his college. He was one of the sixty who began their college education and like the other fifty-nine, wasn’t thrilled about it. Reason – he was stuck in this jail of a college. He had wanted a better college, but like thousands of students, he too had been forced to choose between a so-so college and a course of his choice and a good college and an uninteresting course. He had chosen the former and landed in St John’s technical Institute, as a first year wishing to get a bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Science. And that’s where he met Bhavna and Sarita and Pari and Neelam and Poonam and Lipi and a lot of girls who were all first years in his college. When he learned that Bhavna would be in his class, he was pleased. She was a pretty and petite girl, who had a cute smile. They got talking, and suddenly she asked him.
“Are you a gujju?”
“I am one too”
“Yeah, guess it takes one to spot another”, she laughed at her little joke and Kunj joined in. From that day, they always talked in Gujrati, even when a horde of friends surrounded them.
Bhavna wasn’t mindblowing. She was a gentle girl and it was her sweet disposition and naturally caring nature that made Kunj fall for her.
“She really cared about me Ami” Kunj had told me “Always helped me with assignments and journals. Even allowed me copy in the tests. And you know what, she would also check if there were mistakes in the papers I had written. Imagine, if she cared so much about my studies, how much she would care about my life, my family?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell Kunj that she was like this with everyone. She had a natural mother goose instinct. And didn’t exactly understand his reasons for falling in love with her. Maybe he wasn’t telling all. But, I didn’t press him. I just heard him tell me of the times when he tried to tell Bhavna of his feelings for her. Long lines on the chat window – Kunj’s story in his own words.
“I really like you Bhavna” I told her one day. And she said “So do I. We should always remain friends. Don’t forget to call me for your wedding”
This to my mind was the clearest indication of Bhavna’s feelings. Kunj was a classmate, a friend. Maybe to Kunj’s mind there seemed a possibility. But then, love is blind. I’d given Kunj Bhavna’s number and mail id when he’d asked for it. I knew that he’d called her, but I don’t know what that conversation came to. Kunj didn’t tell and I didn’t ask. I’d thought of him often for I knew Bhavna and Kunj weren’t together. Prachi would’ve told me and Vidi if this was the case. And now Bhavna was getting married. A heartbroken Kunj was putting on a brave face – It’s a love story that never was.
Pooja was on her way home. The end of yet another successful project. Yet another set of happy executives who had extracted their money’s worth from this assignment.Pooja worked for a Big 4 consulting firm. Soon after her MBA, she had joined them at the lowest rung. An outstanding student throughout, she had joined a premier MBAinstitute with dreams of outperforming everyone. That was when she got a rude shock. Everyone in her class was like her. Some were better. In the first three weeks at theinstitute she realised three things
She had to outperform others or she would be lost in the crowd
She had to work harder than others
She had to work smarter than others
Getting lost in the crowd was not her style. So she slogged and slogged and slogged. Participating in every contest, competition or event that came along, completing her assignments in time, sucking up to the faculty, volunteering for industry events. She did it all. The result of that was a Big 4 placement with a very very high package. Pooja was pleased with herself but she knew that she would have to start all over again at the company. She was right. The gruelling competition, the office politics and the work pressure made her MBA days look like a vacation on the beach! After six years of working her way up the corporate ladder she had a paycheck most people her age would kill for and a lifestyle they were all jealous of. Pooja wore designer labels, ate at the best restaurants and jet hopped from one international city to the next.
Today, Pooja was at the Heathrow airport in London. She had a ten hour stopover there. Pooja had yelled, threatened and pulled her weight at the travel desk. They just could not fit her into an earlier flight. She had been on her phone till the time her plane had taken off from Washington and the travel desk had finally told her that she would have to sit through the stopover. There was nothing she could do. “You can always go out into the city ma’am” had been the girl’s response to Pooja’s question, “What am I going to do there for 10 hours?” Pooja had ended the call and almost thrown the phone in anger.
