I AM NOT A FREE INDIAN

Independent India – the Unfreedom within…

70 years and counting… India… Bharath… Hindustan… whatever we would like to call our nation, we are blessed to be living in a country, which isn’t under foreign or alien oppression. Freedom to be our own, Freedom that gives us a sense of belonging, Freedom that lets believe in cultures as diverse as chalk and cheese, Freedom that has no boundaries attached, Freedom that pushes to bridge the gap between classes, be it economic or social, and above all Freedom to be a part of and experience the greatness of this country.

But only just.

I have my reservations on the freedom that seems farcical and superficial on the face of it. Behind the façade lies the reality of the India we meet and encounter every day. This brings me to a question that has haunted me ever since I started to understand the true essence of Freedom.

‘As an Indian citizen, am I really free?’

70 years to the day when the British reluctantly withdrew their stranglehold over India, they left behind a nation with humongous potential. Had the potential been channelized in the right direction through competent administration and governance, we wouldn’t be negotiating with China over Doklam – we would have been dictating terms. We have been preoccupied with inconsequential and trivial issues and have failed to look at the larger picture, which is ultimately painted by the myriad of concerns plaguing true freedom and independence. Or we probably do not want to look at the real concerns – for reasons we all are aware of.

For the moment, let external conflicts remain external. Look within and take a deep breath. Do you feel overwhelmed by a sense of fear – a fear that has progressively and exponentially grown as we celebrate our nation’s independence each year with increased fervor? I cannot be a free citizen when my mind is clouded and dominated by forces within my country. I might be free from geographical foreign oppression, but the definition of freedom is way beyond the head of the state being a foreign national – it encapsulates a broader context both individually and collectively. Subconsciously and unbeknown to each of us, we do live our lives in fear and this fear is the antithesis of the real freedom in its truest form.

I am not referring to freedom in a utopian state – hell, we would need a million Bapus and Kalams to even envisage the thought of a utopian Indian state. But I dream of freedom, which does not prevent me from being free in mind and thought – a freedom which knows no fear.

Why does my sister have to fear venturing out of her home?

Why do I have to fear when my sister has ventured out of our home?

Why do I have to constantly check on my sister when she has ventured out of her home?

Why do I have to fear the system which will shame my sister should an untoward incident happen?

Why do I have to fear for little girl kids on the streets, who are unaware of the ways of the men they are surrounded by?

Women, girls and kids in Independent India live with this constant fear. This fear has become a part of my life and it is surprising that I am living with it. And this anxiety shouldn’t be read in isolation – I fear voicing my opinion on public forums, I fear what I eat, I feel angst when the national anthem is played, I fear natural resources giving way to concrete structures for political and financial gains, I fear this… I fear that… I fear and fear and fear.

Living in fear does not mean I do not value my independence, my sense of existence. I have the highest regards for the martyrs of the independence struggle. I bow down and salute each Indian who fought for India’s Independence and gifted me a life in free India. But I wish and pray they wouldn’t see what we have reduced ourselves to. I bow down and salute each Indian who still protects me from external forces. I wish and pray they continue to have the fortitude to withstand internal conflict. I truly owe my existence to those who stand by me and stand ahead of me in protecting my independence.

But with deep regret I have to say, I do not feel free. I am ravaged by intrinsic conflicts, which have reduced my freedom to patriotic speeches and waving of the national flag as a sign of patriotism and freedom.

Even as we were unfurling the national flag across the country today, a 12 year old girl was being subjected to the painful ordeal of fighting her demons. This is not the freedom I envisaged. This is not the freedom we should be proud of.

The fear within has to be washed away, just as waves gradually die at sea shores. But we are not meant to die at the shore. We are meant to live free, in mind, body and soul. We have achieved Independence as a nation. We now have a long way to go to achieve Freedom.

As Tagore says…

‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Into that heaven of freedom my father, let my country awake’

 

Into that heaven of freedom my father, let my countrymen awake.

 

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A NIGHTMARISH DELUSION

 

Maya experienced a fetid feeling – extremely filthy to its core, as her peripheral vision witnessed a traumatic scene. Standing behind the window overlooking the lawn, she stretched her neck to get a peek of the scene playing out on a bench in the lawn. As much as she didn’t want to believe the shocker she was witnessing, Maya almost cried at the sight of it. Rahul was seated on the bench, while a girl was lying on it with her head on Rahul’s lap. A vague image of a white frock and blue top was all Maya could see. As she tried to get a better glimpse of the girl, Maya saw Rahul bend down and do something.

Maya tore her hair in disgust as she tried to comprehend Rahul’s actions. ‘Did he just kiss her? Was Rahul making out with her?’ Questions flashed across her mind as she tried to come to terms with Rahul’s actions. ‘Why are you doing this to me Rahul? I have been so good to you and have loved you with all my heart. Is this what you give me in return?’  Her conscience hounded her relentlessly, and she couldn’t cope with the pain and screamed out in fear, perspiring and panting strenuously.

Struggling to hold her breath, Maya suddenly realized she had been dreaming and woke up with a start. She stared at the darkness that enveloped her and didn’t see either the lawn or the bench. Still perspiring, she swirled to her left and noticed that Rahul was fast asleep under the quilt.

