Friday, January 31, 2014

A Dream Realised

Of the very few ambitions that I have nursed, the strongest was that of sitting in a chaotic office among piles of papers and drafts, wearing my glasses and working on a computer, sipping coffee and attending non stop phone calls. The office of course belonged some big newspaper and I was one of their favorite journalists. The dream did come true, but in parts. I did attend non stop phone calls, wore glasses, worked on a computer for hours at end and sometimes even had piles of paper on my desk but it was never for a paper and I never became a journalist. Since most of the dream had realised itself, or at least the part that mattered the most, I forgot about the rest, until some months ago.

It began with reading a few blog posts, they took me back in time when I  had started working on realising my dream: I would write for the weekly column of a prominent newspaper's youth supplement and diligently hand it over in their office every Monday, it would be published every second Wednesday, I think. It was a great high: to see my thoughts on paper and my name in print. The feeling did not last long though. Destiny had other plans for me and writing became a thing of the past. Until now.

I have always had many things to say but lately did not have many people to say them to, this perhaps fuelled my urge to get back to writing. Another reason probably was the feeling of incompleteness and uselessness of life -- a feeling that invariably envelops me around my birthday. Whatever be the reason, I wrote.

My first post was more of loud thinking, some subsequent ones were attempts to build a story (I gave that up midway), many others were random thoughts about things close to my heart. Although they cannot be considered great pieces of writing in anyway, they will always be special to me. For they helped me establish a rhythm. Once I found my feet, I gained the confidence too: of sharing the blog with a larger audience and writing short, short stories and features for other blog sites. To my pleasant surprise, all of those were shortlisted and published. 

And yesterday I got to know that my article is one of the five most read pieces on menstrupedia, meanwhile my stories published in Femina's Fast Fiction are among the most read too. 

Maybe its time now to see my name in print.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Road Behind Me

After many years, I found myself at the street of my youth. The street that once gave me my ambition, now gave me a lesson: one might outgrow the charm of the things that once fascinated him but it is often difficult to be indifferent to them --  if nothing else, these remind you that you have grown up. I discovered that  in the thirteen years that I had been away, I had grown up too.

In these years, I had made many trips to Lucknow -- the only city that comes close to being called my hometown, but all these trips had been rushed, and almost all made with my husband. Since he too has a connection with the city, there were things that he wanted to do  just as I wanted to do mine. So like a good couple, we came to an agreement: we did a little bit of both -- his and mine. That our itinerary primarily revolved around food is a different story altogether. Thankfully, since my parents are back in town, we go there more often and eat much lesser.

Last week, I was in the city without husband. The children were more than glad to be with their grand parents and I to be on my own -- in my city, having all the time in the world to do whatever I pleased and when you are in Lucknow having all the time in the world, you head to the one place -- Hazratgunj.

So there I was, standing at the Hazratgunj crossing. On my right was Rovers -- a fast food joint that has stood there for generations is almost invisible now, thanks to the imposing statue of   Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, erected by Ms Mayawati. It happens to be only one of the many precious gifts she bestowed the city with. To my left was the beautiful and magnificent GPO -- the one post office from which we -- my closest friend and I have sent the maximum number of letters, some of which went to her boyfriend, some to mine (rather who I imagined to be one). As I stood there, waiting to cross the road, I felt like I was back in college, standing at the crossing alone, with no specific agenda, crossing the road hurriedly through the moving traffic -- things that I did back then but have not done since.

The thing about youth is that it finds pleasure in the mundane -- part reason is the company you keep and part is that with so little exposure, hardly anything seems mundane: even browsing through a card shop and walking the sidewalks seem pleasurable. Today however, I neither had friends for company, nor the inclination to walk the already crowded sidewalk, I decided to take a rickshaw to the end of the road, where I had a store to go to -- a store I always wanted to go to. 

One of my greatest aspirations, while walking the streets of gunj, was to be able to buy something from the super swank stores. In the times that I grew up, it was unimaginable for a middle class family to shop from such an upmarket place. Our occasional visits were usually made up of some strolling, followed by some chaat or ice cream. Shopping was never on the agenda and walking into the posh stores and walking out with overflowing shopping bags always remained a distant dream.

