Monday, January 27, 2014

She Decided to Write...

She lived an ordinary life. She did. She took care of the house and had an uninspiring monotonous job. Day-in and day-out, she lived as dictated by the society around her. Twice a year, she along with her family went for a holiday. She seemed happy enough, content enough. From the outside, she was like any other person. But, she had a secret… not a terrible one, but a magnificent one… at least for her.  

A secret no one knew, not her friends, not her family. A secret that made her extraordinary, at least, in her own eyes. You see, she had unlimited access to an alternate world… a world of immense possibilities, of great romances, of mysterious adventures. A world that she had created… A universe she could control. When the real world didn’t make sense, she would step into this alternate one… the one where she could weave words, where she could alter destinies, where she could change the ending.

People found her looking intently at nothing, and they thought she was daydreaming.  She is not focused, they whispered behind her back. There were times when she could be found murmuring to herself. She is a little off, they commented. ‘You should stop daydreaming and concentrate on your career.’ ‘Stop wasting time.’ But, what they didn’t know was that at those times she was visiting her private world. Her sanctuary that sparkled, where magic happened, where dreams came true, where people triumphed against all odds… Her universe where people had the option of a do-over, where destiny and fate had no hand to play, where Cinderella didn’t need a Prince Charming to rescue her, where Romeo and Juliet didn’t die.

At times, the two worlds would collide, the real and the clandestine. The actual world and the feelings associated with it would impose themselves into her fantastical realm. The times when her secret haven would be tormented with guilt, and sadness, and hopelessness, and agony.   But, still she preferred it over the real, any day. After all, it was her own… her personal heaven, her private hell. She nurtured it lovingly, pouring in words, weaving stories, creating characters, forming plots. Did she feel Godlike? Sometimes. Did it give her a sense of importance? Maybe.

People said she was a great listener. You give great advice, they complimented. She could be found nodding along, listening to people discuss their problem and observing them, silently. How they sat, how they talked. She would scrutinize their gestures, study their nuances. And when she retreated into her personal asylum, she would recreate them. She would give A’s habit of brushing the hair out of her eye to B. She would give B’s nose twitching laugh to C. She would see a couple fighting and her mind would erupt with questions. Who are they? Why are they fighting? Maybe he cheated on her? Maybe she broke his favorite watch? She would see a man playing with a baby, and she would think up a back story. Is he the father? Is he an uncle? Her mind was always at work. Her words were always arranging and rearranging themselves. She was always making up stories, always. It was not a conscious effort. The stories would just gush out of her like a spring of water and they would spread all over her soaking her dull existence. The words rained down on her dry parched days and enveloped her with their sweet perfumed petrichor.

There were times when she saw people close to her willingly make unhealthy decisions, she would stop them…  she tried to show them the mirror, tried to point them in a different direction. But, all in vain. She realized, soon enough, that people didn’t like to be told what to do. Hell, she didn’t like to be told what to do. At those times, she withdrew into her world. She made them choose a different path. She made them happy. When she saw circumstances in the real world taking away the will and hope from people she cared about, she changed those situations in her fantastical world. She  made them succeed. When she herself felt trapped, she gave herself options that were not available in reality. Her inner chamber was her refuge where anything was possible. It was an outlet that made life a little less challenging. The powerlessness of the real transformed into a mighty force in secret. Was it escapist? Absolutely.
Eventually, she longed to take someone with her to her safe haven. She wanted to see how they would react when they saw her creations. Will they like it, will they hate it? These questions kept her awake at night, sometimes. She wanted to give people hope. She wished to tell them, ‘you are not alone’. She longed for them to see that there was another way, always. She craved for them to see what she could… to know what she knew. She yearned to share her special habitat. She didn’t want to be famous or make money; she just wanted to be heard. She knew there were these stories inside her… The stories which sometimes burst out of her like overripe peas from a pod. There were times she thought she would come apart at her seams and all her words would tumble out and she would be empty… she would once again become ordinary. The thought scared her, petrified her.

