The Man in the Blanket

 

Dr. N. Sharma is a renowned surgeon who has countless achievements in his kitty. A hugely successful doctor, he has scaled newer heights with every passing year. He had worked with the Assam Oil Division Hospital of the Indian Oil Corporation in Digboi, my hometown, and is a great family friend of ours. He retired from the hospital in 2006 and relocated to Guwahati where he presently works with the NEMCARE hospital. His patients love him and adore him for being the most sympathetic doctor ever. The poor worship him for his godly nature and his benevolent activities in the remotest parts of Assam. He, along with his son, Dr. Abhigyan Sharma (my childhood buddy and best friend), pays frequent visits to rural areas of Assam where medical facilities are far fetched. They arrange regular medical camps there and supply medicines free of cost.

Uncle Sharma, being a busy doctor, has to frequently attend medical conferences and hence travel extensively in and around India. Most of his visits turn out to be fruitful and every time he returns richer, equipped with a vast know-how of surgery, the more the better.

One such conference was in Jaipur, the beautiful capital city of Rajasthan and uncle Sharma was one of the invited doctors there. However, this visit stood out from the rest because the journey back home was as strange as it was fulfilling. Uncle had narrated this little incident to us and by the time he had finished, we got goosebumps!

Rajasthan falls in the extreme Northwestern part of India where the Thar desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, proudly stands. Soaring temperatures during the day, drop to uneasy levels by the evening. Summers are longer but winters are dreadfully cold. During one such winter, uncle Sharma had been on a brief visit to the Jaipur medical college for the conference. The conference lasted till late in the evening and uncle had somehow forgotten that the clock was ticking away. He chatted with some of the fellow doctors there and found himself explaining to the student volunteers, certain medical procedures involving surgery.

Suddenly, he remembered that he had a flight to catch from Jaipur and reach Delhi that evening. From Delhi he would be boarding another flight scheduled for Guwahati the morning after. He couldn’t possibly afford to miss the 8:45 pm Air India domestic flight to Delhi, but when he checked his watch, it was already half passed ten at night. The flight must have even reached Delhi by then. He sank into one of the chairs, utterly dismayed. Observing him for a long time was one of the student volunteers of the conference who approached him and sat by his side.

“Sir, is everything alright?” asked the student curiously.

Uncle who had been lamenting over the missed flight, turned to look at him.

“Yes, I have missed my flight to Delhi. It was scheduled at 8:45. I need to reach Delhi tonight itself or by tomorrow morning earliest. Else I shall miss the second flight from Delhi to Guwahati,” uncle replied with palpable disappointment.

“Oh! Don’t worry sir. There’s a night bus that leaves Jaipur for Delhi at 11:30 pm. If you can reach the bus stop by 11 pm, I am sure you’ll catch the bus to Delhi”, assured the student smiling.

“Really? Are you sure it’s possible?” uncle’s face lit up at the proposition.

“Yes sir, I am from Delhi and on vacations, I take the night bus from Jaipur. I think you really should be going now”, the student advised checking his watch.

Thanking the boy immensely, uncle hurried out of the conference hall and hailed the nearest car among a horde of them waiting outside the seminar hall, to drop conference attendees to their nearest destinations. The car sped off towards the bus stop as uncle sank into the comfortable backseat.

They reached the bus stop at a quarter past eleven. Uncle rushed out of the car and hurriedly thanking the driver, ran towards the ticket counter. Fortunately, except for one, all other tickets had been sold.  Heaving a sigh of relief, uncle turned towards the bus almost ready for departure.

It was a heavily crammed bus, overloaded with passengers, heaving and snorting as thick smoke bellowed out of its exhaust pipe. Luggage tied to almost every window railing, and passengers occupying the rooftop, added to the already overcrowded vehicle. Hens inside multiple cages stacked and tied onto the carrier atop, glared out of their prisons and cackled their displeasure in unison. Uncle Sharma was least bothered since he wanted more than anything to board the bus at that precise moment.

As he stepped into the bus, he closed his eyes for a split second to let the spectacle inside sink in. It was filled with villagers with their families travelling to Delhi and some places in between. As he slowly walked past the row of seats, uncle wondered whether he would have to spend the night sitting on the bus floor. Passengers had occupied all the double-seats in either row. As he reached the second last row, uncle grew utterly disappointed.  Not a single seat was left for him. The village folk was noisily chatting about movies, city life, today’s youth and cell phones. Women were trying to control their boisterous children and put them to sleep. Uncle caught a whiff of tobacco and cigarette smoke as the night air grew chillier.

