Before Sunrise

1730 hrs, 14th February 2017, New Delhi

The sun was inching closer to the horizon, marked by the uneven skyline of the capital. From his side of the window of the car, the outsides seemed pleasant. A perfect balance of the afternoon heat and evening, the diminishing blue with approaching black, the road full of motor cars and the birds dispersed across a sprawling sky mixed to create an impressionable image.

‘’fir aamne saamne baat hogi…fir hoga kya kya pataa kya khabar…’’

The song filled the cab with a delightful feeling; or was it just him? It was not going to be his first meeting with her, just the first meeting in some 5 years, he reminded himself. Still he was full of excitement mixed with a bit of nervousness. The reasons ranged from juvenile (It was the Valentine’s Day evening) to nostalgic (sharing a classroom for a year does bond you in some simplistic but strong ways) to troublesome (he wished he would be wrong about this).  The surroundings around the cab were colourful, with a number of florists gracing the street sides. He stopped at one of those, and unsure of the colour, eventually picked up a bouquet of pink and orange roses. The heat dominated the breeze, the noise dominated the calm and diminishing sun was further blemished by dust and smoke. The illusion that the glass window had created was quite something, he thought. Just like the one he had created in his thoughts maybe, Or maybe not.

‘’Ghazab ka hai din, dekho zaraa, Ye deewanapan socho zaraa..’’

The cab sped towards the airport, and he received the message.

Hey, Just reached T3, waiting for my luggage. J

Oh, I will still take half an hour. In the cab. Damn the traffic L

Np. Yayy. See u soon  😀

The blues had started turning a shade darker with the approaching night. The concrete jungle had started being replaced by the real wildlings as the cab moved across the outskirts of the megacity. The airport was still a good half an hour away. The time would just pass away in a blink of eyes he knew, as had the years flew by, unconcerned, unimportantly, indifferently. The anticipation of a moment or an event only resulted in disappointment, he had learnt long back. The sepia-toned past always looked more beautiful than present could ever be. Hence he tried to control his thoughts. He wished he had his diary or laptop. But that was not going to stop the words from being etched in some corner of his mind, he knew. For, occasions like this were not often, when his thoughts became turbulent enough to be carved into words. It was going to be memorable evening and a happy night for reasons more than one, he was sure.

31st December 2012, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

It turned out to be a re-union, a beautiful unplanned surprise. When his father asked him to accompany him for a day to the town where he was currently posted, he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. Yes, it was the place where he spent the major part of his childhood and the journey to adolescence; it was the place where he had learnt most of things about life; it was the place where logistically and emotionally, most of his memories of school were based. But now since he would hardly know anyone there, he had almost decided to say no when his father pointed out that it was the winter break in most colleges around the country and many of his school friends might be in the town.

A good four hours later, he was sitting on a wooden chair in the room, which he could actually call his room again as his father had rented the same house where he had spent the 8 years of his life. Looking around on the walls, the shelves in the wall, the withered wooden window frames and the decaying gardens outside them was getting dull and increasingly unnerving. They must be here anytime now, he thought. Arpit, his school friend had said he’ll bring some other people who were in town. It was about time, and the bell rang.

It was actually a re-union. 8 class-mates, meeting after 7 years, in the same town where they grew up and at 5 minutes’ walk from the school. The initial hellos and introductions melted the ice and probably everyone was relieved and happy at the realization that despite a zillion changes, they were still the same group of small town teenagers who had parted ways to bigger avenues. The distance of years was visible in their hairstyles (and in some cases, hairlines) but definitely not in their chemistry with each other. Everything was the same, and as she smiled at him, with a ‘Hey!’, it became further clear, every single thing was same, except perhaps for that red streak in her hair, which added a whole lot of magic to her already magical self; and the length of those strands which had grown in restrained curls to shoulder length from the short crop as he remembered from the past.

‘’Hi! Long time’’, he said.

A few moments of silence followed which were anything but awkward, at least for him.

‘’Yes, almost a lifetime it seems. The last time I was here was almost 8 years ago. My cycle was tied to the pole of that swing outside. I guess today both the swing and the cycle are no more there. But I am one hell of a stalker. I read your blog- your poems, stories everything. Hey, when did you start writing all that? I mean other than those long essays which would delight Leela Mam and Kulsoom Mam? ‘’

‘’Oh, well I don’t know, sometime around that, Hehe, teachers! Those were some days, no!’’

“Ah, yes, you are the same, Mr. Confusion!’’

His insides leapt up in joy.  She remembered!

‘’So are you, Ms. Hollywood, only more stylish and pretty!’’

‘’Ahem, and you’ve learnt to flirt’’

‘’ Well, finally I did, thanks to you’’.

They laughed. And her laughter took him back to the thousand memories kept aside in the packed boxes of childhood.

2004, Winters. Stella Maris Convent, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

‘’You’ve lost your mind, and even eyes I will say. She is not even pretty!’’ shouted Saurabh, as if it made any difference.

She had joined our class that year only. It being the big year of ‘board’ exams, the school believed in grouping the students according to their ‘potential’. I am not sure about potential, but she did manage to grab all my attention. The fact that we both were members of the school cabinet- I was the President and she the Discipline captain- ensured that we became friends easily and smoothly. Both of us had to inspect the ‘silence’ and discipline status of all the classes during the daily morning silence period, and award marks. These inspections and marks distribution ensured we had more than enough to talk, and gradually friendship took over, or so I thought. There were signs, which I being the bookish geek, didn’t really understand. But through my incessant raving about how wonderful she was, how great she looked, how wonderful it was to be with her, Saurabh read some signs apparently (as he was the smarter one, in these matters, and most matter, for that matter)

‘’Oh no, I can’t find my record-book’’, I said frantically searching for the notebook in which I recorded the discipline score of the classes, as she waited for me to join her for the morning watch routine.