It was then, she decided to write… She wrote to let go, she wrote to hold on. She wrote... 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Blue Box, Pink Box

Case 1 –

Recently, I had gone to a toy store to buy a birthday gift for my five year old niece. As soon as I entered, a salesman rushed towards me and asked if I needed any assistance? I said I am looking for a gift for a five year old. His next question, “For a boy or a girl,” irritated me immensely. Still, I decided to play along. “Girl”, I replied. He immediately ushered me towards a pink aisle with soft toys, Barbies, and kitchen sets. I browsed for a while and then asked, “Anything else?” He replied, “Girls play with this only.” I wandered towards the blue aisle and picked up a car. He said shaking his head, “That is for boys!” I was pretty infuriated by this point and decided to go for some art and craft sets. My misery elevated when I saw the same t-shirt painting set had different moulds for boys and girls – while boys get dinosaurs and cars, girls get flowers and butterflies.

Case 2 –

I was playing in the park with my two year old daughter (LittluS) who was dressed in a pair of denims and a jacket. She just had her mundan done, so she was sporting a smart crew cut of sorts. A lady came up to me and said, “Such a cute boy! What is his name?” I smiled and corrected her, “Her name is Saanvi.” She looked up at me, confused, “It’s a girl?!” I didn’t even try to hide by irritation at the use of ‘IT’ for my darling daughter. “Yes,” I replied curtly and started to move away from the ‘lady’. “Why do you dress her like a boy then?” I was getting bugged now, “What do you mean?” “I mean why don’t you make her wear frocks and skirts? Girls look so pretty in that. As it is she has short hair, she looks like a boy.” She crinkled her nose, in sympathy. I pointedly looked at her attire of pajamas and a tee, “Wearing jeans doesn’t make anyone a boy, aunty,” I said and walked off, fuming.

Case 3 –

One evening in the park, a grandmother was trying to coax her four year old grandson to get on the swing set. He seemed a little shy and wouldn’t budge from his comfortable bench. LittluS, on seeing him, went up to him and started pulling his arm saying, “chalo, chalo.” When he still didn’t move, she went to the swing set by herself and started playing with other children. The grandmother whispered to me, “Today’s generation is all jumbled up,” she pointed to her grandson, “the boys don’t want to play and the girls don’t want to sit.” She sighed audibly. I wanted to ask what did she mean by this statement for hers but LittluS needed my attention so I left it at.

There are innumerable such instances where I have seen parents, grandparents, and even strangers, discriminating about how a boy and girl should react. Agreed that most of this bias happens unknowingly, but it is still prevalent. However, after listening to all these people telling me what a girl should or should not do, I decided that I will not limit my LittluS’ creativity and imagination. I will not trap her into these age old gender stereotypes.
I will get her cars and Lego’s and robots to play with along with dolls and Teddy’s... and let her choose her favorite. If she still prefers a Barbie over an Iron Man figurine or a dollhouse over a chemistry set, so be it. At least I would have given her a choice.
I had decided early on that I will not fill her wardrobe with pink frilly dresses. I never have stuck to the prescribed colors for children. Her crib was blue (not to make any statement but it was the only color available in the set that I liked.), the curtains in her room are yellow, and her potty seat is orange! Yes, I love colors... and so does she.

I would urge the mothers of all young boys to not put your notions of what a boy should be in his head. Don't tell him playing with kitchen set is 'girly'. Maybe he will turn into the next Sanjeev Kapoor or Vikas Khanna. Won’t you be proud then! Let him wear pink. Let him play with soft toys. Don't tell him 'boys don't cry'. Instead of filling his head with violence and 'dhishum-dhishum' and all things 'manly', teach him kindness and compassion. I once knew a man who was adamant that his son, at the age of 3 years, watch wrestling with him instead of cartoons! He didn’t want his son to turn out soft, you see.
Don't, unknowingly, turn 'being a girl' into a derogatory term — 'Why are you crying, are you a girl?'; 'Why do you want to be a teacher, are you a girl?'; 'You want to paint instead of playing cricket? What are you? A girl?'; 'Let your sister clear the table, girls do that.' — All these seemingly innocent, said-in-jest statements make him believe that being a girl is a bad thing... that unleashing his feminine side is not acceptable.
If you see a grandmother urging her grandson to play outdoors while pushing the girl towards the kitchen, stop her. If you only call your daughter to help you in your daily chores while the son watches television... you are promoting discrimination. 
Kids do as kids see. If we are polite in our interactions, they will be too. If we yell and scream, they will think that is the way to behave. It is rightly said, kids’ brains are a blank slate, it is up to us what message we imprint on them. So, fathers help your wives in the household chores - that will be an important lesson for your sons and will earn you brownie points from your wife… and your future daughter-in-law! Mothers, in addition to your daughter, teach your son to cook as well – it is an essential skill that everyone should know. How many times have we seen a mother proudly boasting about her daughter making tea at the age of ten and at the same time smiling indulgently at her teenage son while mentioning that he doesn't even know how to boil water! How many times we have seen a father send his son to play, when guests are expected, while holding the daughter back to help the mother in the kitchen.

These are just some examples, what I am trying to say is that just let your kids be. Let them choose their paths. We, as parents, should be there to gently guide them. Instead of forcing them to walk on a path that we think is right for them, let them trudge their own way… And if, God forbid, they fall, we are always there to pick them up and dust them off, aren’t we? Don't limit their possibilities by cramping them into a pink or a blue box... The world is so much more than that. Let them experience everything... let them explore their surroundings and choose for themselves. Let them toe the line.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

His & Hers... Affairs of a Marriage


He knew he was trapped. He was walking, or rather stumbling, through dark. Was it a room, a tunnel, or a corridor, he couldn’t tell. He had trouble breathing. He tried to loosen his tie but realized he was not wearing any. He squinted his eyes to see better, to make out the place where he was at, but to no avail. He spread his arms to feel a wall or something… anything… but his fingers didn’t touch any solid surface. It seemed like he was in a void without air, without light, without warmth. He realized he was shivering, his teeth were chattering. He made up his mind to get out of this miserable situation. Cautiously, he concentrated on just putting one step in front of the other. It seemed that he had been walking, shivering and coughing, for an eternity in this cool, damp, dark, and never-ending nothingness. He was just about to give up when he saw something… just a smidgen, a tiny orb of white light glowing from far away.

Is this my imagination? Is my mind playing tricks?

He didn’t want to raise his hopes to have them shattered again. He started walking faster. That little fragment of translucent glow was enough to renew his energy. He clambered on. Without wavering, without faltering, he moved ahead. The little orb turned into a big ball radiating dancing energy. He could feel the heat emanating from it. He knew instinctively this was it. This was the way out. This was the light that he had been waiting to see for so long. This beautiful luminous glow will dispel the darkness. He knew that as he stepped into its warm reassuring glow, the numbness he had felt will evaporate. He started running. He was close enough now to see that someone was standing in the glimmer.

Waiting for me.

 He could only see a silhouette but he knew, without a doubt, who that would be. She was standing with her back towards him. It seemed his years of waiting, eons of yearning had all come to an end.

This beautiful happily-ever-after end.

 He was just a few feet away, when he slowed down. Panting, he walked slowly towards her. He placed a trembling hand on her shoulder. She turned to face him. She looked exactly as she did years ago… he looked into her warm brown eyes and whispered, ‘I have been waiting for you all my life!’ He took a faltering step close to her. She was smiling now… her dimpled smile. She placed a soft hand on his sweaty cheek, leaned in to give a light peck on his lips, and without saying anything turned away from him. As she started walking, he yelled, “Don’t go! I love you! Come back…!” He started to hold her arm to stop her, but as he touched her again, she turned into innumerable tiny crystals reflecting light suspended in thin air. It seemed as time itself had stopped. And then, as suddenly, the crystals disappeared into a whiff of smoke. His world was again plunged into darkness. He was again in that cold blankness. A deafening, “NO!” escaped his lips. He started running towards her when he felt someone, or something, hold him back. The nails were digging into his flesh; he tried to shake of the prying talons when he heard someone calling him. He opened his eyes wide awake. His wife was sitting next to him, looking at him with concern.

Or is that doubt?

“Are you all right? You were having a nightmare.”

He sat up straight. He felt uneasy under her unrelenting gaze.

Does she suspect something? What all did I say?

“You want water?”

He shook his head.

“What were you dreaming about?”

He murmured, “I don’t remember.”

His wife kept staring at him trying to make sure if he was okay. To him, it felt as if she was trying to read his mind. After what felt like hours, she finally smiled, a little tightly he thought, and leaned across to kiss him, 
“Good night. Love you.”

He managed a small smile before lying down again. He knew she was not the woman in his dreams. He knew that he didn’t love her anymore. In fact, he hadn’t in a long time. They were complete opposites. While she loved to talk and share her feelings and go out and make friends, he liked to sit at home, preferably by himself lost in his dream world or in his books. Going out and meeting people had never interested him.

I wish my wife understood me as she does.

