Old fashioned mockery

I pressed down at the accelerator with all my might, with the other foot inches away from the brake, should things go out of control.

The engine whirred as if ready to shoot off like a missile into the space!

The car jerked wildly, lurched forward, ready to begin its journey, but seconds later the engine puttered and died down, greeted by cheers and cat calls from the audience.

Nah! Am not a NASCAR driver!

Neither are the audience the sophisticated spectators of a sportscar rally!

It is me and my car, stuck in a rainwater filled pothole, whose depth I had grossly miscalculated by several inches, not that I had any way of knowing.

The spectacle was being witnessed by men who had no business in my affairs but always took out time to enjoy a hapless woman’s plight. They seem always to materialize out of nowhere whenever one such woman is driving and is caught in some traffic or road intricacies.

I am driving in the city, which is known to the world to help organizations to move to the cloud, but somehow in its weird frame of governance, had never been able to maintain the roads before nature’s cloud closed in over it.

The audience, however, is omnipresent and are to be found in other cities as well.

I have been driving for more than a decade, a good, rule following, driver I am.

But if I ever have trouble negotiating a treacherous road, a traffic snarl, parallel parking, invariably I will see such folks stop to enjoy my discomfiture. The smug, the sneer, the mock, all evident from their expressions and gestures.

Why would folks take so much of pleasure at someone else’s, not known to them and never will be, discomfort. What do they get out of it? I often wonder but have never been able to figure out.

Once when I was slow to start off, when the light turned green, there were loud honks from all side, and the traffic police rapped at my window, and told me that women like me hold up traffic! On another occasion when I thought I would be able to cross the intersection when it was amber but couldn’t because a fella in a creaky cycle decided to float up in front of me, I again got a rap on my window and this time was told that women drivers like me always try to jump the light.

On taking a U turn, I perhaps might have taken a wider turn than a sharp one and was told that I lack finesse in handling the car.

I have been squarely blamed for traffic snarls, because evidently, I had not been quick enough to move my car through the narrow space created for a second between a bus and a truck, or wasn’t bold enough to bump out another car and move ahead, or perhaps stopped to give way to another vehicle.

If I happen to have one inside my car as a fellow passenger, I am asked to reduce my speed or flick the indicators miles before it is intended. Earlier in cars with stick, there was this added sermon as to what the correct gear should have been. Thank god, one discourse less!!

And the attention I would draw while trying to park in a narrow lot!

Anyway, back to my hapless plight, not one from the audience did really step in to help me out of the muck filled hole. I stepped out of the car to check the damage to my bumper and how deeply embedded are the wheels. The sight despaired me. The left front wheel was three-fourths into the hole and the right front wheel seemed to be off the ground. There was a pile of stones on the roadside and reversing did not seem possible.

As I stood pondering over my situation and thinking whether I should continue to try the same way, stamping on the engine, audience be damned, I heard a voice from heaven.

Ma’m, please start your engine and we will push your car. That will help you get out of the pothole, but be sure to move right quickly so that the left rear wheel doesn’t fall into the hole.

There were two young boyish adults, with rucksack on their back, on fancy bikes, probably on their way to college or tuition, who decided to help me out.

I nodded.  I had never liked being in centre stage, and I usually blank out in such situations and thus wanted to grab any help forthcoming.

I started my car and prepared to press hard on the engine. I didn’t have to use all my might this time. With the push from two able bodied humans, the car very easily lurched forward. I remembered to turn right quickly to avoid getting into the hole again and was out of the woods. Aaahh!

I looked back to thank the two boys, but they were well on their way!

Well, there is goodness in the world!

In spite of being in situations of mockery, I can perhaps think of many more situations, where I have got help, which perhaps outnumbers or shadows the mockery.

I can remember now of a situation, when I was in a traffic snarl (may be caused it), and someone stepped in, stopped several vehicle and paved way for me to move out.

Once when my car, would not start at a traffic light, I got two of our uniformed representatives, push my car till it did and they did so on their own.  

I have had help in changing the car tyre and so many more ….and I have had so many of those parking lot agents taking over from me to park my car.

Well, I will accept all the sneers and mockery which come along as I navigate through treacherous roads, as long there is goodness in the world!!

Sounds familiar, ladies!!

The changing paradigm of the poke

Done??! I asked, quite bewildered as I had felt nothing.

Yes, it is, and congratulations, Ma’m, for completing this milestone, she said.

I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief.

A milestone indeed!

I shook my head in disbelief at what a change it has been on how we have moved from utmost horrifying terror to that of reverence.

The world was waiting impatiently for this to happen. This has been the headline for many months now. Sometimes depicted in graphs and charts as to how many have reached their milestones. Then there are pictures of long serpentine queues waiting to reach theirs. And then there are news about how states and counties are fighting for their shares. Everyone, just everyone, or almost everyone, wants to cross their milestone.

Yes, the fear has been transformed. The fear has been replaced by a want. A want to live and survive!

Such a respect for the needle now which for generations had inflicted fear.

I remember as a kid, how the power of the needle was wielded upon us by the elders. It seemed to be applicable to any situation!

Eat your greens, bitter ones, sour ones, any kinds, or else the doctor will give you an injection.

Finish your milk or you will have to be given an injection.

Don’t eat chocolates, you will get caries, and the doctor will have to poke the needle into your gums.

Don’t run amok in the house, amongst the furniture. You will fall and bruise yourself, you will need an injection.

Fever, injection!

Tummy upset, injection!

Don’t want to go to school today, injection it is!

I believe many a generation of kids decided to feel better and go to school than risk the chance of getting an injection.

Visits to the doctors were filled with utmost anxiety. Clinging on to the arms of the chair, tightly, I used to stare in horror, as the doctor would poise his pen, after hearing a version from me and my guardian, as to which body part it is today that is bothering me.

I always felt these doctors enjoyed the suspense of “whether or not”.  I even felt sometimes that I would see a twinkle in their eyes, as they would look at me, and create a mental upheaval, which I felt was totally unhealthy and counterproductive to the purpose of visiting them.

