Witches of Tory Island

Wisdom in Winter

Kate dreamed of a beautiful lady standing on the cliff of the hill next to the lane she lived in. With her arms spread out wide, the lady shot a beautiful arc of fire from her fingertips.

The arc mixed with the lightning in the fiery sky and the whole world erupted in a display of sparkles. As Kate turned her eyes back to the dream-lady, she was stunned to see that the lady was looking right at her.

Unable to move, Kate stood rooted to the spot as the dream-lady floated towards her. As she drew near, Kate could her features clearly.

The lady had an ethereal beauty, though her eyes looked familiar. As her translucent being came to a stop directly in front of Kate, the lady held out her hand and almost out of her own volition, Kate raised her hand and placed in the hand of the lady.

“It is almost time my child. He is coming. Stay alert,” she warned. “But who are you? And how are we talking in a dream?” asked Kate.

The lady simply smiled at her and said, “We will meet soon enough. For the moment, suffice it to know that I am your guardian angel. I have temporarily delayed the evil, but my spells won’t last too long. He is getting stronger and fiercer.

Starting to fade, the dream-lady added, “I have sent you help. And here, keep this charm with you always. String it in your chain and never take it off, not even when you are in the shower,” and shimmered out of focus.

“Wait!! I have no clue what you are talking about!!” shouted a bewildered Kate.

A bird chirped just outside her window and Kate woke up with a start. She recalled the dream vividly and shaking her head at her own silliness, went into the bathroom to get ready for the day.

As she looked into the mirror, she saw a beautiful pendant on the chain around her neck. It had not been there last night when she went to bed.

Wisdom in Winter
 now available on Kindle for your Halloween fix!

Big Fat Soap Opera

I am a serial-watcher… or was one till a while ago anyway. There were a few serials (soaps) that I used to love to watch just because they happened to be playing when the home was empty and I needed to hear human voices. And then again, there were some I felt a ‘connect’ with. And then there have been some that would give me a happy feeling all over.

Were? Would? Was? Why am I saying all this in past tense? Well, that’s because I am afraid I have developed a memory problem. I just can’t remember who’s whose who when I watch the big fat Indian dramas!

I am one of the first-generation television watchers. Doordarshan was the only channel that aired back in those days and we grew up watching the “7 O’ Clock News”. Ramayan and Mahabharat were the only two ‘serials’ that aired back then. Other than that, there would be some nice songs that would occasionally play on the T.V. set.

Sita is Lord Ram’s wife and Ravan is the evil asura who has kidnapped Sita to avenge the insult to his sister at hands of Lord Ram’s brother while the trio is living in exile. Hanuman, the ardent devotee of Lord Ram helps rescue Sita from the evil asura. See my point? I was able to summarize the entire epic saga in a line or two.

Now let me try the same with modern-day serials. An orphaned girl grows up in the home of her mama-mami. They have a daughter of their own too. The two sisters grow up together. The mami obviously had to favor her own obnoxious daughter over the oh-so-bechaari, super well-behaved, sarvagunn sampan orphan niece.

The now grown-up sisters now of course have to get married into the same home. The orphan girl has to end up marrying the elder son of the family – the one who holds the most power in the family business, while the mami is unhappy that her daughter is marrying the wealthy, but less powerful younger brother.

No one wonders why anyone would want to marry college-going girls. And no one wonders why the college going girls would be willing to give up their fun-filled carefree college life and get married mid way through college.

Anyway, now that they are married, the behen-jethani combo should be happily married, shouldn’t they? But no, the elder brother has to have some weirdo ex-girlfriend who still loves him and wants to woo him back despite the fact that he’s now a married man. And this fellow also chooses to keep his gareeb-gaay of a wife in the dark about his past. Not only that, they decide to sleep on separate beds albeit in the same room, for reasons I fail to understand.

Over time, the gareeb-gaay wins over the love of all the family, including that of her husband, while being draped in heavy saris and ornaments. She is shown heavily made up with zumkas and lipsticks and bindis even when she is busy toiling in the hot kitchen or preparing to go to sleep. Ouch!! Even watching the poor little rich bahu gives me an ache in my earloboes, my back and my neck!

The obnoxious younger sister is meanwhile shown enjoying the life of a newly married girl spending lovey-dovey moments and exchanging mushy romantic notes with her husband. And yet, the mami is unhappy that her daughter is ‘poor’.

