Thursday, January 29, 2015


Day 1

The huge crater in the middle of the road jolted him back to his senses. On the cold January night, he found himself drenched in sweat and sharply applied the brakes. The tyres voiced their disgust in no unclear terms. He looked around. The surroundings were not familiar but he had a fair idea of where he was. The light from the distant paan-shop was the only sign of civilization in the otherwise desolate road. It couldn’t have been more than an hour that he had been driving. The cell buzzed. He knew who it was not. It was a joke over Whatsapp, a fairly decent one for a change and he genuinely smiled and pulled over. Delhi had been unusually cold this winter and the Arrow shirt, now drenched in sweat was not much of protection from the elements. But he needed to clear his mind.  It had been months since he had last smoked. The panwallah stared at him and he stared back. After half a minute of unexplained silence between them, he said “Ek Gold Flake Kings dena”

She tossed and turned and finally threw it away in disgust.  “These fleece blankets couldn’t have been more aptly named.  Completely useless in this winter”, she thought while cursing him again for not having fixed the blower yet. She checked her phone. No calls or messages yet.  This was very unlike him. Her mind wandered off to the streets of Jaipur where they had bought the blanket from. It was an unplanned trip and though she never mentioned it to him, she loved when he pulled out such surprise plans and meticulously executed them.  The phone rang. “But he is an asshole. Full stop”, she hollered over the phone to her mom as she patiently and for the umpteenth time over the last one year, tried explaining to her daughter about the intricacies of a marriage and relationships. “Why is it that the woman always has to make the compromise?  Times have changed Ma and the concept of marriage has evolved and changed drastically since the thirty nine years that you have been married” she said as her Ma patiently heard her. She was in no better mood after hanging up. Her mother belonged to a different era she felt and was of little help in such situations.
 He still hadn’t called.

Baraut 4 kms, Shamli – 47 kms read the barely readable milestone. The roads were, well as one would expect in rural UP but surprisingly they weren’t breaking his back. The FM radio crackled once every now and then and some horrendous latest hit would scar the silence of the night. As he sat on the cold wooden stool moistened by the wintry dew and sipped on the tasteless watery tea at the panwallah’s , he thought. He thought about the evening and then Shamli crossed his mind. It was about a year back when his close buddy Siddhartha and his wife had gone there to distribute blankets at the relief camps. Five thousand rupees was his contribution to the cause. It was something that he did not have his heart in as he always believed that ad-hoc charity was not the way to go to address these issues.  Twenty five people died of cold in this winter. The news was no longer required to be in the headlines of newspapers. Elections were over and the country had a stable government. Maybe these twenty five would not have survived the previous winter had Siddhartha and his wife not thought of doing what they did. He drove on. It was soon to be dawn and the phone had long switched off.

“Sorry about tonight. I realise that we were speaking different languages and the intents were lost in translation. You sleep while I drive over it. Talk later”. She didn’t know what to make of the message and it disturbed her. Contacts-Favourites. She scrolled down to T. His smiling face came up but so did the argument of the evening.  “To hell with him. If he can find reason for his absurd behaviour, then I can find none to call him” she thought as she let the phone slide down the pillow. The screen timeout had been set to a maximum of 15 minutes by him. “It helps while driving and checking for directions in Google maps, please don’t keep changing it” he had said. She didn’t.
The ludicrous scene from PK came to her mind where a communication gap between protagonists, explained only by the insanity of the script writers, led to two people moving apart in life only to be brought back together by an equally atrocious circumstance.  She couldn’t think of a reason why this thought came to mind. She had met him at Avinash’s party and throughout that evening had felt his constant gaze upon her.  Somehow it had not made her uncomfortable.  He surely was the life of the party. He laughed like a pig and made everyone around him squeal too.  They thoroughly loved his company while she found him exceptionally loud. As the gathering had dispersed into smaller groups during dinner, he had come from behind and alarmed her.  “Does the beautiful lady care for some unbelievably tasty ice-cream?  ” he had asked.
“The number you have called is currently not reachable, Please try again later”.  For the first time that night, she cried.

Day 2

It was late afternoon by the time he could reach the site of the camps. The melancholy of the site hit him harder than the cold winds. He stood there for a long time, not knowing what to do. It was drizzling and there was black sludge everywhere he could see. A peculiar stench was all pervasive. The makeshift tents leaned upon each other swaying wildly under the influence of the winds. The torn plastic sheets that made up the tents flew in all directions resembling a rebel child who wouldn’t let her mother braid her hair. A small group of men gathered around a tent. About six or eight men in their mid-forties.  He walked towards them but they seemingly took no notice of him approaching. He could hear sound of a woman wailing from inside the tent.
“Kya hua hai bhaijaan ?” he asked one of them.
The man just stared back at him with an expression that he couldn’t decipher. In fact he later realised that there was no expression at all. They were the looks of a person bereft of any emotion conveying the fact that he had lost more than he could afford.
Two men came out of the tent carrying a body of a small girl wrapped with pieces of torn clothing. The wailing from the tent stopped.