Sometimes, I would get away with just medicines. Oh, the tastes of which are a story for another day.

But the days when those dreaded words were penned …. !!! oh horror! horror!

The walls of the clinic would echo and shake with the howls which emanated from me. And as if in cue, the other babies and kids would join in too!

Dragging me from the doctor’s room to the other room was a task which Hercules would have liked but was left to my guardians, who didn’t. I would cling to the curtains, doors, furniture, anything I could lay my hands on and bawl my head off. I don’t know why even then the doctor would still not change his mind. If I had the strength to yell so much, certainly I didn’t need the needle.

In the other room, stood another man, this time definitely with a glee on his face. The sinister laugh at my plight, the sound of snap as he would put on his gloves, and all the while nodding his head, was beyond tolerance for me.

But I would now be under the strong grips of elders, not one, but several, and had no chance of escaping.

I would whimper on the coldness of the anti-septic rub and give in to the fate to be jabbed by the inevitable needle.

Well, that was not all. The jab also meant an honour roll for me. Reaching home, I would proudly display to my siblings and friends, the now invisible mark on my hand, and let them know that I took it without even an ouch!

Well, this time too, my milestone was an honour roll and I did show the tiny red spot on my arm on reaching home.

I had indeed crossed a milestone, not only to be jabbed once, but twice; nor was I held tightly to get the jabs, I willingly queued up for them.

A milestone it is … a paradigm shift it is indeed!

#I got vaccinated. Did you?

How the world has changed!

Through a pre-schooler’s eyes

Little Hannah was playing on her balcony with her dolls. She had planned an elaborate birthday party and was busy entertaining her kids. While playing the perfect hostess, she was startled to hear squeals of laughter from the balcony next door. Alarmed, she ran inside her apartment. In her haste she didn’t even pick up her kids, her dolls.

Hannah went to her bedroom, and through the curtains, she saw the two little people, about her size, playing in the balcony. She watched them play together, laugh, jump and shove each other. She was relieved that she had rushed inside just in time.

Her mother always shoved her into a room, whenever the doorbell rang. Once or twice, she had peeped, and saw her mother cover her face and stand far away from another person, big person, with a bag, also with face covered. Once she was caught peeping and her mother had shrieked at her for a long time. Hannah didn’t understand much as to why her mother has got so upset but heard the word virus and fever again and again, and the last word was enough to frighten her. She didn’t like getting fevers. Last time, she had to be in bed for many days and she had pains in her head, ears, tummy, and just everywhere.

But she did envy that there were at least two little people in the apartment next door and could play with each other.

She had none but her kids, her dolls, but they cannot run around like her.

Her parents didn’t play with her.

On some days, her parents will be up early and will be rushing about the house, cleaning, cooking and occasionally shouting at her to get up and have breakfast. And suddenly, all this would stop, and they will get into their rooms, and sit and start talking in front of their laptops the whole day.

Hannah knew very well that she has to be extremely quiet then. If she made noise or if she cried out or sang loudly, one of her parents would come out of their rooms and shush her.

On some other days, Hannah would wake up before her parents, and would jump into their beds. Then too, they would ask her not to jump and make so much noise and to let them sleep some more. Those would also be the days, when her parents would call what they said were their parents and would have Hannah talk to them. Hannah would see two people, with white hair and glasses over their eyes, each time, who would be extremely happy to see her and blow kisses, and talk a lot to her. She realized that if she talked to them, they could hear her and respond to her. Not like the television where sometimes she talks to Peppa but she doesn’t reply.

Sometimes, Hannah and her parents would get into their car and drive around. She is not allowed to get outside the car, and sometimes her daddy or her mommy would get out, and then come back often with large packets. Hannah would see people on the streets, shops, and sometimes few little people like her running wildly here and there and she would be confused.

Hannah cannot remember meeting or touching any other people other than her parents. She figured that she has to be afraid of every other people. So, whenever she would hear somebody in the balconies nearby or somebody at the door, she would run to her room and hide and be very, very afraid. She didn’t want to get a fever.

__**__

Tiresome world of a tweener

Jeetu’s day was not going well at all.

His deep sleep had come into an abrupt end with her mother shrieking at him that it is time for school and he had rolled off his bed and was just in time for his morning assembly.

The periods that followed didn’t go well for him.

The first period was geography and he had not submitted his assignment. He lied to Matthew Sir, that his mother was too busy with her office work till late at night, and thus was unable to upload the assignment. But Matthew Sir has decided to send a message to his mother. So, he now was in a dangerous situation and what followed was a serious brain racking of what should he do.

This was the third period and he could barely keep his eyes open. The arithmetic problem which Meenu Ma’m was solving for them was just too complex for him. On top of that Meenu Ma’m has insisted or rather commanded that Jeetu, Ashu and Kanika keep their cameras on. He, thus is not able to put his head down on his table and take a nap, nor is he able to gang up with his friends to plan some mischief.

He missed going to school on such days.

He was just promoted to class 5 when they had moved to online classes only, which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. He, like all other kids, had liked the novelty of it, and had enjoyed about a month of it. Online or offline, their games, pranks and mischief had continued.

But they are in class 6 now and there is no certainty when they would be back into a class room. Sigh!!

Jeetu started to get into a foul mood.

Few months back, he and his apartment friends had started playing in the park inside their complex. But then a family got infected and their playtime was scratched. So he and everyone else was homebound again.

He was tired of gaming, watching TV, studying online and just everything about them.

He missed the smell of new books, starched school uniforms, new shoes every year. He missed playing with his friends, tackling and shoving them to the ground or sometimes be the victim. And mostly he missed the large playground of his school, where they would just run, and run, and run …

Jeetu, Jeetu!! JEETU ….!!!! Are you listening to what I am saying …!!!

Oh dear! He had indeed fallen asleep!

__**__

Turmoil of an adolescent life

Rozie was at loggerheads with her Mother and clearly losing. All she wanted was to go and have a sleepover at Zari’s. But no, her Mother will not allow!

She stomped off, slammed her door loudly, asked Alexa to play Swiftie’s ”Everything has changed” and plonked herself on her bed face down! She was so angry!!