Watching the look of exasperation on uncle’s face, a young man in his early 20’s left his seat for him and informed him that he would get off soon. Thanking the stranger profusely, uncle delivered his briefcase at one of the shelves above the row of seats and sat down and tried in vain to stretch his exhausted legs a little. A cold wind began to blow, moaning at intervals. And the air inside was rapidly turning colder. Uncle was still annoyed with himself for failing to keep a track of time. He watched as more passengers filled into the bus, many of them compelled to stand holding the strap handles of the bus ceiling.

The bus roared to life and moved out of the stop and thus started the nightlong journey. It had taken the route via NH 21 and it was the longest of all routes on road from Jaipur to New Delhi. So it would take more than six hours to reach New Delhi.

Uncle was hungry and tired but conscious of the rustic villagers who were staring at him wide-eyed. He was dressed in formals and frequently glanced at the briefcase in the shelf, inside which were some money, a few conference related documents and a few credit and debit cards. He clearly looked out of place among the hordes of travellers who looked impoverished but were fully covered with warm clothes since it was pretty cold by then. Uncle wished that he had at least brought a jacket to keep himself from the cold.

To his right were strap-hangers struggling to retain their balance as the bus bumped into potholes from time to time. To uncle’s left, occupying the window seat, sat an unseemly man who looked somewhere in his early 70’s. He pulled off the thick gaudy, smelly blanket he had been covering himself with, turned towards uncle and grinned. He smelled of a mixture of onions and garlic. Uncle cringed at his sight and looked away, cursing his fate.

Sahib, have you a sweater or a shawl?” asked the man.

“No.” came a faint reply from uncle, almost inaudible.

“But Sahib, it’s a long journey to Delhi and it’s going to be colder. I can share my blanket with you. I see that you have only a shirt and pant on”, said the man offering uncle the other end of the blanket.

“Oh! No! I am good! Please don’t trouble yourself,” uncle pleaded with the man while silently praying that the man would stop bothering him. The hideous smile troubled uncle even more. In the darkness of the bus, with dim lights casting a neon glow inside, the atmosphere looked hostile and intimidating.

“Are your sure?”asked the man, prying.

“YES! I am. Now, if you would please excuse me,” uncle replied, annoyed and repulsed and pretended to engage himself with his cell phone.

“OK sahib. But take heed”. And the man went off to sleep. Soon he was snoring. Uncle cast a sideways glance at the sleeping man. He had looked rather suspicious. But worst of all, was his foul smelling, retch-inducing blanket that he had covered himself with. Uncle wondered if this man had no sense of smell. The thought of the briefcase up in the shelf worried uncle and the cold gnawed at his skin.

A word of caution from his wife, against travelling with complete strangers, echoed in his ears, and with every passing moment, having to share a nightlong journey with a shady co-passenger, escalated his discomfort. The cell phone battery was draining fast and soon he would be losing contact with the world outside.

The rest of the seated passengers had all dozed off. Even the rowdy kids were quietly sleeping in their mothers’ arms. The strap hangers struggled to keep their eyes open for fear of losing their balance. It was almost midnight and uncle could feel an icy gust of wind forcing its way through the half open bus door. All the windows were tightly shut and yet the cold outside seemed to seep in through the narrowest gaps below the window panes. The bus sped across the deserted National Highway. The night had by now turned bone-chilling and uncle’s teeth chattered as he struggled to breathe. Having no other alternative, he held up his arms and crossed them over his chest. His felt his legs freeze as his fingers went numb.

Unable to bear the cold anymore, he gently attached himself to the eccentric sleeping man to his left and felt the warmth of the thick blanket even as its smell made him dizzy. The portion of the blanket covering the man’s face had slightly come off to reveal his countenance as he slept reclining his head against the bus window for support. The man’s head jerked a little and the tainted glass window quivered noisily with every bump. Uncle was careful not to awaken the queer fellow whose face, uncle observed, had a network of wrinkles. His darkened skin, heavily tanned from labouring in the hot sun, was an indication of decades-long toil and sweat. Uncle looked away but didn’t budge an inch. He found a loose end of the blanket and gently pulled it over his freezing thighs. It felt good. It felt really good. He let go of his shame and aversion and pulled the end a little further and soon, had managed to cover the left portion of his body with the other half of the blanket. The warmth brought profound relief and soon he drifted off to sleep.