Thus follows a looooong saga of employing various tactics to get the younger brother to ‘wisen up’ and become the leader of the company. You may choose to call it a modern-day urban take on the Ramayana. If Lakshman left his wife in the marital abode to follow his bhaiyya Ram and bhaabhi Sita into exile, then today’s Lakshman ends up doing the exact opposite by trying to usurp his brother’s power in the family owned Business Empire.

One fateful day, while the elder bechaari bahu is doing her shringaar after her morning bath, she accidently drops the tiny box containing red vermillon (sindoor) – the mark of a married woman. The bechaari bahu lets out a blood curdling scream. All the family members enter her room and the camera zooms in on the shocked faces of every single family member who is looking in a daze at the floor.

The episode ends there, leaving me wondering if I mistakenly thought it was a sindoor kee dibiya. Seeing the shocked expressions, I wonder if maybe the dibiya contained some poisonous insect which has now escaped and may sting anyone present. By the way, this is exactly how I scream when I happen to see a lizard wandering about in my home. Wink Wink!

The subsequent episode wastes fifteen precious minutes in the oh-so-suspenseful recap. And when the camera finally pans on to the floor, one sees a huge amount of sindoor spilled on the floor. Now I wonder how so much sindoor could fit in such a tiny dibiya in the first place.

Well, back to the topic of discussion, the sasuma scolds the already weeping bechaari bahu for being so careless. Now I am thinking the sasuma is an intelligent lady for scolding the weepy bahu. She is going to tell the bahu to stop shedding tears and get a mop to clean up the mess. But no, I am proven wrong yet again.

Now the panditji is called upon. He prescribes a complicated task and the bechari bahu has to perform it in a very painful manner so as to ward off any evil fate that may befall the bada-beta of the khandaan. In the meantime, the married woman in me is screaming for someone to clean up the spilled sindoor mess left in the bedroom!

But as luck may have it, the beloved husband just has to have an accident the moment the bechaari bahu drops the vermillon box. Now she must pass the agni-pariksha to save her husband. While doing this, she must put her life at risk an umpteen number of times. And to multiply her woes, she realizes she’s pregnant with the khandaan ka vansh. Now she has to achieve the herculean agni-pariksha despite her pregnancy.

In the meantime, the husband recovers and the bechaari bahu has now become the laadli bahu. But as luck would have it, her good fortune is short-lived. The husband dies just around the time the baby is born and the poor widow is now thrown out of her marital home as she has committed some oh-so-serious blunder.

She spends the next few years bringing up her child by herself. The poor vidhwa-ma is now a tired old lady and her child has grown up to be very well-educated and of course good looking. He lands a job in his father’s company and nobody knows that he’s the real heir. He befriends the current owner who is his uncle and saves the family from many troubles.

Over time, they begin to invite him for various parties and he falls in love with his chachi/mausi’s maternal sister’s daughter. One day, the bechaari vidhwa maa is being insulted by her marital family for just happening to show them her face and her son steps in to “save” her from their insults. From there, it all goes south and the serial starts taking countless time leaps.

In the entire saga, there is a poor immortal dadima, whose role is unexplained. The then eighty year old dadi now looks like an eighty-five year old dadi by streaking a few more hair grey, adding thicker eye-glasses. Further time leaps are supported by adding hearing aids and putting the dadi on the wheelchair, but the dadi never dies. By now, I want to leap from my window!

Some actors who chose not to continue after time leaps are replaced by someone else. Someone is shown dying and someone is shown remarrying twice, thrice and at the end, returning to the spouse they first married. Well duh! How in the world am I supposed to remember who’s whose who?

 

 

*P.S. The blog post above is solely my opinion and I strongly recommend you agree to it. Your sanity and memory are subject to the insanity of the soaps and please don’t say I didn’t warn you when you realize I was right all along!

Walking down the street

“Hey you! Yes you! What are you looking at?” dear reader, isn’t this what we all shout (in our mind ofcourse) when we someone undressing us with their eyes? One day, I was walking on the street near my home, running my errands as I do daily and I passed by a guy talking on the phone. He actually stopped talking and stared at me saying, “Wow! Even the lace of your bra matches the colour of your dress.” What in the…? Of course, I pretended not to have even heard him and continued marching ahead without even pausing in my step.

I should be proud of myself for not reacting to his crazy comment, shouldn’t I? Or should I? I was seething inside by the time I reached home. Almost all of us have experienced countless such ‘crazy moments’ in our lives. I have heard that men face some such bizarre situations too, but not as much as, and not to the same extent as women.

