Friday, June 27, 2014

The Security Guard and his Ma'am

He splashed some cold water on his face and sat up straighter. He had been at his duty since 7pm last night and was really tired. Even though his shift ended 20 minutes before, he sat waiting. She came at exactly 7:30am. As usual her infectious laugh preceded her appearance. He brushed his hair with his hand and put on his cap. He adjusted his uniform and waited for her to walk past him. She came round the bend and he saw that she was wearing a light green Salwar Kameez. With her laptop slung on her shoulders and a smart phone in one hand, she brushed an erratic lock of hair from her eyes. As she passed his desk at the security cabin, she stopped, "Good morning Raghav. Kaise ho?"
"Good morning ma'am. Me fine. How you?" he said earnestly.
She smiled her dimpled smile, "I am fine too. Bye Raghav, see you."
In a society where no one even spared him a second glance, she not only knew his name but reserved a special smile and a greeting for him every morning. Her polite gesture was enough to make him forget all his tiredness. Her smile rejuvenated and refreshed him. Oblivious to the effect she had on him, she left leaving behind a mesmerized security guard dreaming with open eyes.
*
He stood in front of her office dressed in the best shirt he had with a thin gold ring and a rose. It had taken him almost seven months' savings to buy this Valentine's day present for her. He was nervous but seeing her made him forget everything. She also spotted him and walked towards him with a questioning look.
"Raghav? What are you doing here? All well?"
He nodded. Her kohl-lined eyes made him forget all the sentences he had been reciting for months. He closed his eyes and concentrated.
"M... Ma... Mala," it felt nice to say her name out loud. He extended both his hands, one had the gold ring and the other a long stemmed rose, "Mala, I lou you. Marry me. Pleej," he opened his eyes pleased with himself for not stammering. He saw Mala had a horrified expression on her face. She was joined by two of her friends who were snickering.
"Tum pagaal ho kya? Yeh kya bakwaas kar rahe ho?"
"This true," he said slowly.
"Listen Raghav, this can't happen. I don't love you. Main tumse shaadi nahi kar sakti. Yeh sab rubbish bhul jao.  okay?" She said. 
Her friends unable to control themselves started laughing hysterically, "Mala... Mrs. Security Guard!"
Mala turned red, "shut up girls. Come on let's go."
She left without even a glance back, leaving behind a confused and embarrassed security guard clutching the gold ring, crushing the red rose.
*
"Oh God! Stop following me. Mera peecha chod do," she screamed, agitated.
"Par Mala... tum aise kyun baat kar rahi ho? Tum to roz mujh dekhke ismile karti thi. Kitni haas ke mujhse baat karti thi... achanak kya ho gaya?" He was walking a few steps behind her trying to figure what went wrong so  suddenly. Her Mala who always walked past his desk at 7:30 had started using the back gate. She had started ignoring him and even if she saw him accidentally, she never said anything, she never smiled looking at him anymore. 
She suddenly turned and joined both her hands together loudly, "Uffo, galti ho gayi jo tumse baat kar li, maaf kar do mujhe."
The look of anger on her face shocked him. 
"Aisa mat kaho mala..."
"God! Leave me alone," She turned back and started walking fast.
He took a few steps and grabbed hold of her hand, "Meri baat to suno..."
Mala stopped, turned and slapped him hard across the face, "How dare you?!"
His hand involuntarily went up to his stinging cheek and his eyes watered, "Mala..."
"Ma'am. Mala nahi, ma'am. If you don't stop following me around, I will complain to the society chairman and the police. Apni haad me raho," saying this she walked off leaving behind a stunned and angry security guard.
*
She writhed uncontrollably on the road. Her face, neck and shoulders burned. She yelled in agony but no one came forward to help her. The unbearable pain took hold of her senses and she passed out. Finally, someone called an ambulance. A few metres away, a drunk security guard threw away the tiny glass bottle that had just moments before contained acid. He smirked as the sirens grew louder. 
He left murmuring to himsels, leaving behind a disfigured ma'am.

Men will be Men. Seriously?

They were standing at the metro station. The train came and a horde of passengers rushed forward. Natasha saw a man move his hand across her friend, Meera's waist and walk past without even a backward glance or any kind of expression on his face... like it was a mundane part of his morning routine. Natasha looked at Meera who seemed just a little bit disgusted, but apart from that she also had no extreme reaction, as if she had been used to this morning anomaly for a long time. She just opened her dupatta and spread it across her chest.
'Why didn't you say anything?!' Natasha asked unable to control her frustration anymore.
'Let it be na, men will be men,' Meera said with a dismissive shrug and a frown as they waited for their turn to get into the train.
'Men will be men?! Seriously? That's the most absurd argument I have ever heard!' 
They entered the compartment and stood near the door. Meera stared outside having nothing more to say but Natasha was in no mood to let it go.
'Do you even realize what this casual statement of yours - men will be men - implies?'
'You are not going to let it go, right?' Meera said with a sigh.
'No,' Natasha was quite agitated with Meera's offhanded attitude, 'Your innocent remark suggests that it's in men's genes to behave the way they behave... it means that's how they are and that's how they'll be. It implies that these 'poor' guys can't help it, that's how they are wired. They are programmed to burp and fart and lech and stare and abuse and molest. It means that they have no control over any of it because it is in their nature.'
Meera looked at Natasha silently, aware of the rising pitch of her voice and the many stares they were getting thanks to her monologue. 
"By saying 'men will be men' you indirectly mean that it's not their fault if they misbehave because that's how they are created. And if it's not their fault, then whose fault is it?' Natasha looked at her friend who just shrugged her shoulders.
"Obviously it's yours! It's always, always the woman's fault... for enticing him with suggestive clothing, behaviour, glances, flirting, etc. Your seemingly innocent statement takes the blame away from them and pins it on you... It's because of you that rapes happen as you dress in a certain way that mess with his head and men being men can't do anything except act out. It's because of the way you talk or drink or walk that you are molested and abused because men are behaving according to their basic nature. So, because they can't change, you must... you must dress conservatively, not smoke, not drink, not laugh, not talk blah blah. I can't understand why don't men find this statement more offensive. It practically means that they have not even an ounce of self-control, that they lack even the tiniest bit of will power."