Uncle did not know for how long he had slept but when he opened his groggy eyes, heavy from the previous night’s ordeal, it was half past five in the morning already and the bus had halted somewhere. Delhi was an hour away now. Most of the passengers had already left and some had briefly got down to have tea at a roadside stall, rubbing their palms vigorously, to keep from freezing. The sun wasn’t out yet and thick fog had shrouded the adjacent areas, reducing visibility.

On opening his eyes wide, uncle suddenly remembered the man from the night before and immediately turned to find the window seat empty. Shocked, uncle reached for his briefcase and to his relief, found it safely stacked away in the bus shelf. It was then that uncle realized that he still had the blanket on and perhaps that kept the cold out. It seemed as if somebody had tenderly wrapped the blanket around uncle as he slept soundly.

Just then, the bus conductor boarded the bus, smoking a locally made cigarette.

“Hey, there was a man sitting beside me, where’s he gone?” uncle enquired.

“Oh! He? Got off hours back, why?” the conductor wanted to know.

“He left his blanket behind by mistake….” uncle replied agitated but the next moment itself, the truth dawned on him. He stopped short, unable to speak further as a lump settled in his throat. He didn’t hear what the conductor was saying but wrapped the ‘smelly’ blanket tighter around himself and smiled as gratitude filled his heart to the brim…

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A Suicide Note…




Dear parents,

Nobody can comprehend the abominable pain of a girl who sits alone, crying to herself after having strangled a dream with her hands. When a dream shatters, the world outside becomes too much of a burden to bear. It is very difficult to build a dream brick by brick. It’s equally easy to bulldoze the dream and squash it and pretend that it didn’t exist at all.

Ah! Yes! You have guessed it right! I am what you would call “a suicide note”, ain’t I? A note like me would leave you in a state of shock, a note that would send a chill down your spine, a note that my writer left behind as a mark of her grief and excruciating pain.

I silently watched my writer take her last painful breaths. It was quite a heart-rending sight. Read me thoroughly and you will realize the pain behind every word she wrote. I am not just any other “suicide note”. I come from the hands of a writer, a poetess, an artist, a singer, an orator, a dreamer – A brave girl who fought a lost battle! My body is a tear-soaked-and-dried piece of paper, the ink of whose letters would have smudged into black patches, had my writer cried a wee bit more. She didn’t live long enough to drench me with her precious pearly teardrops!

As I watched her cry into me, her fingers trembling at every second word she wrote, I was filled with regret, I wish I could speak!

But I was mute and silently watched her struggle for the last few breaths of air and finally give in.

It’s impossible that a girl like her couldn’t have been determined enough to fulfil her dreams. But hang on, whose dreams are we talking about, hers or yours? For once, stop, rewind and recall that it was your dream she had set herself out to conquer, not hers. I beg to state that her dreams were different from yours. She just simply couldn’t take it any more – struggle to fulfil your dreams that, for you, were seemingly hers too.

Aren’t you convinced yet? Hold it right there! If you couldn’t shed a drop of tear to see her dreams die, how come you now make a sea of tears, weeping your heart out for a corpse devoid of any feelings, let alone a dream?

I am probably yet another ‘suicide note’ trying my best to explain to all unyielding parents, where they usually go wrong! Don’t you now regret that had she been alive, you would let her pursue her dreams? Is a career choice a subject to fight over? Who knows where this poor girl would have landed, had you let her dreams take wings?

I wouldn’t say that my writer was brave enough to cut short her life! But she had been a fighter once. The question of losing or winning the battle would come much later. I feel sorry for her for committing the mistake of choosing the wrong option – death over her dreams…

So, here I am a reminder on her behalf, to all those parents to loosen the noose around your child’s dreams and let them breathe.

Ah! The pain of being branded ‘a suicide note’! I am much more than just a ‘suicide note’. I am a silent representative of a rebel, of a squashed dream, of a frustrated soul without which the mortal body is nothing but a stone-cold model of clay subject to cremation or burial…

The soul in its quest for freedom and fulfillment of a cherished dream wanders from one corner of the universe to another till it finds what it has been looking for. I am an unfulfilled wish, a message the soul leaves behind each time the body it resides in, fails to accomplish its wishes.

I am the last vestige of a soul trembling inside a mortal body. I am, and will continue to be a painful reminder of how once upon a time a dream shattered into pieces, the remains of which will always bring back the memories of all those happy times you were beside her and all those sad moments she had been left alone to cry herself to sleep every night…

I am a part of her… treasure me if you will, or crumple me, that again is your wish………..