‘’Oh, come on, there it is, below your desk idiot. Poor you, look at what all the studying has done to you. With great intelligence comes great confusion, I guess. From today, you’re Mr. Confusion’’ she laughed as I looked at her, lost.

‘’Huh, as if you are never confused,’’ I said (and the very moment I had to agree in my mind, yes she wasn’t). You think you’re so cool and some heroine, no less than the English ones, Ms. Hollywood!’’. The classes definitely got some generous scores that morning, and the names stuck with us, almost like I was accused by Saurabh to be with her.

The next morning, seeing her struggle park her cycle in the crowded school parking, I offered her to park it at my home. It was just at a 5 minutes’ walk from the school, and had lots of open space. From that day, my mornings became better. I would be on my gates at 6:45 am; she would reach there and park her cycle by 6:50, and we would walk to the school, discussing the upcoming board exams, teachers, future plans after the exams (since we didn’t have the senior secondary in our school) or the latest movies we saw. It became a daily thing, and yet something I would look forward to. She wasn’t the first girl I became friends with, but being with her was different. By the time our first pre-boards arrived, Saurabh had declared that I had a huge crush on her.

What did I do of it? That was not a question or even a thought then. I loved the feeling her company brought, the joy that seeing her in the morning filled me with and the happiness her vivacious voice and the interesting conversations we had gave me. The pages of my diary had become familiar with her name, and by the time we approached the end of the pre-boards (which also meant the end of school) we had to bring our duties as the score keeper of the school discipline to a culmination by announcing the total scores and hence the ranking of classes in discipline

Most of the class was in grounds either playing or watching others’ play. A few lurked in and out around the classrooms in hope of staying unnoticed.

‘’Oh, please, not again. It is just a notebook, how can you lose it every day! Wait, I’ll find it as always’’, she said as we sat together in the class to prepare the final rankings. But after some 15 minutes of searching frantically, we came to the scary conclusion that it was lost for real this time. After a few minutes of blankness when I fully grasped the weight of the situation, the horror stuck me. We had three days before we had to collate the yearly scores and present to the students committee to award (and shame) the classes for their discipline. While I started panicking with the realization of the disaster that seemed inevitable now, she sat silently with a patient and thoughtful face, as if strategizing the way out. Even in that stressful situation, I couldn’t help but notice how her short hair carefully traced the outline of her face and ended in perfect symmetry on both the sides.

‘’So, what do you think we should do now?’’ I moved my gaze quickly to meet her eyesight, and looked for a response.

‘’I…I don’t know, I am confused. Do you think we should go to Sister Irene and tell her? What do you think?’’

‘’Are you mad or what? You are the school president, you are the topper, and I am sure you will be the topper. Do you want to be that President who lost the score-diary? I have my dairy, I am sure we can make something up. Come-on we have three days’’, she said passionately.

‘’We can? I have the conciliated scores till October since we submitted that to the cabinet. We need to retrieve scores for last 2 and half months only. I will just do it right-away. Give me your diary’’.

‘’What’s the rush Mr. Confusion? Let’s do it after school today and tomorrow at your home. We don’t want anyone to get a whiff of what we are doing, or we will be the President and Discipline Captain who forged the score. I anyway have to pick my cycle, I will stay over for some time and we will finish this, what say? ‘’ she said with a smile. My heart just felt much lighter, and I could barely suppress my smile. Suddenly all the stress of the incident vanished and I felt happy that the diary was lost. I couldn’t wait for the evening.

‘’Wow, you really love your movies and your Hrithik Roshan,’’ she said, seeing the million Bollywood posters on my wall. As she sat on the bed in my room in my home, the realization that she was in my home, in my room sunk inside and a further wave of happiness rose inside me.

‘’What else do you like?’’ she asked me.

‘’You’’ I said, only to realize that the voice came only from inside my head. ‘’I love, whatever gives me happiness. Whatever makes me smile, or fills me with a positive and relaxed feeling, or makes me look forward to something, I like all of that,’’ I said, this time to her.

‘’And what are those things, apart from your books and topping in the exams?’’

I was used to being teased for being a book-worm and the typical nerd who topped every exam. But today I felt this strong desire to clarify to her that there was more to me, much more than just those damned textbooks and exams. ‘’Well, watching movies, reading novels especially Harry Potter ones, listening songs, meeting my cousins and spending time with friends,’’ I said, and for some reason felt conscious while saying the last part, hoping she wouldn’t read much into it. ‘’And what about you?’’ I added.

And we spoke about a lot of things – about her, her likes and dislikes, her family, her friends, her favourite TV shows, my friends (‘’Does Saurabh have a problem with me? He acts weird these days’’, she asked), the teachers, the church, the bad condition of roads in Sultanpur, the upcoming board exams and how life would change after it, since our school did not have senior secondary, which meant all of us would move out to same or different places after the board examinations.

The score dairy was almost done. We had taken the scores from her diary, and manipulated numbers to look realistically different, and basis the trends of final scores in mid-year, approximated the numbers. ‘’No one had to know – you are the President,’’ she said, and before my chest could swell of pride, she added, ‘’Correct, Mr. Confusion?’’ and laughed.

Oh, I would miss her, I thought, and wanted to tell this to her.

I mustered up all my courage. ‘’So, you would be moving to Central School from next year?’’

‘’Yes, and you will move to Varanasi’’

‘’ Hey, do you have my mobile number? Please share yours also, I will send you SMS daily. Do reply. I…I will miss talking to you’’. My ears were already red I could feel.