One such store was the Benetton store. I can't tell why was I so fascinated by the brand, it could be because it was probably the only branded showroom at the time when malls were yet to be discovered, or it could be because being able to buy something from a store like that would have meant I had arrived in life.

I vividly remember walking into the store one day and instantly falling in love with a  pair of greyish blue drawstring pants, they were priced at over a thousand rupees and there was no way I could afford them, I walked out, heartbroken. But I had to buy something, so I waited a few months, collected some money and bought a tee shirt instead, it was a nondescript, unflattering, dull brown tee shirt but it was Benetton and had cost three hundred and sixty five rupees -- it went on to become my favorite.

Thirteen years later, I entered the shop again. As if to welcome me, Richard Marx sang I will be right here waiting for you, a pretty north eastern girl ushered me in and left me alone to browse in peace. I was reminded of the time when the shop assistants would hound us until we told them that we were there only to look, trying hard to look nonchalant. Realising I have outgrown the brand since, I soon walked out of the store, without buying anything -- yet again.

As I walked out, I noticed that the street was now abuzz with activity, it looked more like a weekend than a Monday afternoon: there were frantic shoppers out to make the most of the sales, there were students who probably had bunked college for their share of fun, there were office goers out for the daily dose of sunlight, and there was me.

Walking along the street, I crossed the various shops and buildings: Sewakram and sons -- perhaps the first lingerie store in the city, a store from where every girl wanted something from but never could afford, the stall at the intersection that once sold tea, coffee and cheap ball pens other than cigarettes, now also sold momos -- veg, paneer and chicken, Cathedral -- the church where I diligently dragged my mother every year on Christmas (God only knows why), Sanskriti -- the beautiful Saree shop from where I bought an expensive Saree for my farewell party, Leela bros. -- the only store my father bought his clothes from and where my brother and husband now shop from. It was heartening to see that these iconic shops that I and even my parents grew up with, were still around and flourishing.

Since I have walked the street a million times, I remember the exact order of the stores and was looking forward to browsing through the store that was next in line -- Devi Radiogram -- the most iconic music store of our times and the only shop in Hazratgunj where we  regularly shopped from. Most of the music my father owned was bought from this store -- they had thousands of cassettes and their store assistants were no less than magicians: you only had to name the song and the tape would be with you in a matter of seconds. My chain of thoughts was broken when I noticed the large window: all I could see inside the shop was luggage, to ensure I was at the right place, I stepped back and read the signboard, it was the same shop all right but it now sold high end luggage. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement, but what did I expect? In times when even the biggest music stores are shutting shop, I should not have expected a stand alone store to sustain.

Reminiscing about the evenings spent at the store and heartbroken at the condition of music in times of piracy, I walked on. I walked past Love lane -- the tiny flea market, Modern Silk house -- one of the biggest Saree shops of the city, Kohli bros -- the oldest branded men's wear store and Bata -- the biggest in Lucknow.

I would have walked on had I not noticed the crowd outside a famous chaat stall. Watching people enjoying hot aloo tikkis on a cold afternoon made me realise how hungry I was. Now, as independent as I claim to be, I can not eat alone. I find it very embarrassing to eat on my own and I would rather starve than to eat out alone. I ignored the chaat and walked on when Chedilal changed my mind. In any case I had to drink and not eat their iconic cold coffee.

With the tall glass of cold coffee in one hand and a cone of bhelpuri in the other, I settled next to an elderly gentleman, on a wrought iron bench and silently thanked Ms Mayawati for installing these Victorian benches.

The gentleman was eating peanuts out of a small newspaper packet and diligently depositing all the waste on the road although there was a waste bin right next to him. Just as I warmed up to  the large poster on the facade of one of the oldest cinema halls of the city, where my friends and I had once chased Hritik Roshan's car, a huge, white SUV come to halt right in front of me, blocking the view. Out came two middle aged, white, starched kurta, pajama, vest clad, men -- as they walked towards one of the many government offices, their car, complete with a beacon and driver, made itself comfortable on the road -- an otherwise no parking, no halting zone. Somethings will never change, I thought.

My coffee was soon over, having nothing else to do, I crossed the road -- once again dodging the moving cars, I walked straight into the corridor of Hanuman Mandir. I have no idea how old the temple is, but it has always been there for me -- to help me pass my examinations, to help me get my first and only vehicle, to help me get a first class. And the things it did not help me get, I am glad it did not. I wanted to thank God for everything but he was asleep behind the curtains. I bowed my head in reverence and moved on.