Meera shuffled nervously, shifting her weight from one foot to another.

"Whenever someone says men will be men, I feel like yelling - stop turning the perpetrator into a victim!"

"Sshhh... be quiet, everyone is staring. I think you think too much. Now c'mon let's go, our stop is here," Meera held Natasha's hand and led her out, with her bent low. 
'Women will be women,' thought Natasha sarcastically, shaking his head.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Arranged Meetng

They were sitting at a posh cafe for their second date... actually it would be wrong to call it a date, it was more of a meeting - a meeting to discover each other's likes and dislikes, a meeting to figure out if they were compatible, a meeting to confirm whether they would want to get married or not.

He was telling her about his mother's superb cooking. She was listening silently, sipping her coffee.

"I guess we have been really pampered by her. She always cooked and somehow I have never liked a maid's food. It doesn't have the same taste as your mother or wife's," he picked up a cookie and bit it into half, "I hope you can cook?" He looked at her with a questioning smile, wiping cookie crumbs from his face.

She handed him a paper napkin, "I can, can you?"

"Oh no, no... I can't. I only know how to eat," he smiled and picked up his coffee mug, "actually with studies and work, I never got the time."

She nodded, "how educated are you?"

"MBA," he said proudly.

"Me too. What are your office timings?" She sipped her coffee looking up at her from over her mug.

"Uhm..." he shifted in his seat. He felt a little disconcerted under her unnerving gaze, "I leave around 8:30 in the morning and come back home at 9-9:30. It's almost a 12 hour shift."

"Mine too and I could still find the time to learn to cook, why couldn't you?"

"Uhm... mm."

"Anyway, let it be. So, hypothetically, if we decide to get married, my office would be on the opposite side so it would take me an hour more to commute."

"O-Kay," he said completely clueless as to where the conversation was heading.

"So if you are against keeping a cook and you can't cook, that means I have to get up early and make breakfast, pack lunches, and prepare dinner?" She asked.

He shrugged, "I guess... every woman does that."

"Hmm... so you could maybe help me around the house? You know maintain the house, clean up, do the laundry--"

"Do the laundry?!" He interjected, a little angrily, "that's a woman's job! You want me to wash clothes after I come tired from work?"

"A woman's job? What's so womanly in putting clothes in a washing machine...? And besides if I can cook after coming from a similiar 12 hr shift, why can't you wash the clothes?"

"I can't do all this," he said shaking his head in irritation.

"Well then, I can't do this," she said getting up, leaving behind her share of the cheque.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bedroom Politics




The three friends were sitting together at their favorite table, waiting for the fourth one to join their weekly lunch date. After ordering starters and drinks, they started talking about the events of the last week. The ritual that had begun in college had been going on for almost a decade. Now, all of them were married and were busy with housework, kids and their respective careers but they always managed to take out time for their weekly meeting. This was a stress buster for all of them where they shared their most intimate thoughts, feelings and secrets.

“Here she comes,” Mehr waved at Chitra who had just walked in with her smart-phone attached to her ear. She seemed to be angrily telling off some poor intern.

“I do not care. Do whatever, I want that story on my desk by the time I come back,” she disconnected and looked around the table, “Hey ladies. How are we all today?”

“I still haven’t been paid, you know. Your accounts department is one lazy—‘Sunaina began.

“I know, I know… but we ran your story just last week. These things take time. You have been freelancing for so many years, I thought you would know by now,” Chitra waved over a waiter and ordered for a cocktail.

 “What happened to your wrist?” Mehr asked gesturing at Chitra’s bandaged hand as she lit a cigarette.

“Oh, nothing. I just fell from the stairs. No big deal,” Chitra shrugged.

Meera returned the smile and took a sip of her water. She was the quiet one who rarely spoke, preferring to listen instead. How she handled a classroom full of rowdy toddlers was anyone’s guess.

Mehr started regaling them with an office story amidst blowing rings of smoke from her mouth. 
Halfway through, Meera interrupted her, “Could you not smoke please.”

“Why? I always smoke. You know that.”

Meera just looked down timidly at her hands – her fingers were entwined with the thumbs moving in circles around each other… a nervous habit she had since school.

“Well, what was I saying…?”

Another puff of smoke blew across Meera’s direction.

“Can you please stop?!”

“Why,” asked Mehr, agitated, “Are you pregnant?” She jokingly said.

Meera, after a minute, just nodded with a small smile on her face.

Sunaina, who was busy with her phone up until now, looked at Meera with an amused smile, “Well… congratulations then!”

 “What? How’s that even possible?” Mehr asked, putting out her cigarette, a little confused.

“Mehr, sweetheart, when a man and a woman love each other very much--” Sunaina started explaining, in a baby voice.