Depressing thoughts clouded Maya’s mind as she tried to calm herself and go back to sleep. For obvious reasons, she couldn’t do so. Though it was only a dream, she had conspired against Rahul and doubted his integrity. Until she dreamt this terrible dream, her thoughts on Rahul always bordered along the lines of happy, romantic, caring and a best friend. What was it that caused her subconscious to show her something that she never imagined?

Driven down the road to madness, and feeling pathetically guilty, Maya rose from the bed and after a brief struggle through the darkness, reached the lawn. She sat on THE bench and immediately her heart shattered into tiny fragments as guilt seeped through each vein of her. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she couldn’t bring herself to accept the fact that she had a filthy dream about her husband. She wept.

 

“Maya… Maya.” Maya heard Rahul’s voice and forced herself to wake up. She rubbed her eyes and responded in an unsteady tone.

“Huh… Good morning Rahul.”

“How did you land up on this bench? What happened last night?”

Maya sat upright and opened her mouth to say something, when she abruptly rose from the bench and exhibited strange behaviour, uncharacteristic of her. THE bench came back to haunt her and she wanted to get away from it.

“What happened Maya? Are you alright?” Rahul prodded again.

“Ya… Yeah. I am fine.” Maya lied, waving away Rahul’s concerned touch. For apparent reasons, she couldn’t mention her current plight to Rahul.

Post breakfast, after seeing Rahul off to office, Maya reasoned with herself that she had to get the adulterated dream out of her system. Rahul had pleaded with Maya to speak up in the morning, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. A couple of hours later, Maya realized that pragmatism was the best way forward. It was only a dream and she didn’t have control over what she dreamt. She began to breathe easy when she made peace with her realization. But she wanted to confide in Rahul.

Maya decided to meet Rahul for lunch at the food-court in his office premises. On reaching the food-court, she sat herself at a table and pulled out her phone from her bag. Just as she unlocked her phone, she heard a familiar voice call out her name.

“Hey Maya.”

“Hi Sanjay.” Maya struggled to fake her countenance, though she was extremely happy to meet Sanjay, Rahul’s long-time colleague and a mutual friend.

“It has been a while since we met. How have you been?” Sanjay asked with genuine concern and sat on the chair opposite Maya.

“I’m good. How are you doing?” Maya responded and she was surprised she was smiling.

“Everything is great at my end. My wife though complains about the lack of our get-togethers.” Sanjay said and winked, drawing a smile from Maya. On cue, Maya’s face lit up. She realized that it had been a while since she had been on a trip with her friends. She almost forgot about her terrible dream as she returned to being chirpy in Sanjay’s company.

“I am dying to get out of here – to someplace far away. Let me discuss with Rahul and the four of us can come up with a plan.” Maya spoke in an excited tone.

“Sounds good. I am up for it.”

“So… what brings you here? Sanjay asked inquisitively.

“Oh… yeah… I almost forgot. There is something I need to discuss with Rahul – something about a dream I had last night.” Maya sounded sarcastically quirky as she spoke and winked at Sanjay. All Sanjay could do was look quizzically at Maya.

“There he is.” Sanjay looked around for a moment and pointed in the direction of the table at which Rahul was seated.

As soon as Maya spotted Rahul, her mood changed dramatically. Rahul was seen to be making strange gestures at the woman who sat opposite him. The woman’s hair fell on her right shoulder, thus concealing her face. But something else struck Maya and she froze at the sight of it. The woman wore a blue top and a white frock.

“Who… who is that lady sitting opposite Rahul?” Maya chocked on her words. Even as she spoke she saw that the woman playfully showed her middle finger to Rahul, who winked and nodded, as if in agreement with what the woman indicated.

“She was recruited recently and works with Rahul.” Sanjay replied nonchalantly.

Maya turned red with rage at the chemistry brewing between Rahul and the girl. The terrifying dream she had last night came back to haunt her. The girl in her dream too wore a blue top and a white frock. ‘Could there be any connection between the dream-girl and the one seated at the table?’ Maya asked herself, but got no answers in return.

The woman was now seen extending her left hand to Rahul and then immediately withdrawing it the moment Rahul tried to grab her hand. Even as Sanjay stood beside Maya laughing at Rahul’s plight, Maya was boiling with anger. She stared at Sanjay.

“What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?” Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.

Sanjay knew that she was serious. “Look Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.”

“Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay…” she rolled her eyes in disgust. “That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.

Healthy flirting is a term introduced by men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.” She got up from her chair and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, “Is Rahul cheating on me? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?”

“You are reading too much into what is happening at that table. Relax Maya, there is nothing going on between Rahul and that woman.”

Maya’s heart didn’t listen to a word Sanjay said as she stormed to the table where Rahul was seated. Sanjay got up from his chair and rushed behind Maya.

“Rahul, what the hell is going on between the two of you?” Maya banged her fist on the table and let out a wild scream.

Caught off-guard, Rahul froze when he saw Maya, as the blood drained from his face.

“She is… she is my… my colleague.” Rahul struggled to put words together due to the fear that had overtaken him. A drop of sweat formed on his left eyebrow and fell to the floor.

“You were hitting on her, Rahul. Is this how you socialize with your colleagues?” Maya roared in anger. She didn’t bother to confront the woman, who now wore a rather perplexed look.

Rahul tried to say something, but words wouldn’t come out of his mouth.

“Are you having an affair with her?” Maya growled but received no response.

“Answer me, Rahul. What is going on between the two of you?”

“God damn it, speak up.”