As the plane landed in London, Pooja began to wonder how long she could spend in the lounge before she went crazy. “You could always go out into the city”, the words of the travel desk girl came to her mind. “What a ridiculous idea!”, she thought to herself. Once she was out into the terminal she began to think about the idea a bit more and thought there was no harm in finding out if transit passengers were allowed to exit the terminal. She stopped at an information desk and they told her that they were if they had a visa. Pooja fished out her passport and checked. She had a UK visa.
An hour later Pooja was standing in line to get a taxi into the city. She had been to London numerous times but for the first time, she had no agenda. She could have called her associates and some MBA classmates but didn’t. Something about the way those words were said to her made her stop all thoughts of work. “You could always go out into the city”. That twenty something girl on the phone in India had a tinge of jealousy as well as incredulousness in her voice. Pooja realised that she had never really seen London.
She told the taxi driver that she wanted to see the city. He suggested a hop-on hop-off tour and offered to take her where the popular tours began. An hour and a half later, she was staring up at the Hilton and trying to locate a Big Bus stop opposite it. She had just about 4 hours to do the tour and then it would be time to head back to the airport in time to catch her flight back to Mumbai. She chose the blue line of the bus tour. She had not even bothered to read the destinations on the Red Line and the Blue Line. She chose Blue just because it had more stops. It was July and the sun was out. The kind of sun that made the weather pleasant and brought people outdoors in Europe. She choose to sit at the top deck of the open top bus and found that most seats were taken. She slid in next to a lean guy who was peering out on the street below. He looked up when she sat and smiled at her. Pooja smiled back and pluggged her headsets in for the commentary.
The tour started and Pooja did not get off at a single stop. She sat through the whole circle enjoying the weather and learning historical and architectural facts about London. She took pictures. Loads of them. At the stops, of the monuments and of any interesting buildings she came across. Most people who had boarded with her had gotten off at some point or the other. She realised that her neighbour had sat through just like her. She was curious why he never got off. So she pulled out her headset and turned to him.
“Hi”, she said.
“Hello”, he replied in a crisp English accent.
“So you sat through the entire tour!”
“Just like you did”
“Yes. I am in a hurry”
“I have a flight to catch in four and a half hours”
“Aww. That is a pity!”
“That you gave only four hours or so to this beautiful city”
“It has so much to offer”
“I know it does. This isn’t my first time here”
“Then why did you sit here with a child eyed wonder, listening to every word of the commentary and clicking pictures of every building?”
“I did not”
“Check your phone!”
“Okay. Maybe I did click lots of pictures. But what were you doing keeping tabs on me? Why weren’t you looking at the sights”
“Because I have taken this tour many times”
“Yes. 49 to be exact. Next one would be my half century”
Pooja didn’t respond
“Half century you know. 50 runs. As in Cricket. Thought you’d get the reference. Being Indian and all”
“I got the reference. But why would you do 50 runs?”
“To score half a century!”
Pooja rolled her eyes.
“Okay. That was a bad joke.”
“I am a writer you see. I take this tour often to get inspired. To see people. To see the sites and then I go back and write the stories”
“What is your name?”
“Which book did you write?”
“I don’t write books. I write plays”
“Oh okay. I don’t know of any plays”
“I figure. You seem to have a busy lifestyle. Plays are for people who can take time out and enjoy. Not for those who do four hour hop on hop offs between flights. Do you ever slow down?”
“I don’t have time to slow down”
“That is not correct”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you have the time. What you don’t have is the will. You don’t have the will to slow down. You will continue this tour for another hour before hailing a taxi and then going on to the airport and back to the busy life you have. You are a compulsive runner of the rat race”
“So what? I chose that lifestyle”
“Yes. And I really have no problem however you live your life. It is your life after all. You should be happy. I hope you are happy”
Saying so, he gave her a big smile and turned to look back at the street… leaving Pooja in a whirlwind of thoughts. She didn’t know if she was happy.
Suddenly, her alarm rang. It was time to find a taxi. Pooja descended to the lower level and told the driver she needed to get off asap. The driver was a kind looking middle aged lady. She pulled the bus to a stop and allowed Pooja to exit with a smile. “Take care sweetheart”, she called after her. Pooja did not bother to respond. She got into a taxi and reached the airport. She was about to walk in when she thought of what Pete had said to her. That she couldn’t slow down. The insinuation that she wasn’t happy. Pooja closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.