As I walked on, I realised it was almost the end of the road. A decade ago, I would have wanted to hang on, to delay going home. But today I did not.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Inky Thoughts

There is something very old world and romantic about writing with a pen. Although most of us now write with our keyboards, the verb write essentially means using a pen -- or pencil to form characters on a material in order to record an event, thoughts, emotions or information. But in the world of tablets and laptops the pen and paper have been reduced to being the tools of  school kids only. For even in colleges they prefer printed assignments or soft copies -- they do not want to waste paper I am told.

And why not? typing on the tablet or a laptop is far more convenient than scribbling with pen and paper: you do not need to carry anything, you can edit, delete and even share it instantly and you can write anywhere -- while travelling, shopping, having coffee, waiting for the auto. In order to use a pen however, you need a pen, and paper and space. And of course there is the hassle of transferring the writing on the computer or laptop, formatting and editing it. Not only is the process time consuming but also repetitive. So why write, when you can type?

Last evening, I found out why: for the past one week, I have been working diligently on a post -- nothing profound, nothing philosophical, just a simple thought. But I am yet to make sense of it, even though, in my mind I am clear about what I want to say and how I want to say it, I have been unable to. For the last seven days, I have been writing and re writing the same five hundred words each night and deleting them each afternoon, but it still makes no sense. The whole process has been frustrating, to say the least. 

So last evening, after working through the afternoon and achieving nothing out of it, I gave up. I shut the computer and picked up a book to read. Inside the book I found a couple of folded sheets, it was something I had written while I was at home last week and in my quest to write the perfect piece, had forgotten completely about it. 

I immediately logged back in and started to copy the content, and somehow unlike the posts I write directly on the blog site, this one was almost error free and needed very little editing. While my usual posts take hours just to edit, I completed this in less than an hour -- start to finish. A short, short story written by a humble pen on an old notepad, on my old bed, in my old room, in my old house. 

P.S: Today I opened the unwritten piece again, and again it made no sense. I quickly picked up my most brilliant pen and most beautiful notebook and put together this post -- in thirty minutes flat.  

Tomorrow, I plan to rewrite my unfinished post one last time -- with the pen.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Other Woman

For as long as she had known him, she had known only him -- that he was not single did not matter, that he was engaged to be married in a few months also did not matter. She liked being with him and he did too. They were happy to be together, even if it was for a little while and that is all that mattered.

Love was not something that she had in mind when she first met him; rejected in love and dejected in life, she had no intention of letting anybody close to her again but she was also determined to let go of her inhibitions and have fun -- something she had always been too afraid of. Therefore when she felt the mutual attraction pulling them closer, she did not resist.

Being with him was a wonderful feeling: he made her feel special and cared for, he made her feel beautiful and wanted, and more than anything else he made her love herself. All was well -- they had a silent understanding: this would end the day he decides to get married. She was aware that he had a woman to go back to and had no intent of playing the other woman -- not until she saw them together.

She could always feel her presence in their life -- her pictures on his desk, her stuff at his place and her calls when they were together. He would often leave their conversations abruptly to attend her calls, he did not take her calls and even ignored her messages if she was around. Sometimes it did affect her: at times felt a little envious, other times a bit jealous, but every time she reminded herself of the reality. That evening, however, she could not. 

She was waiting at the gate to see him off when she noticed him walk out of the door -- with her. They appeared to be in the midst of an important conversation -- the sort he never had with her. She noticed how comfortable they looked together: no sign of nervousness and no fear of being caught. Seeing them walk towards the gate she stepped back: she somehow expected him to introduce them -- the two women in his life. But he walked on -- past her, completely ignoring her. She was shocked. Never before had she been humiliated so, that too by a person she loved so much. 

She was in the car when she saw his number blink on the phone, the urge to disconnect the call was strong, but stronger was the need to get an answer. She took the call and heard him apologise and explain the reason for doing what he did. She swallowed the lump in her throat, held back the tears and said 'You have to decide today. It's either her or me, you can not have both.'

Ten years later, going through her wedding album, she's glad that she is no longer the other woman.

As published in Femina Fast Fiction: