The homecoming

The sun was shining bright. Perfect weather for a jaunt to the mall, some shopping, coffee at Starbucks and just in time for lunch at home with the kids. She looked down at her hands while making the call and made a mental note to advance the manicure appointment at the salon. Unable to contain her excitement and happiness, she started blabbering as soon as the phone was picked at the other end.

“You seem to have it all”, exclaimed the person on the other side, somewhat hurtfully. “You are wrong, darling, I DO have it all.” said Shweta laughingly, the confidence in her voice ringing out clearly. Shweta was on top of the world. Vikram, her husband was a handsome man and a family guy at that. Their two children were beautiful, intelligent, talented and doing exceptionally well at school. The Ahujas had a lavish lifestyle, Vikram was at the helm of things and had his feet grounded. Shweta was a devoted wife and mother.Their family and friends loved them and some were even envious of their closeness. It appeared as if they did not need anyone.

Of course, nobody could deny that they had put in their soul and blood into making their family appear the way it did. Vikram had worked hard for this. Material things mattered to him. He wanted to buy the best house on the block, drive the best car around, send his children to the best school in the city, throw the best parties in town and have the best holidays ever! He was a perfectionist and a relentless one at that. Shweta was a perfect complement to Vikram’s doggedness. She was beautiful, fun loving, affable and carefree, not to mention a successful ex-model.

Shweta was excitedly planning their annual Diwali bash and was calling friends to invite them over. They had a huge gang, but Shweta longed to have a real friend. The one she couldn’t have…not anymore! After all that happened 10 years ago, how could she even call herself worthy of being a friend. She couldn’t have helped herself, not then and not now! She had been madly in love with Vikram, right from the moment their eyes had met. Had she not been Richa’s best friend, things could have been different. But it wasn’t meant to be that simple.

She could recall each and every event that happened on that fateful day in a painfully slow time lapse. Shweta and Richa had met as neighbours on a nippy Diwali night 22 years ago! Just as the neighbourhood brat burst the long line of sharp crackers, the girls clapped loudly and hugged each other. They were happy to have a friend in each other. Their parents had been in government service and were allotted adjacent accommodation in Lodhi Colony. Studying in the same class in the same school, playing the same games, spending every waking minute together, the two had grown up virtually as sisters. What boyfriends and jealous classmates couldn’t do, board exam results did! Richa scored very well and got into the top college of her choice while Shweta had to settle for the nearby girls’ college. The girls made separate friends and studied separately, for they had different subjects. But both used to meet once a day regularly to catch up with each other. The undergrad years passed quickly and Richa’s father retired, leaving for his home town and lodging his only daughter in a nearby paying guest accommodation with Shweta’s parents as her guardians. During the same time, Shweta got into modelling! Richa had never thought that the plain Jane Shweta was the glamorous types! Hell, she had gone to a desi girls’ college too! Time flew…Shweta started modelling full time while Richa went on to study Masters in Business Administration from a top city based institute.

Soon enough, Richa’s parents started looking for a suitable match for their professionally qualified daughter. Weekend after weekend was devoted to this sole activity. Even though Richa was quite fed up of the mamma’s boys that she had to meet and chat with, she didn’t complain. She was her parents’ only child and had been born quite late to them, naturally her parents wished to see her settle down before anything happened to them. Richa would always confide in Shweta about the smallest thing that happened in her life; which is why it shocked her when one fine day Richa called to say she was getting married to Vikram, a boy she had been dating!

The marriage was happening in Richa’s hometown and Shweta was to reach the same day. Shweta wanted to talk to Richa to know more about what happened and why it happened, but for some strange reason, Richa was withdrawn as she proceeded with the wedding ceremonies. Shweta felt lonely. That’s when Richa’s parents introduced her to Vikram. She felt a strange connection with Vikram as soon as she saw him. Attributing the attraction to a natural response of acceptance towards her best friend’s husband, she left it at that. The wedding concluded rather quietly with the strange absence of noisy relatives, gaana-bajana and the boisterous leg pulling of the bride and the groom. Everyone returned home.

Richa and Vikram were planning to live in the Delhi suburbs and the girls met as often as they could. Couple of years passed and both the girls became more and more busy. Shweta’s parents were now getting worried with their daughter showing no signs of settling down and her glamorous work taking her all over the country. They were afraid for her. Luckily for them, Richa and Vikram were like a set of another children and all three were very close to each other. Vikram decided to take the matters in his own hand and promised the septuagenarians to convince Shweta to settle down. Richa was quite pleased with Vikram pitching in as she had always felt a lot of gratitude towards Shweta and her family as they were the ones who had always supported her in the city when her parents had left.

Shweta had been miserable and she couldn’t tell anyone why! With each passing day, she was becoming more and more attracted to Vikram. He was the perfect gentleman, perfect son-in-law and a perfect husband, always at his wife’s side, ever willing to be at her beck and call, remembering occasions, keeping in touch with relatives, organising and straightening their lives. He was kind, gentle and funny! He often played good samaritan to the neighbours and always had a smile for the kids and the old people. His goodness was however, adding to her pain. Shweta could clearly see that things were not good between Richa and Vikram. Richa was doing very well at her job, whereas Vikram was still struggling. Very often, Richa would joke or sarcastically remark about how Vikram was the only permanent feature in their drawing room. Vikram would look the other way or laugh it off. During their fights that were happening way too often;  which Shweta thought, Richa would deliberately pick, Richa would storm off after venting. At first, Shweta thought, it was happening amongst the three of them, but soon, it was clear, Richa was looking for ways and means to pick up a fight with Vikram in front of everybody – her office friends, their common friends and even at family get togethers.

“Ma’am, the party planner called to confirm today evening’s appointment.” The crisp voice of the housekeeper startled Shweta to the extent that she thought she had been dreaming about the whole thing. Snapping her mind back to the present, she thanked the gentle lady and asked for the driver to get the car on the porch. She looked at her watch. It was a gift from Vikram, in fact the first one after they got married. It was a plain Titan watch with an off white mother of pearl dial and a golden chain. It was her favourite piece of jewellery, something she never left home without. Vikram had often requested, pleaded and cajoled her into letting go of the watch and wearing one of the many luxury timepieces he had bought for her, but she wouldn’t give in.

Vikram Ahuja was in the middle of his workout in the gym when his phone buzzed. His staff and colleagues knew that one hour from 7-8pm every evening was sacrosanct to him and they never disturbed him except during an emergency situation. Wiping his face with the towel, he quickly took the call. The silence that followed for about 2 minutes from his end, could make the sweat dripping from his brow scream out loud. It was Richa! She wanted to meet. Vikram thought for a minute and invited her to their Diwali party. He knew what was he doing. Striding purposefully, he left the workout in the middle and headed towards the sauna.

Vikram didn’t want to upset Shweta so he put off telling her about Richa’s call till the very end. He was flying back from Mumbai the same evening as their party and had promised to pick up Richa from her hotel, which was quite near to their house. His thoughts darted back and forth! He and Richa had been dating on and off when suddenly she had brought up marriage. He had been a little taken aback by her frankness but had decided to go ahead. Richa was successful and responsible. What more could he look for in a wife! He had been foolish to mistake liking for love.

Vikram loved Shweta, had loved her from the moment he saw her at his wedding. He felt as if the wind had been knocked off from his sails. She was everything that he ever wanted or needed. It was as simple as that. They had never exchanged profound words of love or passion. Hell, they didn’t even have an extra marital affair while he was married to Richa. Theirs was a love that people say transcends lives. Shweta had believed in him for what he was. She had never supported the divorce because of her friendship with Richa.

On the other hand, Richa had unleashed a terrible viciousness on both of them. Accusing Shweta to have used her beauty to come in between her and Vikram, she had cited adultery as the reason for divorce. Giving up whatever little he owned was never an issue for Vikram. In the end, Richa left, wrecking many lives. Shweta’s parents disowned her. Vikram was left jobless, penniless and homeless.  Their past was full of a lot of tears and sweat but Vikram was happy that Shweta and he were together. As is proverbial, lady luck smiled at him and there was no looking back. He minted money and gave Shweta a life that one could only wish for! Theirs was a union blessed by God. However, Shweta hadn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that somewhere she was responsible for her friend’s failed marriage. Till now, she believed she was living a borrowed life. And Vikram wanted to change that.

The party was on in full swing when Vikram and Richa walked in! The city’s creme-de-la-creme had gathered at their huge, sprawling penthouse, facing the golf course. Page 3 faces, plunging necklines, ramp ready fashion, shiny baubles, twinkling champagne flutes, elegant chandeliers casting long shadows, exotic flowers, delectable hors-de-oeuvres and in the middle of it all, the toast of the town – Shweta! Richa couldn’t take it all in at one glance, she was panting with the sheer awe of the evening. When she had gotten in touch with Vikram, she hadn’t really expected him to talk to her, much less invite her to his home. But here she was…

Shweta took one look at Richa and froze. For the first time in ten years, her confidence vanished and the fine lines of age took over to make her face look stricken. Purposefully, Richa strode ahead. It seemed that the entire world noticed the trio of Vikram, Shweta and Richa strategically positioned near the door, in the centre of the room and right under the chandelier’s spotlight respectively and sensed something sensational was about to happen. At least that’s what Shweta thought. She felt her breathing almost stop and her chest become constricted and saw Richa’s every movement magnified ten times over. She was petrified.

The tears flowed unabashedly, from both sides. Richa was hugging Shweta in a grip so tight that she almost lost her balance. Both the women were talking at the same time, just like old times, as if nothing had changed, the way they used to, in their tight little government flats, scouring around for privacy in the hallway or the near the window to discuss boyfriends, Mills & Boons or the latest crush! Shweta forgot her party, her socialite friends, her celebrity gate crashers, her home, her husband, everything! She and Richa were 18 again. it was only when Vikram’s arm came around her shoulders that she realised where she was.