“Answer me, will you?”

 

“Maya… Maya… what happened? Are you alright?” A perspiring Maya was woken up from her terrified sleep state by Rahul.

“Huh… Yeah… Ya.” Maya responded, seeming extremely disoriented.

Rahul placed Maya’s head on his lap and gently stroked her head. “It was just a dream baby. Everything is alright.” Rahul tried his best to reassure Maya.

Maya looked dazed and petrified. Her heart was pounding due to a wretched and remorseful fear. Two days in a row, the same girl in blue and white gave her nightmarish dreams that even her subconscious wasn’t able to let go. A terrible sense of apathy engulfed her and she felt absolutely gutted. Muddled inside her head, Maya wanted to clear her cluttered mind and try and find a way around her insidious dreams.

“Maya baby, are you feeling better now?” Rahul’s anxious tone broke Maya’s contemplative reverie. “Yeah, am feeling better.” She lied again.

Maya decided to seek help from a counsellor. She had to let out the weight of emotions residing in her heart by sharing her traumatic nightmares with someone. She didn’t have the heart to talk to Rahul about her plight, not when she was dreaming terrible things about him. She had to get rid of her dreams and a counsellor would definitely be of help.

Maya reached the venue specified by the Counsellor and registered her details at the reception. The receptionist smiled and asked her to be seated. When Maya turned around, she almost collapsed and fell to the floor. Her head seemed to swirl around in a convoluted path as her world came crashing down. She felt her insides churn as she struggled to cope with the sight in front of her. The same girl who tormented her in her dreams was seated on a chair in the reception. The girl wore the same blue top and white frock, which seemed eerily scary and frightening. Though her dreams hadn’t given her a clear picture of the tormentors face, Maya had an uncanny feeling that the girl’s face was exactly the same as the face of the girl who traumatized her dreams. Terrified by fear, she couldn’t comprehend how the image of the girl’s face registered in her mind. She was on the verge of passing out, when the receptionist noticed her plight and helped her to a chair and some water.

On regaining her senses, Maya’s shivering body turned around to face her nemesis. Just as she opened her mouth to get answers to her questions from the girl, Rahul walked out of the counsellor’s room. The moment Maya saw Rahul, the world under her feet crashed open and sucked her deep into its inner core. It seemed to Maya that all forces in the universe were combining to conspire against her.

“Ra… Rahul… what… what are you doing here?” The anxiety was palpable in Maya’s voice.

If Maya was reeling under a guilty fear, Rahul was torn between a deep angst and a jittery indiscretion that shredded him to bits. Apparently, his jaw dropped and a stinging sensation reverberated through his body. The girl in blue and white stared at Maya as if to indicate that Maya was intruding into Rahul’s personal space.

“I… am… no… came… I… came…” A frozen Rahul struggled to get the words out of his mouth.

“Is this girl with you?” Maya tried her best to be authoritative.

“I… came… we… came to help… to get help.”

“We came to get help? What do you mean by we came to get help?”

Maya didn’t receive any response from Rahul, who was staring at the floor, unable to meet Maya’s eyes.

“Have you been cheating on me, Rahul? Have you been sleeping around?”

“Answer me. Are you having an affair with this girl?”

“Please speak up. Tell me what is going on in your life.”

“Who is this girl with you? Who is she?”

“Tell me… please… tell me…” Maya drifted into a monologue as there was no response from the other side.

 

“Maya… Maya… are you okay?” Maya was woken up by a chorus that seemed to resonate with a voice from her subconscious.

“Maya… Baby… are you alright.” Rahul cajoled Maya and brought her back to the real world. A visibly shaken Maya was sweating profusely even as she struggled to open her eyes.

Smeared images of three to four people around her registered in Maya’s mind as she tried to make sense of her surroundings.

“It… it was a bad dream.” Maya spoke gingerly and looked around to see Rahul, Sanjay, Sanjay’s wife and… and her dream.

Maya screamed in fear and jumped out of her bed. “Who… who is she?” She shrieked and pointed at THE GIRL. The blue top was the same; the white frock was a steal from her dream. Maya looked at the girl’s face and kept staring at it in dismay. It was THE GIRL who caused her recurring nightmares. Maya was on the verge of collapsing as she couldn’t comprehend the dreamy reality of her presence.

“Maya… relax baby.” A concerned Rahul spoke out.

“Who… is she?” In a very uncourteous tone, Maya reiterated her question.

“Her name is Jesse. She is my colleague at office.” Rahul replied matter-of-factly.

Maya looked on, open-mouthed and gaped at Jesse. ‘Am I still dreaming, or is this for real?’

A life-less Maya was shaken to life by Rahul. “Maya are you alright? You slept for 15 hours straight. Did you see a bad dream?”

Maya slapped herself to make sure she wasn’t in another dream. A forlorn look into emptiness ensued.

“I had a dream… a recurring dream.” Maya spoke in an unequivocal tone.

What Maya said next, turned the entire room upside down. Four jaw-dropping faces starred at her.

“I saw that Rahul was having an affair with another girl. The girl… The girl wore a blue top… a white frock… and… had a mole below her lower lip.”

Rahul, Sanjay and Sanjay’s wife turned in unison and looked at Jesse.

Jesse wore a blue top, a white frock and the mole below her lower lip was distinctly visible.

