He tenderly brushed a wisp of hair from her cheek. And she brushed a tear from his eye. The message on the cake was – I am me because of you.
As they were cutting the cake, these tender moments caught my attention. She, mid-way through the function, proceeded to remind him of his BP medication. And he, in turn cooed in her ears, “Be careful. If you dance any more, your feet will hurt.” Touching! After twenty five years, they were so much in love. She was a softer beauty, deepened with age and he was a perfect combination of salt and pepper hair with astute business sense.
Several dainty feet were groaning under the agony of high heels, intricate silks and heavy jewelry, desperately searching for respite. It was the twenty fifth anniversary celebration of a relative. Since it was a silver jubilee function and most couples were…well beyond their prime, the ghost of L’Oreal was omnipresent.
I was wondering, how the gurgling, bubbling rivulet of romance at sixteen, transforms into deeper still waters after a few decades. And still waters run deep.
Sure, candle light dinners, roses, chocolates and sipping champagne at sixteen are all magical. Yet these images are spoon-fed by movies, serials and advertisements. And an over-dose of such illusions are scary.
At sixteen the world is both, vivid and hazy. If my hubby had given me a rose at sixteen, I would have preserved the petals in some mushy book, fluttering my eyelashes coyly. However, if today he returns home from the office with a red rose in hand, I would burst out laughing, doubting his sanity. In case it’s not a rose but an expensive bouquet of orchids and lilies, I would doubt ‘daal mein kuch kala hai’.
Now you are thinking, ‘Seriously, God only knows what women want…Poor guy…He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t’.
Relax. At the risk of bristling like an old crow, I am trying to arrive at the point. Flowers and gifts on occasions are most welcome. Yet on other days a bed tea would be a better idea. Appreciation is desirable in actions, but poetry would be artificial. As romance matures and endures the test of time, it reaches another level where trust, faith and respect matter more than roses, chocolates and perfumes.
A mature romance is beyond looks, beyond bad hair days, beyond puffy eyes, beyond mood swings and much much beyond cellulite. It is non- judgmental. It is possessive, yet it gives you the space to flourish and to blossom. It just lets you be.
For me, the most touching act was when my husband donated blood for my dad’s operation. Flowers, roses and perfumes, none came within kissing distance.
I absolutely do not agree when Shobha De says that youth and all things youthful are overrated. No they are not. Youth is magical. If it is overrated, it deserves to be. However, romance is timeless. It only appears in another dress. And as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled with stars. Stars which were invisible by the day.
C’est la vie …Such is Life
‘We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other with us’. I had read this somewhere. I guess the same is true about cities. It’s amazing how a city has the power to envelop you, making you an intrinsic part of the milieu, culture and customs. Over time one gets accustomed to the place, develops a cultural identity, irrespective of the shortcomings.
So, in spite of the foggy winters and stifling summers, excavated roads and endless construction, ostentations and oversized egos, I was in no mood to relocate from Gurgaon. The place was home. Four years ago when my husband announced, “We have to move to Bangalore,” I wasn’t amused. In fact, I was mortified. A new city with no relatives, no friends and absolutely no knowledge of the local language, how else was I supposed to react? And when friends started inviting me for farewell parties, I felt like a sentimental fool. I felt as if this was the only group of friends I could ever have, and that nobody would ever welcome me with open arms. Life was like a carousel on speed, spinning at its own pace, and the only choice was to enjoy the ride with an open mind.
Keeping my apprehensions aside, I embarked on a house hunting trip to Bangalore. I arrived at the airport to be greeted by the gusty winds and limpid showers dancing on the runway. There was a lyrical quality to the rain, never witnessed before. So, this is the much celebrated salubrious weather which beckons, Indians and expats; both flocking to dwell here, I thought.
I sauntered in one of the apartments in search of a suitable residence. The guard stopped me at the gate, “Madam, only residents are allowed.” I pleaded that my intention was to have a look at the layout and the facilities provided, but he refused to budge. As a sudden spell of shower caught me unawares, I scurried for cover under a huge tree with ochre blooms. Sensing my predicament, a lady resident of the apartment offered help. She took me inside the complex, as a personal guest. Born and brought up in Bangalore, she owned the apartment and worked in Whitefield. She even managed to get the number of the property dealer, who helped me in selecting a house within the complex.
After moving in, a few months later I enquired about the lady who had so graciously helped me, even though we had never met earlier. Her neighbors informed that she had relocated to Gurgaon. The surprising revelation was that she moved in my previous apartment on a lower floor but in the same tower!!!
Bangalore offered me an interesting glimpse of theatre at Rang Shankara, an exciting opportunity to interact with eminent writers, a peek at several art galleries and innumerable weekend destinations like Coorg, Hampi, Ooty and Mysore. Not to forget an overnight train journey to Goa. With a diverse cosmopolitan mix, Bangalore was able to whet the appetite for personal growth and quench the thirst for self-embellishment. Nestling in the very lap of nature, cradled by the rain Gods, and blessed with rich culture and heritage, the place made me feel at home. Within a span of four years, I felt like a local, voicing opinions on dwindling water bodies, arguing with the auto-wallahs in chaste Kannada, and savoring the local cuisine.
In the past few years I made wonderful friends; friends who taught me to laugh in-spite of adversities. And then it was time to pack my bags and move on. Back to Gurgaon. I was reluctant again. I guess the place had cast its spell; subtly but surely. As I stood on my twelfth floor balcony a` la Titanic, simply inhaling the crisp Bangalore air, admiring the wind-whipped clouds, I involuntarily whispered, “I’ll miss you Bangalore.”