“I know that, Suni,” Mehr interjected. She faced Meera and said, “I meant didn’t you say last week that you were troubled because you haven’t been intimate with your husband since the miscarriage… eight months ago? That you don’t feel like making love anymore?”

Meera just nodded again meekly. Her thumbs moving faster now.

“Then how did you get pregnant?!”

“Is it someone else’s baby?” Sunaina said lightly sipping on her drink.

Meera looked at her with angry tears in her eyes. She spoke calmly, “I can’t believe you would say something like that. I am a happily married woman. I can’t even think about someone else. It’s his only,” she looked furious at the suggestion.

“Okay, okay relax. I was kidding.”

Mehr kicked Sunaina from under the table, who in turn just rolled her eyes.

“How far along are you? Are you sure that you are pregnant? Have you got tested?”

“Two months. I am absolutely sure. Here see this,” she fidgeted in her bag and pulled out the doctor’s report, “I missed my period last month and this month I was over ten days late, that never happens with me. I thought maybe because of the miscarriage there is some hormonal imbalance so I went to the doctor to get a check-up. But, this,” she pointed to the report and took a deep breath, “this is something I didn’t expect.”

“I don’t get it,” Mehr shook her head, “Did you tell your husband? How did he react?”

“He was…” Meera took another deep breath, “Overjoyed. He was delighted, actually.”

“Really?” droned Sunaina, her interest spiking.

“Okay… what is going on?” Chitra, who was silent all this while, finally spoke up.

Meera looked at all her friends who were looking at her expectantly waiting for an answer to solve this mystery. She knew she  had to tell them. She wanted to tell them, but how? Will they understand? Will they judge her husband? Will they judge her for being a little relieved that she doesn’t have to fake it anymore? Will they judge their relationship? She decided it’s better to pull out the bandage in one go. She closed her eyes and without thinking blurted out, “Apparently, he has been drugging me every couple of nights and having sex with me… to put it simply.”

“What?!” Mehr  was dumbfounded.

Meera opened her eyes to see Mehr’s mouth hanging open, Sunaina sipping her drink with her eyes wide, and Chitra, as was her nature, staring at her expressionless. She decided the women needed some more explanations.

“There is this date rape drug that he puts in my milk every other night and I kind of pass out. I don’t remember what happens in the night and he proceeds to do… you know...’

“We know,” Sunaina said, nodding furiously.

“But, recently I had these vague visions, of us being intimate. I always assumed they were part of some dream, but now I know they were memories… repressed memories. A kind of side-effect of the drug. I still don’t remember everything; I don’t feel anything when he is doing it… just vague recollections…”

“Oh my God! That is awful,” Mehr’s hand automatically covered her shocked face. She looked at her other two friends who were sitting rather passively, staring at Meera with sympathetic eyes.

“You should report him,” Mehr said after a moment of silence.

“For what? For making love to his wife,” said Chitra, coolly.

“This is not love, this is marital rape. It’s called a date ‘rape’ drug for a reason, girls. This is not right! How can you both be okay with this? Why are you not more enraged?” Mehr was disappointed with her friend’s reaction.

“Believe me, a man can do so much worse than drugging her wife and sleeping with her when she’s unconscious,” Sunaina said, chewing on a chicken piece.

“What is wrong with you?! What is worse than raping your wife while she is passed out?”

‘A lot of things!’ thought Sunaina.

“Meera…” Chitra began but was suddenly distracted by something in her bag. She started fumbling and pulled out her phone. The phone vibrated once and then fell silent. She checked she had 8 missed calls – 2 from Suhana’s school and 6 from her husband.

Shit!

She broke into a cold sweat. Her hands were shaking as she tried to dial her husband. All the three women were looking at her intently.

“Is everything okay?” Meera asked touching her arm lightly.

Chitra looked up. She cleaned the sweat on her brow and got up, “It’s Suhana’s school. I have to call them. I’ll be back in a second.”

She moved to a secluded corner and dialed her husband. He picked up on the first ring.

“Where the hell are you?!” he barked into the phone, “I called your office, you are not there.”

“The phone was on vibration… I am sorry…” she trailed on.

“You are with them, aren’t you?! Your good-for-nothing friends… bitching about me.”

“They are not good-for-nothing,” she said curtly.

“Don’t you dare answer me back! I guess you have forgotten yesterday night. Let me come home tonight, you need to be taught a lesson that you will never forget,” he thundered.

Chitra shuddered involuntarily as she remembered the feel of a cold belt buckle on her bare back… and the unbearable pain it brought with it.

“I am sorry. I am sorry… I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I am sorry, forgive me. If you want, I will leave immediately. I am going back to the office right now, just please not tonight, not anymore,” she sobbed.

“No, no I am sorry. I don’t know what happens to me. Don’t cry. I am sorry. It’s just that I was trying to reach you and you were not answering, I was just worried about you. I am sorry. Say you forgive me? Say na… Please?”

“I forgive you,” she whispered.

“Great! Now listen, I was trying to reach you because Suhana’s teacher called me to say that there is some extra practice for the annual day, so they have to stay in school till six. The driver can’t drop her so, you will have to go and pick her up.”

“Her school is closer to your office, I am in the opposite side of town… why don’t you pick her up?” then added hurriedly, “It would take me at least 45 mins to reach there and that is without traffic. At 6, the roads would be jam-packed...”

“Now you will tell me what I should do?! I would have gone myself but I have an important meeting at 7. Unlike you, I have serious work to do. Get your ass out of your useless magazine office and go pick up our daughter from school at 6,” he disconnected without saying another word.