By the time she reached office, the headache had only worsened. Today was not a day she could take it easy and yet every being of her subconscious yearned to be somewhere else - with him. He sounded so forlorn and lost. She had no clue where Shamli was but she had heard the name somewhere before. Just couldn’t remember where. But he said he would be back tonight.
“Where are we with the NPV, Subhash?”

“Kite Runner it is then.”  After the usual routine of searching through the entire list of movies, checking for their IMDB ratings, playing trailers over Youtube etc. which usually took about thirty minutes, would he finally decide on a movie.   He was such an idiot when selecting movies, knowing well enough that she would not stay awake for more than fifteen minutes into the movie. But this was his domain and she no longer interfered nor participated in, save the occasional nods, in this weekly ritual. She had read the book and for once agreed with his choice. For some reason she had stayed awake that night and watched the movie till the end credits rolled. Invariably he had cried and as always tried to pretend otherwise.
“It’s ok for men to cry, you know. You needn’t always keep up your macho image and certainly not in front of me” she had said.
“What nonsense. I’m not crying. It’s a mosquito that’s lodged in. Didn’t you plug in the All Out? No good you aaaaaaaah!! ” He had tumbled on his way to the washroom, slipping on a rug. She could hear the choicest of abuses being hurled at the rug and its female family members.

“If I need to check your calculations, then you might as well hand in your resignation and go and drown yourself in Sabarmati. How the hell did you ever manage to pass out of that institute of yours? “
Subhash knew better by now to not respond. She seemed particularly edgy today.

“Chingri koto kore ?”
“Chosho kuri madam”
Six hundred and twenty for a kg of mid –sized prawns. What was the world coming to, she thought? But she had no energy left to bargain today. He should have reached home by now.

Day 3

They had bought the table lamp from the Fab India outlet in GK-I. Made of ebony wood, it gelled in beautifully with the décor of the drawing room. The more difficult part was to find a bulb that fit in it.  It was early last year that they had decided to finally get serious about hunting an apartment. After a month of scouring for that one property that fit all bills, they ended up buying the first apartment that they had viewed.  It was over budget but within manageable limits.  More importantly they finally had a place that they could call home- a place for which it made sense to spend days finding the right bathroom fittings…..or so she thought.
“It’s just something to hold the hand towel for God’s sake! What difference does it make if it’s triangular or circular? You have gone completely crazy” he said to her. A sharp kick on the shins reminded him of the virtues of not always expressing what one thinks.  He was of course only interested in the Marantz AV Receiver and the Definitive speakers. “Who is travelling back from the States now?” he wondered.

He wasn’t hungry and did not touch the food. The clock chimed 4 times.

“Are you back?” she asked, barely able to open her eyes.
“Yeah” he replied
“Should I warm the food for you?  I made prawns for you.” She mumbled
“Nah, I have eaten. Go back to sleep”
“Okay…..Let’s talk tomorrow ok?” she said
“Sure” he replied
“Will you please get the blower fixed tomorrow?” She was barely audible now.
“Ya, I will. Sleep now” he said as he pulled the blanket over her.
“I’m sorry ” she said as she snuggled close to him .
“I’m sorry too” he said.
He held her tight.
They clearly were not impressed. The solution, though interim, reeked of being half baked with assumptions that would clearly not stand the test of actual data. She knew this. But there was no time to get it sorted before the presentation.  If there was one thing which she hated, it was lack of sincerity. And in this particular instance, she herself was at fault. She had relied too much on the associates.
“I cannot let this happen again” she thought
“I need to demarcate the lines and not allow one to impact the other” as she silently sipped on her coffee.
“Guys let’s get back to work. And if it means that we would need to spend the next two nights in office then so be it but no one leaves the building till this mess is sorted. Am I clear?” She did not hint that a reply in the negative would be entertained.
“Yes Boss” they shouted back in unison.
“Will pick you up around 6:30” he texted.