Regards,

‘A suicide note’

The Happy Balcony

My dad’s apartment balcony appeals to me immensely. It makes me feel alive…

My dad has recently bought an apartment at the same town where I have been living with my in laws after marriage. The apartment is one of 40 other apartments in the same building which are gradually being occupied by families who, like my dad, had booked them during their construction. Dad’s apartment is unlike all the 39 other apartments in the eight-storey building. It has a large magnificent balcony that resembles a terrace in many ways. Overlooking the balcony is a splendid view of the mighty river Brahmaputra though it is pretty distant from where the building stands.

A panoramic view of the river, a distinct white patch of water, with the spectacular Patkai hills serving as a backdrop, is a breathtaking experience. The living room opens out to the balcony and through the tall sliding glass doors (I prefer calling them French windows except that they are sliding), you can enjoy the view of the majestic dark grey hills and the river softly flowing by. We, in the remotest corner of upper Assam are blessed with frequent showers of rain that pour down in myriad forms – sometimes a slanting torrential shower hitting at the ‘French window’ panes, while at other times, a drizzle enveloping the scenery with white.

At times, rain clouds drifting by, give wings to your thoughts and make your heart flutter. Chunks of them that bear a striking resemblance to gigantic cotton balls gradually take on a greyish hue as more droplets of water accumulate for a brief spell. And sitting by the ‘French windows’, all a writer would need is a pen and a diary or a laptop in these times while a canvas and some colours suffice for an artist. A singer would easily do with a Tambura and soon you would hear them croon some melodious tunes while the supporting chords produced by plucking the strings of the accompanying Tambura would gently mingle with the breeze and be carried aloft afar. A leisurely walk along the balcony offers an amazing experience. I adore this apartment for its unusually large balcony. It seems to set the mood for any occasion and give food for thought. Being a writer, I enjoy every waking moment in this house.

And now, while I am struggling to quicken the keystrokes on my laptop writing pad, I can already hear a subdued thunder signaling the arrival of forthcoming rain. It will shower in a little while as the clouds hovering above beckon me to hasten. I shall run out to the balcony and let the rain drops drench me completely. I call this love…

The 10-rupee Note!

Ordinary life is a life barely lived. Because, a life without unexpected turns and twists and the subsequent ability to maneuver through, is not worthwhile. Most people simply accept the way things are and move on, not bothering to ponder awhile about these seemingly ‘ordinary’ things that come their way. They simply ignore them, thus failing in the potentiality to transform the ‘ordinary’ into an extraordinary something.

One such ‘ordinary’ thing that came our way, was a simple 10-rupee note. Read on if you are an animal lover.

One summer evening, while having tea, my father was counting some smaller denomination notes, precisely; 10-rupee notes and keeping them separately as change for emergencies, since in our present times, change-notes are hard to produce. I was reading a book and occasionally throwing cursory glances at the soiled notes father was so busily arranging, when all of a sudden, my eyes fell upon one particular 10-rupee note which seemed to have something written on it. Father also noticed it. The writing on the note seemed curiously small.  Father singled out the note and started to read it. Quite surprisingly, this was written on it:

I am totally heartbroken as my sweet cat Poali died in a road accident on February 23, 2016 between 11:25-11:40 pm.  My life is in serious jeopardy. I don’t know how I shall live without Poali since she was very close to my heart. Life is difficult without my cat, Poali.

We were dumbfounded and sat staring at it while the note fluttered in the wind. Father couldn’t seem to recall where and when he had received the note.  I read and re-read the note, flipped it over to check if the writer had jotted down anything else, but couldn’t find any. We assumed that it must have been a girl who was devastated by the sudden death of her beloved pet cat. Continue reading “The 10-rupee Note!”

A Birthday Shock!

A few years back, while on a visit to Kolkata at my uncle’s place in Tollygunge, my cousin Smita and I had planned a surprise birthday party for our respective mothers. Both the ladies had their birthday dates close to each other and so, we had planned to choose a date (July 5, 2014) in between and surprise our mothers with a beautiful cake from Kolkata’s popular sweet shop, Mio Amore.
On the evening of July 5, Smita and I visited a Mio Amore outlet nearby. On entering the shop, we found a number of delicious cakes. We went for a Chocolate Truffle Cake that looked pretty yummy and tempting. One of the salesmen, an oldie, asked me,”And would you like to get something written on the cake?”