 

Move over Impersonators. The Real Deal is here – Dipa Karmakar

There are inspirational real life heroes; and then there is Dipa Karmakar – a story beyond the realms of what we call legendary in modern day sport and life in general.

 

I overheard a couple of colleagues at work talk about Sonam Kapoor – her fashion quotient and how she inspires them to dress appropriately. One of them even went to the extent of creating an immortal figure out of practically nothing. To wax eloquence over clothes, dresses and their vagaries and idolize models who don such outfits as a lifestyle choice speaks of a shallow mind. The ladies’ personal opinion didn’t allow me to take offense to the said fact initially, but I was peeved when Sonam Kapoor was spoken of as a role model, as a hero to be idolized. I had to intervene.

‘I overheard your conversation and I am sorry for that, or probably not. I have something to say on the subject.’ I got a ‘buzz off jerk’ look from the aspiring models. But I was in no mood to step back.

‘Sonam Kapoor happens to be your idol, your hero whom look up to, isn’t it?’ I threw my question to the open floor.

“Yes, so what?’

‘Why do you idolize her? Why do you think she is your hero?’

There was a momentary hesitation and my assumption was right. The two of them had no answers. They had never asked this question to themselves. I now awaited their fabricated response.

‘She… she is a good actor… and… and more importantly, she dresses really well.

‘Besides what you said, what is her credibility to be idolized?’

There was silence and my apprehensions were proved right. My colleagues weren’t sure why they idolized Sonam Kapoor.

‘You have no answers, do you?’ I said and took a chair opposite them, as an air of authority hovered over my head.

‘Why… why does it matter to you? I am entitled to my opinion.’ I heard a stuttered voice as I sat on the chair.

‘Absolutely. I am only offended by your frivolous ideology… if you can call it that, because an ideology requires foresight and you cannot seem to look beyond somebody’s dress.’ I shot back and received a puzzled look that seemed inadvertently resigned.

‘Sonam Kapoor was born with truck-loads of money stashed in her pockets. Getting into films and multiplying the number of those trucks has been a walk in the park for her, given her career’s apparent inevitability. She was a popular figure since she was born and hardly had to break a sweat to enhance her popularity. Her fashion sense that you eloquently wax about is a by-product of the wealth she has at her disposal. Had you or I been as fortunate with wealth, we too could have explored the possibilities of being on the covers of fashion magazines.’ I paused to take a breath even as I exploded into a long monologue. The ladies looked at me with scornful eyes, but could not connect their minds with a like response.

‘Coming back to my question, why do you idolize Sonam Kapoor?’

I didn’t receive any response yet again.

‘Let me give you reasons to disprove your idolization.’ I said, my tone now complaisant from what it was a moment ago.

‘Sonam Kapoor impersonates characters on screen. There are real-life heroes and there are reel-life heroes. You, me or any tom, dick and harry can impersonate characters on screen. I doubt you would have heard of Neerja Bhanot prior to the film Neerja’s release, yet after the film came to the forefront, Sonam Kapoor walked away with all the accolades. For what? For portraying Neerja Bhanot on screen. And few months down the line, the real Neerja has faded into oblivion and the impersonator is decorated and placed on a pedestal. This has been a perennial problem with our society, where heroes are not idolized, but characters are.’

‘I expect you have read about Dipa Karmakar.’ I said and looked at the ladies expectantly.

‘Hmmm… yeah, I did read something about her on twitter, but I haven’t followed the news’

‘That is exactly the point I have been trying to drive home. Dipa Karmakar has put her life in the line to put India on the global gymnastics map and has done something no Indian has dared to attempt. And mind you, she wasn’t born into a family that had all the wealth in the world. Her coach had to create a spring board from scooter parts for her to practice. From scooter parts she has gone on to become one of the only five women to have successfully completed the vault of death, which is the hardest form of artistic gymnastics. A trivial mistake while performing the vault can lead to death, yet Dipa has pushed herself to perform the feat. She is the real deal, man, she is your hero. From zilch she has gone on to create such an impact in the sporting world, it feels almost surreal that an Indian women is creating ripples in gymnastics – a sport alien to Indians.’

I looked into the eyes of my colleagues and asked authoritatively. ‘Shouldn’t Dipa Karmakar be your hero – a real life hero?’

I could see a change in the ladies’ demeanor as the fiery look in their eyes was replaced by strange fickle flickering. I hoped it was due to guilt.

‘I don’t deny the fact that Sonam Kapoor has a great fashion sense, nor can I rob you of your right to be her fan. She maybe a good actor and being a fan and well-wisher of her acting ability is absolutely your choice. But please do not place her on a pedestal just because she can afford the clothes that make her a fashionista, or because she characterizes real life heroes on screen. That would be an insult to the people who have put their lives on the line to make a life out of nothing – to have become heroes that you and I should be worshiping.’

‘Mimicking, imitating and portraying characters on screen and having access to good clothes as a by-product is as easy as it gets. Look up to someone who is self-made. Look up to someone who has risen from the dust.’

‘Look up to Dipa Karmakar.’

‘She is the real deal.’

 

 

 

Celebrating the Chase Master

Celebrating the Chase Master

A piece I had written post India’s win over Australia in the World T20

Now that the dust is beginning to settle in Mohali after a rather mentally exhausting Sunday evening, and we have moved on in our lives to Monday morning blues, let me try and look back at the heart-numbing hysteria we were subjected to. Basically, I intend to put things in perspective. To a cricket non-aficionado, it might have seemed as another day in the office for the current biggest name in Indian cricket. To us enthusiasts, who soaked in the transcendence and progress of the game with much fanfare, it was a case of being overwhelmed by passion. But the genius who actually performed the star turn was under the pump even before a ball was bowled at Mohali.