She was tired of being locked in this stupid apartment with just her Mother all day, every week, so many months and more than a year!

She has not gone out ever … even once, in the past one year.

A month or so earlier, Zari, Ruby, Chetan and Dixie, were ‘gramming about their malling and just showing off. She was not allowed to go with them by her censorious Mother!

She missed going to the mall with her friends, just hanging around with them, having ice creams or soda or burger or whatever, the food wasn’t important but the giggling, talking, bitching and the guffaws were so much fun.

She missed getting her nails done. She had ordered a kit from Amazon and with the help of Youtube had done it at home, it was good, but nothing like the magical effect which Auntie’s Nail Art Studio had done last year.

She was tired of talking or texting her friends always and not being able to see them and go out with them. She envied her sister who had a time of her life while at college, hostel, night life, parties … and when she would come home, she would sleep most of the time and then be restless to go back to college.

She was tired of just being at home and have her classes online for so long and just staring at a bright screen always, her laptop, her phone, her tablet, TV, and nothing else.

She missed her college campus and her brief hostel stint. Before this pandemic drastically changed the world for her.

__**__

A sundered heart of an adult

Giri looked dumbfounded at the wedding invitation that has just popped into his mailbox.

“Kajal weds Anil” it said!

Kajal is getting married!!

Giri was crestfallen.

It was only a few months back… oh wait.. it is more than a year now, that Giri had fallen head over heels over Kajal, who he had met in one of the war rooms that was being held.

Kajal was so impressive, such a good command over her domain, how lucidly she would explain her proposition and would hold everyone’s attention while she took the center stage. Her voice sounded melodious, and she has such perfect, sharp features. Giri had to stop himself from staring at her too much.

After the day long meeting, Giri had plucked up the courage to go and introduce himself. To his surprise, Kajal was very amicable. Later when they had all gone out for dinner that day, Kajal and Giri had sat together and had pretty much just spoken to just each other. Or at least that’s what Giri’s memory said.

He had learnt a lot about Kajal that night though.

Even though the war room had come to an end and there were no reasons for them to be together, they used to bump into each other and then gradually a friendship bloomed and grew deep. There workstations were in different floors but they planned to have their lunch and other breaks together. To Giri it was a romantic relationship progressing well and he was about to suggest to Kajal that they should meet up outside office as well. So why didn’t he?

And then abruptly the lockdown started. Kajal had just about time to fly back to her hometown in Indore. They continued to be in touch with each other through Whatsapp.

Did their Whatsapping slow down? It actually did. From daily good mornings and forwards and some office gossips and some personal chit chats, it changed to just good mornings and forwards and occasional personal chitchats to just forwards sometimes, or occasionally, or rarely and then when did it stop ..!!

Giri had also got busy with a very critical project and his days just blended into one another. He had lost sense of day, date, time season everything. Maybe it was his fault, he didn’t respond to, maybe her messages?

Giri looked at the invitation again. His heart was beating loudly, his ears started ringing, and he started feeling warm. Kajal should have told him about her upcoming nuptial. He thought they were close. Weren’t they really?

He banged his head against his desk and just stayed that way, bowed head, in defeat, a failure of a blooming romance, which will never see the light of the day.

He envied his older brother, who had met and married his office mate. That was possible then, now not!

Online messaging tools cannot keep the hearts from being broken asunder.  

Days of solitude

Bella woke up gasping for breath. She felt as if an elephant is pressing down her chest with its foot.

Nothing like that at all. The night was quiet with just the humming of the ceiling fan. She checked her phone clock. It was 1:12 am. She checked her pulse rate…high. Her Pulse Ox…normal. Temperature…normal.

With a sigh, she turned on her tummy to release the pressure on her chest and prayed for her days of solitude to end, without any adverse incident. It seemed so long…

There were news items here and there about an outbreak in Wuhan, China. So many of us had read it and shrugged our shoulders perhaps. Did we think it is just like the SARS, MERS of the decade earlier, which caused a ripple, but never crossed our threshold. Did we think that what is in the newspaper stays there and doesn’t touch us. At least that is what Bella had felt.

News happens to others. The people in the news are other people, not those she knows, not those she loved and cared about. She sometimes felt sad, sorry or happy for those other people, but those are flitting emotions. What happened to those other people doesn’t happen to her or enter her space.

She had continued with her daily life in 2020 not once foreseeing how her world will stumble and change dramatically.

In hindsight, 2020 passed off as a grey smog in the distance. She was able to see it through her lockdown windows, engulfing the other people but still away from her space.

She was busy with her work at home schedule. She devised many indoor activities, to compete with the innumerable WhatsApp messages, where her friends and connections were showing off their culinary skills, art skills, home décor skills, you name any skills and people somehow possessed them and were the best.  

Then it started surreptitiously encroaching her space, unbeknownst to her. In a very sinister manner, it whiffed away the life of a near and dear one. It had entered her home. It had struck fear and horror in her mind.

So dreadful was the experience, that it left a scar in her mind and she was unable to focus or compete with the ever-growing talent shows by her friends. It took quite a bit of effort to come out of the doomed feeling and get back in the game.

The troubled year was coming to an end and with it there was rising a new year of hope. In simple human minds, the thought was there that perhaps the new year will not be as bad as the last one. With news of vaccines and the number of those other people affected at an all time low, Bella was also feeling cautiously hopeful and optimistic.

She started planning what she would do once she had her two doses of vaccines.

Take one of those long-awaited trips from her bucket list? But first a leisurely afternoon, spent in a hair salon. The lockdown haircuts were suited for indoors and the zoom calls where the large headset hid the hideousness, but if she were to be out and about, masked or not, she needed to take care of her hairdo first. Her list grew and she felt better.

Lost as she was in her daydreams, she failed to notice that the smog has turned into an ominous black. If it could make sounds, it would have made sounds of a distant, rumbling thunder. But she didn’t notice and no one else did either.

What hit now was with so much ferociousness that 2020 paled in significance.

This time it did not come as a whiff. It came with full force and power and engulfed Bella’s space, her mind, her area.