Chitra took a deep breath to calm herself down. She was fully aware of this frequent fluctuation of her husband’s moods… loving and caring one second, ad brutal and hurtful, the next.

It’s my fault only, I need to stop making him angry. I know he doesn’t like when I don’t answer my phone, I shouldn’t have put it on silent. He must be worried about me. His anger is justified.

She returned to the table and heard that the girls were still discussing Meera’s unplanned pregnancy.  Sunaina’s words echoed in her ears.

‘Believe me, a man can do so much worse than drugging her wife and sleeping with her when she’s unconscious.’

She shivered as she remembered her nights, the hair-pulling, the pain, the humiliation, the scratches, the bites, the punches… She wanted to tell her friends about her misery but never had the courage.

They would never understand why I take it, why can’t I just leave… He is my husband, my daughter’s father… He is also a monster, but that’s by burden to bear. Like everyone, he has good days and bad days. He is just more passionate than others… When he is happy, he’ll shower me with love; but when he is is angry… I just have to make sure that I don’t make him mad. I need to stop making silly mistakes that make him angry. As mother says, if I could just be a little more aware of his moods, a little more considerate of his mood swings, I am sure he will stop. Tonight I will make his favorite dinner, tonight I will try and explain to him, tonight he will understand, tonight he will not hurt me, tonight…

While Chitra was lost in her own world, the other three women oblivious to her suffering sat in a 
gloomy silence. Mehr looked from Sunaina to Meera to Chitra and back to Sunaina. She couldn’t understand why her friends didn’t react the way they were supposed to. To break the awkward silence that lingered over the usually lively group like a dark cold storm cloud, she asked Meera, 
 "It doesn’t matter what we think but are you okay with this? Being raped every other night?”

“It doesn’t feel like rape. I told you I don’t remember anything. I really don’t know…”

I am just kind of relived that I don’t have to have those awkward conversations with him about when I would be ready again.

“You should be glad that he doesn’t go to other women to satisfy his needs,” Sunaina said matter-of-factly.

“Are you insane? You are justifying his drugging Meera?” Mehr was flabbergasted.

“You know Mehr, men have wants… and if you look at it from another point of view, he is not doing anything wrong. He wants sex, she doesn’t. So, with these pills, he is just lowering her inhibitions so they can make love. It’s a win-win situation. He doesn’t mind and she doesn’t remember anything… what’s the harm?”

“Are you even listening to yourself? That is the worst reasoning ever!”

“I kind of agree with Suni.,” Said Chitra solemnly, sipping on her scotch.

What would I not give to be drugged every night and not remember anything in the morning.

She kept checking her watch every  5 minutes. Even though it was only 2 in the afternoon, she didn’t want to be late to pick up her daughter and bear the brunt of his anger.

“You both are crazy… Men have needs?! Are you seriously telling me that this argument validates the fact that he rapes her every night! What about her will? Her desires? He can’t wait for a couple more months?! Is that what marriage is all about? Sleeping together?!”

“Mehr marriage is about compromises and adjustments and sometimes you have to agree to things that you don’t believe in for the semblance of normalcy. You follow a textbook definition of love and marriage. You have to take off those rose-colored sunglasses and see the grey areas.”

“That is bullshit! This is not a compromise or an adjustment, he is forcing himself on her. He doesn’t care for the fact that she is not ready for it yet. Don’t you see how sick this is? How perverted--”

“I would not tolerate you talking about my husband like this,” Meera, who was silently listening to her friends’ debate about her situation, interrupted.

“I can’t believe you Meera. You are still taking his side?”

“He is my husband and now he is going to be the father of my child, what else am I supposed to do?”

“Get help! Leave him… you don’t know what other perversions he is capable off. The fact that he doesn’t even care if you are responding or not while he sleeps with you doesn’t bother you! This is just his animalistic need that he is fulfilling by rendering you incapable of even voicing your wishes. This is a sign of a sick debased person. He needs medical help, you need help. Think of your child. What kind of a father is he going to be? I say, leave him.”

Meera, not very good with confrontations, just gulped a glass of cold water and looked down again.

“When kids are involved it’s not so easy to just pack your bags and leave,” Chitra said softly, “A kid needs his father.”

“What? So, you are saying for the sake of her yet unborn child she should keep torturing herself? How is that going to help the baby?”

“You don’t have children yet, you don’t know how important a father is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mehr asked.

Sunaina took a long breath and narrated a story.

“I have this friend, her husband forces her to indulge in couple-swapping. He is a very nice man otherwise, doesn’t hurt her, loves the kids, and is a great father. He nurtures the kids and motivates them to aspire higher. If you forget this one bedroom fetish, then he is perfect in every other department. So, my friend adjusts to this lifestyle choice for the sake of their kids and family.”

“Couple-swapping? What kind of a society are we turning into?!” Mehr asked with her eyes wide.
“you are so judgmental,” Sunaina said downing her drink.

“I am sorry? I didn’t know you were okay with this… This couple-swapping business?” Mehr was beyond herself.

Sunaina was silent for a while. She pursed her lips together thinking of an appropriate response. She could feel everyone’s eyes boring into her… trying to look into her soul.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. All I know is that it’s not my place to pass judgment. I am sure she is doing what she thinks is best for her family. I just know that your family comes first. We can’t be selfish and let our children grow up without a father.”

She saw Chitra nodding along with her. This tiny gesture overwhelmed her and she wiped a single tear pooling on her eyelid threatening to fall down and reveal her secrets.