She smiled, and held my hand for a slow shake, ‘’I will miss you too, and we will stay in touch definitely. Don’t change, always remain like this’’

‘’And neither should you, Ms. Hollywood’’.

 

 

 31st December 2012, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

The room was the same – except that years of layers of paints on the walls had removed all traces of all the posters that he used to have; the windows were the same, except that the frames were renewed and felt like a strange new outline to the view outside; the view outside was the same, that of the dishevelled plants and overgrown trees and the road outside with boundary walls of adjacent plots; though the walls were higher now and trees and plants even more distorted and trying to outgrow each other. But he realized instantly, she was sitting in same spot as she had that evening 8 years ago, and he was sure she was thinking the same thing, and perhaps wondering if she should ask or not.

He took the lead. ‘’Well, we couldn’t stay in touch really.’’, he smiled.

She replied, ’’Well, I think we did, didn’t we? I remember your SMS’es – some jokes and that your SMS pack is about to end, and even those websites that you used to send messages.’’

‘’Yeah, but then soon I started using Whatsapp, and I think you used a different number there so most of my messages weren’t delivered. Also, you joined facebook pretty late, right? I searched you there many times, but found only last year.’’ He said.

‘’Oh yes, to be honest I am not much of a social media person. One of the few things I visit all those sites is just to see the posts and pictures of you and some other friends. And truth be told, I have hardly been touch with anyone in this room, except you’’. He didn’t know if that should have made him happy or not, but a very strong desire to know something sprung up inside him, and before he could think of a way to ask her, the group gathered there and decided that everyone would talk about the personal and professional lives of last 8 years, since most of them were meeting for the first time after school.

Arpit started. ‘’Well, I cleared the medical entrance for the Army, and am now posted at the border serving the nation! Becoming a doctor is not easy, the jokes are all correct – we end up studying for most of our lives. No time for love!’’, he laughed. Saurabh added his own. ’’After IIT, I joined Reliance in Mumbai, worked there for 2 years, moved to General Electric in Bangalore. And in all this, I somehow found time to have 2 break-ups. But now I am with someone whom I will spend the rest of my life with,’’ the smile on his face told everyone that it was indeed true.

After a couple of people, she spoke. ‘’I am one of the confused ones! I prepared for medical entrance exams for 2 years but couldn’t crack it like some smart people here, and went ahead to join engineering in biotech in Vellore. Just started my job in Chennai, and yes I have someone special in my life right now, let’s hope it is meant to be forever!’’

He heard it, and for a moment had the feeling that he had when he was rejected in the final interview of his dream company, or when his much planned family trip to Europe was cancelled. It was the feeling of not being shattered, but feeling the pinch of unbecoming of something that he was looking forward to. What exactly was he expecting here, he asked himself, but it was already his turn to speak

‘’I did the most clichéd thing – engineering and then MBA. Despite that, I have always been alone, still looking for the right girl!’’ he heard himself say and immediately wondered – why did he have to say this?  Suddenly he thought of Ayesha, her face and voice, and how his B-school friends would react if they heard him say this. They, who had been accusing him all the time of being obsessed with her since last 6 months, and at the same time encouraging him to tell her how he feels- would most certainly have not appreciated such response from him and would have shot nasty looks at him. And suddenly bringing him out of this reflection was Saurabh’s comment- for which till date he is not sure to be angry at him or thank him.

‘’Well, since we are talking of special someones, Lokesh – I think its high time she and everyone knows about your special feelings for your Discipline captain, isn’t it? Or should I still not talk about it?’’ said Saurabh, with a wicked and full-of-satisfaction smile.

‘’What-the-f***, are you mad? Now don’t create stories, I will kill you for this’’, he could barely mumble over the loud voices of people laughing and giggling.

“Oh, that’s sweet. But guess what, I was crushing on you too, Mr. Confusion’’, said she.

It took him a moment to register if what he heard was not hallucination. Saurabh looked at him with a look that said it was not, and any remaining doubts were removed by the combined whoooo-ooo-ooo from everyone. He felt he would start blushing (Or was he already?), and avoided looking at her directly, but then everyone took over and the next person started talking.

For him, rest of the day was blur, what remained was perhaps only that moment, though neither he nor she bought it up in any further talks.

 

1815 hrs, 14th February 2017, New Delhi

He was about to meet her today after  about 4 years, and yet that moment still remained fresh in his memory. The descending planes had started being visible to some extent, and he was hardly 10 minutes away from meeting her. So, he tried to summarize the multiple thoughts in his mind – So, 12 years ago they both had secret crushes on each other, perhaps a first for both of them; 4 years ago when they met, she was seeing someone, yet admitted in front of everyone about her crush, and he lied about him being forever single to her and everyone; and now that they were meeting again, he was single, and so was she, as she had admitted to him a few days ago on Whatsapp. Wasn’t all this adding upto something which he felt was inevitable and what he maybe always wanted at some level? Her flight ahead was only next morning, which meant she would have to leave just slightly before the sunrise, they had the entire night to themselves and he was sure by that time, he will have all the answers!

..’kuch to hua hai, kuch ho gaya hai, do char din se…’

Well, I will find out – he thought as the cab’s playlist also seemed to be in sync with his mind, or heart, or whatever was it – causing him the anxiousness. He thought of the last image that he remembered of her. Somehow, that meeting 5 years back had not altered or added on much to his memories of her, apart from the mutual admissions of crush, that is. But was that a lack of confidence or the fear of rejection that kept him from perusing her in last 5 years, he was not sure. But if all goes well, before the next sunrise, I will tell her clearly, ask her how she feels and finally start the much awaited chapter of our story, he thought.