Richa opened her mouth to speak, but Shweta silenced her. No words were uttered and none were needed. Just then, the biggest and the most colourfully extravagant fireworks went up from the golf course. The girls clapped loudly and hugged each other. They were happy to have a friend in each other.

 

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Utopia

The orange of the morning
And silver of the night
Bring a thought to mind
What does the day bring forth
What does the night
Aimless working, listless might
Want to be where the light is
Wandering, free and gay
Where heaven and earth meet
And sadness is nay

Where it’s breezy and bright

Live, Love, Laugh, Talk, Sing

And sleep away the night!

 

Let it go!

I saw this message exactly 2 years ago, today and decided to put it to good use, not because i liked it but because i wanted to make a point! I saved it on my phone and would go back to it everytime i wanted to react. A few months after i first saw it, i realised it was testing my patience which was not a virtue i possessed, so in a fit of impulse i deleted it, all the while imagining myself to be Shahid and Kareena in Jab we Met flushing out the no good ex lover who stood me up!
Life went on and the realisation started creeping up on me that somehow i was short on drama! I wasn’t having any confrontations, was becoming a people magnet in a good sort of a way, was having less friends to cry on my shoulder and more friends wanting to party with me! Not just that, my mother wanted my opinion on everything ( wait now, that was a first in many years! ) My life was now like the Gangetic Plains as per my younger kid instead of the white water rapids it earlier was and i figured i quite liked the calmness.
So why am i writing this today, you reckon? I saw this little poster again on my news feed and it instantly reminded me of the sand which we try holding on to, at the beach. Hold it and it will slip away and let it go and it’ll creep back into your slippers, your skin, your hair, everywhere! Some messages are powerful, choose what you like carefully!
Have a great day 😊

Image Credit – Internet

 

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Whiskey Sour

The place was alive and rocking. The jacket was a crisp black, hair gelled back neatly with a side parting, tall, fit and lean with a hint of an aftershave – a young man out for a drink with 2 women friends. They don’t make them any more like him, I thought to myself as he shifted his weight from one foot to another, tapped his expensive looking watch and looked around. Trying to be cool, I swirled my glass and took a swig of the Whiskey Sour – the fashionable drink that everyone seemed to recommend on the popular foodie group on Facebook. The eye contact when it happened which I tried very hard to make it look accidental, quickened my pulse and pretending to be nonchalant, picked up the iPhone and then forgetting how to operate it, did the next best thing – opened Google. All this while I could feel his eyes on mine and the slow, tantalising walk towards my table. The sweat broke out on my brow and in a state of anticipational anxiety searched for the drink I had just sipped on. Oh god! Anticipational Anxiety, what is that..is it even a legit english word or phrase?! Cursing myself for behaving like a teenager, I made a mental note of looking up the Thesaurus later. His tight, lean frame was about to close the gap between us in three long steps which I was sure he was deliberately delaying. I had been waiting long enough for the out of town girlfriend to join me and he had noticed me sitting pretty at the table. Sucking the cheeks in to make a natural Kareena pout, I was prepared to give him my most dazzling smile when he would come up and strike a conversation. You see, I had noticed him looking over his women friends towards my side. And no, they were not together, if you understand what I mean. They had been standing at the bar for sometime as the place was full. Wikipedia said – Bourbon, lemon juice, sugar and egg white…EGG WHITE!!!!! Eeeks, disgusting! Just as nausea rose up my throat, the toy boy uttered those magical words in chaste Haryanvi – “Madamji, thaare kaney yaa jo kursi padi se, main le loon kay?” Egg white in my mouth and the Jat in front of me – not knowing which one to let go of first, I decided that Taste matters!!

Goodenough

She was 22 and he was 26. Both belonged to conservative families and knew that this was the right decision. They liked each other in the very first meeting. He knew that there were very few families who would send their daughters to study in an english medium school for fear of losing them to the western culture. And here was this girl who had not only studied in a convent but also graduated to become a doctor. That’s why, when Priya’s name came up as a prospective bride, he jumped at the opportunity. Of course, her complexion was a bit dark which was unusual for any woman to have in his family. His mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunts, sisters and sisters-in-law were all fair and lovely. Also, her parents belonged to the working class. And she was too tall for a woman…which was a perfect foil to his 6’2″ frame, a voice niggled him from inside but he chose to ignore it. His mother had always said that all Marwari brides are supposed to be pretty and petite. “Well, a man can’t have it all”, he thought and decided to take the plunge.

She, on the other hand, was the only daughter of the Managing Director of the area’s biggest sugar mill. Though her parents were old school, they had decided to educate their daughter in the best possible manner. Luckily Priya was brilliant in studies and made them proud by consistently topping her school exams. When she had insisted on studying medicine, they didn’t have the heart to stop her. Priya had put her sweat and blood into her studies and had now graduated at the top of her class. She now wanted to become a neurologist and wanted to go abroad for higher studies. And therefore, when one of their old friends had hinted at a matrimonial alliance with Dev Karan Singh, they were overjoyed. Who better than Dev for their beautiful daughter ? Dev’s family were the fifth generation jewellers and were very well known in the area. They were not only super rich, but also had political links and were touted to be extremely influential. And Dev was a computer engineer settled in America and a green card holder.