Come to think of it – the game was a quasi-quarterfinal and the amount of attention and coverage it generated would have left Modi’s election campaigns feeling small in comparison. Everybody was talking about the game – the twitter world, the chaiwala opposite my office, the chai peenewala at the same place, the cab driver on the busy road, managers at work, young school-going kids, effervescent college students, and possibly the Prime Minister himself. And each of us wasn’t talking about an Australia win. Each of our hearts and minds were in sync with the desired outcome of the game.

When 1.3 billion hearts crave for the same outcome, the translation of this desire (I must state that desire is a very polite connotation of crave) into an intangible influence on the players who actually play the game is humongous. Being India’s premier batsman (and the only performing one at that), it is a no-brainer that Virat Kohli was an impersonation of India’s batman and superman combined – the weight of each Indian finely imprinted on his broad shoulders.

A nervous start notwithstanding (or was it a case of the Aussie openers going on the attack), India as a bowling unit managed to pull things back to restrict Australia to a par score. That Australia were able to add only 101 runs in the last 14 overs, indicated that the pitch was progressively getting slower and accelerating toward the end of the innings was a difficult task. Nonetheless, India had a score in front of them and had to better the score to progress to the semi-final.

We have been accustomed to the fact that chasing a target is more arduous to achieve when compared to setting a target. How India manage to chase targets with ease on the big occasions is quite beyond me (remember 2011 World Cup quarter-final and final?). Let us cut to the chase and put the VK show in perspective. India are chasing a par score in a knockout game – pressure. The openers fail once again – pressure. Suresh Raina disappoints for the umpteenth time – pressure. Yuvraj Singh twists his ankle which in turn hampers the run rate – pressure. Kohli is unable to do his favourite act, run twos – pressure. When Yuvraj is dismissed, the required run rate rockets to over 11 – pressure. Australia are on top and on the verge of plotting India’s demise – pressure. The pitch slows down considerably and shot making becomes strenuous – pressure. There is silence in the ground, unheard of in Indian cricket circles – absolute pressure.

Harsha Bhogle has repeatedly stated that Kohli has targets for dinner. This wasn’t dinner. It was a buffet with accompaniments in the form of starters, desserts, beverages, etc. – high voltage pressure. As magnificent as Kohli has been in run chases, Mohali and Australia presented a challenge unheard of. A mounting run rate, a slow and tricky wicket, a world cup semi-final at stake and the inevitable pressure of a trillion preying eyes. Under such circumstances, the mind inadvertently is influenced by past happenings, which prevents it from being calm. A cluttered mind is the easiest to defeat and it is amazing that Kohli was able to shut out the world and focus his energies on the required run rate. Despite the enormous pressure, the shots Kohli played were outrageous – not one stroke in anger. Wide yorkers were squirted to the point boundary, length balls were driven through and over cover and slow off-cutters were lifted over the long-off boundary. To have played such strokes under pressure, in a high-stakes game, on a difficult pitch belies the sheer class and quality of Virat’s innings. To have come out unscathed from the top of an erupting volcano by taking India home, Virat played the T20I equivalent of Kapil Dev’s 175 in the 1983 world cup.

As spectators and fans, we purely enjoyed an innings of great quality. If we quantify the quality of the knock, we probably would have the best knock in T20I cricket history.

We probably have witnessed the best batsman in T20I cricket history.

 

A MOM IS IMPORTANT, SO IS A WIFE – A short story

“Please give it some time. Things are difficult for you at this moment, but you need to be strong.” I spoke into the phone, concern written all over my face.

“I am tired Amit. Each day seems like living hell to me. I would rather be alone than going through this slow death.”

“Shut up Jiya. Just shut up. Have you gone mad? Don’t you dare talk about death and stuff.” I screamed in anger.

I took a couple of moments to compose myself.

“Look, as things stand, you are obviously going through a lot. I have no idea why Nithin is putting you through all this, but you have to start anew. You need to live for yourself. You need to live for Jai.”

“Jai is the only one who keeps me sane these days…” Jiya trailed off.

I sensed Jiya shedding a tear. A couple of moments later I heard her voice again. “Let’s talk about you. How is it going at work?”

“Jiya, forget about me. You take good care of yourself. I will call you again later.” I said suddenly, as Jiya’s pain was becoming too much for me to take.

“Yeah sure. Bye Amit”

“Bye Jiya.” I said and hung up.

Jiya and I were great friends since college days. Pressure from her family resulted in her getting married to Nithin 3 years back. When I first interacted with him, Nithin seemed to be a nice guy – cordial, polite and someone whom Jiya could grow to like and love. Their married life started off in the same vein. Jiya always spoke about how Nithin helped her during the initial days of their marriage. This care and concern eventually led to the birth of Jai, one year into their marriage. I was really happy for the three of them and convinced myself that Nithin, Jiya and Jai would make a great family.

An Indian marriage definitely seems lackluster if it is devoid of dramatic mother-in-law incidents. Jiya’s happy life eventually crossed the path of the mother-in-law phenomenon. And from that moment her life went through a downward spiral.