Day 4

He never liked to have dinner alone. In fact when he wasn’t married, he made it a point to either invite someone over or have himself invited over. That option too was no longer exercisable as it led to more uncomfortable questions.  Dinner plans for the evening being cancelled, he got some Chinese takeaway on the way home. He switched on the TV. More depressing news. Cartoonists shot dead in Paris by gunmen. The gunmen were captured on a mobile phone shouting ‘Allah hu Akbar’ or God is Great. Which God would endorse such an inhuman act, he wondered and switched off the TV. As he made his way to the empty bed, pictures from Shamli flooded his mind.
He had hundreds of unanswered questions. Did the people in those relief camps deserve the life they were leading or for that matter the horrible deaths that they were so prematurely being thrust into?  Was it their fault that they were born into a particular religion? What was religion and why had it turned so divisive? He had always believed that various religions were different paths towards the same goal. Was he just being naïve? 
He was born a Hindu and was always proud to be one. But pride in his religion did not make him a fanatic wanting to kill and maim a person belonging to a different religion.  He drew strength from the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita but did quoting that make him any less secular than his friends who didn’t? If he believed in Modi, it was because he was the only person who inspired Hope in a despairing quagmire that the country was finding itself in and not because he belonged to a particular religion.
Why would rational people not understand that Hinduism is not defined by the actions of some RSS pracharaks or some Sakshi Maharaj nor Islam defined by the Taliban or ISIS. Radicalism and Fundamentalism had no place in any religion, he thought as he slowly found sleep overcoming his senses.  She would have had some answers. But where was she in times such as these when he needed her the most?
…….Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one… Lennon sang in the background.

His cold responses irritated her immensely. He was being quite self-centred she thought. Cancelling dinner plans for the second consecutive day was not something she enjoyed doing but being a professional himself, he should have at least made an attempt to understand her rather than making sarcastic comments. She knew that every marriage needed attention and was doing everything in her capacity to balance her professional and personal lives. But she could not do this alone. She needed him to be more supportive.

“I think Ayesha would be a great name for our daughter. What do you think about it?” he said. He looked like a clown in the apron and the chef hat, she thought.
Practically useless in the kitchen, he was usually designated low end jobs such as washing the odd utensil.  And this he had to do wearing an apron.
“I do not know whether I should be naming my children when their probable father is yet to formally propose to their mother” she said
“What are you talking about? I propose to you almost once every day. Wait I’ll do it again” he said as he bent down on his knees.
“What the hell are you doing, Move!!” she shouted at him.
“My love, from the moment that you have entered my life, my life has not had a single moment of peace” She boxed his ears.
“Ouch…Let me finish …I close my eyes and there you are in front of me. I open my eyes and you are still there. Kuch kaam dhanda hai ke nahi tumhe?”
“Ayesha’s father might get seriously hurt now” she laughed and said
“I cannot imagine a tomorrow where you aren’t there beside me and I promise to buy you a good deodorant if you always intend to stay this close.  My lady, I do not have a diamond for you as I believe that I and not a diamond shall be your best friend. Thus please accept this cauliflower as a token of my enduring love and I promise to you that I shall love you from the bottom of my heart till the day cauliflowers keep blooming in this world. …Ms. Rajeshwari Sen, Will you marry me? ”

Day 5

It did not take him long to figure out that she was the girl he had to marry. The elder sister was the one who had aptly summarized it for him, “This girl brings the balance in your life which you so lack today, you moron. You screw up this one and you would regret real bad”
She wanted a low key affair for the wedding. 11 friends from his engineering, 6 from his MBA and 8 colleagues, all with spouses and kids joined the ‘low key’ affair. It was nothing less than a chaotic fair with all and sundry from the family too making it a point to attend the wedding. It was after all the most awaited wedding of the family. Some just came out of sheer curiosity to see the girl who had finally managed the impossible Cousins were given the responsibility to mark all exit points lest there be any last minute flight attempts.  They got hold of a 20 litre Bottle of Aquafina and filled it with Old Monk.
Taking a breather from the Naagin dance, he stole a glance at her. She looked regal in the exquisitely embroidered saree as she gracefully went about attending to the guests. Deep within, something felt good and he broke into a smile. She smiled back.

He froze right in the middle of SP Marg. Cars behind him honked as if Hell had broken loose and abuses flew thick and fast but he just couldn’t move. He felt as if his hands were stuck to the hand wheel while his feet felt chained with heavy iron. He could see the PCR van approaching his car. But he just wasn’t there. Those eyes had not given him a moment of peace since he returned. He knew that he had to go back.

“I’m not ready for kids yet Ma and having children isn’t the solution to any and all problems that a marriage has to endure”, she said to her mother on her way back from office. This was the customary 9 pm call from Calcutta. No hail, no storm could disrupt this daily routine for her mother.
“I do not wish to bring a child into this world and not be able to give her the attention that she deserves. I need to be ready and at this immediate juncture of my life, I just find it hard to see myself fulfilling that role” she said and almost immediately felt amused at the fact that subconsciously she too had started imagining a girl when thinking of a child.
“You think too much. I had you when I was 21. I certainly did not have the wits then to evaluate my preparedness for your arrival but I wouldn’t think I did too a bad job with you. Parenting is not a skill that you learn; it is rather a state of mind driven by an unexplainable emotion that hits you the moment you first hold your child in your arms. And let me also add that if it doesn’t hit you at that precise moment, then it probably never will.” said her mother
“I get what you are saying Ma but at this point before we even think of starting a family, it’s important that we first sort out our own differences.  I’m progressively feeling suffocated under the weight of all his expectations. The list just never ends and somehow it’s always me who is at fault. He will never own up to the fact that I might have some expectations from him too” she said
Maybe she was unnecessarily stressing herself out, she thought after she had hung up. All they needed was a candid chat, she wondered. She closed her eyes and before long was fast asleep.