Well, there she was, looking her cool self. But maybe a 40 hour flight from New York had some effects as she was far from the radiant self that used to make him conscious while talking to her. The curls of her hair had turned straight and color looked like a confused mix of brown and black. Nonetheless, he felt pleased to see her and smiled as she greeted with a side-hug, and they got into the cab towards his place. The playlist continued.

..’Ek ho gaye hum aur tum, to ud gayi neendein re…’

‘’Oh, not again. This song is everywhere I go. The movie was just about okay, did you like it?’’ he said, feeling suddenly very comfortable.

‘’ No yaar, I hardly get to watch movies there in the states – there is only one multiplex which screens Bollywood movies in my town, and with the hectic schedules I hardly get time. I could have done with one tonight, but I am so jet-lagged that I just want to rest. Hey, thanks a lot for giving me a shelter for the night – I could not imagine spending 9 hours at the airport. ‘’ she said. He felt his anxiousness gradually reducing, though somehow he would have preferred if it stayed.

‘’Not a problem, I am happy that we could meet again. Remember that 2012 mini-reunion? I think I have never seen any last minute plan work this well after that.’’ He said.

‘’Oh yes, how can I forget that. Hey, did you have no idea that I was crushing on you in high school at all? I think I knew you were to some extent’’ She did bring up that. Was she also thinking what he was thinking?

‘’No, I didn’t know. Oh we were total kids, weren’t we?’’ he heard himself say, but a part of him bewildered, why did he have to say that?

..Yoon lagta hai, jab milte ho, ke aaya mausam dosti ka….

‘’Hey, Happy Valentine’s Day’’, he said, and just remembered the flowers that he had got and were pushed behind his back as they sat. He gave her the bouquet along with the Valentine’s Day wish. She thanked him. ’’Oh, what are the odds, today is 14th February and look at you, I ruined any possibility of your date night, didn’t I?’’ she laughed. ‘’Well, you never know!’’, he added. They spent the rest of the time in cab talking about their love lives or the lack of it; laughing at their experiences, teasing at the embarrassments and memories of school. He felt good, and started missing Saurabh, Arpit and some of his other friends. By the time they reached his place, it was already 9 pm – they had already called up both of them and spoken to them, and then made plans for the night – scrolling through school photo albums and stalking everyone they could find on the internet and creating an all-inclusive Whatsapp and Facebook group for their batch of SMC (Stella Maris Convent) and ensuring both of them take the responsibility of being the group admins as seriously as they did that of being the President and Discipline captain!

He will really need to straighten up his talk and tell her or ask her what he wanted to, before the night starts hinting of the sunrise, he thought as that cab took the last turn before reaching the destination. Why was he not feeling even half the anxiety of what he was feeling before he met her? He always thought the anxiety was what stopped him from doing things, but now he realized it was what pushed to go ahead and take chances. The absence of it was certainly not helping. But, he told himself, he will need to do it quickly without thinking now. Or, will he?

As he entered his flat along with her, the realization sunk in – they really were kids back then. Some memories do not only seem more beautiful in memories than if you were to live them again, but also the perception of the feeling from the lens of age and time changes it a lot. He certainly didn’t have to ask her anything.  The sunrise was still at good 7 hours away, but he had got reasons to be happy much before – two good friends meeting after long and reminiscing memories and connecting to other friends was indeed a happy way to walk into the sunrise. They were, and had always been very good friends and there was nothing else which would give him more happiness, at least in this story, his and her story.

‘’Let’s stalk the internet, Ms. Hollywood! We still have close to 6 hours for the sunrise’’

‘’Yayy! What’s the password for the wi-fi’’?

‘’Mmm…let me check, it was lokesh123 or was it lokesh1!’’

‘’Well, you haven’t changed, Mr. Confusion’’ she laughed.

Oh, I have Ms. Hollywood. He thought to himself, smiled, at that little realization about himself.

Banaras

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Pristine as the age-old traditions and contemporary as the new world order – if ever there was a perfect blend of two ends of the spectrum, it is here. Varanasi is, as commonly said – older than history, older than tradition, older than legends and looks twice as old as all of them put together. This being the poetic abstract of the spirit of a culture, an ideology and a set of people bound by it, takes its share of creative liberty, yet isn’t far from truth. A city located in modern times and geography by relativity, yet caught in a time warp of its own, Varanasi, or Banaras as its people call it affectionately – is a beautiful bundle of paradoxes, a curious collection of contradictions and a delicious design of dichotomy – of religion and spirituality, of advances and soul-searches, of faith and rationality, of Gods and humanity. As a result, what transpires is a beautiful bonhomie of various colors of chaos, bound together by as aspiration towards a common purpose – some call it salvation, some moksha, some nirvana, and some simply love.

The holy river defines, guards, purifies and herself becomes the city itself – Ganga is Benaras and Benaras is Ganga. There are many a cities that the mighty river has given birth to, by purifying and fertilizing the soils around it and inviting the native dwellers to reside by its side and develop their settlements, but none of them share a connection deeper than what links the soul of this city to the river. The eighty ghats (places for religious activities along the river side in form of stairs) that form the lifeline of the city may be the only land pieces which actually touch the holy Ganges, but the soul of every resident is drenched by the pious water, and as they reverently call her, Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganges) remains the most essential part of the people’s life and practices. The city that is sprawling now beyond its borders and stretching its feet to accommodate the growing influx of people from all over, is also at the same time striving to preserve the richness of its ancient form, and that is something difficult to take away from it. So strong are the footprints of mythology and history of world civilization here, with the ever lasting impressions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam among other faiths, that it is impossible not to feel the presence if you take a casual stroll along one of the lanes in the city. From the tales of Lord Shiva’s and Goddess Parvati’s union to the destruction of the 80 devils or asuras on the ghats; from being Shiva’s favorite place to place where Gautam Buddha first taught the dharma; from witnessing the attacks on its heritage by invaders to preserving the relics of even the faiths that damaged it, along the original symbols of its faith – this city has the tales of past written all over it so clearly that it always has and will keep inspiring the artists to express its story, and often finding their own stories in it, expressing it in most beautiful forms. No wonder then that the city has been the hosts to some of the most revered musicians, writers, dancers and men of spirituality in recent history. A city which inspires others to find themselves however, is not easy to find its own way. Varanasi is not easy – with its small lanes that try to fit the wisdom and history of centuries within them, it is easy to lose your paths here. With a temple on each corner, and lanes and settlements named after Gods, and often vice versa, it is often disorienting to adjust to the places here. With humans, cows and the river cohabiting a limited space, which also is trying to adapt to the progress in the worldly sense, it often screams of a chaos. But what meaning does peace hold without experiencing chaos? Who has even found his way without choosing some wrong paths first? And there was no one who attended salvation before unlearning all that was assumed true. Therein lies the soul of Varanasi, Benaras or Kashi.

Welcome to Varanasi, it is a world where you can lose yourself, physically and metaphorically, to the endless trips of all pleasures of life – sight, food, pleasure, love, lust, pain, injury, salvation and realization, that the answers lie within us. If a city from 11th century B.C. with its 2000 odd temples and the ghats that date to the period as old as humanity can cohabit its relics along with developing its new temples of modern times – of education, entertainment and employment, there is nothing that stops us from being what we want to be, without losing what we are.

Before I take the plunge

Before I take the plunge

Along the edge of a beautiful shore I sit

And play around with anticipation and excitement

Of the mystery that lies ahead, of the palpable vibrations in each breath

On the side of an ocean of endless possibilities and unfathomable depth

A few steps before I crossover, from one side of lighted charades

To the other of serene and monochromic shades

With the apparent calmness of the surface

Broken intermittently by the incessant waves

Which try relentlessly, albeit less vehemently to cross over again

But are stopped by an invisible pull to be contained and content

Only the content never seems to lack in passion

A strange palette of poise, passion, rebel and subversion

What is it, that makes it an enchanting, an irresistible invite, I wonder

And a breeze just caresses my face with a sprinkle of the sea

And hints of your voice, your touch and your being

The waves calm down, return to the sea

The shores suddenly are more enticing

Can’t wait to take the plunge, to discover and dive

Let’s begin, together what they call is a beautiful life!

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You

Once upon a time

In days of adolescence and thoughts so pure

Asked a question to myself, my version of yore

Who is she, the one of your dreams, the one for you?

A name, a picture or a thought out of the blue

The answer, it is here, through life and years

Through exploring myself and growing in layers

 

She is,

This painting of perfect colors

All my imaginations, dreams and fantasies

All my aspirations, hopes and necessities

Every little detail of my vivid desires

Rolled into one, and filled with ice and fires

 

She is,

The perfect poise to my chaos

The sonorous noise to my silences

The seamless rationale to my biases

An easy foil to my follies

A breezy cure to my pain

And an easy allure to a new world.

A world with her

That of unparalleled addiction, of reality and imagination

Of being with her, of feeling her touch

On my body and my soul

Of being with her, in parts and in whole

 

She is,

An imagination blending into reality

Off late, a clear picture of thoughts with a name

A voice, an opinion, a being and a face so pretty

Like the dawn of a morning with drops of dew

I think of all this, and love sprouts out of the blue

She is, need I say, my own precious You.

 

 

Let’s talk about rape

A few days ago while hosting a game of Tambola (housie) in the customary fun segment of an engagement event, as I announced – King’s corner: first and last numbers of top row; and queen’s corner: first and last numbers of the bottom row, something suddenly hit me. I stopped and re-defined the prizes – top row as the Queen’s corner and bottom one as the King’s corner, much to the amusement of my audience. Too much of symbolism here, and it doesn’t even qualify as a token gesture towards a cause; but what it stirred in me was a stream of thoughts, about the casual ways in which we perceive and propagate the gender (in)equality norms.

Rape, as has been often repeated (and cannot ever be overemphasized), is not about sex. It is about a gravely misplaced sense of power, superiority and control – over the other gender. Prima facie, and undeniably so, people who commit such acts are in themselves particularly vicious. But at the same time, as a civilization we need to analyze the roots of that sense of power, superiority, control and inequality. A society is like a person in the way its ethos and values manifest themselves and grow with time. In its collective view of people, issues, ideas it forms a certain set of beliefs and morals. These, when averaged over time intervals emerge as the accepted societal norms, which are not easy to change. These norms get so deeply ingrained in each and every aspect of the society, that we get accustomed to them as the normal way of life. This, my friends, is nothing but culture – something which we as Human Resource professionals obsess with day in and out, and for all the right reasons. In an organization, we define culture as the inherent values, practices and the way of doing things; for a society culture defines the way things happen. Rape – a grave offence against humanity, may not be directly linked to such token gestures, but this and various other components of the culture are responsible for nurturing and breeding a mindset which when combined with a lack of human spirit, manifests itself in ugly forms such as rape. So, when I talk of rape and how to sensitize our society to it and prevent any such occurring, I look at rebuilding the culture, carefully modifying, monitoring and developing a culture of equality everywhere – in my home, in my workplace and in my mind.

A casual glance at any aspect of society (not specific to ours) will yield clear observations – of how a subtle dominance of a gender has been hinted at. Workplaces are no exceptions, since they are more or less a simulation of the larger society we live in, just that in most cases our consideration set gets limited to the supposedly privileged set of people – educated and intellectuals. But does that mean they are devoid of such biases? Not really.

