Friday, 19 December 2014

A calm Sunday morning

A calm Sunday morning. I wake up knowing how my day will be. There is a knot in my stomach thinking of what could have been- a day filled with a child’s laughter and screams around the house, a day of games and stories, a day of hugs and fights- definitely a day that I would trade everything in my life for. My dreams were other people’s lives.

I finish up my daily chores and look forward to the happiest and saddest part of the day. It is these 2 hours a week that drives my life and living. I grab my purse and keys and rush out the door. In my hurry, I almost forget the toys and chocolates that I’d carefully chosen over the past couple of months. After all, it is not every day that I am allowed to present the child with gifts.

I drive the 40 miles thinking of how the next couple of hours would be. Was it going to be one of those days when I drive back crying or was I going to leave the place with a smile on my face? Who am I kidding? However the day went, I would eventually cry myself to sleep. Every day of my life.

I finally reach my destination. My heart wanted to jump out of the car and go inside but I was very apprehensive and unable to move a muscle. A million thoughts went through my head. Finally I gathered my guts and entered the building. Very quaint and tranquil from outside, the building housed a lot of emotions- feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, despair, and of hope to a few people like me.

I approach the reception and the woman immediately recognizes me. She escorts me down a long corridor and up a flight of stairs.

Room 209, the door plate read. Behind that door was my life, my greatest little treasure. I turn the door knob and open. I had meticulously planned the decorations for this day. After all, birthdays occur only once a year. The room was decked with colourful balloons, streamers, bells and on one side of the wall was a gigantic painting.

And there in the middle of it was my baby, lying in a cradle, oblivious to her surroundings. To the 3 year old, the day meant nothing. Her life was as inconsequential and delicate as the balloons around her. A sharp event is all it took. I carefully picked up my baby from the cradle.

Sucking her little thumb and sleeping over my shoulder, there she was. That was the closest I would ever get to play Amma. That word. Never been uttered at me. A kiss is all I sought for at this moment. A smile is all I cared for. A hug was all I wanted. But a tear down my cheeks was all I got.

Like always, that fateful day still haunts me. My child was born prematurely. For 3 days, she was placed in an incubator. My heart skipped a beat when I could not find my child in the closed incubator section. A nurse promptly informed me that my child had been transferred to the open incubator section and had been taken off the ventilator. I was asked to meet the doctor. That must be good news, I thought.

I remember sitting across the table from the doctor and listening to his explanation of how my child was suffering from a rare disease. My child was not only special but also had a congenital heart ailment. Of course, she was special to me but not in the ways the doctor explained. My world went blank. I walked out of the room as if in a trance. I stood with my palms on the glass walls of the incubator room. The room was getting misty as my eyes welled up and tears rolled down my cheeks.

From the beginning, I knew it was not going to be easy. But I was determined to make this work, to give my child a life, even if it meant not being at her side during her primitive years. It was the doctor who suggested this place, a place that was run by an experienced retired medical couple who have nothing but joy and hope to fill the place with. There were quite some kids here with the same condition and they were slowly but steadily improving. Joy and hope is what I got at seeing this.

Soon it was 4 pm. It was time for me to leave. The day was over before I knew it, even before I could utter a word. I carefully placed her back on the cradle and tucked her in. I slowly lifted out the stuffed animal toys I had got for her and placed them right next to her. She instantly opened her eyes. In that fleeting moment I became a mother for I saw in her eyes a hint of recognition. She hugged her new toy friends and went back to her dreams.

This day was different. I knew I would be smiling and crying thinking about this day for many months to come. 

As I walked out of the room, I stole one final glance at her. And then I looked up at the wall, the gigantic painting - her baby laughing while they played swing in their backyard- a perfect calm Sunday morning.