Overtime, any conversation I had with Jiya centered on her rather taxing and tumultuous time at home. It wasn’t that Nithin didn’t love her anymore. He still cared for her and always took care of her materialistic needs. But as much as a girl requires her materialistic needs to be taken care of, she also requires her emotional needs to be taken care of. Nithin failed to understand that his Mom was impeding Jiya’s emotional growth. He took his Mom’s word more seriously than he did take Jiya’s desires. Gradually one thing led to another, leading to Jiya losing trust in Nithin. Subsequently the frequency of her conversations with Nithin dwindled. Jiya spoke to Nithin only on matters related to Jai as she didn’t want Jai to be affected by their struggling relationship. Bluntly speaking, Jiya was vegetating at home.

As much as I wanted to see Nithin and Jiya resolve their differences, there was nothing I could do about it. Moral support apart, I didn’t have anything to offer Jiya. As she wasn’t really talking to Nithin, a lot of frustration had been built inside of her. After a bit of a struggle, I was able to take some time off work and pay Jiya a visit.

“Hi Aunty.” I said genuinely when the door was opened by Jiya’s mother-in-law. She smiled back at me and let me in. It was hard for me to digest the fact that a lady who seemed so warm was the cause for Jiya’s apathy.

I decided to meet Jiya at her own place, lest some wrong ideas creep into the minds of Nithin and his mother.

“Shall I get you something to drink? Tea, coffee or something cold?”

“No, that’s alright aunty. A glass of water should do.” I responded.

“Jiya, Amit is here to meet you.” Nithin’s mother screamed and walked into the kitchen.

Few moments later, I saw Jiya walk out of her room.

I was shocked at what I saw. Terrible would be an under-statement, her condition was pathetic. She resembled a soul who was on her last legs, as though her life was slowly draining out of her. Instantly I was hit hard by the fact that given her disastrous physical condition, her mental state must be going through hell.

“H… Hi… Hi Jiya.” I struggled to speak out.

“Hi.” she forced herself to respond with a fake smile. Jiya’s mother-in-law appeared at the same time with a glass of water. I quickly gulped down the water and handed back the glass to her. She didn’t say a word and walked away.

“Shall we go to the terrace?” Jiya finally found her voice and it seemed as though she was pleading with me.

“Sure.”

“Should I inform aunty that we are going to the terrace?” I asked Jiya to ensure that I didn’t add fuel to the raging fire.

“Don’t bother.” she responded sharply and took the flight of stairs leading to the terrace. I quietly followed her.

As soon as we settled down on a wall on the terrace, Jiya spoke up.

“It is so good to see you.”

“Forget about me. What the hell have you done to yourself? Look at you Jiya. You are absolutely knackered.” I shot back in a concerned and critical tone.

Immediately she looked away from me, dropped her face and pressed her hands tightly against the edge of the wall. She couldn’t take it any longer and caved in. She exploded. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she cried out. Immediately I went up to her and hugged her. She literally wept on my shoulder. She was pouring out her long-standing pain and I allowed her to do so. Jiya completely broke down.

A good fifteen minutes later, her crying subsided. I had to do something to get her to talk, to laugh and feel alive.

“If aunty sees us like this, your problems might be solved as she will definitely get rid of the both of us.” I said cheekily, in an attempt to draw a response from Jiya.

She managed to giggle and slowly let go of the embrace. She was trying hard to smile. She cleaned up using the hand-kerchief I gave her. When I felt she was ready to talk to me, I spoke out.

“No frills barred, tell me in detail what is happening.”

She took a deep breath and a few moments later, spoke in a very shrill tone.

“I… I don’t know where to start.” She paused for a moment. “It is not that one fine day both Nithin and his Mom decided to make me feel low. There is no tipping point as such. Even immediately after we got married there were many instances when Mom and I disagreed on various issues, but I used to let Mom have her way as I was still adapting to this family. Initially, Nithin too used to sit me down and make me understand that Mom is getting old and it is best that we try to keep her happy. He never showed aggression when dealing with such issues early into our marriage. He took good care of me and always bought me things that I wanted.”

“Things started to take a turn for the worse after Jai was born. As a mother I had planned so many things for myself and my child, but Nithin’s Mom always seemed to differ with me. I didn’t want to compromise on anything related to Jai, but Nithin would always take his Mom’s side. I started getting frustrated and angry with Nithin, leading to a lot of arguments with him. It… it became so difficult for me.”

“As a mother isn’t it obvious that I would want Jai to sleep beside me? Immediately after Jai was born, on numerous nights I didn’t have my son beside me. Obviously his Mom never listens to me, but on confronting Nithin he would always scream back at me saying, ‘what is wrong if Jai sleeps beside his grand-parents?’ Gradually, I started to lose trust in him.”

“A lot of issues would seem trivial, but they are of great importance to me. For instance, I had never wanted to compromise on Jai’s food intake. At such a young age, I didn’t want Jai to be having the regular food that we have, but Nithin’s Mom keeps giving Jai all kinds of stuff. I understand she too loves Jai, but I don’t want her to love him at the cost of his health.” The strength of her voice was in sharp contrast to her fierce tone as Jiya kept pouring out her grief. When she paused for breath, I interrupted.

“Surely Nithin must have spoken to you and his Mom about your apprehensions.” I asked curiously.