From the symbolism inherent in naming certain positions as male by default (e.g. chairman), to designing work spaces and practices without taking consideration of the comfort of both the genders, it exists. In all those times, where a woman riding high on the corporate ladder is often doubted upon, or the success is attributed to her gender, it exists. Things are changing, but is that change widespread? Can that change be attributed internally to our conscious or is it just something we are expected to do? As the answers to these questions will reveal, a lot is still left to be done. As the architect of the workplace policies and processes, it is on us to ensure the intent behind them is right, and more importantly, they are not seen as a favor or a benefit but a very natural part of an organic ecosystem. Every time, while looking for a suitable candidate for a job we come across this line – this work isn’t suitable for a woman – the bias persists. Instead of taking into account this apparent fitment, why can’t our efforts be directed towards making the work conditions suitable for everyone? This is where again, the external (to workplace) society comes into picture, where sadly the bias exists to a greater extent. It is right there, when we tell young boys not to ‘cry like a girl’, or when we complement our daughters by calling them ‘son of the house’. It is right there when we associate courage with ‘having balls’, and it is glaringly and disgustingly out there when we define a victory or failure as ‘raped/got raped’. It is right there when our movies translate rape into ‘losing honor’ (izzat lootna), and propagate victim shaming without a thought. This casual sexism, is in fact so deeply ingrained in most aspects of our society that it is mostly passed off as the norm and becomes acceptable. This affects most the workplaces which are not as regulated or sophisticated – the unorganized sector. But no, none of these are why rapes happen exactly. As said earlier, it an act of an unfit and disfigured mind, but all these aspects of the culture do feed that mind. That’s exactly where we need to begin the change.

Yes, we must talk about rape. But before that, we must wake up and shake away this delusion that we are not a part of this problem. We must, as professionals, as citizens, as parents, as students and most importantly as humans – take a conscious call to redesign the culture of the society we live in. It doesn’t really require much of us – just the belief in the cause will do for starters. We must talk about equality and act on it – in our life decisions, of marriage, of children, of career and sharing responsibilities, credits and even blames. We must tell our young generations in no uncertain terms what equality is, how it should manifest itself in their day to day activities – from sharing their food, toys, books to respecting each other’s choices, bodies and consent. We must teach our girls, but before that convince ourselves that women (or for that matter, men) don’t ‘have to’ be a certain way, they can be who and what they want for themselves.

Let’s take this as a project – perhaps the most important one ever – to remove this menace from the very root. As the flagbearers of culture, we have to make a start, right now – in our workplaces, in our homes, in our families, but most importantly, in ourselves.

Valentine’s Day

…ke aisa beparwaaah man pehle to na tha….

Valentine’s Day music, colors and vibes greeted him everywhere on his way to work. He was still a good half an hour away from the place but his thoughts had already reached there, although in a different time. The first time he had seen her, it took him a few seconds but he did realize that there was something special about her. Something that would make him turn and look at her again. Not that she was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen, nor was she that sorts of attractive whom everyone would declare as the office (or college) hottie right away. Yet, the manner in which she said – thanks, I hope you have a good time here, made his heart skip a beat. It could have been her name, that of a former beauty queen, bollywood star and his childhood favorite. It could have been those expressions galore on her face which made her eyes have a life of her own, or the slender face on which a couple of long stresses were always there, or her slim frame, or the melodious voice which had so much poise that even in the noise of surroundings it could make one feel calm and had a soothing effect in his heart, or the hesitant, half fulfilled smile on her lips which looked just about ready to break into a heartfelt laughter- it could have been anything.

In next few days, as much as he tried not to let that feeling grow, his heart couldn’t care more. They met, got along well and whether due to only ease of access and suitability, many lunches, tea and dinner happened together. Meanwhile, her best friend, also his colleague in office, probably discharging the duties of a best friend told him to not even think of her as she had someone since many years and they would be getting married soon. He laughed it away, though a little part of him did tell him to stop right there and inhibit himself, the moment he saw her all the caution was replaced by pure happiness, and gave way to smooth flowing conversations. Soon there were many more lunches, coffee and dinners. He started adjusting his work timings so that they could leave together and spend time in the metro.

The train of thoughts halted abruptly, he was already in his office. Only last day he got to know she was getting engaged and that news had once again opened a trail of thoughts in his mind, and he could not decide where and when he needed to stop. The songs playing at the reception were all talking of feeling the love, soaking him in its fragrance. He walked towards his seat, on the way she said hello and smiled at him. In a moment his heart uplifted and a warmth spread through him and all he could feel was a pure positive energy. Through the chit-chat, office gossips and lunch and advices, what remained throughout the day was the palpable feeling of attraction that he felt and how buoyant it made him feel.

He walked out of the train that day happy and upbeat, with the music slowing down.

… deewana hua badal, le pyaar me angdaai…

He was happy, in the least mindful of ways he could ever be. A happiness which didn’t expect anything in return, a happiness of a feeling, of love, of having found an experience which could make his heart dance with joy and lips wide with a smile. It was happy Valentine’s day!

 

Delhi, my friend

It’s a belief I have held for long now – cities are like people. With both, you tend to lose objectivity in your feelings and start viewing them through the lenses of experiences you have had and memories you created with them. More often than not, it starts with a sense of uncomfortable unfamiliarity, progresses with moments of intense dislike and regret and gradually with time you begin to know them, accept them with all their flaws and eventually develop a relationship which is deeper than what objectivity can perceive. So, if Varanasi has been that family member for me which I have just known to love always in that cocooned sense of comfort and ownership, Pilani and Jamshedpur have been those growing up companions with whom I grew up, learnt about what it means to grow up and come out of that protective shell.