“I can’t believe I am friends with you people. I need a drink,” she waved the waiter and ordered for another drink.

“To each her own,” Sunaina gulped her drink down.

Mehr looked at Meera, the tiny timid Meera, who absent-mindedly was cradling her tummy. Mehr knew that her miscarriage had devastated her and now this new baby was like a ray of hope for her… but at what cost?! She looked at Chitra, her strong iron-willed friend, who right now was a bundle of nerves glancing at her watch every few seconds. Mehr had managed to sneak a peek at her phone before she left the table and knew that the call was not from her daughter’s school, it was from her husband who was prone to temper tantrums. She knew Chitra had problems in her marriage, but she had never shared it with them , guarding her family life with everything she had. But, the friends had noticed the cracks in the wall she had created around herself. She never invited them in and they had decided long back not to pry. Mehr believed Chitra would one day open the door, or even a window into her life and that is the day they would know… till then she was happy with whatever little her friend shared with her. Mehr glanced at Sunaina, the flighty giggling Sunaina, who looked morose as she sat holding her phone in her hand… and the sudden realization dawned on her.

Are we as close as think we are?

Sitting by Mehr's side, oblivious to Mehr’s internal monologues was Sunaina, reading a text from her husband.

I hope you remember today is the party. Wear that black low cut mini dress you have. You really look sexy in that. Can’t wait for the evening. See you, love you.’

Sunaina smiled sarcastically at the text.

‘You really look sexy in that.’ Yeah, right! Sexy enough for other men to sleep with me… to agree to let their wives sleep with you. That’s what you want right? Variety is the spice of life.

She sighed. This is the line he had said over and over again as he persuaded her to accompany him to one of the swinger parties. She still remembered the night as clearly as if it had happened yesterday… when her husband had shown him the secret invite to one of the swinger parties being held at a posh farmhouse.

It’ll be fun.”
“Fun? So, you don’t mind that I am sleeping with someone else?”
“You are thinking at it from the wrong angle. Just look at it as an experiment to spice up our love life.”
“You just want a license to sleep with other women.”
“Su you can’t do this little thing for me?”
“Sleeping with other men and giving you permission to sleep with other women? No, I can’t do this.”
“You are such a drama queen. I am just asking you to come to the party with me. We’ll just go and see what the fuss is all about. We don’t have to do anything.”
“I said no.”
“You are such a prude! I am asking you nicely and you are showing me attitude? From next time, I won’t tell you anything. You say that I want to sleep with other women? Yes, I do! What is wrong with that? I am not like those old-fashioned husbands who want their wives to sit at home cooking and cleaning while they are out having fun… I want to include you too. And who’s going to stop me from experimenting without telling you? At least this way you know everything.”

This way I do know everything.  

That was six months ago. Now, every weekend they are at a couple-swapping party where her husband  sleeps with someone’s wife and she has to return the favor by sleeping with the man. Sometimes, all of them sleep together too. She doesn’t like it… not one bit. She had voiced her opinions many times, but he always persuaded her… emotionally blackmailed her by telling her all that he does for her. When that doesn’t work, he threatens her that he would find some other way to satisfy his needs and she would be clueless. When she had told him that being clueless would be better than doing all that she was expected to do, he dared her to leave him and live on her own, raise their children on her own.

‘What will you tell people? Why did you leave me? Because I am a swinger? Are you ready to answer all their probing questions? What if I told them, you have tried it too…?”

In her frustrations, she had thought numerous times of leaving him, but he was right… what would she tell people? That her husband had a sexual fetish? What will they think about her? What was wrong with her that he needed to swap partners? How will they look at her children? And what off the questions that they will ask?!  And what about her children’s questions? How will she explain that why is she leaving their father, breaking their family?

He is such a wonderful father… and barring this one anomaly, he is a wonderful husband. He takes care of me, provides for me, loves me, and he is so good with the kids. It’s just once a week. I can handle this… for the kids, for the family. My kids, like me, will not come from a broken home.

She took a cigarette from Mehr’s pack and lit it, taking care to face away from Meera.

Mehr, looking at the troubled faces of her friends, was perplexed. She couldn’t believe her friend’s thought processes… she couldn’t believe they were okay with Meera husband treating her like an unemotional doll; Chitra staying with her abusive husband; and God knows what was bothering Sunaina. Mehr knew she only smoked when she was stressed.  

How well do we really know each other?

She closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer for all three of them. Her phone pinged, it was a text 
from her husband.

‘Movie tonight? Your choice…?’
 Yes, thank you and I love you.’

Her husband pinged back after a couple of seconds.

‘I love you too. That’s quite generous for a movie date!’

‘Thank you for telling everyone you don't want a baby when in reality you know I can't conceive. Thank you for being patient and kind.'

‘Always. Besides , we can always adopt but for that you have to be ready first.’

‘You are so great.’

‘I know ;)’

Mehr smiled.

The four friends sat in silence thinking about their respective lives… About the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dreams VS Trust? Your choice...?


Chapter Nine - My Little Writing Project

To refresh your memory about previous chapters, or to know about My Little Writing Project, click here.




How far would you go to fulfill your dreams? How much is too much?

11th June 2012

Next morning when Mukti woke up, she found two notes by her mattress on the floor. Priya and Sonali both had left for their respective offices and asked her to call them. Mukti’s head was spinning. She vowed never to have another drink. She made some breakfast, took a shower and sat in front of her laptop with a mug full of hot coffee. She opened three windows simultaneously . . . Her mail, her Facebook profile and her blog. First, she checked her mail.