“That is exactly the point Amit. He doesn’t tell his Mom anything, nor does he even try to explain to her about what I feel.”

“Everything related to Jai has now become a concern for me. His food habits, sleep timings, what to buy for him, what not to buy for him… every little thing has become so hard for me to handle. Off late, Nithin abuses me when I try to discuss anything with him.” Jiya added to her already long list of woes.

I took a moment to factor in all that Jiya had narrated. I was terribly pained by the fact that her life was at a cross-road. Though she had to take a stand on how to deal with her apathy, I was worried that a decision clouded by emotion might alter her life forever. As supportive as I was of Jiya, it was imperative that I offer a holistic solution as the approach forward.

“Your parents cannot be involved, isn’t it?” I asked thoughtfully.

“Definitely not. Ever since my Dad tried to speak to Nithin’s parents about my situation, things have taken a turn for the worse.”

“Look, from how I see it, you have a choice. The single most important factor for your current condition is that you are letting your mind believe that Nithin and his Mom are wrong. They might be wrong, but if you let yourself believe that Jai will be alright despite their treatment of him, there will not be so many thoughts running through your mind.”

“What are you implying Amit?” Jiya interrupted me.

“The fact that you are allowing every little altercation with Nithin’s family to have such a negative impact on you, is the reason you are in such a terrible state today. I absolutely understand that you dreamt of a lot of things for Jai, but given the current circumstances, don’t you think it is best for you to be flexible with how things are? You need to be strong Jiya, like building a bubble around you so that issues at home don’t affect you easily.”

“Amit, I will not compromise on anything to do with Jai.” Jiya interrupted me fiercely.

“Exactly what I am trying to emphasize. Let go this rigidity Jiya. Obviously Jai is extremely important to you, but you can help him best only when you are in a good frame of mind, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm… but how do I ignore matters that prick me, matters that hit my conscience?” Jiya asked, her tone a lot mellow now.

“I know it will be really difficult, but please try to make peace with the fact that Jai will be just fine, whatever the circumstances. Do not get too obsessed with creating a good environment for him. After all, Nithin too wouldn’t want anything untoward to happen to Jai, isn’t it?”

Jiya just nodded her head and I was left wondering whether in approval or disapproval.

“Promise me you will try to let go off all your inhibitions. Promise me Jiya.” I added expectantly.

“Hmmm… I shall try. I cannot promise you, but I shall try.” she replied and looked away from me.

“And as far as Nithin is concerned, do not press him too much on issues that agitate him. Give yourself some time, things will be better.”

“Yeah… I know he loves me, but I want him to understand me, want him to understand my emotions, want him to understand that I always need someone to talk to. I just want him to empathize with me.”

“My guess is that he cares too much about his Mom to see the suffering he is causing you. Probably he doesn’t have it in him to say ‘No’ to his Mom and is consequently hurting you in the process.” I said thoughtfully, careful not to wrongly indict Nithin.

“I am sure everything will be fine Jiya. Give yourself some time.” I said again.

“Hmmm… hopefully.” she said.

“Thank you for coming over. I am feeling so much better today.” she added and smiled a very genuine smile.

“Anything for you. And yeah, given a worst case scenario, I am still not married. So don’t worry too much.” I added cheekily and jumped to the ground.

“Idiot.” she giggled and punched me on my shoulder.

On my way back home, I replayed the entire conversation I had with Jiya in my head. She was hurting badly and I had to get her to come to terms with her life. As much as I wanted to drive some sense into Nithin, I obviously couldn’t confront him with his personal issues. How on earth could he allow his wife to go through so much? How could he leave Jiya alone? How could he not see the hurt he was causing her?

I very well knew Jiya would find it really difficult to let go of her inhibitions. Which mother wouldn’t? What I had asked of her was akin to asking a politician to let go of his power. I just hoped that Jiya would be able to see the brighter side of what I had stated. I just hoped that she would smile again.

And I made a promise to myself – if and when I get married, I will make sure that my wife doesn’t have to go through such bizarre situations. I will be man enough to say ‘NO’ when either of them is possibly wrong. And most importantly, no matter what, I shall always be supportive of my wife.

After all, a wife eventually does become a mother-in-law, isn’t it?

THROWN OUT OF A TEMPLE

Our creation and our final destruction is absolutely devoid of everything that takes place in between. We come into this world with only life in our hands and finally leave with not even life in our hands. We come into this world devoid of our own tangible and intangible creations (read materialism and immaterialism). And during the in-between journey, we either become slaves to our own creations or die by them.

I went to a temple a couple of days back post a ritual at home. The ritual demanded that as a mark of reverence, few fruits be offered to the Almighty. I reached the temple with a basket of fruits and asked the temple priest to offer the same to the deity. The priest gladly took the basket from me. A good five minutes later, he stormed out of the deity room. His expression had changed from that of anticipation to that of disgust.

“Is this what you offer to the Almighty? The fruits are not fresh and I cannot accept them.”

I was a little embarrassed by his outburst. I composed myself and replied calmly.

“I am offering these fruits to God. These are not for you.”

I didn’t intend to hurt or rile him, but the priest was enraged by my supposedly sarcastic response.

“Are you insane? Who does offer stale fruits to God? I will not take these from you.” He responded fiercely.

I thought he was going overboard now. There was probably one banana in the entire basket that might have been a little bit beyond fresh. To term the entire basket of fruits stale was rather ridiculous.

