Aks got up cursing again. He hated to go to office in those crowded Mumbai trains. Even the thought of the crowd pushing, crushing him; where he can smell the sweat of people around him and people breathing air almost in his mouth made him almost puke. The first class pass was not really helping in peak hours either. He shifted to Mumbai some six months back and was still not used to the crowd, the heat, the cacophony and the mad rush that everyone seemed to be in. Even the soothing waves of beaches failed to entice him. He saw filth everywhere. Aks questioned himself again and again why he ever decided to come to this dreaded city. Yet here he was, getting ready to go to work and cursing some more as today he was running late.
As Aks reached the platform running, panting and sweating, he saw his regular fast train pull out of the station and he cursed some more. Sometime later he boarded another train. As this was a slow train, at least the first class compartment was not as crowded. He squeezed himself between two gentlemen who reluctantly gave some space so that he can just about rest his rears at edge of the seat. Ah Mumbaikars!! He rolled his eyes and was about to say something caustic when his eyes fell on a lady in the adjacent ladies compartment.
He kept staring at her. She looked extremely beautiful with big black bindi on her forehead, elegantly tied bun at the nape of her neck, crisp saree… grace personified! He could not believe someone can look this beautiful and fresh even in this Mumbai heat and humidity, especially in a local train. She was so different from others around her who wore more comfortable salwar kameez or jean and tee shirts. Aks kept looking at her and forgot all about his Mumbai woes. He came out of his trance when she got up to get down at her station. He then realized that he had missed his station but for a change he did not curse. A slight smile played on his lips. He had no idea why, but something fluttered in his heart. He kept smiling till he reached his office.
The next day Aks deliberately took the same train and managed to get in the same compartment in the hope of finding Grace (that’s what he decided to call her till he gets to know her real name!). His eyes searched for Grace and a small sigh escaped from his lips on spotting her at the window. She must be a regular here to get a window seat, he thought. The journey to office was breezy that day. Air did not seem hot at all and humidity did not bother him. Fellow passengers seemed more tolerable too. He sighed again. He got down at Grace’s station even if it meant that he had to go back two stations in order to go to his office.
About a week later, by chance, their eyes met and Grace smiled at him when she found him looking at her (probably she was not aware that Aks was staring at her for a week now). Aks’ heart leaped to his mouth, he grinned back a silly grin even though he knew that hers was a courtesy smile, a smile one gives to a fellow passenger. Her smile stayed with him even during his sleep. Next day there was a bounce in his feet and heart felt as light as a feather, he was in fact humming a song while getting ready for office. Now that was a first since he shifted to Mumbai!
He boarded the train and saw her at her usual seat. Aks waited for her glance, to see that gorgeous smile but she seemed oblivious to his presence. Another day went by. As days became weeks, a routine was established for Aks – board this slow train, wait for Grace to smile at him (which she did more often than not), get down at Grace’s station, go to office, go home, sleep, repeat. Grace too appeared to wait for him to board the train. He could feel that when she looked at him her face softened. Some mysterious expression played on her attractive face, her eyes seemed to say something which he could not decipher. However, he was happy to see her smile. She seemed like an anchor to him. They never spoke, never exchanged even a hello yet she, her smile, seemed to fill his days with eternal happiness. He could not understand it but then he did not want to decode this anyway. Weekends seemed longer and he could not wait for Mondays. He was happy and suddenly Mumbai felt livable.
Today was different though, someone else was sitting at Grace’s window. Since Aks has started boarding this train a couple of months back, this was the first time that Grace was absent. He missed her smile, her presence, her everything. He did not know what to do. He knew deep in his heart that it was just one day and she might just have taken a day off for some domestic reason; that he should not panic but still panic he did. He could not wait till it was next day so that he can run to board the same train, to see Grace sitting at her usual window seat smiling at him. He longed to see that softness of her eyes. He needed to know that she was okay. He kept telling himself that this anxiety was unwarranted but some unknown dread filled his heart when he did not find Grace even on the next day.
Aks never saw her again. He tried to find out about her from her fellow passengers but no one seemed to know anything about her. He never got to know what happened to his Grace, why she disappeared without a trace. His days were filled with despondency and Mumbai’s overcast skies matched his mood. The heavy downpour that followed could not wash away the agony in Aks’ heart. Once again, Mumbai was not a happy place.
Had Aks payed attention to News in morning papers, he would have known that Grace killed herself two days back due to severe depression. Her suicide note did mention something about local train and finding her late husband there.