“Oh yes, Of course”, came my instant response.
There wasn’t much space left on the cake for writing, so we decided to write the shortest and cutest wish that could be accommodated on the cake surface.

It was a birthday cake obviously, so we chose to exclude the ‘Happy Birthday’ wish and instead write something more interesting.

“Umm”, I thought and an idea struck me. “Write down, ‘Two Super MOMS’, I told the man as he waited open mouthed and impatient, with the icing cone in his hand.

“Ok, what’s that again?”

“Two Super Moms”, I repeated and looked at my sister with raised eyebrows for her approval. She smiled and nodded.

We waited drumming our fingers on the massive glass cabinet inside which were kept five other flavoured cakes on display while the old man went to work on our cake.

“There, done!”, exclaimed the old man and packing the cake neatly into a giant box, handed it over to us.

Handing the oldie, Rs. 650, we left the shop gleefully. On the way home, we bought a packet of scented candles, colourful streamers and balloons. We had to sneak in the cake home since it was meant to be a surprise.

At home, we chose a secluded room and started decorating it with the streamers and the balloons we had bought. Mother and aunt were both unaware of our intentions but were curious as to what the two of us were up to. Soon, we had decorated the room and locked it from outside. We told them that there was something we wanted to show them. My father and uncle had just returned home from a brief evening walk and were having tea when we decided to get the celebrations started.

Smita and I returned to our room to have one last look at anything that might appear out of place. Everything seemed perfect and so we decided to open the box that contained the cake. We placed the box on the centre table in the room and asked everyone to come in. Switching off the lights, we lit the candles that we had already placed around the box in a circular pattern. With the candles ready by our side, we knelt down and opened the box finally.

On opening the cover, we gaped open mouthed, not at the cake, but at the writing on the surface. On it was written:

Two Super MOMOS….!!!!

 

Empowering our women

On 31st May, 2017, the results of the Civil Services Examination were declared and not surprisingly, the topper was yet again a woman. Nandini K.R of Karnataka, who topped the list of all the 180 candidates who made it to the prestigious and coveted Indian Administrative Services (out of a total of 1099 candidates who cleared the Civil Services examination this year), is just one among thousands of women whose success stories in diverse fields have inspired countless others, men and women. And yet the patriarchal mindset of the Indian Society has still to comprehend the power of its women. This narrow outlook of a greater section of the Indian social structure looks down upon women who are willing to break the stereotypes and march ahead.  While a majority of such groups can be found in the remote locations of this country where illiteracy still abounds, many urban localities are also in a perpetual state of confusion of whether or not a woman should be allowed to dress according to her choice, return home late from work and even continue to work after marriage. This is a sorry state of affairs because education has not been able to alter people’s way of thinking.  While there can be no restrictions on the thought processes of such groups, a woman should also be at liberty to decide what is best for her.

While it is easy to write about or even deliver a lecture on Women Empowerment, the loquaciousness of it all is a farce. Empowering a woman in reality is easier said than done. While I enjoy the privilege of making choices for myself, does every woman enjoy even half of what I do? This realization is both blissful and terrible. I feel blessed to be among the chosen ones to avail of all the good things in life even as the awareness that thousands of women aren’t as fortunate as I am, shocks me.  If this is what is meant by 70 years of Indian Independence, I beg to state that our people still haven’t known the basic essence of freedom – the liberty of women. It is only when a woman has the right educate herself and break the shackles of unjust curbs on her self-determination, can a society expect to call itself free.

Even as I am writing this article, I know that some girl in some corner of the country is facing unspeakable atrocities. She must be faced with an adverse circumstance from which there is no escape. I am compelled to wonder what help my article is rendering to her. Am I empowered enough to reach out to her and shield her from unwarranted troubles?

Continue reading

One last goodbye…is all I need

copy-of-picture-0335A song I had written for him,

Put a slice of my heart within

A song of a love that ended so soon,

A love that ended one fine afternoon

 

Pain flowed through my veins as I

ran through the streets some flowers to buy

Fleeting moments rushed by,

As I was wishing my love one last goodbye

 

The promise of a lifetime love,

the promise to be a shelter above,

was breaking like a house of glass,

was breaking my heart forever…alas!!

 

With nimble fingers I wrapped the thing

As sorrow flooded my heart to the brim….

Sorrow ripped through my veins as I

Was bidding my love one last goodbye….