One other day, I was clad in the utmost ethnic attire of India – a saree. I was fully, decently covered from head to toe. Being in a rush to reach my workplace, I beeped the horn of my scooter. And as my luck would have it, the fellow gaily jaunting in the middle of the street happened to be yet another motherless fellow. He turned around, looked at me, and then passed some lewd comments which I cannot even bring myself to replicate here!

A few days ago, a few pre-teen girls I know, told me that they faced mental harassment at their gym from the gym coach. He would taunt them about their physique, about their looks and even their attire. One day, one of the girls just lost her temper and outright asked him, “Sir, why don’t you go judge a modeling contest or the Olympics or something instead of troubling us daily?” The coach was thankfully shocked into silence.

A few days later, I happened to meet the ‘brave’ girl again. I asked her how her cheerleading practice at the gym was going. And she replied, “My parents made me quit.” I was stunned. She was a cheerleading champion. “How could you quit? What happened?” And the morose not-so-little girl explained, “When my folks came to know about my outburst, they got afraid. They were scared that the coach would try to avenge the ‘insult’ that I had inflicted upon him.”

“What nonsense!” I burst out, “He is not the only coach there. I am sure you could take the matter up with the higher authorities of the gym.” “I could, but to what purpose? They would let him off with only a plain vanilla warning, even if that. And more than likely, he would come back stronger to affect either my grades or worse,” she concluded. That explanation coming from a pre-teenager shut me up effectively.

A few days ago, I attended a party. There were of course many people present there, most of who I knew. A few females in the party made a beeline straight for the washroom as soon as they entered the venue. ‘How vain!’ I thought to myself, ‘they’ve come here from home and yet they want to waste time touching up their make-up and brushing their hair?’

After a while, my pride burst like an over-inflated balloon. The women had come to the party dressed in super simple clothes, but their trip to the washroom changed them into beautiful Greek Goddesses. Gone was the super boring and staid cotton “salwar-suit-dupatta” combination. In its place was now a beautiful sari replete with a shimmery golden blouse and very modern hairdo! Yet another lady had changed out of her elegant but boring formal kurta into a classy, shiny, flowing top! A very dear friend of mine had arrived at the venue suitably dressed for the party, but her make-up magic in the washroom had transformed her into a diva.

I wondered why they hadn’t done all this in the air-conditioned comfort at home instead of changing in the smelly washroom. The answer came to me a few hours later as the party began wrapping up. We had had a great time exchanging pleasantries outside our workplace. I had even enjoyed chatting with an otherwise ‘bitchy’ lady from work. Outside the workplace, in this social setting, she had felt comfortable enough to tell me all about her financial struggles and how much she needed this job. Maybe the stress had gotten to her and made her behave so badly towards me at work, I realized.

So then, as we began readying to exit the party, most of the ladies once again made a beeline for the washroom. ‘What now?’ I thought to myself. I had to stay back and wait for my friend as she lived close to my place and I had offered to drive her home. Finally, the diva make up and hairdo gone, replaced with a boring bun, she came out.

Once we were safely cocooned in my car, I asked her, “You looked so beautiful tonight with that make-up and hairdo. Why did you have to remove it?” She turned towards me and replied candidly, “Babe, your housing complex has security cameras, mine doesn’t”. “Shikha! What in the world do security cameras have to do with your makeup?” I asked in exasperation. Her reply left me astounded.

“I am returning home so late, clearly being dropped by someone in an expensive car. My attire clearly shouts that I have been to a party. If my neighbours or someone in the neighbourhood sees me like this, they are going to assume the worst of me,” she was cool. I was not. “Did you drink something? Are you drunk?” I almost shouted at her. Shikha, my super smart, wise friend Shikha was making no sense at all.

“Sweets, I did have a glass of wine, but I am not drunk. My husband travels eight months a year. My in-laws are no more and my parents live in the States with my brother. So basically, I live alone with my infant for better part of the year. If anyone ever starts thinking of me as an irresponsible single mother, they are going to start speaking negatively about my character. Moreover, these days, one cannot trust anyone. That is why I make it a point to always look like a ‘behenji’ when my husband is away. Otherwise, people of all types will start trying to take undue advantage of my situation,” she reasoned.

“So they don’t take undue advantage now?” I asked her. “Well, my neighbours are fortunately extremely sweet people. The gentleman has served in the army and therefore the lady understands my ‘single mother for eight months a year’ situation. But other than that, I have had everyone from the milkman to the security guy to the shopkeeper ask me about the whereabouts of my husband. Why just that? I have heard gossip-mongers discussing my ‘open’ status too!” she explained as if talking to a small child.