“What does he know what makes me happy. How dare he judge! “, saying so she walked into the terminal. On to her flight and back to her busy jet-setting life.
Here is a story I wrote some years back. The Indispire post this week talked about unfinished stories. I have tonnes of them. Do I plan to finish it? I am not sure…
The day was warm, very very warm. It was just the beginning of October, a time when the Mumbai weather turned from pleasant to unbearable. Aseem was on his way back from a client’s place. It was a regular client meeting, with Aseem pitching in more services and products to increase revenue of his account and the client cribbing about the status of existing services. His car had broken down on the way back and Aseem dropped it at the garage. He was now walking towards the bus stop to catch a ride home. It was about 4 in the evening and rush hour hadn’t begun yet. But the air was sultry. As beads of perspiration dropped down his face, Aseem looked for a cooler shelter around the bus stop. He was wiping sweat off his nose when his eye fell on a group of 10 – 12 year olds under a tree on the other side of the road. In what seemed to be the courtyard of a municipal school, about 5-7 slum kids were fighting hard to get a go at a tattered football. But the football seemed in perpetual possession of a scrawny kid. He was shorter than most in the group, but also the fastest and quite adept at not letting the ball out of his possession. Aseem watched them for a few minutes and traveled back in time, when he slept, ate and dreamed football. A state and then national level player in his school days, he was as passionate about football as his father was against it. Memories flooding into his mind threatened to overwhelm him and so he concentrated on the play unfolding in front of him.
The other kids were trying hard but they weren’t good enough for the scrawny kid. He was beginning to look bored due to lack of competition. Aseem saw a shade of himself in that boy and even before he knew it, his feet were carrying him across the road. He pushed the gate open and entered the courtyard. At first, the boys did not seem to notice him, but then the gaze of the scrawny one fell on him and he stopped play. Even then, the ball was wedged firmly under his foot. His lack of movement drew the attention of others toward Aseem. They all stood rooted at their spots, staring at him. Aseem noticed that while most of the boys regarded him with a bit of a suspicion, fear even, the scrawny kid eyed him with blatant curiosity. There was an air of confidence about him that Aseem noticed and attributed to the knowledge of being better than his peers. It’s the “I am the King of my world attitude!” thought Aseem.
“Naam kya hai?”, he asked the boy.
“Uma” came the reply “Umamaheshwaran Gopalan”
“Football khelna pasand hai?”
“Haan. Par ye log khelta nahi hai achcha” he said, pointing to his friends. Then the finger proudly rested on his chest and he said, “Main khelta hai”
“Mere saath khelega?” asked Aseem on an impulse. His question surprised even himself. He had stopped giving in to random impulses for years now. Every action, every move, every word of his was well planned now.
The boy simply nodded and motioned for his buddies to clear up the space. He was going to take on this stranger one-on-one.
Aseem loosened his tie, placed his bag in the corner of the courtyard and came up to the centre where Uma was waiting.
They began to play and as soon as Aseem’s foot connected with the ball, he felt the all too familiar adrenaline rush back into his veins. It was his love for the game more than anything else that filled him with such unadulterated joy when he played football. When he had seen the kid play, Aseem hadn’t exactly given a thought to how easy or tough playing with him would be. But now, playing with him one-on-one he realized that the boy was good and playing with him actually required Aseem to concentrate. Aseem was thinking about this when he heard his cell phone ring. He halted the play and extracted the phone from his bag. All the boys were watching him speak on the cell phone. At the other end was Aseem’s mother.
“Hello Ma, how are you feeling now?”
“I am fine, my knees are killing me and the backache has just gone up. The headache has reduced ever since Chinna came”
“Chinna didi came? Today too? I thought she was going to be busy at her home today”
“Yes yes… she is having some guests over. But when she heard about my condition, she came”
“She is asking what she should make for dinner. I said I will ask Aseem”
“Ma, tell her to go home and take care of her guests. I will be home soon”
“Arre, she is here na, let her do it. If you get stuck on your customer meeting, I will have to stay hungry.
Can you guess where I was going with this? Should I finish this Unfinished Story? Can you help me finish it?