Monday, 9 June 2014

My dream wedding

You were there holding my hands for the one last time, the only guy I have known in my life, handing your little princess over to her Prince Charming. Happiness and sadness, your eyes showed me. I looked over at my man at the other end of the aisle and there he was standing with all the confidence in the world. Apprehensive as I was, I squeezed your hand. Here I was, walking towards a new world. I was unsure of what it held for me. But I always knew that when I turn around, you would always be there supporting me. I gave you one last look and you let go of my hand…

… And I started walking. The happiness on your face was unfathomable. Here was your little girl who was still on her fours a couple of months ago but now had learnt to take her tiny steps in this world. Still fumbling and falling but surely making her way. You had already started dreaming. Though I was a little under one year, you were already thinking about how I would grow up to be a strong independent girl.

A strong independent girl did I grow up to be, and what an inspiration I had in front of me. Travelling to places where my passion took me, doing performances and giving recitals all over the country. It was your confidence that gave me the courage to opt for the less-acclaimed Arts course and with you advising and supporting me at every corner; it was as if a big burden was off my shoulders when I topped the university with my Masters in Music.

I always knew the trouble I was causing you, destroying your weekends with chores of dropping me and picking me up from music and dance classes. But then again, I was too little to venture out alone. And those practices during weekdays! There were times when I almost dropped off these classes but it was that pride in your face every time you saw me perform that kept me going. It was as if I was living your dream…

… Your dream of always providing the very best for me, your little princess. These past few days were a manifestation of nothing but that. Your dedication in putting together my dream wedding!  From booking the best venue to organizing every tiny detail, I could just not wait for the day to arrive. And when it did…

… I saw my mother sitting there with tears in her eyes as I walked down the aisle. I knew what was going through her mind and through the minds of people here. I could see and feel the sympathy around me. But I told myself, even if no one could see; you are always there, holding my hands for all of eternity.

But why? Why did you let go of me ten days earlier? I thought we had a pact- a pact to live, to cherish and to bask in each one’s happiness. Though you did not keep up your side of the promise, here I was, living the dream you had put together for me, because I know this is what you would have wanted me to do.

… And as I walk down this aisle with tears flowing down my cheeks, I just look up and say ‘I love you Daddy and I miss you!’

(My prayers are always there with you.) 

Sunday, 13 April 2014


‘Who are you?’

A pang of pain ran through her. She shivered at this very instant. This has been her most dreaded moment: a moment no woman would ever want to live through, a moment she wishes happened far far  far away from her. She stood there as if in a trance. A sudden cry brought her back to this world.  She looked at the person in front of her and thought to herself, ‘Well, I knew this was bound to happen.’

The person was none other than her 57 year old mother.

Life had always thrown difficult situations at her but she had managed to overcome each and every one of them. She had always understood that she had been one of the lucky ones to have escaped life’s terrible tragedies and she had been forever indebted to her mother for that. However, this was one of those times she wished she did not lose her cool. It is not often that your own mother cannot recognize you.  However prepared she was some things were still beyond her control.

It was not in her control when her father died before her fifth birthday. It was not in her control when she grew up watching her mother work hard to make both ends meet. It was not in her control when her mother forgot to board the correct bus to attend her convocation. It was not in her control when her mother forgot to come back home one night. It was not in her control when her mother was diagnosed with dementia. Similarly, it was not in her control to hold back her tears now.

As the tears trickled down her cheeks, she remembers the good old days she had as a kid. Her mother never bothered her with any difficulties. In spite of holding a job and running the family, her mother always made it a point to spend time with her. Starting with waking her in the morning, putting up with her tantrums of not waking up in time, helping her get ready for school, spoon-feeding her breakfast, packing her lunch, kissing her good-bye, oh… the list is so endless! Those late night movies her mother watched with her just because she said the reviews were good, those weekend lunches and dinners they had in front of the TV, the time when her mother learnt to make pizza because she used to love it, those dreams they saw together of her growing up into a well-educated and independent girl…

Memories, these are all she has, the ones she is living with every day.

Memories, these are all that her mother doesn't have, the ones that leave her with each passing day.

Suddenly, a 4 year old runs into the room and holds her mother’s fingers. But her mother retracts her hand as if in fear. The kid runs and holds her sari pallu and says, ‘Amma, why is daadi not holding my hands?’ Silence. He looks up. All that he could see were her tears and a different sort of fear. He could not understand all this at once. He backs away two steps but his mother was still looking at his daadi. He turns back and runs out of the room crying. She just looks at him running away.