Once more, it was time to endure the pain of building a new life, dislocating, and emerging out of the comfort zone.
Just not about God
It was the third day after my marriage.
“Beta tumahre maayke se koyi aaya hai,” said my mother-in-law. “He wants to meet you but refuses to come in.”
Who could it be? Puzzled, I rushed out.
Near the gate stood a bearded, elderly looking man, wearing a skull cap. He had a box of sweets in his hand. I strained my eyes to recognize him. Oh, God…It was Quasim, our old house help. When I was a kid, he used to drop me and my brother to school. I had not seen him in a decade. Why was he here?
“Beta aap khush to ho naa?” he asked hesitatingly.
Unable to attend my marriage due to ill health, he had come to Delhi to meet me. Only to ensure that I was happily married!
“Aap andar chaliye. Khaana kha ke jaayega,” I told him. He refused, saying that it was not proper to eat at a daughter’s house. He handed over a box of sweets. There was nothing much to say. He blessed me and left.
Entering my room, I went back to my childhood. Those days, my father a doctor with the Indian Railways, was posted at Moradabad. And Quasim, a middle-aged railway employee, used to work in our house. He would carry my school bag and drop me to school. Then he returned back to complete sundry jobs of buying vegetables and playing cricket with my younger brother. His punctuality, his honesty and his quiet dignified presence was a big support. In fact he was our Man Friday.
Then the unfortunate riots between Hindus and Muslims flared in 1980. We were in school. With minor skirmishes in the city, the situation was tense. That day the school decided to close early. And even before parents could come, Quasim was there to pick me up. Unfortunately, when it was time for him to return back, curfew was imposed. His house was in the heart of the city, where maximum rioting had taken place. Yet, he wanted to go. My father forced him to stay with us that day. Reluctantly he agreed.
Worse was in store that night. Rumors floated that a man from a different community was staying in our house. A fanatical mob had plans to get him that night. Oblivious of the tension prevailing, as kids we were devising plans to hide him. It was exciting, just like a mystery novel. The secluded pooja room in the courtyard was the safest option. My grandmother was not informed about it. It was our secret. For two nights we managed to keep my grandmother away from her pooja room, concocting stories about some repair work. When the curfew was relaxed on the third day, my dad dropped Quasim home in an official vehicle with police escorts. Then my father got transferred to Nagpur, and we lost touch with him.
This incident came to my mind recently when the ghost of Ayodhya had returned to haunt us. And as the government panicked in self-inflicted tension, faith in goodness prevailed. It was all about playing games with the incendiary mix of religion and politics. It was just not about God.
What’s about God, you ask?
Helping, caring, sharing……Maybe it’s as simple as smiling at someone.
Three Little Words
At six, the age of innocence, when monsters lurked in the darkness, when I had scuffed-up knees, and when my body burned with fever, I longed for those three little words.
At ten, the age of music lessons and dolls, I hummed as I chased butterflies, and played with hand-made dolls. Wistfully, I used to whisper three little words when my baby doll cried.
Fifteen was a challenging age. I was out of dolls and had entered into the secrets of the human heart. As I imagined waltzing on wind whipped clouds with my date, perhaps soft music played in the background. I was so close to him, and so in love that I couldn’t hear the melody. Yet, I felt his heart beat in tandem with mine.
“Would anyone, ever say those magical words to me?” I asked my room-mate.
“This is what happens when you have an over-dose of romantic rubbish,” she gesticulated. She tossed my novel aside.
“Please, I need to know.”
“Someone might. You can always lip read,” she said, pointing a finger to her lips. “Until then listen to your own heart. It always says the right things.”
For most, life comes down to a few key moments. For me, it was a few key phrases. I thought about it. True, I could always hear the words emanating from my heart. I strained to listen. It said, ‘Master your mind’. I did.
At sixteen, my heart whispered, ‘Grab your life’. I unleashed my angst at studies. My orphanage, ‘Ashray Akruti’, Hyderabad, assisted at every step. They provided interactive computer software and arranged tutors proficient in teaching deaf students.
At eighteen, my heart said, ‘Dare to dream’. I applied for a scholarship at the College of Sign Languages. As my spirit soared, my heart rejoiced.
At twenty-two, I graduated and applied for several jobs. The applications remained unanswered. My heart repeated, ‘Don’t give up’. At twenty-four, I was offered a job at Infosys, Bangalore.
I met him in my office. He said I talked too much. A man of few words, he sent me amusing notes. It was easy to recognize him. He was the one I waltzed with, at age fifteen.
That day, a massive fire broke out in our office. Smoke billowed from the plastic cables. Oblivious of the fire alarm, I continued working in my cabin. Among the ten dead, three were asphyxiated. Seven jumped to death in sheer panic caused by the commotion of fire announcements. I was fortunate, I couldn’t hear. Attempting to rescue me, he inhaled toxic fumes. He was admitted to the ICU for Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Next day, when offices were cordoned off, they found several burnt credit cards, passports and wallets. Also from his desk, a partially scorched Hallmark card, covered with thick soot. It was for me. The message was burnt. I knew.
I waited anxiously. I prayed fervently. And when the doctor emerged from the ICU, I looked at him with trepidation fluttering in my heart.
“He’s fine. You can see him,” the doctor said.
I remained dazed. The doctor smiled and conveyed the message.
In that moment, I realized that the three most beautiful words coming from my soul were, ‘Thank you God’.