She glanced at her phone as she entered the elevator. 16 missed calls

The Prologue

23rd January 2015

Dr Pathak was not completely sure whether he should prescribe something as strong as Sertraline 100 to him. But after the latest incident, he was left with little choice. This was the third time in less than a month that he had suffered from such a panic attack.
He desperately needed some sleep. Whatever little he was getting was invariably disturbed leaving him with little fresh energy in the mornings.
“Hel…lo , hell.. , hel…oo”
“Who’s this ? I can’t hear you too well”
“Hello ..can you he..  now…”
“Not very clearly but who’s speaking and what’s this about?”
“Emerg….ency cont….”
“What , what are you talking about, can you be louder ?”
“Snig….dha Gupta….”
“Yes Snigdha  is my wife…What about her and who is this again ..Hello Hello?
“Snigdha Gupta …wife ?"
"Yes but who the hell is this" .he could hear a lot of commotion in the background
"Accident hua hai ...Golf course extension road….Indian Oil petrol pump ke saamne. Jaldi pahuchiye”
He opened his eyes. He felt breathless. The room was dark. His throat was parched. The pillow was wet with sweat.
“We are extremely sorry for your loss Mr. Gupta. It was a head-on collision She was gone by the time she was brought in to the hospital….We could not save the child either”

It was three months today. 

 23rd October 2014

All of the calls were from unknown numbers. She was about to dial back one of them when a call came in.
“Is this Ms. Rajeshwari Sen ?”  It was a female’s voice
“Yes, who is this” she asked
“Are you a relative of Mr Tanmay Bose?”
“Yes, he is my husband. Sorry, but who is this again? “
“Madam, we have been trying to reach you for quite some time. I am calling from the Emergency wing of Medanta Medicity”
She felt a shiver go down her spine.
“I’m sorry to inform you that your husband was involved in an accident and was brought in a very critical condition”
She felt her grip loosening on the mobile.
“You need to come immediately Madam”
“Hello ..hello Madam , are you there?”
“Yes….wha..?” She tried to speak but words wouldn’t come out. She felt her head spinning.
“Madam, You need to come immediately. The police are also waiting”
“I ….I don’t know….why …where …is he …..How is… he?”

The Epilogue

She seemed strangely aware of the poignancy of her circumstances. There was a silent resignation in her expressions.  Yet of course there was the inherent innocence of a four year old. She had little clue of what the past, the present or the future meant but she did miss the warmth of her mother during the nights. She did miss playing with her father after he came back from work in the evenings.  She did miss Razia. She hadn’t spoken in a long time.
He placed the chocolates on the broken stool as he always did. She would never reach for them while he was there but he had learnt that she was always the first one to be awake on Sundays.  She would sit in the corner of the tent and keep staring. She knew the sound of his footsteps.
“The rehabilitation steps finally seemed to be moving in some direction Sahab” said Parvez
“Inshallah, we should have a roof above our heads in a month’s time. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for my family, especially for young Rehana. She would have died without your support”
As he bid them farewell that evening, he felt a tug. She was holding a piece of paper for him. It was a picture of a house. She had drawn it with the crayons he had got her. There was a hill and a rising sun
“That’s a lovely drawing Rehana” he said
“I have two more. Do you want to see them?”
 This was the first time he had heard her speak.

“Dearest Ma,
It is sixteen years since the last letter I wrote to you.  I was so excited. I had a job. My first job! Oh how I rambled on and on about the entire interview process and how I almost peed in my pants as they were announcing the names of the selected candidates. Hah!
You have always been so patient with me. By the time you would receive this letter, I would have gone.
But before I go, I owe an explanation to you and Baba and I hope that you will understand the reason behind this decision.
The last few months have been extremely difficult for me and I want to let you know that you have been the strongest pillar of strength that I could have hoped for in these circumstances. But this was a battle that I alone had to wage and win. But Ma, I am not winning and I swear that I have tried with all my strength.  I wake up each morning with the dread of living through the day and this is not a life that I want to live.
You did not teach me to quit and I am not quitting. I am only changing the means to reach the destination.

 I love you and please forgive me.

Always your little daughter,

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