“Sir, I request you to offer this basket to God. Most of the fruits in the basket are fresh.”

“No. Just take it away.”

Frustration seeped into me. To add to my woes, a couple of people present at the temple sided with the priest for obvious reasons.

“Excuse me, isn’t the priest telling you to take back your fruits? Why are you arguing with him?” Stranger 1 questioned me, as though he had been offended by my arguing with the priest.

“Who are you? This is none of your business, damn it. This is between the priest and me. You please stay out of this.” The frustrated voice within me spoke out.

On cue, stranger 1 raised his hand and almost threw a punch at me. “Watch what you say, you scoundrel. Else I shall break your head.”

Wow! An abode of peace was now on the brink of war.

I realized that an aggressive response from me would lead to a terrible situation and I refrained myself from responding to the stranger immediately.

I turned to the priest and spoke again, “Sir, these fruits are an offering to God. I doubt God himself had come down and told you that he doesn’t accept stale fruits. The fruits aren’t stale either, as you so vehemently stated.”

“Your actions defy logic. By not allowing me to offer this basket at this temple, you are implying that you are the owner of this temple. You are implying that anything that happens at this temple should be according to your will. Further, you are implying that God is accessible to me only through you, that you are above God himself. You are impeding my right of offering to God, by posing to be The Almighty yourself.”

“Isn’t this against your teaching and preaching that God is the same for every individual?” I added angrily.

The priest lost his cool. He stared at me with his eyes almost popping out.

“I am cursing you. You will never be happy ever. By accusing me, you have accused God himself.” The priest retaliated strongly, almost hitting me in the process.

“This person has gone mad. Please help me throw him out of here.” The priest mentioned to the stranger 1, who immediately caught hold of my hand.

I pulled myself away from the clutches of the priest and the stranger and walked out of the temple. As I slipped into my shoes, I screamed out – “God might never make me happy. If you believe you are God, I never wish to be happy.”

As I walked back home, my mind was filled with heavy thoughts about how the ways of almighty have been conveniently molded to suit mankind over course of time. Such is the state of spiritual bureaucracy that we have been reduced to.

Our journey between life and death is filled with such ordeals – ordeals that God himself would approve of.

The revered almighty is one – but his human impersonation is present all around us.

MULLINGS FROM A RIDE ON A RAINY NIGHT

A couple of days back, I was heading home from office on my bike on a rather gloomy evening. As is the case with opposite magnetic poles, so too is the love affair between rain and Bangalore. Evidently, it started to drizzle. I decided to continue riding until the rain got heavier. Momentarily, it didn’t strike me that I was riding on the roads of Bangalore. And then I ran into a long queue of vehicles.

As frustrated as I was, there was little I could do to skip the traffic. I wasn’t on OLA AIR unfortunately. All I could do was to pray for the drizzle to relent and the rain gods to retreat from the skies above. Fortunately, it just continued to drizzle and I reached the end of the road at which I had to turn left. And what I saw made me scream out in anger and disgust.

Despite the road being narrow, there was a car parked on the road exactly at the turning, which caused passing vehicles to slow down, leading to the eventual long traffic queue. I looked inside the car and saw a spectacled man in his mid-thirties, neatly dressed and humming a tune. I tapped on the glass window. He lowered the frame and I heard an English song playing on his music player. An educated civilian, isn’t it? That is what I assumed of him.

The following are the exact words I spoke to him and I quote – “Sir, it will be great if you can move your vehicle aside. Your parking here has caused a lengthy traffic jam.”

What I got in return made me boil and I was almost emanating fumes from every part of me. “Chal, chal”, he said and rolled up his window. His response was so insensitive and cold, as though he were brushing aside a beggar seeking alms from him. I almost stepped down from my bike, but a cacophony of blazing horns from behind me kept me from doing so. I mumbled few harsh words in anger, stared hard at the antagonist and drove away in regret.

How I wish I could just smash my fist into his face! How is wish I could break every part of the car he was seated in! How I wish I could use a crane to lift his car and keep it suspended high in the air! How I wish…!

On reaching home, I did a little bit of retrospection and realized a very important point behind the entire episode. The rude stranger was definitely educated, or that is what I had assumed. But was he educated? Hell No!

We have always believed that literacy rate is directly proportional to development. And for a long time now we have been pushing for a higher literacy rate. If being literate is sufficient to be classified as an aid to development, I am afraid we have been absolutely wrong all along. A literate being and an educated being are two completely different entities. Aamir Khan in 3 idiots very succinctly points out that a literate person is classified as ‘well trained’ and not as ‘well educated.’

Common sense might seem a very simple attribute to possess. The optimal usage of common sense under the right circumstances and the ability to empathize with common beings, inclines a person in the direction of being educated. Hell, I don’t have to be literate to be educated.

I guess this is where all problems in India stem from. We as a country are moving towards a greater literacy rate. Sadly, the percentage of educated people is on a downward spiral, which is a very unfortunate situation to be in.

Siddharth (the character of Karan Singhania) in the film Rang de Basanti, makes a very poignant observation – “Kuch nahi hone waala iss desh ka (Nothing good can happen to this country)”. Unfortunately, Siddharth seems to be absolutely right. This leads me to believe that even the most dynamic of leaders will find it extremely difficult to change the fortunes of this country.

Probably even the Prime Minister couldn’t have done anything against that uneducated literate car driver.