What was supposed to be a random test for elimination had come back positive. Bella looked in shock at the email staring at her. How could that be possible? She had daydreamed, she had made plans, but not really gone out. How could this happen to her?

 Her days of solitude had begun.

She felt nothing physically.

But that piece of email had the power to take control of her mind and her peace.

A slight itch in the throat … is that the beginning of her symptoms?

A tickle in the nose … has the symptoms begun?

Is that a headache coming on? Feeling weakness in the limbs … is that it?

Wasn’t the temperature lesser an hour ago, is it now going to keep increasing?

Is the pulse oximeter showing the correct reading? Is it working properly?

That’s an irritation in the eye, is that normal?

Taste … no change so far!

Smell … she would sniff the perfume, lotion, cream … intact!

Paranoia … definitely set in!!!

Worry, tension, stress and an all encompassing fear engulfed her. She was worried about spreading the infection; she was worried about her symptoms appearing and worsening; she was worried about those who were tending to her care … she felt helpless, hopeless and in the brink of insanity.

She was not alone in her gloom. The phone messages, which were earlier of competition and showoffs, had taken a dreadful turn. They were now filled with mishaps, deaths and cries of help for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders or concentrators, critical drugs or just a wail of despair. The news apps screamed about the ever increasing toll and the ineffectiveness of the government and local civic bodies. They were graphic in their description and in the photos they shared, highlighting the plight which was going on.

For Bella, it was not those other people who were affected now, it was her friends, family and her loved ones. Not a day would pass without the saddest news possible coming in. She was in a stupor, helpless and hopeless, dry eyed but with an aching heart.

She would drift off to sleep at night, thanking the almighty that a day has passed without symptoms for her, but soon would wake up gasping for breath, trying to fight away the pressure she felt in her chest.

Bella was staring at the walls, in her locked room, hung with many pictures she had drawn during the lockdown. She was into her 4th day of solitude and she had 13 more to go. It seemed impossible for her to go on with the state of mind she was in. It was impossible to share her feelings with anyone, as everyone she knew, was going through a crisis, and she was known to be the strong one. She resolved to control her maddening mind. She vowed to get over her pitiful state and return to more focus and positivism.

She recalled all the books she had read about prisoners in solitary confinement. Her affairs were far from that state, but she decided to do what the survivors did.

A routine followed.

Getting up in the morning at 6:30 am.

Ablutions done.

Take temperature, pulse rate, SPO2 and note them down.

Start Yoga, followed by meditation and breathing exercises.

She was never into meditations, but she began to find solace in the 10 minutes she would spend listening to calming music and a voice guiding her to concentrate. The breathing exercises would confirm that she has no respiratory infections.

She would end her sessions by jogging in one place and pacing for 10 more minutes. The pulse ox check would let her know that her lungs are in good shape. The heaviness she feels in her chest is that of anxiety and she has to control it.

Then she would sweep, mop and dust her room and balcony.

Bella took good care of her food intake. Although her total dependence on her family to cook and keep the meal, timely at her doorstep, broke her heart. But she would fight back her tears, assuring herself that it is for the best for everyone around her.

Bella did not skip her office work but continued her daily routine.

It would become overwhelming some days. Comments from co-workers, although shared with good intent, would seem thoughtless, but she rallied on.

She stopped looking at the news much these days, and although the grim messages kept flowing in, she kept up with a fortified attitude not to break down. And she got a ton of help from her family and friends. She had not shared with anyone her situation of despair or a resolve to fight back. But your near and dear ones just know when to be around you. She got messages of love and hope and clung on to them.

Every night, as she dozed off to sleep, she would continue to thank the almighty for another day without symptoms and taking care of her friends and family.

She noticed, pleasantly surprised, that now she is not waking up with the chest pressure. She is sleeping well and undisturbed. Her feeling of overwhelm, doom and despair have lessened. Not gone, they seemed to hover in the horizon, waiting and watching, ready to pounce and strangle her, but she was able to recognize the triggers and stop them on time.

And the days and nights passed, and her 17 days of solitude came to an end.

Bella opened the door and looked with misty eyes at her family, the dining table which she missed taking her meals on, the hallway where she would watch TV, the furniture, the décor, every bit of little things in the house, which she had stopped noticing or had taken for granted. Things she thought of selling off or giving away seemed to be tugging at her heartstrings as if rejoicing in her return.

She regaled at what she so despaired to see for so long and she felt that everyone and everything around her are welcoming her back into their fold.

Disclaimer: This by no means is a prescriptive narrative on what one should do when inflicted by the dreadful contagion. This is an individual’s fight to stay sane during solitude and surrounded by miserable news.

Wali’s Story

Blog #005

Well, here is what goes on in Wali’s mind!

**–**

As Wali rode in the chauffeur driven car towards his parents’ farmhouse, he was getting exasperated. He had landed almost an hour ago, and has been on the road for 45 minutes and still there was no sign of this farmhouse his parents had been talking so much about.

Wali was really looking forward for a vacation with his family but so far from the city!! Would there be cell signals? Would he be able to catch up on his work? Would there be malls, cinemaplexes or pubs nearby? He felt a surge of irritation and asked the driver how long it will take, and the response angered him further. Apparently another 50 minutes.

So, he is to spend his vacation in the middle of nowhere!!

In the first morning, he was there, he stood in the patio of his father’s house and looked around. It was a gated community of some 30 houses with large tracts of land in between. He calculated that the land would be about 50 acres (a little over 2Mn square feet) given that each house was surrounded with their own large plots. The gated community was surrounded by orchards bearing fruit of all types, tended by the maintenance agency, and each house owner farmed the land around them. Some of them just had vegetable gardens while others had added poultries. The cowshed and the horse stable were a common property.

Wali stood and observed all this and calculated the land area and that of the houses around. He managed to feel a sense of pride on noticing that his father’s house was the largest. Well, why not, they really are wealthy. Their immediate neighbors was Mr and Mrs Ray with whom he had a chance meeting while coming in yesterday night. He had no interest in meeting them again or any other neighbors.