By now, we had reached her home and Shikha got out of my car. She clearly and loudly thanked me, making sure to mention my name so that anyone within hearing shot would know she’d returned home with a female. I wryly shook my head and drove on home. As I turned the key in the lock, I felt grateful for my huge, loving, sometimes over-stifling family. Never again would I take their presence for granted, I vowed to myself.

 

P.S. Not all the experiences and characters mentioned in the above blog are true, but not all are fake either. Some are true, some fake and others, well, let’s call them inspired. 

Shaadi-Vaadi

“I feel like a museum piece!” my fingers flew over the keypad of my mobile phone. “Chillax lil sis! We all go through this. It’s a normal part of ‘being Indian’. So don’t fret over it,” was my sister’s cool reply. “Yeah yeah! You are a fine one to speak. You married your childhood sweetheart,” I threw it in her face.

I promise I could hear her sigh in exasperation all the way from Mumbai to where I lived with my parents in Delhi. “Maahi! Will you stop being such a baby? The guy is Karan’s friend and I have met him on a few occasions. Just think, if you both like each other, and decide to go ahead with the marriage, then you and I will literally be neighbours!” texted di.

“Oh yes! Of course! As if I have never been to Mumbai and don’t know that the distance between your place in Bandra and this guy’s place in Mulund is not exactly ‘neighborly’,’ I texted feverishly. By now, our mother was on the verge of calling the fire brigade to break open the door to my bedroom since I had failed to reply to her!

“Coming ma!” I finally called out to her. Ma heaved a very audible sigh of relief upon hearing my voice. On hindsight, I realize she had been worried that I had run away from home in typical filmy fashion.

I took a final look at myself in the mirror and after setting straight my pallu. I opened the door. “What took you so long? Jay is already here,” she reprimanded me. “Come on ma! I am just being fashionably late,” I replied haughtily and began walking towards the staircase that led down to the living room.

Hey matarani! Kuch toh akkal dee hoti saddi beti nu!” exclaimed my mother. “Ab kee hoya? Why are you calling upon the goddess now?” I asked, looking up at her. “You are dressed in a saree and you are walking like a boy wearing shorts! Walk like a lady. The way they show in movies!” she advised.

I let out a sigh of frustration and slowed my gait, added a slight swish to my hips as I walked down. Achieving such a dainty gait while dressed in a long flowy saree was no mean feat for a tomboy like me, and I hoped this Jay guy appreciated the efforts I had had to put in just to please his parents and him. Much to my relief, my mother seemed to find my gait dainty enough and didn’t comment further.

As we reached the living room, I saw that Jay had come with the entire baraat! Wait! What was this? Why had he come with so many relatives? Did he think I was going to agree to marry him just because he was my jijaji’s friend? My mother pushed a tray of chai into my hands and told me to serve everyone.

As I began doing the rounds, offering tea to all the baaraatis, they began introducing themselves. God help me I can’t remember the name of my best friend’s brother. Did they really expect me to remember so many names and relations in one sitting?

During the round of my pretending to be the oh-so-docile Punjabi kudi, one guy stuck out his hand to shake mine. I was shocked. I had been instructed… no, warned by my parents that Jay’s parents were very conservative and in no case was I to shake my hands with any of them. I was to simply bow my head and fold my hands in greeting in typical Indian way and say Namaste ji.

It turned out that he was Jay’s cousin and was a second generation NRI settled where else, but sadda Kanedda. Where on the globe of the earth is this Kanedda you ask? Learn your geography well you people! Why, it is the country to the north of Amreeka. Finding no help forthcoming, I shyly shook hands with him.

The round of introductions continued unaffected. After some time, Jay cleared his throat and his elder sister Pammi told my parents that her brother wanted to talk with me before he could decide. HE could decide? Where was I in all this? I looked at my father for help, but he was busy discussing world politics with one of Jay’s many uncles.

After my mother acquiesced to Pammi’s request, I led Jay into the garden. As we sat across each other on the garden chairs, Jay smiled at me. “So Maahi, what do you do?” he asked. ‘Nice. This guy is actually interested in knowing about my life choices and career!’ I thought. “Well, I have done my Montessori course and…” I began. “Ok ok great! So you don’t work,” he interrupted. ‘Wait! What? I don’t work? I work in a primary school!’ I wanted to tell him, but he was least interested in letting me finish.