Memories, these are all he needs, the ones that he will store in a corner of his mind, to travel back and to remember this day.

Monday, 9 September 2013

To hold hands...

Her eyes were drooping. People around her were telling things to her but she could barely comprehend what they were. All she realized was that this was another one of her worse days, hopefully not the worst. She would be nauseated for the rest of the day, also vomitting and having a splitting headache. I am only 5 years old, she wondered. Kids her age would still be basking in the summer sun, after all it was their school break. The closest she had gotten to a vacation were through the pictures of her brother when he was her age. The intensity of her sickness increased with each of her visits to this place. She dreaded the room she was about to enter. She was on her way to chemotherapy.

From the time she could remember she had been a patient at this child cancer hospital. She liked the people here. They were nice and always treated her with chocolates. But there was something daunting about the place. For one, she did not like the smell of the place. There were too many kids being carried on wheelchairs and almost all these kids were bald. She wondered why this was so. Every month her parents used to bring her here. She always thought that it was a family ritual just like ordering pizzas on Friday. And yet, this was somehow painful. She had been told that she had leukemia. She had yet to learn the spelling.

Most of these visits resulted in some syringe incident. It was her brother who had stood by her through all these tests and syringes. Though he was just 3 years elder to her, she had never seen a more courageous person. He would salways be there and hold her hands while the nurse took her blood. It is he who held her tighlty when she had nightmares. He completed her school work when she was too tired and ill to finish it herself. He always knew what to get her for her birthdays, Winnie the Pooh being her latest addiction. He was more than a brother to her.

But there had been something bothering everyone at home after a particular hospital visit. She could sense it. As naive as she could be, she posed the question to her brother. This was the first time he was groping for an answer. Somehow his better judgement told him to be honest with her. He told her how the doctor had said that her condition was becoming worse with every passing day and that they should go in for chemotherapy. This meant that she would miss school more often, find herself spending more time in the hospital and feeling eternally tired. But this might prove better for her in the long run. She did not understand much of any of this. All she asked him was, 'Will you still be there holding my hand?'

She reached the radiation room. He let go of her hand. This is where they separated, she knew. After all, this might eventually give her the childhood she had always dreamt about.

She held her Winnie the Pooh tightly and let out a huge sigh. Yes, she was ready for it.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Through the window

From the dorm window, they saw. A final glimpse of their friend- those little fingers holding onto the stranger's hand tightly, those little eyes gleaming with happiness and those little laughs still bringing smiles to the people around. She was more than their friend- a gift from God, a little sister. This was her best hope to a new life, they knew. She was always a bundle of joy, even more when she knew that she was being taken out of the four walls that surrounded her home. This was one such time for her, she was too little to understand it all.

Amidst all this, there was one girl who was sitting by the stairs, not wanting  this moment to pass. She had gone through days like these, seeing her friends saying good-bye but never ever did she think that her best buddy would be one among those. It was this little kid that had made her life wonderful. Though she was just 3 years older, she was almost like a mother. That was the bond they both shared. Ananya was her baby.

Last day morning, Ananya ran into her room saying that she would be going away for a couple of days. Yes, that lady who had come to their home a couple of days back had promised to take her out. Ananya was elated but this girl knew that this was the longest journey Ananya was about to take. She put on her bravest face and continued to feel happy. Indeed, this was a joyous moment for she realized that it was the best opportunity for her Ananya. But this also meant an end of an era, 3 years of life as she knew it.

She clearly remembered the day Ananya came into her life. She was just two and a half years old when her home was this orphanage. She had been living there all her life and never wondered why kids came and went. It was at this point that Ananya became a part of their family. Nothing short of a doll, she was. When she took Ananya in her arms, the little giggle that passed through Ananya's lips was the most magical thing she had seen.  And at that very second, their journey started. Every moment of their waking day, they spent together. And since all her friends were elder to her, she was happy to finally have a younger sister to look after. They had nothing that they didn't share with each other.