He still didn’t feel good about the fact that this farmhouse was so far off from the city, the pubs, the night life and just hoped to quickly spend a few days and then get away with a pretext. He has many friends in the city and can certainly crash with them.

The only interesting thing might be the horses. He was very fond of riding and was very good at it right from his childhood. He decided to check this out. As he walked towards the stable, the moist ground soiled his flipflops and it disturbed him. His was wearing a new pair and he will have to ask his help to wash it when he gets back. He might as well throw this away and get another pair and next time find another path to the stable. The flies and insects buzzed past him and added to his petulance. A bird cried out in a raucous voice and Wali would have strangled it if he could lay his hand on it. The stench of the orchard and the soil made matters worse for him.

As he was walking past his neighbor’s garden, he noticed that the sprinkler has been left on, and it was creating a puddle. He lamented at people’s sense of civility. As he was cautiously walking, avoiding the mud, he was startled with what he thought was someone laughing out loud.

He looked up and found a young woman, about his age, enjoying the drizzle from the sprinkler and gleefully laughing.

Wali laughed too, not gleefully, but cynically at someone who could enjoy a mere sprinkler!!

The girl was startled too at his laughter and turned around and started blushing.

As Wali stood looking at this foolish girl, he could see the girl turn red-faced and unable to take her eyes off him. Well, he is used to this. Every girl has this effect when they see him. They just stare at him longingly, like a devoted puppy. He smiled at the woman, apparently to put her at ease but actually to mock her more. He knows when he smiles back at such awestruck females it makes things worse for them.

They were interrupted by Mrs Ray who turned out to be the girl’s aunt. After exchanging greetings, and creating more turbulence in the girl’s mind, Wali walked off towards the stable. He didn’t once turn back but he was sure that the girl was left in the state of a jelly. He was sure, he always has had that effect on women.

He entered the stables and looked at the horses. Well, that was the only good thing about this farmhouse then. The collection was great. The horses were of high breed, well groomed and ready for a ride. He had his personal saddles and he asked the stable boy to get the black horse ready for him.

He had a fantastic ride and after an hour of whizzing through the orchard and the river bank, he felt good and decided that this was one way he would spend the days he is here.

He walked back to his parents’ house and was glad that he didn’t meet anyone else, specially that girl. But this was just day one.

Wali kept bumping into this girl, who he learnt from her Aunt was called Alina, on his way towards the stable every day. Does she purposefully hang around the stable just to see him? Is she stalking him? He found a wave of haughtiness and irritation build every time he saw the girl. He always put forth a smile on his face and greeted her every time they have met.

During the get to gather they had in the community, he could see Alina following him through her eyes and he made sure to encourage that by hovering close by and smiling.

His smile not with sincerity, it was more to mock her and more to taunt her about something she will never get.

He comes from an affluent family which has had generations of wealth. Other than wealth, he boasts of his lineage which can be traced back to the other side of Hindukush. He still carries the genes which gives him such good looks, sharp features and stature.

Many girls like Alina have come and gone in his life. They are not for him. For him, there will be someone chosen by his family who will also be from a family of affluence and social status.

Alina’s Story

Blog #004

The crisp morning air was fragrant with blooming flowers, ripening fruit and most soil. As Alina, strolled lazily around her Uncle’s farmhouse, she felt happy and relaxed. The fresh breeze, surrounded by lush green luxury, was such a welcome break from the madding crowd and the maddening work life she leads. She had arrived very late last night but the cool morning air and the sound of birds and mooing of cows had made her get up early. She wanted to explore the several acres of the gated community of farmhouses, his Uncle and Aunt lived in.

She walked on the pebbled path and crossed the poultry. The hens and chicks were bustling with frenzy, chirping and at the same time picking on their food. Alina watched them for a while, and her attention was drawn towards a tiny chick, perhaps the weakest of them all, making enormous efforts to feed itself. The tiny fellow was almost run over by a bolder and older hen, but it managed to get up and started feeding again. Alina made a note in her mind, to check with her Uncle or Aunt, whether she would be allowed to take that particular chick out of the cage and take it to her room.

She watched them for a while and then made her way through the vegetable garden towards the cowshed and stable. There were many kinds of vegetables growing, you could see varieties of chillies, okra, egg plants, leafy creepers of pumpkin or gourd. The prominent amongst them were the ripening tomatoes, hanging there, bright red in color, as if beckoning her to pluck them. The vegetable garden was surrounded by orchards of mango, prune, berries, guava and many others providing a welcoming shade and a green hue. Beyond the orchards the ground banked suddenly towards the river which formed the outer edge of the community.

The sprinkler was still in action and the mild jet of water drizzled on Alina and she laughed in glee. She was mightily startled when her laugh bounced back into her ears with the laughter of another human being. She turned around and her heart skipped a beat.

There stood a very handsome young man, with saddles in his hand. He was tall, tanned, with a sharp aquiline nose, broad forehead and a well chiselled jaw. He had an amused smile on his lips and his eyes, oh his eyes, perhaps attracted Alina, the most. She felt drawn to that powerful yet soft brown gaze. Perhaps he was the one who had laughed …

“Oh, so you laugh for no reasons and all by yourself?”, he teased.

Alina blushed.

“Well, hello Wali, how are you?”

Alina spotted her Aunt, dressed in farm overall, with spade and cutter in hand, addressing the handsome young man. So, his name is Wali!!

Alina’s heart missed two beats.

“Good morning, Mrs Ray”, responded Wali, with a slight nod and politeness. “How are you today?”

“I am good,” her Aunt responded, “and I am glad both of you have met. You two should get along well,” she said as she waddled off to tend the favorite part of her garden, where the tomatoes and aubergines were ripening.

Alina was still blushing, and had she been in front of a mirror, she would have noticed that she was red faced. Oh why, she isn’t one of those giggly girls who blush and stammer in front of handsome boys, so what happened now? She has always been that overachiever and multi-talented, and unlike her other girlfriends, found gossiping about boys a super waste of time. But now? She was puzzled.

“Well, as you heard, I am Wali, and I am visiting my Father’s farmhouse for my vacation. Hope I see you around.”