“You see, I work at a very important position in a huge multinational company and it has branches all over the world. So I need a wife who doesn’t work. I need someone who is not into all this new-age career-shareer drama,” he ploughed on, unaware that I was annoyed. “Ok, so that is first hurdle crossed. Let’s proceed,” he continued. I was seriously bugged by this time and was looking around for a means of escape.

“Do you know how to cook? Can you cook all typical Punjabi dishes? I mean rajma-chawal, chhole-bhature, naan, paronthe, moongdal halwa, and all? Yes?” he cheerfully continued, unmindful of the fact that I had nodded my head like a cow simply to get him to shut up. “And what about continental dishes? Pasta, pizza?” he posed. He saw my stoic expression and said, “Ok ok, no problem, we can always order those dishes till you learn them.” I would have thrown up then and there had it not been for the fact that it was my garden and I would have to clean up all the mess later!

“Hey! I hope you like wearing bridal chura. You see, I keep having a lot of social interactions with my colleagues from all over the world. And they are enamored by Indian culture. My impression in the eyes of my phirangi bosses would grow by leaps and bounds if we invite them over and offer them desi khaana  made by you. You could serve it wearing a typical salwar suit, replete with the chura!” he looked at me as if expecting me to applaud his eureka moment. In the meantime, I was wondering if this guy was for real, or if he had just escaped from an asylum for the mentally deranged.

Before I could say another word though, his cousins and siblings came out into the garden and joined us. “So, baat banee kee nahi? Is the wedding fixed then?” they pushed Jay and me together jovially. The deep red color of Jay’s blush would have put tomatoes and beetroots to shame. “Meri taraf se toh haan hai ji,” he said, informing everyone and me of his willingness to marry me. “Ohho!! Badhai ho ji badhai!!” they all shouted in unison. I was yet to be even asked my wishes.

If this is how the family was now, I was afraid how they would behave once they became my extended family. I was furious and kept looking in the direction of the door for a peek of my mother or father. Just then, we were joined by one more member of the huge khandaan.Isi kee kamee thi, wo bhi poori ho gayee!” I muttered to myself as the Canadian cousin walked over to join his family in congratulating Jay and me.

The cousin gave me a curious glance as he reached his cousins. After a few moments of the ruckus, he pulled Jay and me into a corner and asked, “So, you both arrived at a lifelong decision after five minutes of conversation?” “Yes!” replied Jay and I in unison. Jay looked at me and smiled. I didn’t smile back.

The NRI saw this exchange and asked Jay, “What did you like most about her?” “She doesn’t work, she can cook, she is gorgeous, and has a great figure!” replied Jay instantaneously. “Oh! So you want a wife who is dependent on you for every penny, a cook to satisfy your gastronomic fancies and a model to display as a trophy in your home?” was the NRI’s sharp comeback.

Jay was flabbergasted. He had probably never expected anyone to question his choices. “Well, uh, I…”. He got a taste of his own medicine when his NRI cousin, who seemed to have quite a bit of clout in his khandaan thanks to his elevated status as an NRI and that too second generation, interrupted him roughly.

“And what about you Maahi? You are happy with moving to a new city, with no friends or family of your own, no career, no money of your own? You would be okay with trying out new dishes in the kitchen, to be tasted and judged only by your husband and his equally misogynist colleagues, to be displayed as a museum piece in your own home?” the NRI asked turning to me.

I saw my opportunity and grabbed it. “No way! I never agreed to marrying Jay!” I replied firmly. I knew that my parents would have never given me the opportunity to speak up. After all, Jay was a friend of their son-in-law and they would never want to hurt the sentiments of my sister’s husband. I knew this NRI was my only hope and only he could and would help me.

“What? But you said yes when veerji asked you if you have arrived at a decision!” Jay had found his voice. “I said yes I have decided. But I did not say yes I want to marry you. My decision is no. I will NOT marry you!” I replied hotly.

By now, all his khandaan and mine had joined us upon seeing the commotion. “O-ji koi baat nai ji. Shaadi se pehle ye sab darr-sharr toh har kudi de mann mein honda hai ji! Hole hole sab settle ho jaana hai” said one of the many aunts of the huge khandaan. My mother was almost in tears at seeing her daughter rejecting the rishta of such a well-earning and well-settled boy.

“But what is the problem?” my father asked, ever the calm voice of reason. “Papa, Jay has no idea what I do, nor does he want to know. He decided he agrees to marry and that was it. He never asked me what I would like to do. Nor did he ask me if I agree to marry him. He assumed that I would fall in line with his decision!” I said, almost in tears myself.