But the most intimate thoughts she had shared with Ananya were her dreams, dreams of going to a school like any normal child, of having a play ground, of having birthday parties and cakes, but most of all, dreams of having a parent or a family to love. She couldn't even start to imagine what having a mother would be like. Those good morning kisses that could take you through an entire day, then dressing her up as a princess for school, dropping her off and reminding her to have her lunch (her favourites), waiting for her after school, playing with her in the evening and finally kissing her good night. The closest she had gotten to these were in movies. And yet in all these dreams, she still held Ananya's hands.

The children by the window said their final goodbyes and continued on with their playing. Yet, at this very moment she felt lost. Happy at Ananya having found a new home and dejected at not having been the one holding Ananya's hand. She felt guilty at not having participated in Ananya's happiness whole-heartedly. A tear rolled down her cheek. The next instant, Ananya was right there wiping that tear. Yes, she had come back to give her sister a good bye kiss, to promise to get her a gift from where ever the stranger was taking her and to be back soon so as not miss too much around her sister's life. At this point, all she could do was hug her Ananya and pray for her future.

She will miss her little angel, much beyond words could express. And there was something else words can't express, when would she be the chosen one?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Of grit, guts and gumption...

Yes, finally, she thought. This vacation was her much-needed break from her hectic life. Even then she was considering working from home while she looked around in her compartment. She wouldn’t call it empty, yes, there were people around her. She found these journeys boring, always alone, looking out of the train but seeing nothing but thick mists of darkness and waiting for the last stop. Tonight was no different.
She sat there flipping through the pages of Femina.  One by one, the passengers got out and soon she was left all alone. She never gave it a second thought, after all this generally happened. An hour from her place, a couple of boys, not even adults, boarded the train. Finding the girl alone, they thought of having some fun. Passing lewd remarks and making obscene gestures, they tried to frighten her. She ignored them until they started taunting her by asking her to move to another compartment. She refused to budge. The verbal attacks became more personal by the minute. She held her seat and as calmly as she could, she took her mobile phone and dialled the Railway helpline number. Soon, she was talking to an operator and was starting to explain the incident. Realizing where this was heading, the boys silently retreated and moved to the next compartment. She hung up the cleverly-played never-dialled number. This is my right, she thought

An awesome night, she thought. She was riding through the city with the wind blowing through her hair, the rain lashing down on her face and the chillness creeping up her spine. It had been four months since she last did something like this and hence was enjoying this delightful night ride. She had had her dinner at home and kissed her parents good night. A note, mentioning that she was just taking a breath of fresh air and that she would be back before midnight, was all that she had left at home in case someone did search for her. It is not as if her parents wouldn’t allow her this indulgence as long as she promised herself to be safe.
Her watch showed 11.40 p.m.  , now, and as if by instinct she felt a sudden fear which she soon overcame as being silly. She drove around all those familiar places from her childhood, renewing every single memory that lay deep down within her.  Nothing under the sun (moon, in this case) could stop her from living the moment. After all, it is not every other day in any place that it is possible for a 21 year old girl to venture out alone at night. This is my right, she thought.

She hurried her way home through the deserted streets along with her friend. It was past midnight and both of them would have rather preferred to have been in the comforts of their homes. Today was one of those days- work started at 7 in the morning, attending meetings and calls for more than 15 hours, one leading to the other. Since both of them were neighbours they always took the same bus home.
The bus was empty save for the conductor and the driver. At least I have company, she thought. They spent their time discussing anything and everything including office gossip. There wasn’t anything much to do at this point of time. At the next stop, a bunch of teenage guys entered the bus looking totally drunk and verbally abusing each other. They took a good look at her and settled in the seats all around her. Perspiration beads started forming on her forehead.  She squirmed about in her seat worrying about where this bus journey would take her.  And to top all of that, the conductor was also sneering at them. She took out her cell and sent the bus registration number to a colleague’s number. She did not know what prompted her to do that, but she did it. The journey seemed shorter, probably because of her nervousness. They got down and started walking in silence. She suddenly took a deviation and walked on. He called behind her, but she was very determined. He ran behind her and kept asking her about where she was headed. She turned and said “Police Station”. The look on her face said it all. This is my right, she thought

Yes, she knows she could have been the unfortunate one. And yet, by some miracle it had not been so. It could be today or tomorrow. But till then she continues to live in the cocoon called her life with a silent prayer on her lips thanking God for the miracle

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

If only...