Alina could only just nod. She watched Wali march towards the stable.

That was the direction she planned to go too, but felt too shy to go now. Instead, she changed her course and joined her Aunt and helped her around her garden.

There the two women chatted, and even though, Alina didn’t ask, her Aunt told her all about Wali and his family, their next door neighbor in the gated community. Trying hard not to blush anymore and trying hard to show that she really didn’t care, Alina absorbed all the information.

So Wali was an engineering graduate from Europe and now has joined his Father’s firm, which was doing exceptionally well. Wali managed the firm’s operations in the south of India, and if his parents were to be believed, was bringing in a lot of positive changes and the results were showing. Well, he seems to be an overachiever like Alina then!

When her Aunt changed the topic and started discussing some annoying habits of his Uncle, Alina lost interest. She excused herself saying she wants to explore the farmhouse more and walked away. She felt bad for behaving so selfishly but was also aware that her blush and shyness will not escape her Aunt’s eyes, and she didn’t want to spend more time with her.

Days passed blissfully. Alina would spend her time in the gardens and the poultry. In a few days, she had become an expert in tending the chicks and collecting the eggs. She spent some time in the gardens, throwing away stubborn weeds. She would walk past the stables and the cow sheds and her eyes would always search for someone.

She would keep bumping on to this someone. Every time she did, her heart would skip two beats. Wali, what a name and so handsome! Is she falling for him? Does it become apparent to others? So far, their conversation hasn’t progressed much beyond wishing each other good days and admiring the weather. Every time Wali would have his amused smile on his face, his eyes would twinkle in unsaid humor, but that is where their conversation languished.

Alina’s favorite past time, other than the new ones she picked up at the farmhouse, was also to do nature painting. Something she was extremely good at and has won many accolades during her school days but never pursued professionally. And she had ample time and bountiful subjects around her now. She had carved out the solitude of the afternoons to do her sketching and painting. One of them was the current landscape and it was coming out really well. It showed the pebbled steps coming out of her Uncle’s villa, it showed the mango, berry, guava trees in the periphery and had glimpses of the hen and chick plant. Towards the edge she had put the stable and towards the horizon a glimpse of the river flowing at the outer edge of their farmhouse. One day, while she was at this picture, she noticed Wali riding his horse on the bank of the river. Her heart skipped twice and she captured that image in her canvas. So shy and conscious was she, that she made that as a silhouette instead of adding any distinct identifiable features. To everyone else, it would be a man riding a horse. To her, it would be someone special, thinking of whom, always made her heard skip two beats.

Why two beats? Is she thinking long term with Wali? She hasn’t even been able to talk to him. In the get to gather which was held over the weekend, she hung around with few girls of her age, all the time following Wali, from the corners of her eyes, but never plucked the courage to go up and talk. Once or twice their eyes had met and every time she was greeted by that amused smile. Wali didn’t come up to talk either and that was that. What will her family think of this relationship, oh gosh, relationship, that is so farfetched!! They have never even had a decent conversation together or spent any time with each other!

A curious thought crossed her mind, does Wali also feel the same? Is he also so shy that he is not able to approach her? Her heart skipped two beats again …. Should she, the strong-minded, career-oriented, high flying individual that she is, make the first move? After all, only few more days are left of her vacation!

Stay tuned to learn what goes on in Wali’s mind and what happens next!!

Rant of a workaholic

[This is a work of fiction. The names and any resemblance to any individual or incidence are purely coincidental]

The temple bells were a rude awakening that another day has dawned. The soothing sound of chimes failed to stir up my tired mind and body, and groggily, I stopped the alarm.

Involuntarily, as if it is a diehard habit, instead of falling into a relaxing place, my hand prompted my index finger to open up the Outlook.

What? Isn’t it the first action of any workaholic?

No?

Am I on the verge of insanity then?

Not even fully awake, I started scanning through the emails.

The usual News briefs, corporate mailers, calendar invites …. duh, duh, duh…. Whoah … what is this?

Another email from Pete? Wasn’t my explanation the day before, my last act of penmanship, enough for him that he must write a longwinded response? Oh no, there are more … more escalations! A mail on some urgent work which needs to be done ASAP (yeah, that is the tag line for everything now), few more emails on giving a heads-up on something big and important coming our way, and more such types have invaded my spacious inbox.

Calendar looks such a solid blue and is merging with the next day!! Will I really be able to end my day today, I agonized and inhaled deeply! Oh and I am triple booked between 2:30-3:00 pm and 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm …. Which call do I prioritize?

But at least the first meeting of the day does not start until noon, so I have few hours for myself … well good!

Tossing over and catching a few more winks is now out of question. The mails, especially Pete’s, has sent my mind into an overdrive, and I get up to do my ablutions and prepare for my daily yoga session.

Today’s practice is strength building for joints, and a pleasant voice greeted me to get ready for my session, assuring me that by the end of it, I will be relaxed, at peace and be ready for the beautiful day.

Oh ok let us see!

 I do need peace and relaxation. I have not been able to get Pete’s mail out of my system. I had a comeback for all his points yesterday, and now not only does he posts inline response on each of the points which I had written in response to his earlier points, he has added a few more. So, this is now a full-fledged battle of who can keep up with each other’s verses.

Anyway, the lady tells me to breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the nose, and I wilfully give in, not that I was planning to breathe from anywhere else, … but Pete really?

As I move from mountain pose (Tadasana) to downward dog pose (Adho mukha svanasana), I try to frame answers to each of Pete’s points. Alternating between downward dog pose and upward facing dog pose (Urdha mukha svanasana), I manage to tackle his points.

I really begin to relax a bit, and I do take in a deep breath, you got it, in through the nose and out through the nose.

But wait, there is Jeremy’s mail and his fiery questions on why certain tasks were not completed by Sudhir yesterday. Oh Sudhir and your manager, why didn’t you do what you were supposed to do? Don’t you see it creates havoc on my yoga session which is supposed to relax and calm me? I think I will just forward Jeremy’s mail to Sudhir’s manager and let him come up with the response. I can then change a few words here and there and send it out to Jeremy. Done!