P.S. For non-Indian Readers – Aks means reflection
My dearest Cookie,
You entered your teenage just recently and you were so very excited about it. Looking at you, so happy and chirpy, swelled my heart. I loved you even more (if that is even possible!) when you refused to have a birthday bash for yourself because you had demanded a costly gift. It was amazing to see that dimply smile on your face when your friends unexpectedly came to wish you. All you girls looked so cute and happy. Touch wood! (No, I don’t really believe in this phrase, but it won’t hurt either ;))
I am writing this letter, and might not give it to you till you are 15 years at least, to let you know a few thoughts that I have had since you were born and are getting stronger as you are turning into a fine young lady.
Now that you are growing up it is not going to be possible for me or daddy to protect you all the time or keep you from harm’s way. No longer will it be possible for us to filter out the news and give you only positive or scientific news to read from newspapers. Days are not very far when you will want to go out alone with your friends and we will be fretting at home till you return home safely. You might want to go on your first date real soon. Things are going to change with all the physical and emotional changes that you are going to experience and we realize that you are no longer our little girl.
With increasing intolerance towards woman individuality in our country, we will be worried about your safety, not just physically but emotionally too. You will have your share of hurts and heartaches, and I am not talking about just the romantic ones. People will be mean when you least expect them to be. You will hear adverse comments on your gender or caste or religion or bodyweight. You will soon find out how dirty it feels to be touched inappropriately when you travel in crowded public transport or how uncomfortable you will be made to feel by some lecherous eyes even when you are fully dressed. These thoughts are painful to me, to say the least, but you will have to go through these experiences nonetheless. Consider these as a part of your growing up process.
With all these adversities of growing up in a regressive society that we live in today and with reducing morals, I know it is going to be tough to keep up your morale, but trust me you will be fine. Don’t confuse between being carefree and careless. Do not misunderstand the word “freedom”. Do not do things you are not comfortable doing just to fit in the group. Do not suffer bullying. Don’t give up on your values and never take abuses lying down. Do not get into the fight of gender-equality or superiority as it will never serve any purpose and you will waste your life proving something that is immaterial in the larger schemes of life. Trust yourself. Fight for your rights and be just to others. Learn to forgive and let go.
I want you to know that you are special. And you will meet more good people in life than bad. A loving family, a few best friends and that special person who will always love you for what you are, will make your life complete. You will be valued for your beautiful heart and not just for the looks you carry. You will be treasured for your hard work and fairness to achieve what you desire and not for the fairness (or the lack of it) of your skin colour. You will be respected for balancing your personal and professional life and not for sacrificing things that you value the most to fan someone’s ego. You will be appreciated for the charities you do and what you give back to the society as your social responsibilities and not because of your body size. You will be cherished, the way I have been, for being you.
Be kind, Be generous and Be happy!
God Bless You…
Lots of love,
This is what I received as a forward today…
“मेरी कोई ख़ता तो साबित कर,
जो बुरा हूँ तो बुरा साबित कर;
तुम्हे चाहा है कितना तू क्या जाने;
चल में बेवफ़ा ही सही,
तू अपनी वफ़ा साबित कर” ~ गुलज़ार
I am not really sure if Gulzarji is the actual writer of this but here is my take on this one…
“ज़िन्दगी सिर्फ मोहब्बत से नहीं चलती,
वफा बेवफा की बातें ना कर;
में उड़ना चाहती हूँ,
तू हवा देने की काबिलियत तो साबित कर!” ~सखी
“I am suppose to be your strength, the mind tells me that,
Encourage you so that you become your best;
Just wish eyes would not brim with a mere thought of yours,
And heart would not squash with the memories here on.”
Dhri was not happy to leave her friends behind in Bangalore. She did not like that she had to leave her favourite school too. She loved the house and her room, not to mention cuddling up in her bunk bed. She belonged there.Though she never told anyone, she would miss Ryan too. Her friend, her soul mate. How will she be able to survive without seeing Ryan everyday. Of course, Facetime and Skype will help but it will not be the same. Sigh.
Everyday she was told about how good the new school would be and how great the new residence was. She was told about this new city, the city that never slept! Mumbai, city of dreams!! It sounded more like a nightmare. Though all were trying to perk her mood up, there was no way that she would feel excited about this new development. But she was 16 and she had to comply to her parents wish of shifting base to Mumbai. She looked like a little girl when she boarded plane with tears in her eyes and pouting. She kept staring out of the window, tears streaming down her face, throughout the flight. It was as if her world was crumbling around her.
Blue tarpauline lined slum houses and littered roads, continuous honking and traffic snarls of Mumbai dampened Dhri’s spirits even further. Affluent ambiance, perfectly trimmed Mehndi shrubs, evenly spaced trees, landscaped garden, swimming pool and cheering children on their bicycles at her new housing society did not do much to lift her mood. New abode was as good as her Bangalore one, if not better. It seemed to Dhri that nothing, nothing can ever make her happy now that she was uprooted.