Horoscope. Delete.
I ching. Delete.
Facebook. Delete.
Anu_mukh@gmail.com. Hmm . . . hello, there. I had completely forgotten about you. 

She opened the email.

Hi. No, we don’t know each other. In fact I think there has been some misunderstanding. I was pinging a friend whose name is also Mukti. Her email id is mukti.0304@gmail.com and yours is mukti0403@gmail.com.  You can see how that could have happened, right? I pinged you by mistake. I am very sorry to have bothered you. Take care.

Hmm . . . by mistake. No cheesy explanation, no attempt to take the conversation forward, no interest in knowing me whatsoever. In-ter-esting.

Mukti started typing – It’s alright. It happens. But take care in future. I don’t want to be bombarded with pathetic forward mails that you were planning to send this other Mukti of yours. 

And send.

She continued checking her mails.
Facebook. Delete.
Viagra! Spam.
Lottery. Spam.
Facebook. Delete.
New mail.

Hmm . . .
She saw who had sent her the latest mail.
Huh! In-Ter-esting. So, he is online.

She clicked on the mail to see what he had written this time.

Don’t you worry, I don’t believe in forward mails or messages. I think they are the refuge of the pathetic. I believe in sending personal mails as well as messages. They make you feel connected. Anyway, sorry to bother you again. It’s just that I believe in fate and destiny and all that jazz and I just can’t help but think that it was destiny that I ended up pinging you instead of, as you have put it, my ‘other Mukti’. Well, won’t bore you anymore. I am sure you have better things to get back to than talking to me about destiny. I should also get back to work and figure out how to make this presentation for work. When I did my MBA, I thought I’ll be above and beyond all these mundane tasks but I guess even being a consultant can’t make you your own boss! Sorry for taking your time. Take care.

Mukti read and re-read the mail. She looked up.

MBA. Consultant. Fate. Destiny! Oh My God! You finally listened. Thank you.

She started typing frantically.

I also believe in fate and destiny. I think that there are no co-incidences, everything happens for a reason. You don’t see that right away but in retrospect you are bound to realize that whatever happened was the best thing to have happened in that scenario. Have you seen ‘Serendipity’? I am not as crazy as the actress/character in the movie, but I do believe that people meet for a reason. I have written an article on it too. I am a writer actually. If you want I can give you the link, you can read it and tell me how you feel, what do you think, etc?
So, you are a MBA huh? From where? I have a friend; she has done her MBA from Symbiosis.

I am just asking for his opinion on my writing. No biggie.

And the mails continued . . . for the next two hours. Both of them didn’t think of adding each other on gtalk for some reason. After two hours and countless mails, when Anurag said that he really has to go and prepare his presentation for some meeting tomorrow that they finally said goodbye.
But after this initial correspondence, they knew a lot about each other. Mukti knew that Anurag was Anurag Mukherjee. He had two dogs, Bobo and Rufus. He was twenty nine and had done mechanical engineering from DCE and completed his MBA from Amity Institute. He was working as a consultant with some multinational company . . . his favourite movie, like our Mukti, was Serendipity. He was a very big believer of fate. He, like Mukti, loved gorging on junk food, preferred Hindi music, and loved watching silly movies. Mukti couldn’t believe her luck that she had actually found someone who was so much like her, and that too through the internet. She also decided not to tell anyone about this latest development. After the amount of leg pulling she had done of Sonali, she preferred to rather die before being called a hypocrite.

                                                                        ***

21st June 2012

Days passed by, she continued mailing Anu, that’s what she had started calling him, and he kept replying back. They never added each other on any social networking sites though. Mukti had wanted to add him loads of times, but her pride and ego always stopped her before she sent the request.

He can also add me no? if he doesn’t want me to, I also won’t. Let’s see how long can he wait.

There was another thing bothering her, Prakash had taken to calling her . . . every day. He seemed so adorably clueless that the date they went on was pathetic, that Mukti also didn’t have the heart to tell him that she was not interested. Also, there was the other matter of the book and she didn’t want to anger him. She thought that after the book thing gets sorted out than she would tell him . . . something. There were times, like that one day when she was mailing Anu about her love for writing, when Prakash called up, she couldn’t help but feel that she was cheating on Prakash with Anu and vice versa.

That’s rubbish! I have gone out with Prakash once! And I haven’t even met Anurag! This is not cheating. I am just exploring my options. I am not cheating. This is definitely not something wrong.

But then, the reasonable and ethical part of her mind deliberated - if it is not such a big deal, why don’t you tell Prakash that you are not interested and Anurag that there is some other guy in your life also?

The debate continued inside her brain, engulfing her thought process completely, with the result that there were just a couple of days to go for her appointment with Prakash who was still clueless, Anurag who didn’t know about the existence of Prakash and Mukti who didn’t have a book for the meeting, again! In a state of panic, she called up Sonali.

Priya is bound to give me a lecture and no idea. Maybe I can get some help from Sonali.
                                                                     
Sonali on the other hand was busy in her own world. She had just come back from a flight from Chennai and was unpacking when her phone rang. Hoping it might be Kshitij, she rushed falling over her suitcase to pick up the phone. As she got up from the floor, she looked back and saw that in place of her suitcase was a huge crocodile slowly inching towards her with its jaws wide open. She could smell its stinky breath, count its pointed teeth, and see the greed of consuming human flesh written across its dark beady eyes. She fell back down again, deathly calm. She thought she ought to scream but realized she was too tired to even whimper. Sonali gave up and kept lying on the floor awaiting, almost welcoming, her imminent end.

This chaotic lifestyle is finally going to finish once and for all.

The ringtone of her phone was gaining boisterous proportion which ultimately shook her out of her daydream. She glanced languidly at the crocodile which had transformed back again to her open suitcase smelling of her dirty clothes and uniform. The realization that she was willing to be eaten up by an imaginary crocodile to escape her current lifestyle worried her thoroughly. She suddenly felt sharp shooting pains in her toes where she had bumped against the suitcase. She got up slowly to pick up her phone eager to hear Kshitij’s voice and revert to some semblance of normalcy.

“Hello?” she said breathlessly massaging her toe.
“Sonali? Why are you breathless?”
“Mukti?!” She said with a hint of disappointment quite visible in her voice.
“Oh don’t be so excited,” Mukti said sarcastically.
“No, I am actually glad you called. It is lovely to hear a familiar voice,” she added.
“Okay, nice save. Anyway, how have you been? It’s been ages since we talked. How is everything?”
“Everything is fine. I just got back from Chennai. Was just unpacking, again. Sometimes I feel like leaving all this air-hostess business altogether. I am tired of this continuous, never-ending cycle of packing and unpacking . . . this lack of any kind of routine or schedule. Basically, I am fed up of living out of a suitcase.”

Sonali’s tirade was something Mukti was not expecting to hear.
“I thought you loved your job? I mean if I had your height, I’d be doing the same thing. It’s so exciting . . . travelling the world, meeting new people—“
“It’s not as fun as it seems, it’s quite exhausting actually. Travelling almost every day takes a toll on your health. And serving all these high profile guests is no piece of cake either. You should hear the way some of them speak to me. I feel like slapping them back.”

“Really? But I thought you only serve first class passengers? They are bound to be decent.”

“Some of them are, most of them are not. You know, this job . . . it has certainly given me wings to fly all over the world when in reality all I ever craved was for someone who could give me a solid ground beneath my feet. Life is so ironical.”

“I thought I am supposed to the writer of the group?” Mukti tried to lighten the mood, “And you have found that someone who will give you your concrete ground, your The One – Kshitij.”

“I guess.” Sonali said half-heartedly, “ anyway, you tell me . . . what’s up with you? Hey, when is your next date with Prakash?”

“Appointment, not a date, appointment. My next appointment with Prakash is this Monday. Three days later. I was just working on the book. So, how is Mr. IIML?”

“Mr. IIML is fine,” Sonali was saying when she heard a beep on the phone. She checked it was Kshitij. A big smile came on her face and she said to Mukti, “in fact he is calling right now. I will talk to you later, bye.” And she hung up.

. . . and here it starts again! I hope this one lasts.

Mukti went back to browsing the internet. After a while she got bored and tired, and logged off. She decided to write in her diary and started rummaging in her dresser drawer for a pen. While fumbling in the drawer, she found an old scrap of yellowed paper. She was about to throw it away when she stared at it and she suddenly realised what she was holding.

She gripped the dresser for support and her breathing became shallow and a cold disconcerting sensation settled in the pit of her stomach. The bright sunshine streaming in was at odds with the chilling nervous commotion Mukti was experiencing. She closed her eyes, bogged down and wearied by it all.

What the hell was I thinking even writing about it . . . if someone else had found this, her life would have been over  . . .

Mukti’s mind, shocked at the sudden exposure of an incident best forgotten, went into denial and eager to forget about it herself, she shoved it back into the drawer. She paced her tiny apartment and drank a whole bottle of cold water to feel normal again. Still, all she could think about was the yellowed piece of paper, torn from her diary some years before and shoved inside the dresser never to be looked upon by anyone, not even herself, again.

As long as I know it’s there I will not be able to concentrate on anything else.

She went towards the dresser and poked around to catch hold of the errant scrap of paper again that contained a terrible secret.  After some shuffling, she extracted it out and without sparing it a second glance shredded it into even tinier pieces. She went inside her washroom and flushed them down. As she saw them swirling around and sinking below, she visualized Priya, the day she had told her . . . sans any make-up she looked different, almost like a child. Sweat was dripping from her face, she was shifting her weight from one leg to another as if she couldn’t stand still. She seemed restless, her hands were fumbling with a loose thread from her dupatta but her eyes seemed to have turned into stone, staring at nothing in particular. With cracked and dried up lips, Priya had narrated the entire incident . . . Of what had she done. Mukti had listened patiently without asking any questions, without passing any judgement. She knew Priya had not come to ask for advice. She had come to vent out, she had come to seek validation that what she had done was right and that’s what Mukti had given her. Mukti had hugged her tightly and told her that she had been in the right all along. However, Priya had made her promise that she wouldn’t tell anyone ever and Mukti meant to keep her word.

I have done the right thing. It is not my secret to share, it’s Priya’s. I need to protect her. And as it is she is very defensive about her personal life. Always shielding it from view, never opening up. It is almost as if she has created a wall around herself which is very hard to break.

She still remembered their worst fight . . . It had happened because Priya had told Mukti something in secret and Mukti, not meaning to harm Priya, had shared it with the world through her blog.

The world needed to know that there are still such assholes amongst us. Priya should have done what I did. I was defending her pride only.