 

I waited for him by the riverside,

Waited as I silently cried,

Morning went by and came afternoon

Afternoon too flew by so soon

 

Came evening and he still didn’t come,

The pain in me was starting to numb

As time flew by, I realized that I

Would have to say a quiet goodbye…

 

He never really came to see

A girl lost in the world of insanity.

My song would never be sung again

As I clung to it, writhing in pain…

 

Those letters dripping blood in vain

Were the last traces of a heart in pain.

A heart that would forever try

To wish its love one last goodbye……….

Web of Terror

I saw him the other day, majestic, enormous, a colossal structure hanging upside down on the huge circular web he had so intricately constructed for himself. The ambiance seemed to exude his pride and power as he softly budged on his web. He appeared to be quite pleased with himself as he had found a safe haven to build his web in a secure corner of the kitchen garden at the backside of my house. He must have observed the absence of human interference and chose the safe spot for himself. But gigantic that he was, I easily spotted him on my way down the stairs that day. His diabolic eight arms were sinisterly large for his body. His web which resembled a prison in more ways than one, held captive numerous smaller and feebler insects who found themselves stuck there for eternity. Some of them had apparently put up a brave fight to break free, ending up doubly entangled while Mr. Spider smirked as he hung upside down.

I observed him for a few minutes and made a decision.

On my way to work that day, I had informed our gardener about the spider and asked him to pull down the web. It was as creepy as it was threatening. When I returned from work, I went to check behind the house to see if the gardener had remembered the extra work I had entrusted upon him. However, I hadn’t said anything to him about killing the arachnid.  I have never been in favour of killing any creature however tiny they might be.

As I climbed down the staircase, I found the web as well as the spider missing. On walking a little farther, I beheld the big black monster lying on its back on the small cemented path in the garden. He looked dead, his eight arms, lifeless and stricken and battered. He reminded me in some inexplicable way of the great fall of the Bastille on the eve of the French Revolution, the Bastille, a symbol of power and authority in the centre of Paris. As with all tyrannical monarchs of the ancient and the present time, downfall has been a constant outcome.

Power in its extremity is an ominous precursor to death and annihilation. The big black arachnid might have been one of the minutest examples of a foreboding end to supremacy in a miniature form. But every big and small must come to an end. Power is but a momentary flexing of muscles, a transient phase, the stage before obliteration of the great and the tiny, the supreme and the minuscule.

The Bastille might have been a symbol of French supremacy, but the throne came down, and so did the vast empire. Similarly, instances of violent activities in today’s world are but a simple repetition of History. The perpetrators of crimes everywhere have one universal purpose – an insufferable thirst for absolute power. And they make religion a scapegoat, concealing their ugly faces under its garb. They take refuge in the vulnerability of their beliefs and invent new ways to construe their religious conviction, thus deriving dreadfully erroneous interpretations of their religion.

They are like insects multiplying in thousands, the squashing of which only further aggravates the state of affairs. They are like the spider whose sadism is but a game of power and a fake sense of triumph over innocents that one day causes its death and destruction. The web of terrorism will ensnare the webmasters themselves someday and strangle them in their self-built internets of brutality and genocide. Their end will be celebrated by the world while History will blame them for their atrocities.

And here in this corner of the garden, all that remained of the spider was a battered body, the web ruined and its prisoners set free, some dead, some rejoicing at the emancipation.

The spider had lost no time in manufacturing the web as big as he could; he made use of the opportunity to construct the hideous death-trap. It kept capturing the delicate butterflies, moths and flies while the spider relished every bit of it, devouring them at his will. And finally with one blow, he and his web came down like a dethroned dictator, lifeless and still, all his pride having melted into the air that once reeked of his shocking authority.

A day will come when all acts of terror will be rewarded in a manner unimaginable and most gruesome. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with the bones…”

However mighty, they will be crushed like paper crumpled and thrown into the litter bin.  One day this will all end in a dreadful climax that might also see many innocents sacrificed for the greater good. And that day is not far because the world is almost satiated with terrorist activities. The end cannot be seen but can undoubtedly be predicted. We shall eagerly wait for that day and we shall rejoice if we live to see the day.

Desert Rain

“I wish it were a dream, doctor!” said a nervous father to Dr. Jagdish Kapoor, the famous neurologist. “And then I would wake up to find him sleeping beside me”.

Dr. Jagdish Kapoor silently studied the blank stare of the man sitting opposite to him in his chamber. The man was lost in thought. He thought of his only son Anuj who would undergo a critical operation the next day which would either give him a new life or surrender him to the evil clutches of death…..