XYZ Corp:
"Chief Business Analyst”, the name-board said. Humming a tune to herself and fiddling through the magazines on the table, she waited there impatiently, often stealing a nervous glance to the clock on the wall. She was dressed impeccably with not even a strand out-of-place. In a chic black formal shirt, white corduroy trousers and hair tied up in a bun, this tall lean figure was nowhere close to being tired after a day of hectic work.
An hour back, she had been busy observing her friends suppress giggles and squeals of joy as they moved about their work, the surprise birthday party that they were going to throw for her that night was on everyone’s mind, including hers. As she sat there thinking of what the year might offer for her, the phone on her desk rang. To her surprise, it was the secretary of her big boss telling her that he wanted to have a word with her in an hour or so. Well, there goes my year, she thought.
The clock struck 8.30 and she was ushered into his office. This was her first time in his office and all that she could think of was the pride on the faces of her parents if they saw her in such an office. After all, that is exactly why she had been given all sorts of training and education. A topper from school, she had never really learnt the meaning of failure till now. A graduate of BITS- Pilani and an MBA holder from IIM-A, she has never had to look back and have much regrets in her life. The voice of her parents brimming with joy was all that she remembered of that day when she got her first fat-salaried job.
As she sat down on the chair opposite her boss, she was still in her own world.
Boss: Do you have any idea why I’ve called you?
She: Frankly sir, no.
Boss: I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about you and have been observing your performance from then on and I must say that I’m impressed. And so, when a matter of promotion was brought to my notice, I put forth your name. Congratulations on this promotion. Keep up this good work and it will only be a couple of years before you find yourself in this chair.
A pre-birthday gift that she will remember for years to come. She wanted to jump with joy and scream her happiness to the world but all that came out of her mouth was a mild “Thanks."

XYZ Hotel:
As if in a dream from another era, she woke up and thought about her own life as she waited in the corridor.

Wearing a faded blouse and a tattered old sari tucked up at her waist, hair held together with the help of lot of pins, balancing 4 glasses of water on one hand and four thalis on the other, she manoeuvred her way through the crowded restaurant.  From the other side she could hear the chatter of the young professionals who often visited this place for a quick dinner. Amidst all this, she finally reached her destination and served her customers with a warm smile. 
As she turned around, another table called out to her; their request was a birthday special. With a warm and innocent smile she wished the girl and proceeded with the order.  All she could think of was her birthday, just another normal day. No special orders, wishes, cakes or candles. Not even a hug or kiss from her parents for she did not know who they were. And yet, all that she could think of was the next day when she would be celebrating her birthday alone.
The clock on the coal-stained wall showed 8.30. She heard a familiar call from somewhere nearby and she turned to see the hotel’s owner gesturing her to a corner of the restaurant with a fake smile and a packet in his hand. Her heart gave a leap. A birthday present? But all of a sudden, emptiness was all that she could feel. She did not know what she wanted or was it because all that she wanted was much above her?
The three basic luxuries- food, shelter and clothing was allowed to her in meagre measures; a decent education and employment denied to her by the forces of the world; the love and care of parents and loved ones denied to her from birth. What did she want?
Owner: So how has been the work today?
She: Nothing out of the ordinary.
Owner: I’ve been impressed by your dedication and so have been a lot of others but none worthy of you.  But today, you have landed yourself a mighty shark. Consider this as a promotion in your profession. 
She wanted to say a lot of things, at least to protest, but her voice got stuck at her throat.
Owner: Here is a new sari for you. You know what is to be done.
He handed over the packet to her. Her mind fought desperately as she numbly received it. A pre-birthday gift that she will remember for years to come.

A bolt of lightning outside bought her back to the corridor. 
“Room 210”, she read and that was all she could read before her eyes welled up. She knocked on the door and entered.

If only her existence was a dream.