But there are more. As I balance myself in a tree pose (Vrikshasana), I mentally distribute the workload to my team members. What was that Disha said, I start to wonder, but changing from left foot to right foot, is not a good time to take a peek on the phone again. In any case, it has been taken over by the voice of the unknown lady who is now telling me to fix my gaze at a point to maintain my balance. Disha was our go getter who has been sent on an onsite stint to liaise between the client and the global unit. But somewhere there is a misunderstanding and she has started to believe that she is now the client!

Shifting my position between left and right triangle (Trikonasana), I have managed to tackle a few more of the emails.

 As I move into a low lunge position, the voice tells me to be gentle with my wrist, and as if in cue, I twist my left one and fall on my face. Nothing happened though. Neither did I break my jaw nor was my wrist strained. So no taking off, I have to respond to all the emails, attend all the meetings on my calendar, not only do the pile of work before me but handle all that is thrown at me today.

The lady assured me, as I lay in corpse pose (Shavasana) that all is good with the world and the day is going to be great. I believe her and get up to go for my morning walk. I vow not to look at my phone anymore and not to think of any of the other emails.

I manage to keep my promise as I do the rounds around my condo, nodding my head to the other morning walkers, who nod back, seemingly absentmindedly, and I felt they are also tackling their mails.

I covertly look at my phone, and oh no! There is a meeting invite which has invaded my forenoon primetime. One on one with one of my team members. There goes my free time which I was looking forward to dedicate to doing my own work, and you know, respond to all the emails which have piled up. It is too much for me now, not to open the invite. There is no agenda, not even an indication of what she wants to discuss. I am pretty sure it is not to shower praises on me or the work we do, although I do need a few such calls as a mood enhancer. What could it possibly be? Is it because she is unhappy? While we do care for all our team members but did we really take ownership of making everyone happy? We always pledge to make the world a happy place but not really our team members!!

Worry clouds over my brisk morning walk and I end it after 4 rounds rather than my promise of doing 6 rounds every day.

As I sit with my family through breakfast and listen to all the chit chats going on, I try hard to concentrate on what they are telling me. There is no way for them to know that my mind is not there. I have a beatific smile on my face, and I nod and shake my head at the right places.

Finishing my breakfast, I almost run out of my dining room and rush towards my office, which is 2 steps away, and shake my slumbering laptop to wake up. It greets me with a Good Morning, steaming coffee cup and a smiley emoji, wishing me a happy start of the day!

Start of the day is it? But haven’t I already answered all the emails, planned out my strategy, delegated the workload, put my house in order and done all the work for the day… at least in my mind!!!

My Destiny

As I made my way through the narrow path, through a valley in between majestic mountains holding their heads high with pride, I felt at peace.

 I meandered through the lofty trees and beneath the rocks jutting out at some places. It was just before dawn and everything around me was getting ready for the first rays of the sun. The moon, on spotting the vermillion splash in the east, shyly slid away, making way for another day.

Last night there was a storm and heavy rains and high winds, and with that I was able to cover a lot of grounds, but now the tranquillity around seemed idyllic. I felt no urge to rush, I know I will reach my destiny, but for the moment, let me just soak in the serenity around.

I could see tiny green sprouts pushing their head out of the moist soil, as if sensing the impending liveliness, and getting ready to be part of it.

I could hear occasional chirping of birds, perhaps just alerting others to be ready to rise, or maybe just calling out for one’s mate.

The crickets buzzed now and then, before they hide away till another night fall.

A flock of deer stirred, as if to shake off their slumber, but still wait for the day to break in.

Big, dark silhouettes of wild animals could be seen slinking away to take cover during the day.

The leaves rustled in the breeze, and one could hear the mellifluous sound, as it echoed through the valley, creating rhythms capable of stirring the creative souls of a musician, should one be around. Soon it was blended by the melodies of birds in perfect harmony. I am sure Beethoven, Mozart or Tansen would have cherished such prolific music which seemed to emanate from all corners of the valley.   

The first rays of the sun started to find its way through the leaves and everything around me glittered, just like a bridal veil sparkling with gold and silver stars. The fish seemed to find energy from the stillness and safety and swam merrily around, making most of their time before they fall prey.

I could smell the moistness of mother earth, fragrance of the forest flowers as they blossomed in harmony and full glory, scent of the fruits as they ripened and welcoming birds and bees towards them. The coolness of the earth, the hue of bright colourful flowers, the beauty of the flourishing, lush green foliage all around, swaying gently as if appreciating the music and the life around, and as I kept moving, I soaked up the pristine landscape.

My path seemed to be going downhill and my pace increased. Few rocks came up on my way and I steered around or hopped over them. It was just fun … only if my path is as serene and safe all through, till my destiny.

But I have a long way to cover and as Robert Frost had said “miles to go before I sleep.”

There were more rocks on my way now and it became a game for me, sometimes I would race and hop over one and other times I would make my way around it. As I moved along, splashing, gurgling and gushing without a care, I could see the world around me welcoming the day. The chirping of the birds was now a chorus, as if the concert is over, and they are eagerly critiquing the notes and lyrics. The flock of deer began grazing and colourful insects flew around the blooming flowers and blossoming fruits. The wind kept blowing rustling up melodies one after the other and I threw in a note or two.

Whoooooooooosssshhhhhhh!!!

Lost as I was soaking in the beauty of mother nature, I had not noticed the steep drop and fell about 60 feet, amidst cheering, shouting, shrill laughter, and camera clicks. I looked back to see what might have excited the people, and I saw the fate of all who were following me.

With everyone hurling down the steep drop one over the other, it looked as if the mountains atop have opened up and are pouring a pail of milk over the earth below and its splash creating a drizzle around; or it looked like the long, curly white mane of an old lady as she stood to dry, or as if dreamy white clouds have descended down to the earth.

While the cheering and laughter felt good, I did not like that some people were throwing stones or bottles or anything they could lay their hands on.

Chastened, I did not pause anymore but continued my path. The mind was jarred and the peace I felt minutes ago was shattered. The dream world of mine, the forest, the coolness of the valley, the birds, bees, and animals, were all left behind. But I have miles to go and must not stop.