Mukti recalled how they had fought, all because of a mail. Some six years before, when Priya was an engineering student, she had told Mukti about one of their schoolmates, Z who was in love with Priya. Priya, at that time, was ignorant of Z’s feelings and thought of him as a good friend. One day Z saw a picture of Priya on Facebook where she was at a party, holding a glass of beer and dancing with a group of guys. Z was heartbroken. He deleted Priya from his friend’s list and stopped interacting with her completely. Priya didn’t even notice because she was not very close to Z as it is. Couple of months later, Priya received a mail from Z that informed her that how much he had loved her and how disappointed he had been when he saw that photograph. He went on to chastise her for drinking and mingling with opposite sex freely. He even reprimanded her about her lack of Indian values. He mentioned that he wanted to marry her but since she has embraced ‘western’ values so liberally, he doesn’t think either his parents would be willing to accept her as their bahu or he can be with her anymore and that is why he is breaking all ties with her. He blamed her philandering ways for his attempted suicide and admonished her further by insinuating that no one will ever accept her the way she is. Priya, after receiving the mail, was initially dumbfounded with all the allegations. She was enraged with Z for formulating his own theories about her life without knowing the truth. But, the more she read the mail, the more depressed she became. In the end, she started feeling guilty for driving Z to suicide. Priya had shown Mukti the mail as well. Mukti, as expected, was outraged.

How dare he?

 She couldn’t believe an educated, young and supposedly-intelligent man could harbour such primeval thoughts. But what angered her more was Priya’s depression. She remembered talking some sense into her.
It was not your fault. If he was in love with you, he should have told you and talked with you before taking such drastic steps. If he would have done that, he might have saved himself a lot of heartache.

Priya, however, didn’t listen and slumped into gloomy melancholy. It was then that Mukti decided to write a post about this whole episode on her blog as an example. The post was about men and how they want their wives to be coy and demure, how many men still haven’t accepted the fact that a woman can be more successful than them, that she can drink and smoke, that she can have a career etc. Mukti recollected that she had got an overwhelming response. Most of them agreed with Mukti’s point of view except Priya. After reading the post, Priya fought with Mukti for using her life as an example to get more traffic for her blog.

I thought when Priya would read that people think that she was in no way at fault, she would recover but . . .

The post had an adverse effect on Priya. Not only did she get upset with Mukti. She apologized to Z for causing him so much pain, not understanding his feelings but also on behalf of Mukti for writing the post. For the next many months, Priya kept insisting that Mukti should delete the post to which Mukti vehemently refused.

I had not even used any names. Nobody knew it was about her.

But, Priya thought people knew that she was the girl in the post. Mukti tried to explain that first, nobody made that connection and second, even if they did it was Z who was in the wrong. So nobody was pointing fingers at her but she didn’t listen.

We didn’t speak for almost three months! Finally she let go of the issue when people stopped commenting on it. She acts so idiotic sometimes. She has to please everyone! Anyway, this happened long time back. No point digging up old graves.

She sat down and continued browsing through her blog, sometimes laughing at the entries and sometimes cringing at the obvious grammatical and spelling errors. She also saw a short story that she had written about her own life. It was based on some incident that had happened to her when she was little. She had even won a creative writing competition for the same entry in her college.

Always write about things that you know. If you don’t know about something, find out about it before putting pen to paper. While writing fiction, it is best to draw inspiration from life, you will never go wrong.

These few lines by one of her college professors came into her mind suddenly and something clicked!

She looked up.

Is this a sign? Was finding that paper all part of your twisted plan? The tiny scrap, the blog entry about Z and Priya and now this piece of advice. Am I supposed to link it together? Am I supposed to do what I think you are hinting at?

She started chewing her nails furiously.

No, no! I can’t do that to Priya! She trusted me. I can’t. It’s not my secret to share.

Mukti started pacing the room again. She spotted a tiny scrap floating aimlessly that had escaped the fate Mukti had meted out to the rest of the paper. She picked it up. It had one single word written across – Mudit.

Don’t do it.

She turned around to see Priya’s standing in the doorway staring back at her. She looked so real that Mukti had to blink a couple of times to make sure that she was hallucinating. I trusted you. I don’t want anyone to know about this. You promised.
I need the synopsis, Mukti. Your time is running out.

Prakash, a misty shadow, was standing by the book corner tapping his watch.
I won’t wait forever, you know.

But you promised, it’ll be our secret. Priya said taking a step closer towards her.

I need the synopsis, Mukti. You need to write something wonderful for your dream to come true and this sure makes interesting reading.

Mukti pressed her hands on her ears to drown out every last syllable. She shut her eyes tightly as she didn’t want to see either one of the two. She shook her head furiously. After a couple of minutes, Mukti opened her eyes slowly. She could make out a hazy silhouette standing by the door walking out. It was Priya . . . her childhood friend, her confidante. She was smiling sadly.

You swore you’ll keep my secret safe.

“But you didn’t do anything wrong Priya.” Mukti didn’t realize she had started talking, “He deserved it, all of it. Whatever happened to him was karma. You know what goes around comes around. What he did to you . . . now that was something to be ashamed off. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.”

The hazy Priya started dimming further. All I know is that you assured me that I can tell you anything. You know I don’t like making my private affairs public. I am not you.

“You can tell me anything. You can trust me Priya. I will not humiliate you.”

I trusted you.

Mukti stood frozen on the spot. Slowly, Priya faded away altogether. Mukti turned back dejectedly and saw that Prakash was sitting comfortably on her mattress, smiling. I will make your dream come true. All you have to do is give me the synopsis.

Mukti sat down next to Prakash who disappeared with a loud pop. She sighed. Her mind was made up. I have to do this. Priya has to understand.

She started typing feverishly.


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