And so the match was fixed and the date was set. Of course, both families being traditional, did not want to have a long waiting period between the engagement and the wedding. The idea of the youngsters meeting outside was also frowned upon. However, the two connected over the eternal lifeline of separated lovers – the telephone. Long conversations that extended into the wee hours had made them delirious with love and longing. It had made Priya so languorous that she almost missed out on the deadline for sending out the application. Coming back to her senses, she called up Dev to get their residential address in the States. Life couldn’t have been better at this point, she thought as she waited for Dev to pick up the phone. She was applying to the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles. It wasn’t her first choice for studying neurology but it had to work because that’s where Dev lived. Her reverie was broken with Dev’s warm and velvety “Hello”. She quickly explained her predicament and was ready with the pen and paper….something must have gone wrong with the phone cable because she couldn’t hear Dev’s voice. She disconnected and redialled. The phone kept on ringing. She called up again and again and again and again.

Half an hour later, she could hear raised voices from her parents’ room. When they called for her, she suspected something had gone wrong with her maternal grandma who lived in Kota with her uncle and aunt. But she wasn’t ready for this…there were tears, anger, name-calling, fear, trepidation and finally threat. How could she do this to them after all they had done for her?! Maa ji (the matriarchal figure of the family) had been right all along. First, a girl, that too dark and lean and willowy and wanted to study too. As if that wasn’t enough, who had given her the right to decide to study further? Such a good match and she was ready to throw it all away to study….more! Who, for gods’ sake would look after Dev and the house if she were to do that! And, anyways what was the need?!

Priya stood transfixed not being able to understand the turn of events. Surely, there was a mistake, hadn’t she taken her parents’ permission to study further. The engagement had just happened and as luck would have it, Dev turned out to be living in America. What part of the sequence was she missing? It was all set. Her parents had set aside a fund for her so money wasn’t the issue. Dev himself was a software programmer and was doing very well at work. He had assured her that her degree of medicine would be his pride amongst his friends and colleagues. And his parents and family were very nice, very broad minded people despite being traditional. So, what was wrong here…..

The familiar buzzing of the coffee machine was like a soothing balm to Priya’s ears. 8 straight hours in surgery and she was worn out. It had been a complicated case but they had done good. Her team hadn’t let her down. Quietly she thanked God and grabbed her mug before the froth threatened to overspill. As if on cue, her pager beeped and she walked back to the nurse station. There had been an emergency and immediate surgery was required. She had to fill in. Wearily, she went back to scrub and get ready, holding the coffee and the file in both hands. No one noticed the slight falter in her demeanour.

Operation successful, she left the hospital after a full 18 hours of non-stop duty. She was happy, ecstatic. Just as she stepped out on the cold tarmac on a snowy night in Philadelphia, the black Mercedes rolled to a stop. Grinning from ear to ear, at the wheel was Abhay. She threw her arms around him and proceeded to talk about her day. They went out for a lovely dinner and then caught the last movie at a nearby cinema. It was finally 2 a.m. when they crept in bed. Tomorrow was going to be another long day, she thought as sleep came over her in a huge wave. Abhay lovingly pushed her short hair back from her forehead and thought about what Priya had told him. He was happy, happy to have this amazing woman as his wife, lover, friend and partner-in-crime.

The next day saw a flurry of activity and multiple visits to the recovery room. Priya was ready to face him now. As she walked into the private room, she saw the expressions on Dev’s face change from confusion to surprise to shock to maybe utter disbelief. Aware of the nurse and the junior resident around, she swiftly introduced herself and went on to check his vitals. When he requested her for some private time, she knew what was coming. Focussing back on the job, she promised to drop by, in the evening.

7o’clock was too late today, thought Dev to himself. He couldn’t believe his own eyes when he saw Priya. He had utilised the time to read up all about her. She was a successful neurosurgeon here in Philadelphia. Internet had offered little information on her personal life though. He couldn’t help notice how beautiful she looked…today and even back then. His thoughts went back 8 years ago, how he had mercilessly cut off ties with her, without a single question or conversation. He and his parents had been very clear they didn’t want their daughter-in-law to be either working or studying further. The whole incident had caused a big furore and their small town had talked about it for years. His family’s worst fears had come true when Priya had left her parents’ house and subsequently had been disowned by her family. Relieved at having made the right decision, he had proceeded to marry a suitable girl, petite and fair just like the women in his family. Years ago that relationship had ended too. She couldn’t adjust to life in the States and he couldn’t adjust to living with her.

He was curious about Priya. How did she manage to study? Wasn’t she waiting for a suitable husband to sponsor her citizenship in the US of A. The fact that she had operated upon him must mean something. She had always been a very sensitive girl. Of course, life would have taught her a lot in all these years. Maybe they could revive something!

Priya walked in, looking lovely in a black sweater and slacks. “You saved my life, thank you”, there, that formality out of the way now, he proceeded to check her out. She acknowledged him with a swift nod. Before he could say another word, she looked over her shoulder and smiled as a striking looking tall man entered the room. He remembered the face vaguely from somewhere….”Dev, meet my husband, Dr. Abhay Singh”, Priya was saying something and it was, as if, all lightning had struck his hospital bed!! Of course, how could he forget. Abhay was the much celebrated oncologist from the John Hopkins Centre…he, who was the toast of the American public and the NRI population, the poster boy of cutting edge cancer treatment in America!! He had married Priya?! “Well, you have a good night too”, he heard Priya saying before waltzing away out of the room. “Doc”, he called out desperately…Priya turned to see the turbulence in his eyes. She felt nothing but sympathy. “Yes”, she said.

“Thank you for saving my life!” he whispered. “Ditto”, she said softly, smiled and left.

 

It’s a dog’s life!

Gosh! He was so handsome, achingly good-looking, actually. The minute Sasha set eyes on him, she knew she had lost her heart. They were both at this boring farm house party, one of its several kinds in the posh South Delhi area of Sainik farms. She hated coming for these soirees. Every brunch or dinner would see the same set of movers and shakers drinking the same Dom Perignon, downing the same Beluga caviar and the gorgeous salmon! Alas, salmon was something she couldn’t resist. Infact, she adored the delicious Alaskan salmon that gets served sometimes, well rarely actually! Its the Kapoors who are the best hosts in their sophisticated circle and its their gourmet spread that they had come tonight for!

She heard someone call out his name – Felix. Umm, the name was as smooth as the guy himself. He had a thick golden mane that glinted in the dim chandelier light as he turned around to look. He seemed dis-interested in the caller, which was great, thought Sasha. Felix and Sasha together sounded very exotic and sexy! Glad that her evening was made, she set about playing footsie to reach and somehow get introduced to the handsome hunk. She just couldn’t tear her eyes away from Felix. Boy! He was really something of a catch. Her eyes ran down his lithe smooth body that appeared chiselled – probably hours of sweating and panting. The eyes were a perfect pair of black with the longest lashes ever possible for a guy to have! She could make out the slightly flared nostrils, ready to sense danger.

Sasha couldn’t believe her luck. She looked imploringly at Felix, almost willing him to make eye contact across the large patio where they were all seated enjoying the last of the breezy spring evenings. The minute she was about to take a step to strut across to where Felix was standing with another couple, the lady called her name out loud. As if on cue, Felix turned his head to look. Their eyes met and locked gaze with each other. Sasha had never felt so alive in all her life. She could feel an electric current run down her little body, she could see Felix was affected too. The flared nostrils perked up even more at the sight of Sasha licking her suddenly dry lips. Her heart started to thunder when Felix made his first move. Her heart was beating so loudly that she was sure everyone around her could hear.

He slowly crossed over the breadth of the stone verandah and came over to where she stood, poised to take flight, for she was so nervous. They kept looking at each other without saying a word. None was necessary. Ever so slowly, as if it was so natural for strangers to do, they both started walking towards the huge gardens. Soon enough, they vanished into the beautifully manicured lawns, away from the prying eyes.

And back in the party, a visibly panicked Mrs. Pummy Khanna was looking for her award winning golden retriever – Felix. The dog show star was missing! Just then, she happened to cross ways with an anxious looking Mrs. Goldie Bhatia who appeared quite strange, whistling and holding a piece of Mrs. Minnie Kapoor’s prized pink Alaskan salmon. Her blonde Lhasa Apso – Sasha was nowhere to be found!

Moving on..

Anu looked at the bare walls of the apartment one last time before silently walking out of the main door. Was it only a couple of years ago that she had lovingly set up home here?! Without glancing back, she walked towards the stairs, not waiting for the elevator to arrive. She needed that time to compose herself before she stepped out to meet her waiting family.

“Move on” was a phrase that she was over familiar with! Thanks to Karan’s wonderful career, they had shifted five houses in eight years. They had lived in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune and were all set to move to Singapore. This time, she didn’t want to move on….she didn’t want to think about Singapore at all. She already hated the place. She didn’t want to leave her friends and family behind. Karan had forced her into this and she was angry.

Mr. and Mrs. Mehta were waiting downstairs. Anu was their youngest,most loved and pampered child. Born after their twin sons, she was all that they could ever hope for in a daughter. She had always been a cheerful, bubbly girl. To her parents, Anu had always brought good luck and they adored her. When she got married, it seemed that the household suddenly lost all its charm and happiness. With Anu having gone away, the house became quiet. Her laughter, the noise, the songs and the umpteen chat sessions with her friends ended. It wasn’t as if everybody stopped coming over but the visits were far, far less. The house that had been bustling forever due to Anu’s presence had suddenly become quiet. As if shifting cities wasn’t enough, she was now going away to Singapore. They wiped the tears that threatened to roll down. If it wasn’t for Karan, they would be close to their daughter.

Anu’s brothers hugged their parents close. Even though she was only three years younger to them,them being twins, they doted on her like another set of proud parents. They had bullied her, shared their secrets with her and had made her into a tomboy, well almost, if only Karan hadn’t come along! Thats when they knew they had lost their little sister. But this move to Singapore had devastated them completely. They were helpless as Karan was adamant.

Karan’s parents hugged him one last time and silently extended their support. They held the little girls, their grand daughters close, as if shielding them from the world. They knew it was difficult to make Karan change his mind once he had made it up. He wouldn’t budge from his decision to travel to Singapore.

Karan was waiting for her to come down. He knew how difficult it had been to convince Anu to make the move. She didn’t want to leave India. Ever since Anu had come into his life, it had changed irrevocably. Karan had been an only child and grew up in a boarding school as his father was a travelling diplomat with the Indian Foreign Services. The limited occasions when we was home were the summer holidays and Diwali. His parents entertained a lot and even though they had several acquaintances, they rarely had any friends. His childhood and teenage years were quite normal and nothing to write about, it wasn’t as if he had an unhappy or a neglected childhood. He was happy and grateful for the education his parents had given him. The engineering and a foreign management degree had landed him as a prized matrimonial catch.

Meeting Anu had been pure chance! She literally forced her way into his life and knocked the winds from his sail. Since that day, it had been a rollercoaster ride. There had never been any opposition to their marriage and everything had gone along perfect. Their two lovely daughters came and made their world even better. Anu had been a perfect partner in every sense of the word….until now. She was being stubborn about the move. But Karan didn’t give in. He will make sure that Anu comes along, no matter what.

The tickets were booked, the stuff was packed. Karan knew it would be difficult to leave their daughters behind with his and Anu’s parents, but he did what he had to! He had assured Anu that once things would settle down, he would get the girls with them. He knew he was lying but it didn’t matter. He wanted to get away as quickly as possible. The murmurs behind him had now changed into sniffs. He turned around…his face hardened. He knew there was nothing he could do about it. All of their friends had gathered over, he had insisted that it would only make this worse, but they didn’t listen. They wanted to meet Anu before she left for Singapore.

Everyone looked up as the glass doors to the main porch opened and Anu came out. The thin, gaunt girl with a drawn expression standing in the sunshine was far far different from the happy, chubby and effervescent Anu they had all known. She came close and hugged her family and friends one by one. ” You know, if it hadn’t been for Karan, i wouldn’t be leaving this place at all.” Everyone nodded in unison and reassured her that they will meet again soon. They were all lying, they knew.

The tears were flowing freely now..everyone was hugging and trying to draw strength from each other. Nobody said anything. No words were needed, no goodbyes, no Au Revoirs! They knew Anu would never come back.

The driver was waiting, Karan quickly bundled up Anu into the car before the wailings could begin. As soon as the car started, he made the call.

Few thousand miles away, it was another day at the cancer department of the Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore. The preparations were on in full swing to receive the patient from India in a medical emergency. Even though the diagnostics indicated otherwise, the husband was bringing over his wife in one last desperate effort to save her from dying due to pancreatic cancer. They were ready!

 

The office

“Power Dressing”, that’s what it is, hissed Tanya as she and Priya slowly walked back to their respective cubby holes (yes, thats what the small work stations were called at MTex) in the long corridor adjacent to several meeting rooms on the second floor of their building. No matter how well she would present, it was always Monica who would steal the limelight from right under her nose. And it wasn’t only because of her skills, she felt! Monica was a good looking girl, always so well dressed and so well groomed. Though Priya felt differently about today’s presentation, yet she was scared to admit it in front of Tanya, for losing the only friend she had in this big workplace.

It was Monica who organised the workshops, come up with new ideas, volunteer for any new project etc. Monica was a manager’s dream and a co-worker’s worst nightmare! So when this new ideation process was practically hijacked from Tanya by Monica, it became obvious to the small team of eight that the issue will get snowballed soon. Tanya was spitting fury by the time she came to her desk and couldn’t believe what had just happened. There went up her chance in flames!

The other team members were aware of the simmering resentment that Tanya had for Monica. Whatever Monica did, Tanya would claim to have thought of it first. Rivalry amongst colleagues was natural and to a point healthy. If in the right proportion, it could give impetus to perform better. However, in this case, it was getting bad. When others saw sheer talent in Monica, Tanya only saw a pretty face, in fact she couldn’t understand everyone else’s admiration for Monica.

The new quality project was about to take-off soon and it would push the lead into the limelight. Tanya had been working in the company for four years now and was looking forward to this particular opportunity as it would give her the much needed exposure. “She had to bag it!”Priya looked at her friend who appeared engrossed. Tanya was a wonderful colleague who had been extremely patient with Priya and was her mentor and buddy. Tanya was especially good at number crunching and the entire team would look upto her when she had something to say; which is why Priya didn’t understand her resentment towards Monica. Both of them had their own strengths.

 

Manju looked at the neat little row of workstations that were right opposite to her cubicle. Having her team sit close by was certainly helpful because calling for meetings, ideation etc was done in a jiffy as it suited Manju’s eccentric style of working. Everyone in her team knew how brilliant and dis-organised Manju was. As the head of the Instructional Design department at MTex, she was a force to reckon with, her work spoke for her, her team loved her and they were slowly moving from a support function to a revenue centre. On the flip side, Manju sucked at diplomacy and tact and did not mince words when the time came to give someone a piece of her mind. Coming back to reality, Manju shook her head slowly, almost willing away the problems. She knew her team was good but there was no cohesiveness between her two star performers – Tanya and Monica.

Monica was stoic, as usual, never showing any expression of jubilation or disappointment. She was aware of Tanya’s dislike towards her, but didn’t really think of it as a problem. In fact, she appeared completely oblivious to it. God knew she had bigger problems in life to contend with. No-one in the office knew much about Monica even though she had been around for five years in the company. What everybody knew was that she had moved from Operations into ID six months ago. It seemed like a routine move. Monica sighed and firmly banishing the melancholy that threatened to overtake her when ever she would sit idle, got up with a jerk. She could see the overhead LED lights on, in the long corridor, which meant that it was way past the official shift timing and most of the staff had left for the day. Knowing it was safe, she made the dreaded call to her lawyer. It was Tuesday evening and as promised, Kanti Rana picked up the call in a few rings. Tuesday – 8pm was reserved for her weekly update with Monica.

Kanti’s voice always brought in a lot of comfort for Monica. Assuming she was alone, Monica began to talk.

At first, Tanya couldn’t understand her words due to the muffled tone of her voice, but slowly, she could make sense of what she could hear. Monica didn’t seem her usual bright and confident self, she appeared to be an old woman who was tired and weary and was waiting. Tanya’s tough demeanour fell as she eavesdropped on Monica from across the cubicle barrier. It appeared that Monica hadn’t noticed her colleague was still at her work station and Tanya was listening to a private conversation that wasn’t meant for anyone else. What she heard was one part of a two-way dialogue and it was enough to numb her at first, then shock her and finally fill her up with a rage at an unknown entity for wronging another one of her tribe so outrageously. It was a feeling of sisterhood and empathy for another woman wronged; for several moments Tanya forgot it was Monica. It seemed Monica was fighting a divorce and custody battle with her former husband who had not only thrown his wife out after she found out about his sexual escapades but also refused to give her a penny of the huge ‘Streedhan’ she had brought along in marriage and of course, no alimony and no financial support. Not just that, he had accused Monica of practising witchcraft and taken her children away without any visitation rights. There was more to it, but Tanya had had enough. She sat quietly in her place without making any noise for fear of startling Monica, not because she wanted to hear everything, but to save her the embarrassment of having been heard. Tanya was ambitious but she was also fair. Suddenly she felt ashamed of herself, ashamed of her public school education, her foreign degrees and her upper middle class background. She had done the unthinkable! She had judged!

Monica finished her conversation and left for the day, but Tanya remained seated quietly, in deep thought. Her mobile rang indicating the driver had come to pick her up. She gathered her belongings and was about to leave, when the pantry boy came running. Apparently Monica had left her wallet behind when she had come to pick up a samosa on her way out. Tanya took it from him promising to return it to her colleague. She had just stepped out on the front porch of their office building when she saw Monica coming back in, searching inside her bag, at the same time. They eyes met and Tanya handed over the missing item mumbling something about sitting in the pantry for coffee and spotting her wallet.”Oh, Thank God, you saved me Tanya”, smiled Monica in relief. Tanya looked at her for a minute and smiled back slowly -” No, you saved me Monica, Thank You!”

Leaving a perplexed looking Monica behind, Tanya quickly got into her car and left. Putting her favourite song on the iPod, she hummed along, suddenly feeling relieved. It was going to be okay!

 

 

The date

Aryan and Veer had been best friends ever since they could remember. They didn’t know whether it was their mothers who became friends first or vice versa. Living at the end of a cul-de-sac in adjacent houses, they used to play together from dawn to dusk, sometimes dozing off at each other’s houses when they were too tired to move. The mothers found it convenient as both were the only child of their parents. Of course, it helped that the fathers got along famously well. As they grew, the friendship only strengthened. The entire neighbourhood knew them as brothers from another mother! Years passed and the children graduated from junior to middle and eventually senior school. Aryan was a natural at sports and excelled in all forms of physical education at school. Veer, on the other hand, was a brilliant student. Both had taken their board exams and were waiting for the result.

Aryan got through the sports quota to enter one of the best colleges of the city and Veer took admission in one of the regional engineering colleges. Life seemed to be on a roll, the only spanner in the wheel being – Veer was moving out of the city to study and Aryan was going to be here. Not just that, Veer’s father had taken a transfer to be with their only son in a new city. Both the families found it hard to separate but many farewell brunches, potluck dinners and nightcaps later, they did what had to be done.