My path now was tedious, narrow, the rocks around were slimy, and I had to slow down. I had to keep pushing out the plastic bottles, wafer and chocolate covers, cigarette buts, and many such trash out my way, and keep moving. I could no longer smell the earth or fruits or flowers but was surrounded by a stench so strong that it broke my heart.

Yes, I have entered the city, and my path is littered with human debris and froths so large that it became impossible for me to make much progress. I saw human or animal carcasses, unclaimed and without the dignity of last rites. Here and there, thick dark oily industry wastes poured out and changed the colour from pearly blue to murky grey.

I heard the wind, but there was no melody, it was like an agonizing wail. I heard birds and animals but those were not the sound of musical tunes but of angry sneers of upmanship. I wept but I felt so dry.

But I must go on for I have tryst with my destiny and that will not change.

As I am a stream,

I broke off from a glacier high above the mountains,

I meandered through the beauties of the earth,

The mountains, valleys, forests

Full of joyous lives,

But paths are not always filled with joy,

For the world has laid out thorns on our way

Which is augmented by the human race,

But still, I must keep going,

As I have a tryst with my destiny, and as I become one with the river,

I keep flowing to meld with the large cerulean vastness.

The Left Turn

A cold, dark, foggy winter night.

A young woman huddled in heavy woollens, sitting alone in a bus, an office shuttle, looks around, fearfully, wide eyed, but trying hard to give an appearance of calm. She could hardly see anything outside of her window just the ghostly figures created by the fog moving in a white shroud and changing shapes.

The driver finds it extremely difficult to drive through the narrow by lanes of East Delhi in the dense fog. The conductor the only other person is motionless, stares blankly ahead and in kind of a stupor.

The young woman peers out in the darkness to figure out where exactly they are, she feels that she should have reached her stop by now. She looks at her watch and it is way past midnight. Too late to be out alone … And the driver keeps moving very slowly trying to find that left turn where ….

An hour earlier, the graveyard shift had ended, and the young woman along with her colleagues had boarded the shuttle, chattering away, merrily. Nobody noticed the fog or the cold. A hilarious moment during the shift kept everybody engaged, while few of them kept enacting and re-enacting the event. The fog did not seem so dense in the populous West Delhi area. But as the shuttle moved along dropping passengers one after the other and crossed the Yamuna bridge, it began to engulf everything like an ephemeral white cloak, swirling around silently but deftly so that one could not see the end of ones outstretched hands.

When the last colleague of hers, deboarded, he had asked whether she will be okay, and she had nonchalantly said of course she would be. But now, she was not sure. Only if she could have asked for the shuttle to take a detour to drop her first … only if …

She murmured a few prayers she knew and hoped that the driver and the conductor are good people. Lots of horror stories filled her mind and she again cursing herself for putting herself in this situation.

The driver gives up, he also believes that the left turn should have come by now, he might have missed it and he was not sure where he was. The shuttle seemed to have hit a bumpy road or was it still the road or has it rolled into a field, or will it roll into a ditch!!??

 Bottomless fear filled up the young woman’s mind, she gripped the seat, all the time keeping a calm façade, and hoping that the only two individuals present do not notice her fear.

Not a soul seemed to be around, no police vans, and not even the stray dogs barked, only the rumbling shuttle and its three inhabitants, each locked within themselves in their own thoughts.

The driver yelled at the conductor to get off and look around and see where they were. The conductor grimaced and refused and was slapped tightly by the driver.

The young woman was now in a panic …. as it is her family did not like her working so late … and now this situation … never again will she put herself in this situation, but only if she gets out of this unscathed … and she began trembling and hoped the two do not notice.

With the slap or two on his face, the conductor got off and directed the driver back to the road. It had indeed got off the road and on to a field with a ditch close by. While he walked in front of the shuttle, as if swimming his way through the dense fog, making way for the shuttle as it slowly inched forward.

At this moment, the young woman’s heartbeat seemed louder than the engine …

After what seemed like an eternity, with the conductor guiding the way, the shuttle finally reached the left turn. It was hardly recognizable. It is true that at night, everything looks strange and different and unfamiliar.

The conductor kept guiding the driver through the sharp left turn and enter into the colony and as the shuttle lumbered slowly towards the stop.

Finally, the shuttle stopped, and the driver beckoned to the young woman to get off. Is it really her stop? She was not sure. Every object, the living trees and the inanimate houses and vehicles, seemed to have bowed their head in defeat to the dark, dense white shroud. The eerie silence seemed to be broken by her heartbeat and the low growl of the engine and both seemed to deafen her. In spite of the cold, her ears heated up.

The young woman peered out of the window to be sure it is her stop and that she is not getting into a trap. She was not sure … and by now both the driver and the conductor seemed to glare at her to get off … and hastily she did.

She twisted her ankle while getting off, stumbled but quickly found her balance. It did seem like her stop, as she looked at the familiar silhouette of a house nearby, and it felt like she should turn right and walk one block to reach her apartment. Should she walk alone?

A dog whimpered somewhere, at last a sign of another soul!

The young women still hesitated and in a meek voice asked the conductor to walk with her till the apartment. At this moment, she was not sure whether that would be a good idea but with the deathly fog and no other living being in sight, she was helpless. The conductor grumpily agreed.

The young women took the right turn and started walking towards her apartment. The only sound to be heard now were the footsteps, the rapid heartbeats and the, now receding into the distance, the sound of the engine …

***

A story of a young woman returning home on a foggy wintry night in a world when cell phones were not so common and was still in 2g.

Years have passed, and the young woman has grown through the ranks in her career. She doesn’t have to work on graveyard shifts anymore but she does have to travel late nights and now she drives herself. She is sometimes late returning home due to a late-night flight or maybe leave home very early in the morning to catch one.

She has Safety Apps on her phone, Navigation maps, a car which is centrally locked and has Safety Button, and phone numbers of near and dear ones who can be instantly notified.

But does she feel safe …. Will somebody be able to reach her on time when she needs help? That worry lingers on …

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