My father was torn between his two daughters. How could he disappoint the husband of his elder daughter by rejecting the marriage proposal of the latter’s friend for his younger one? He shook his head and fell silent. I was defeated. I had been brought up taught that “Betiyan toh ghar kee izzat hoti hain!” I knew I would have to get married to Jay if my parents decided to stick by the choice of their elder son-in-law.

In a few moments, the story changed. Just as my would-be sasuma brought out the shagun, the NRI stepped in, “Unbelievable! This is worse than slaughtering an animal!” This girl here is clearly stating her refusal to marry this guy, and yet, every single one of you is pushing her into matrimony with the very same guy she has refused? Even her own family cannot stand with her on this decision for fear of hurting the sentiments of their elder son-in-law? “Waah re mere desh kee naari! Teri maaya hee niralee!” he cited some lines from some film.

“Then what to do, beta? You know our quandary,” said my father. “If you don’t mind, may I talk with Maahi in private for just two minutes?” asked the NRI. Seeing as the NRI was my soon-to-be jethji, my father agreed.

We went into a corner of the garden. “What is it? What monkey dance do you all want me to perform now?” I asked him angrily. “Maahi, I am very sorry for the way my entire family has behaved with you. I am asking you, what is it that you wish to do? Other than not marry my stupid brother, of course,” asked the NRI.

“Well, for one, I love my job and I dream to open my own Montessori and day care centre one day. A lot of working women have to leave their jobs because of unsatisfactory day care. I want to open such a centre that will not only mind and feed the children, but also keep them constructively and happily occupied all day,” I stopped when I saw the NRI smiling.

“Welcome on board, Maahi!” he said. “What do you mean?” I was puzzled. “Well, I own and run a large chain of educational instituted in Canada, and we have been hunting for a person like you. A person who not only understands the need of children, but is also passionate about fulfilling those needs!” said the NRI.

“Thank you, but what use is it now?” I asked him miserably. “Well, you could do all this if you join us, me, as a partner,” said the NRI. “How? Your cousin doesn’t even know that I work in this field. You think he will let his wife work?” I questioned. “What he and his wife is their concern, I don’t care much about that,” he retorted. “I don’t understand” I was now completely confused.

“Look Maahi, I would love to have a wife who understands my passion for education and the need for daycare. If she should wish to join me in my field, it would be an icing on the cake. But whether she wishes to join me in my work, or do something else that her heart desires, or wants to manage home, is entirely her choice. I will always support my life partner in her decisions, and would love to have her support in mine,” he said passionately. “Wow! Then whoever you choose as your life partner would be very fortunate indeed,” I replied, a tad jealous of whoever would marry this NRI.

“Maahi, you would make me extremely happy if you accept to become my partner – for life,” he said nervously. It took me a moment to understand the true meaning of his words, but when I did, I was stunned. I had never in my dreams expected to have two boys of the same family propose marriage to me. “Take your time to think. Ask me any questions you wish to. And yes, before you decide anything, my name is Arth,” he smiled.

“Arth, I need no further time to think. I know what my answer is. You are the answer to my questions. I say yes!” I squealed in delight. Now it was the turn of my family to run towards me upon seeing my tears of two minutes ago change into a delightful smile. “What is the matter, beta?” my father asked me as Jay ventured possessively close, behaving like I was his property.

Damn! I had completely forgotten about Jay! What a mess! I told my parents that I wanted to speak with them in private. I was not very comfortable discussing such a delicate matter in presence of Jay and his khandaan. Arth nodded pleasantly at me and pulled his cousin Jay away from the crowd of their family, while I walked into the kitchen with my parents.

I told them about Arth’s proposal. “What have you done?” my mother shouted! “You have spoiled our reputation. Now neither Jay nor Arth will marry you. And there in Mumbai, your jijaji will vent his anger on your di. You could you do this Maahi?” my mother wailed. “Excuse me aunty,” said a voice from the door.

Three heads turned to the door to look at the owner of the voice in shock and suspicion. It was Arth. “I am sorry, but I could not help overhearing your conversation. I promise you that I will marry your daughter. Not only that, while you were conferring in here, I had a quick talk with my family. I have convinced them that Jay and Maahi cannot be happy together. Jay has agreed to step down.” Arth gathered his courage when my father did not react angrily.