Removal of two brain cysts involved incredible risks!

Six years after Abhay Agarwal’s wife, Sunita had passed away; the poor man was yet again caught in the cruel web of fate. How was he to know that 13-year old Anuj had been living with the two cysts in his brain for almost ten months now?

On Thursday night, while packing his schoolbag, Anuj felt a sudden sharp pain on the right hand side of his head. The piercing pain made him collapse on the floor of his bedroom and objects started getting blurred before his eyes, and then it was all dark.…

He woke up to find to find himself on the hospital bed while his tearful father sat next to him. A doctor was checking Anuj’s pulse.

Anuj’s neuro-diagnosis revealed that the cysts had developed in the temporal lobe of his brain. Furthermore, Dr. Kapoor had said that more than ninety-five percent of the brain cysts turned out to be malignant if not detected in proper time and chances of the patient falling into a coma were highly probable, and here was Anuj, surviving blissfully with the two cysts in his brain for the last nine months and 21 days!

The report also revealed that Anuj’s intra-cranial pressure was pretty high and according to Dr. Kapoor, this could cause further damage to the brain.

While signing the bond, Mr. Agarwal, feeling a lump in his throat, asked the doctor, “Will he have to undergo the operation tomorrow itself, doctor? Tomorrow is Anuj’s birthday.”

Dr. Kapoor reached out across the table to firmly hold the man’s trembling hands. He replied, “Look Mr. Agarwal, this is a serious case and Anuj’s condition is getting worse every single day. This sounds harsh but I can’t help it. We can’t let the cysts cause further damage to the brain. On our part, we’ll try our best, I promise. Let God decide the rest. Have faith in His wonders and He will not let you down. I have faith in Him”.

Wiping a stream of uncontrollable tears with his handkerchief, Mr. Agarwal shifted his gaze and stared at the small heart-shaped table clock on the doctor’s table that had just struck six in the evening. “Fourteen more hours to go and Anuj would be in the operation theatre, fighting for dear life”, he thought.

The nearby Shiv temple, visible from the doctor’s window, shone with lights decorating it. The resounding bells and conch shells from the temple indicated the evening prayer. Scores of people entered and came out of the age old temple. Anuj loved the big olive tree that stood beside the temple entrance. Every Sunday, Mr. Agarwal would drive to the temple with Anuj. During winters, Anuj would bring a small bag and fill it up with olives. He loved olives. He used to prepare bowlfuls of lip-smacking chutney out of them.

After the sudden and unexpected death of Sunita, a grief-stricken Mr. Agarwal had sought refuge in his son’s happiness. Taking up a mother’s place, was a mammoth task. But the man had been successful in being both a father and a mother to the child. And now that he and Anuj had built a strong cocoon of love, understanding and empathy, fate took a violent turn.

Standing up to leave the doctor’s chamber, Mr. Agarwal asked in a broken voice, “Will my son live, doctor?” Dr. Kapoor simply nodded with a forced smile, trying to look confident. Looking older than forty-five, Mr. Agarwal went out of the doctor’s chamber and closed the door behind him.

Strangely enough, he did not go to see his son who was already hospitalized and waiting to be held in his father’s embrace perhaps for the last time. He simply directed his footsteps out of the hospital gate. Brushing away leaves that had fallen on the roof of the Ford Ikon, he entered into the car and drove away. While driving, he kept mumbling to himself. Having reached home, he parked his car and without halting to answer a volley of questions thrown by the maid, straightaway rushed to his room and locked himself up. He pulled the curtains and switched on the light. Mr. Agarwal wanted to think, recollect old memories of Anuj’s childhood. He brought out some photographs of Anuj from the cupboard and flipped through them, occasionally caressing little Anuj in his individual photos. “My son!” he sighed. Sadly, he put away the photographs and prayed silently.

Somewhere in the corner of his aching heart, he had suppressed a million tears, emotional outbursts, misgivings and fears that predominate over other feelings when circumstances as such are forced upon the normal human being. Dr. Kapoor’s words kept ringing in his ears, “Anuj’s condition is getting worse every single day.”

Every word was like a thousand daggers stabbing at his heart, making it bleed incessantly. He wanted to scream his lungs out; he wanted to sob in agony but thought better of it. He refused to touch a morsel of food. Locked up in his room, all he could gather in his disturbed mind was memories of happy times…..

As the clock struck midnight, he silently wished, “Happy Birthday, my son. This is the first time you aren’t beside me on your birthday.” He prayed again, but this time, with renewed energy and a flicker of hope amidst the clouds of despair, uncertainty and sorrow.