Life was moving like a fiery rollercoaster with the new found freedom, friends, girlfriends, rock shows etc. Time flew and months changed into years. Aryan and Veer kept in touch through emails and occasional phone calls and then everything stopped. It didn’t happen suddenly, at first there were visits, followed by the occasional call and the email and the boys got so busy with their respective lives that it ceased to matter to call or speak. The mothers lost touch too eventually barring the yearly Diwali greeting card exchange. Aryan’s family was the first to withdraw, it seemed. No greeting card, no phone call, no email.

It had been 10 years since Veer’s family had moved away from the city he had grown up in. He was rummaging through old files, looking for his certificates that needed to be taken along. At 28, he had landed a plum assignment in the world’s best tech major, which would catapult him into the senior management league. The only catch was he had to fly out to Finland at the earliest. His parents were happy for him and so was Abha. Thinking of Abha brought a smile on Veer’s face. Abha had been the best thing that happened to him. She was a PR professional and they had met at work six months ago. Her company was pitching for the marketing campaign of his pet project and as they say, the rest was history. He had instantly fallen in love with her simple demeanour and natural charm, not to mention her beautiful big, brown eyes which had a hint of sadness in them. She was extremely reluctant to meet him outside work but eventually gave in to his persuasion. He respected her immensely. Abha had a 4 year old son from a previous relationship. Abha hadn’t volunteered any more information and he had never asked. It didn’t matter to Veer. He loved Abha and that was it. He hadn’t met her family though including her son who lived with Abha’s parents.

It was then that he noticed the colourful slam book. The same little diary which everyone fills at the end of high school with quotes, funny one liners and lots of swearing and their contact details with promises of meeting up in future. Flipping through the pages, his fingers stopped at the familiar handwriting. The message was right there! How could he have forgotten?! There on the faded white page was the date and time. His thoughts raced back remembering his pact with Aryan to meet on February 28th, exactly 10 years later from that day, no matter what! “Wait, wasn’t it Feb 28th tomorrow?”he slowly spoke out loud. Veer hadn’t kept in touch with Aryan either but something in that memory told him he should go! It was probably a kiddish thing to do at that time, and even Aryan would have forgotten all about it. Inspite of the many years when they had lost contact, Aryan was still the only best friend Veer had made. Engineering and then his Masters in Management followed by a wonderful but gruelling job had left him with little time for lasting friendships. “Go”, his heart told him.

He knew that Abha had gone home to meet with her parents and son. She had been adamant about visiting them this weekend. That, Abha and he belonged to the same city, was motivation enough for him to book his ticket for the following morning. After meeting Aryan, he was going to surprise Abha. Suddenly he was looking forward to tomorrow. He glanced at the slam book again and thought of the place – their favourite haunt, his and Aryan’s – Uncle’s ice-cream parlour located at the corner of Lawrence Road. He was in two minds to call Abha and ask her to come there too. The short drive from the airport to the hotel brought back memories of their school days – theirs was the coolest and hippest part of the city located right next to the Air Force Station. Aryan used to dream about joining the Air Force. “Hell”, he didn’t even know what Aryan did for a living.  How did they manage to lose touch?!

Deciding not to wait till evening, he re-directed the taxi driver to take him to his friend’s house – their old neighbourhood. Things had changed around here. Single storey houses had given way to multi storied buildings and townhouses. But the area had been well maintained. As the taxi stopped outside Aryan’s house, he noticed that the old villa had gotten a fresh lease of paint and some construction had been done upstairs too. It looked different.  It was then that he thought something was wrong! In his excitement, he had given the wrong address to the driver and he had directly come to Abha’s house before meeting with Aryan. He shook his head, looking dazed and seeing Abha in the garden, sitting on the swing with a small child on her lap. Their eyes met! She was surprised to see him and as her gorgeous smile broke out, happy as well! Veer couldn’t move. This couldn’t be Abhas’s house. This was where he had grown up, ran, played, fallen, hurt, gotten up again! What was Abha doing here?! As if on cue, the little boy got down from her lap to see what was keeping his mother occupied. It was as if destiny was playing a cruel joke on him. Staring at him, standing next to Abha was a 4 year Aryan. His gaze fell on the name plate outside the bungalow – he felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. The black granite simply stated – (Late) Captain Aryan Singh PVSM.

Fly away

Oh god! Another of those inane library periods which must be well spent by finding and reading the right book. Pray! How can a class of 45 raucous girls transversing across the floors and the corridors of the two-storeyed school building, enter the large airy room quietly, not manage to fight while trying to land the best looking cover, get the book issued by the sour-faced librarian, find a seat next to the current best friend, not giggle and actually read ?! Not by a long shot, thought Trisha to herself as she trudged along. The fact that she and her friends could now access the hitherto unexplored and forbidden back row of books made no difference to her. After all, how interesting can a fat book be?!

She was aware of the teacher’s gaze on her and pretended to appear engrossed. Just to make it look genuine, she started reading (what would a few pages matter if Mrs. Sehgal were to approve). It was then that the words started producing images – one after the other and she was hooked!! The shrill cacophony of the bell signalled the end of the library period and the start of a wonderful, life long love for reading. Trisha had found light and it was going to be Diwali.