It was then that I saw what Arth was holding in his hand and I was once again shocked by his sensitive gesture. He was holding a phone in his hand and the screen was lit. Even from that twisted angle, I could see that the phone was in call. Arth brought his phone forward and handed the phone to my father. “Uncle, I called up my parents in Ontario, Canada and they wish to speak with you,” said Arth respectfully.

My father accepted the phone and held it to his ear. He was silent for a long time, but the digital squeaks coming from the phone speaker told us that it was a one-sided conversation. After a while, my father got up and left the room, the phone still glued to his ear. He came out of his bedroom after about half an hour. The half an hour was one of my longest ever, and Arth looked positively blue with nervousness.

When my dad came out, he was smiling like never before. His huge grin told us everything we needed to know and Arth got up and hugged my parents and me. What transpired between my then would-be in-laws and my dad, I will never know, but I assume that both parties were putting the fears of the other to rest.

Arth and I got married with blessings of our families. Much to my surprise, my jijaji was very happy with the match and did not seem upset about my rejection of Jay at all. On the wedding day, the biggest surprise of the evening for us all came when Jay came in accompanied by a very beautiful girl on his arm. He introduced her to us as his colleague Rosy. She looked poles apart from the typical desi Punjabi kudi he had talked about during our meeting.

After a few months, Jay announced to us that he was marrying Rosy. By then, Arth and I were at home in Canada and we were unable to attend Jay’s wedding at short notice. After a few years and a few babies, Jay finally felt comfortable to admit to me that he had been seeing Rosy when he had come to meet me, and fearing his family’s wrath, had decided to marry a desi kudi to appease them. He says he would have stopped seeing Rosy had we gotten married, but I have never ventured into thinking about what ifs.

That night, after Jay’s confession, I snuggled into the arms of my loving husband and he patted my huge pregnant belly. I would probably have been stuck in a forced, loveless, infidel marriage had Arth not come along as a Godsend that day. I was happy.

 

This short story is entirely fictional and completely filmy. Happy reading!!

 

 

The guy of my dreams

“Hey babe!” she called out. I turned and waved to her in answer. “Where are you going?” she asked me. “Nowhere in particular, just taking a walk,” I replied. “Ok, I’ll join you. It’s been ages since we’ve chatted,” she smiled. I shrugged and smiled in response and we unanimously began walking towards our favorite walking place – the lake.

“I am getting married!” she said, excited. “Wow! Who is he? What is his name? How does he look? What does he do? How did you two meet?” my excitement equaled hers. We were both fresh out of college and were into our first jobs. The heady joys of new workplace, own salaries, newfound independence were still seeping into our systems.

“He is a friend of my cousin’s friend. He saw me at some party and after seeking information, contacted me. As luck would have it, his family and mine have known each other since some time and our parents readily agreed to our relationship,” she almost danced. “That is great news!” I was happy for her.

“What about you? Have you met anyone yet?” she asked. “No no, not at all,” I blushed. “But why not? You are good looking, smart, intelligent and financially independent!” she pushed on. “Well, there have been a few who have shown interest,” I commenced. “But?” she questioned me. “But none of them have clicked enough for me to feel like getting romantically involved,” I replied.

“What?” she almost shouted. “Will you please stop with your monosyllabic questions?” I was annoyed. “Ok sorry sorry. But your office has so many hotties! How can you not feel romantic with any of them?” she was truly puzzled. “Darling girl! The ‘hotties’ as you are ‘oh-so-affectionately’ calling them are my colleagues! I definitely don’t want to be involved with someone who works in the same office as I!” I retorted.

“Oh God! She’s so choosy!” muttered my friend. “Well, so what’s your idea of an ideal guy?” she asked. I was thrown. I had never given much thought to my ideal guy. I had heard that prospective brides and grooms these days met up with ready check lists of questions to tick off! And here I was, the quintessential dimwit, who did not even know the kind of person she wanted to spend her life with. I began to think.

“Let’s see, he should NOT be in the same organization as I. Not just that, I am in IT, and the industry has inhuman working hours, so my guy should not even be from this industry. I want to be able to spend some quality time with my partner,” I ventured parroting some lines I had heard in my favorite dopey soap – F.R.I.E.N.D.S. “Yes. That does make sense in a twisted sort of way,” she agreed.

“What else?” she was my best friend and wanted me to be sure about the kind of partner I’d be interested in. “Well, I am a true-blue Thane-Mumbaite, and I most definitely don’t wish to have a third world war by marrying a Puneri. Mumbaikars and Puneris just can’t ever get along!” I declared with the power of knowledge, and I should know… I am a Maharashtrian, and the ‘war’ between the Puneri Maharashtrians versus rest of Maharashtra is never-ending.