He lay down but sleep was miles away from him. Throughout the night, he kept tossing and turning on his bed, counting every minute that was slipping away………..

The next morning, he drove to the hospital at around eight. Nimble and trembling footsteps were directed towards the operation theatre. The operation was about to begin at eight sharp and he knew that he was late. The doors of the operation theatre were closing like a story coming to its end. He screamed, “Wait! I want to see Anuj, please wait! Please……!”

His screams became fainter and fainter till they died away like a sforzandie. Gradually, it turned dark. Someone was shaking him vigorously. “Dad! Wake up, there you are! Dreaming again!” were perhaps the sweetest words he had ever heard. They were like a drizzle on a desert that had forgotten the taste of water for years……….

‘Whom dost thou worship…?’

Durga, the invincible, the embodiment of power and prowess, the very mention of whose name generates fear in the eyes of the demon, the symbol of an enlightened woman who has form and is yet formless, is the most revered Goddess in Hinduism. She creates, preserves and annihilates. She is the enchantress, the symbol of the combined all-encompassing strength of heaven and earth. She is the storm that lashes against evil, nipping it in the bud. Durga, the protector of her children, Durga, the destroyer of evil on earth!

But Durga is not just a vision of the tall, towering clay idol that we worship with deepest regards, she is the mother we despise and disrespect every day, the illiterate sister in an almost semi-urban household, whose brother boasts of his educational qualifications, the well-educated wife whose chauvinist husband is averse to the idea of her going out to work in case she outshines him. She is the sorrow in the form of a baby girl whose parents had prayed for a son. She is the stranger on the streets, in the bus or the train, whose vulnerability we so readily take for granted and commit all sorts of atrocities on her and almost rip her pounding heart apart! She is the daughter whose parents are sceptical of sending her out to study or work for fear of prowling ogres waiting just outside to pounce on her.

She is a small town girl whose battle for survival forces her to manage an entire shop selling articles of daily use, the sole bread winner of her poor family, and we, the society are critical of a young girl sitting at a shop, we who have nothing to provide except criticism and disapproval, we who would refuse to inspire her to dream and yet drag her as a topic into our fruitless gossip and share a smirk among ourselves.

She is the young bride who is incinerated by her greedy in-laws for her inability to furnish the colossal dowry amount demanded by them.

She is the young widow who is forced to accept white as the only colour of her life because her husband is dead. We choose what she should eat to stay alive and deprive her of all the comforts that we think only we deserve.

Why change the established norms of social behaviour even at the cost of a woman’s right to happiness? Why tolerate a woman’s ‘audacity’ to break the barriers of superstitions and rules that make her life miserable? Why let her rise above the petty human beliefs into a higher realm of power, wisdom and greatness?

Why worship Durga? Why place flowers of numerous colours and fragrances at her feet, why offer her the chosen fruits and vegetables, sing in her glory, bow down before her in an act of reverence, chant unintelligible incantations before a fire in praise of her heroism? Unintelligible they are, since most of them are beyond our levels of comprehension, and because they are only meant for those four days of devoted worship, post which the books are pushed aside, the reverence forgotten and we are back to the dirt, to the real monsters we are, to a reality where Durga is only an immersed idol whose glory dissolves with the dissolving clay model in the blackened waters of human pomp and show.

And still every year our hearts are filled with joy at the prospect of Durga’s arrival. Who are we? Hypocrites who put up a fake show of our devotion before the Goddess and stab her from behind? Devils in sheep’s clothing making a mockery of our own set of rituals and ceremonial offerings?

A restless society devoid of the fundamentals of humanity does not deserve to celebrate and spend lavishly for empty reasons. How do we call ourselves a civilized nation when we cannot ensure the safety and freedom of the women of our land?

I would rather think of us as embodiments of the legendary ‘Mahishasura’ underneath the lotus feet of the Goddess begging for mercy, for one last chance to reform ourselves.

Durga puja should be celebrated only when we learn to give a woman her rightful place in our society. Only when we learn to sympathize with the mother, the sister, the baby girl, the daughter, the stranger, the bride and the widow, should we get the right to celebrate Durga puja.

We are to reform, to re-establish, to restructure and to reawaken the society which is slumbering presently, and give our women the happiness they deserve and only then can we worship Durga in all her magnificence.

 

Where the clear stream of glory has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

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

(Rabindranath Tagore)