Days passed and Dhri’s family started liking their new place. Her brother made new friends and both her parents started settling down at their new work place too. Neighbours were quite helpful and welcoming. Only Dhri resisted being happy. She still sulked and did everything to show how unhappy she was at every opportunity she got. School was still closed for summer vacation so there was no way to make new friends unless she ventured out of her new apartment, which she did not! She just wanted to show her parents how they had ruined her life by getting her away from her comfortable and contended life. It was working in part as her parents were now getting worried looking at their once happy-go-lucky daughter brooding for days. No amount of pacifying or reasoning seemed to work and one day Dhri’s father lost his cool. He admonished Dhri for her irrational behaviour.
That night Dhri cried herself to sleep. It was not even midnight when a sudden noise in her room startled Dhri and she woke up with a start. It took time for her vision to adjust to darkness. She thought she saw a shadow near her french window and she shrieked. Sweat beads broke out on her forehead and she struggled under the grip of the shadow who was now trying to stop her from screaming. As her effort to free herself reduced, she realized that the shadow was trying to talk to her. She stopped fighting. The shadow released her and it turned out that he was a young lad and a very handsome one at that! Fear went out of Dhri’s being, she kept staring at him. He was saying something to her but Dhri was lost. She blinked her eyes and he was gone. Dhri could not believe her eyes. She wanted to run to her parents but decided against it thinking she might have had a nightmare. She tried sleeping again but it eluded her that night.
Next night she tried staying awake to see if what happened the previous night was really a dream or not, but dozed off. A light shake woke her up. The shadow was there, looking down at her, smiling. Dhri, disoriented, looked around. She was indeed at her own home and this guy was in her room, smiling! Confused, she smiled back. His name was Hrim and apparently, he saw her everyday mopping around the house and just felt like meeting her. He liked her and wanted to talk to her. He was of her own age and was a neighbour. If that was the case, why he did not come and meet her like a regular visitor, she asked. He guffawed. Dhri liked the sound of his laughter and she smiled, a wary smile still, too. He started talking to her like he was her childhood friend and they always knew each other. Dhri warmed up to this cute chap and it was beginning of a new friendship. They talked and talked and Dhri slept off somewhere near dawn. When she got up she had a smile on her face. She felt good and light. After ages she hummed a song as she went to shower. Everyday she waited for the night to fall, waited for Hrim. They loved talking, shared their dreams and fears, teased each other and fought too. Her scowl had transformed into a happy, silly grin and it did not go unnoticed. Her parents were happy that finally their daughter had accepted the change and was being herself again. Again she was irritating elder sister, loving daughter and generally a happy teen. She was herself!
Hrim came to meet Dhri every night, which went on for a few weeks. One night as they were engaged in their usual banter, there was a knock on the door. Dhri was surprised since everyone was supposed to be asleep. Were they too loud? What will they say if they saw Hrim in her room at this hour? She looked at Hrim and he just smiled and nodded for her to open the door. Her parents rushed inside the room and looked worried. They demanded to know what was going on and whom was she talking to and laughing with. Dhri looked over her shoulder and saw Hrim had vanished. She smiled at her friend’s quick reflexes. “No one”, she replied and kept her naughty smile in check. Her mother gave anxious look before leaving her alone and asked her not to lock the door. Hrim did not come for a couple of days, rather nights, and Dhri realized how much she was missing him. It had not occurred to her to ask for his mobile number neither had he asked hers. She did not even know, if he was her neighbour, which was his apartment. She cursed herself for being so stupid. Now, there was no other choice but to wait for him to come over. There was no way she can contact him. Hrim came over on the third day, as usual, with his trademark smile intact. Dhri giggled with joy but took care to keep her voice low. They got lost in their repartee. Opening of her bedroom door startled Dhri. She rushed to her fuming parents to pacify them. She was sure that this time Hrim did not have enough time to escape. Her father pushed her aside, rushed to the balcony beyond the french window for he was sure that whomever Dhri was talking to had to be there. To their utter disbelief there was no one. Dhri was happy that Hrim had pulled off the disappearance act again but this time her parents did not let her off the hook. They goaded her and after a while Dhri spilled the beans. They looked at each other in bewilderment and with incredulity at their 16 year old.
How was this possible, their home was on 26th floor?!
हम हमेशा नाकामयाब रहे; पहले उन्हें समझने में, फिर अपने आप को उन्हें समझाने में ~सखी
“I loved him with all my heart, for years
Then one day I started loving myself too
And we separated!!”