He was in love with his ex who had suddenly walked into his previously-miserable life six months back and had turned it upside down. She was the light, the laughter, the love in his meaningless existence. They communicated without speaking a word. He loved hanging out at her cozy one bedroom apartment sharing his views, discussing books, and drinking endless cups of freshly brewed coffee. He loved that he could just lie there, in her arms, without talking for hours. Their silences were as comfortable as their riveting discussions.

He took a deep breath. He would have to make a decision and soon. He can’t let her leave him again. He just cannot. He opened his eyes to look at his wife who was lost in her own thoughts, smiling to herself. His wife, his contrary. Their silences were deafening, their discussions yelling matches. But, how do you walk out on your ‘life-partner’ of 8 years. He knew he would have to break her heart.

Better hers than mine.



When she came into the room, she saw him flailing on the bed.

Another nightmare.

She sighed deeply, unmoved. She had grown quite accustomed to her husband’s active nightmares where he seemed to murmur something and do a lot of thrashing about. She had learned, over the weeks, to ignore them and they slowly passed away. Instead she sat down on the couch near the window and looked at the view… at the glittering dancing lights that dispelled the dark night, at the glimmering full moon that cast a soothing white radiance all around.

Just like he casts a warm reassuring glow in my dreary existence.

She blushed. She remembered how she had met him by chance at an art exhibition where her husband had refused to accompany her, as usual.

At the most unexpected of places imaginable.

She laughed in spite of herself. Placing a hand on her mouth to drown out the sound, she felt like a teenager again, sneaking around behind her parents’ back.

Indulging in an illicit affair… Biting into the forbidden apple!

Her cheeks reddened. She remembered how they had selected the same piece of painting and how he had graciously decided to let her have it. How they had bumped into the snack bar ordering the same sandwich, and how, then, they had decided to share the meal. She also remembered, as a warm flush crept up her cheeks, how she had discreetly twisted her wedding ring off her finger. They had talked all through the evening… about everything and nothing.

No personal questions please.

By the end of their rendezvous, they knew everything about their likes and dislikes but didn’t know that she was married and he was engaged. That information trickled out later, a couple of weeks later. She looked at her husband with disdain. He was murmuring something. She had stopped loving him much before the art exhibit. Maybe she never did love him. She twisted her wedding band around her finger, absentmindedly.
She was trudging along her miserable loveless marriage as she had nowhere else to go, until now. Last month, he had told her that he had broken his engagement and he expected her to do the same. She did want to break it off too.

But, how do you tell your husband of 8 years that you want out?

They never had any children which made matters easier, he had pointed out. But, she couldn’t just up and leave him. ‘Why not? You don’t love him do you?’ He had asked as they lay together, in each other’s arms, in her conjugal bed. She stood up and sat next to her husband.

Of course I don’t love him, but he still does.

She heard him murmuring something about love and not leaving him. Her ears perked up.

What if he knows? What if he suspects that she is having an affair?!

She listened intently to make out what he was saying but his murmuring stopped. He was sweating profusely. She shook his arm. He tried, in his sleep, to push her away. She grunted and shook him harder. He opened his eyes and sat up. She looked at him trying to gauge if he knew anything.    

 “Are you all right? You were having a nightmare.”

He sat up straighter but didn’t say anything. She couldn’t make out anything behind his mask of a face. She had never managed to read him.

Maybe that was the problem in our marriage. His blank face.

It infuriated her to no end but she remained calm.

 “You want water?”

He shook his head. She decided to be direct.

“What were you dreaming about?”

He murmured, “I don’t remember.”

She sighed and kept staring at his vacant eyes hoping to read his mind, looking out for any sign – a twitch, a look – anything that might tell her if he suspected anything. After what felt like hours, she smiled tightly and, as had become her habit, leaned across to kiss him, “Good night. Love you.”

She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes. His face swam in front of her. The face that she could read like a book. She knew when he was happy, sad, upset, stressed. They didn’t need to talk to communicate. They did it through eyes and soft lingering touches.

Not like him who hides every little emotion from his own wife!

She looked at her husband sleeping peacefully. She turned her head towards the window, smiling to herself, and thought about the first time he had cupped her face in his hands and kissed him – passionately – as if he needed her more than life itself. She still remembered the feeling of being wanted, of being needed; the feelings that had been laying dormant deep inside her for the last so many years that he had stirred back onto the surface.

With just a kiss.

 She made up her mind to leave her husband, to end her non-existent marriage. She knew that might break his heart.

Better his than mine.

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