Delhi, on the other hand, over a period of time (3 years, and more) has become like that close friend, who you might find many flaws with, constantly crib about yet develop a deep sense of affection and a sense of belonging. From the tall towers of Noida – Ghaziabad, to the affable and loud neighborhood of Patel Nagar, to the superficial posh of the South Delhi to the glitzy shine of the Millennium city Gurgaon with a dark underbelly, all of them seem familiar now. Few years back, it was this big halt on the way to my college and my eyes would never get tired of staring at the tall buildings, wide roads, curvy flyovers and the metro in construction. Even today, the magic remains intact – only with higher intensity and with a mixture of many other emotions. The wide roads which would seem like the route to a different world altogether, today after 3000 kms of biking on them seem like my own companion who share the joy of the wind blowing on my face leaving the metropolis behind. The flyovers which teased me with their twists and curves and rise and fall take me along with them in their joyride. The metro which seemed to be digging a whole new world into the future now seems like a way of life, no more than taking a rickshaw back in the towns of hinterland. The pubs and bars with their edgy lights and sounds seemed alien now embrace me with all the warmth- mostly of the memories of good times. You don’t really belong to a city unless you know its ways, its lanes and roads and getting across it. The joy which I feel on covering the width and length of the NCR on 2 wheels is something which will always fill my heart with a warm feeling, and a belief that yes I know this city, I know its roads.

Delhi is not just another city, it is actually a combination of many of them, each with a different flavor of its own. Like a giant beast with many limbs, it goes on expanding ever and not always in dignified proportions, often out of sync with each other and resulting in case when it grows so big that one part does not know about the other. Noida and Ghaziabad – with its mixed contours of UP and sprinkling of the metropolis, offer a comfort the kind of which you get from meeting a person from your hometown in a new place. Greater Noida is all that, only in a much more beautiful, planned and evolved way, mostly due to lack of the population. The connecting link – The Expressway will always remain the first love of my bike, and the memories we share their together will be precious. Gurgaon, (no, not Gurgram) a living metaphor of the classic Indian metro planning (i.e. a disaster) is a different breed altogether – with its super posh and rich skyline, drinking addas and of course that place called Cyber Hub. Delhi, of course the center of it all (literally and figuratively) remains that heady cocktail of political storms, bits of history round every corner and the origin of all things big in the country. Move beyond the borders to the interior and you find a city of civilization in process and in construction co-existing together

And that is something which is common to all part of this monster called the National Capital Region – construction. As if the capital wants to stand as a metaphor to the ever growing dreams of the Indian populace, it is since time immemorial (at least in my life time) has always been a work in progress. Large stretches of lands in Noida and Gurgaon offer a scenic (in a weird way) views of towers getting erected one floor above the other, one tower behind the other. Before the roads and people kick in, there is this whole another world of slums of the construction workers and their families which inhabit it, and a few years later the same places are inhabited by the people who occupy the other end of the divide of the society. Some areas just seem perpetually under construction, with the ever changing demographics of the NCR. As if along with my personal growth, the mega city also grows, and both of us still struggling to identify if this is the point to stop, or if all went right.

It seems alright though, both the city and the time spent here. The single required and sufficient evidence for that is the pain that I feel as I move on, and the wonderful people and memories I share with them, and the roads, the metro, the malls, flyovers and all things which shape and define the city. This city has given me a lot – in material, emotional and financial all terms, but as I leave, I leave a part of my soul behind. A part which will always care about the status of that proposed tram network in Chandni Chowk, the trial runs of the Jama Masjid metro line, the launch of new luxury townships in Sohna Road, the Noida-Greater Noida Metro line, the taxi-pods of Manesar-Gurgaon, the happy hours at CP, the new stores and skiing zone in the Mall of India and the pollution levels in the air. Even though I might live somewhere else, love someplace else, and objectively find some other place better, the time spent here and my relationship is with Delhi will remain the same. For all your flaws, Delhi you have been a great friend, and a friend for lifetime for sure. Until we meet next, keep growing!

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Udta Punjab -Stunning, hard-hitting and an absolute high!

* * * 1/2

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Alright, so this is a brilliant work by Kashyap and co, though it makes you uncomfortable and concerned about more than one cause.

  • The problem that the movie very effectively portrays – that of drug menace in Punjab. Reading about it print is different from watching it unfold in front of you, and the movie makes you very uncomfortable about the situation in the state. But more than anything, it makes you aware (and in a much better way than those anti-smoking ads before the movie) of how substance abuse is injurious to health and life!
  • The problem that the movie inadvertently drew attention of the country towards – the actions and logic (or lack of it) behind them of CBFC, voiced by our very own Mr. Nihlani. It is strange to think that someone could perceive this movie as promoting substance abuse, verbal abuse or defaming Punjab. This shamefully points towards a severe handicap in artistic understanding, or worse, a political hidden agenda.

Abhishek Chaubey, who already impressed the critics and audience with his Ishqiya franchise, ups the ante here and succeeds in giving the audience a film which is cool, fun, entertaining, explicit, bold, socially relevant, and technically brilliant without ever being preachy. Despite having easy temptation to fall into the trap, the movie not for a single moment glamorizes drugs and that is a major achievement. Yes, there is a lot of cussing but nothing seems unjustified or out of the place given the characters and their milieu. Infact one shudders to think what the CBFC would have made of the movie if the makers hadn’t gone to the court.

The film tells the stories of 4 characters in a drug laden Punjab. Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is a coke snorting rockstar idolized by many in the state, Sartaj (Diljit Dosanh) a cop living in cartels with the drug mafia and police until his own family gets affected by it, Preet (Kareena Kapoor) a doctor and drug rehabilitation worker who along with Sartaj tries to fight the problem, and an unnamed Bihari migrant worker (Alia Bhatt) whose encounters with the powder lead her places,  not all being the ones where she’d have wanted to. Though all the performances are good, stars of the show are definitely Alia and Shahid (arguably, in that order). Alia Bhatt has to be seen to be believed. The way she has modified herself completely- right from accent to body language, she is a revelation. Hats off to the young actor, she is no more a student, rather actor of the year! Shahid Kapoor excels once again his role, bringing alive both the madness and humane side of the rockstar. Diljit makes an impressive debut and is very likable. Amit Trivedi scores big again, and the way music has been integrated into the script is commendable. The abuse-laden dialogues are as real as they get hence are effective in conveying the intent of the story.

To nitpick, the first half cold have been a bit more clear, the deliberate steps to say ‘’drugs are bad’’ often come into the way of story-telling. Also, a particular sequence in the end seems to be a deliberate attempt to take the story in a certain direction instead of flowing free and organically. But even with these, Udta Punjab scores high, scales new heights and makes you care for the characters, people and the beautiful state in a strong way.  Go watch it, not to be missed at any cost!

Wanderlust

Amidst days of mundaneness

Through nights of restlessness

A wave of pulsating thoughts

A flash of craving, of images of wilderness

I am gripped by this sudden surge

Of breaking free, of forgetting fears, of forging a fable

Of giving in to this feeling

This feeling of living a dream,

A dream which was lived through

A fable which is real, only it doesn’t seem so

Even the mortal evidences seem to lie

That feeling that sensation continues to weaken

The images in mind and in physics keep blurring

And the craving gets stronger

To break this mundane routine and revisit the dream

To relive the wanderlust

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Memories

10th May 2012

I am reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. It is the kind of read which has a slow but moving impact on the conscious. There is a certain weird sense of excitement mixed with a hint of sadness. The constantly changing dials of time leaves you with a certain sense of melancholy, stillness, of being stationery while everything else is moving in time and space.

If I could travel in time, I would perhaps go back to a sleepy summer morning of an early 2000, the time when responsibilities meant finishing the homework and fear meant being grounded in the evening for the previous evening’s wrongdoings. I would probably hide myself in one of the numerous attics of that old, small ancestral home and watch myself enter the place, all excited and happy about being in the ‘’big’’ city, Varanasi. The big city of Banaras offered so many luxuries which my sleepy little town of Sultanpur didn’t. There were fewer hours of powercut; there were better places to eat, and there was actually a building with a lift in it. There was the second channel on TV – DD Metro, which broadcasted soaps like Kundli, Kalash and the most awaited of them all – Kabhi Sautan Kabhi Saheli. As the 11 year old me would update myself of all the happenings from my cousins, in the attic I would watch and laugh at the absurdity of it, and think of watching Youtube clips of some of those shows.

I would probably come out of the attic on her sight- Dadi (my grandmother). But then would stop myself remembering that she was a heart patient, and then I would perhaps suffice myself only with the sight of an 11 year old me eating from her hands, and hiding my face in her lap if she tried to make me eat the lauki ki sabzi. Then I would watch her walk to the washbasin, with the little me holding her hand. As she would pass through the perennially accumulated pool of water , I would definitely jump down from the attic to stop her, only to remember that it would be two years later when that water would make her rest on the bed forever. And the helplessness, sheer futility of my being there would make me cry, perhaps.

I would like to sit in the small window, (which opened to a vast playground, full of people, and trees, and cows, and dogs) hidden behind the curtain, in the breaking hours of dawn, and watch Baba (my grandfather) wake me up forcibly as I pull my sheets higher and higher, and him never giving up in his efforts despite the disapproving looks from Dadi lying in her bed. And 5mins later, would follow Baba and myself in the narrow lanes of Banaras, as we set off for our morning dose of fresh, healthy air. A group of cows would approach, lost in their own paradise, and seeing the scared look on my face, I would try to tow them away, but Baba would already be there. Now both of me (s) would be equally excited on seeing that beautiful little temple outside the Sanskrit University Gate. The 12 year old me, because the road was so wide there, and the median was decorated with plants and designs, and it felt an achievement to stand there; and the 22 year old me because of seeing that temple after years, and with the knowledge that it was the temple where ‘Ganga’ in Ram teri Ganga Maili stays in the movie, and that would most probably bring to my mind the picture of a white saree clad Mandakini under the waterfall, and I would shake away the feeling disapprovingly with guilt.

Now there would be no point of hiding, with the hoards of people jogging away their morning blues in the lush green campus of the university. I would try to decipher the hymns which Baba always chants, but his voice would get lost in the temple bells, chirping of birds, and bhajans playing in the Shiv temple in vicinity.

Perhaps sensing my fatigue, Baba would ask me to go rest in the temple while he completed his rounds of ‘vyayam’. Then I would be confused where to go- with him or with me. I’d probably stop with myself, on the opposite side of the pillar, with shoulders back to back. I would try to listen to my thoughts, to know what was I thinking at that moment. Perhaps about the jalebi-samosa that Baba would get my on the way back, or the breakfast that Mummy would be cooking at home, or the Chutti-Chutti episode of last day, and praying to Shiv ji  that there is no power cut at that time.

And then our stomachs would grumble. Some things stay the same over years, and the bowel motion is one nasty little such thing. While I would prefer travelling back to my time, the little me would cling to Baba as he appears and in a very nonchalant manner, and brings a bottle full of water and directs me to an empty space guarded by shrubs. I would run, holding my belly tight.

And I too, would move back to my time, to avoid the sight, and the overwhelming power of memories. Will it make me happy that it was, or will it make me sad that it is not, is something I do not know. Such is the nature of memories, intriguing.