“Moreover, his job shouldn’t require him to keep moving every two years. He can travel a few days or weeks for work, but he can’t expect me to pack my bags and follow him like a loyal little pup. I have my own career, and I am ambitious. I want to break the glass ceiling!” I was yet to remove the rose-tinted glasses that I’d put over my eyes on the day I first set foot into college of M.B.A.

My best friend was now staring at me, “Wow! You really know your mind.” She encouraged. “And of course, I have no intention of leaving India. I want a guy very much rooted and settled in India,” I concluded. My friend all but applauded me then and there. “There are so many guys in Thane and Mumbai that I am sure you’ll soon find a perfect partner.”

Little did I know that that day, there were not one, but two ladies listening to me talk about the man of my dreams… One was my friend, and the other lady was Destiny. And She, with Her twisted sense of humor just had to have the last laugh.

One day, at workplace, a colleague of mine introduced me to her colleague. And the rest is NOT history. He saw me, I saw him and…nothing happened. I said hello, he said hello, and we walked our ways. The guy and I chatted with each other occasionally on the office communicator. I was in India and he was on project in Scandinavia, Europe. We had become ‘good friends’. (pun unintended).

We were both single and of marriageable age and our parents were on a perpetual look-out for suitable partners for us. Over the next few months, he saw a few girls, I saw a few guys, but none clicked. And yes, just to douse your curiosity, I did come across a few prospective fellows who had come with a huge list of questions to be ticked off! I’ll share the hilarious details of the checklists in another blog on another day.

While we were both suffering the unending lists of questions, we would crack a few jokes about them on the OC and share a good laugh or two. And one day, just as the levers of a lock and key make a perfect fit, we clicked. Destiny had Her final laugh. He was a true-blue Puneri, I, a good-as-gold Thaneite. We both worked in the same organization albeit different departments. And, like a final blow to my oh-so-fragile ego, SHE dealt the final trump card – the nature of his job meant he had to keep shifting places/geographies depending on his project.

But we both come from the old-school. Despite our misgivings, we both worked at the huge bucket of problems that lay in front of us. He sacrificed some, I sacrificed some. And our combined sacrifices ironed out many a problem. There were gigantic unremovable knots at times and tears in the fabric at others. But we joined our hands together and overcame it all – we still are.

The journey has been arduous, but fun too. Something in our bond has held us firmly together. We have had a long distance marriage, and also sometimes been blessed enough to live in the same home for more than a few months.

I did have to eventually give up my job, but today, I realize that the ‘sacrifice’ was in fact a blessing in disguise. I found my passion – teaching languages. All the ladies in my family have been teachers, how… how then could I have ever thought of escaping my calling?

Steering my mind back to the topic… I am eternally grateful to Destiny for listening in to my conversation with my friend that evening, and more importantly, for deciding to have the last laugh. She gave me the kind of man I did not want. I never knew he was exactly what and who I needed.

He has been my biggest strength, my rock when the waters ran deep, my anchor when the seas were too rough. He has pampered all my demands, be it enjoying the roadside pani-puri, to accompanying me to a not-so-near place when the mood to eat conti-conti as opposed to desi-conti strikes.

He is man enough to take a back foot when my ego needs a boost. He is man enough to be a hands-on father to our little one. If I don’t feel like cooking some day, the guy doesn’t shy away from picking up the spatula and dishing up my favorite scrambled egg, which to my great misfortune, I have never been able to master.

He makes me feel loved even while giving me the space I constantly crave.  He’s handled my tantrums like a pro. And rarely ever complained – yes rarely… today he’s my husband and I am going to stick by the golden rule here too – never say never.

The man is my Adonis, my tall, dark and handsome fellow. Today I realize how much like my dad he is – I am unashamedly, even today, my daddy’s little princess. My guy treats me like a queen – his queen, and makes sure he pampers me with his loving gestures every single day – whether he’s here with me in Thane, or whether he’s travelling.

He’s fought with me, apologized, bought me flowers and chocolates, surprised me with his love and attention despite being extremely busy on the work front. He has accepted his mistake when there was none. Of course, getting him to do all this took time, and patience, but we have finally and successfully reached a plateau of understanding each other’s wishes and needs – unspoken. He’s not perfect, but he’s my guy, and to me, he’s the best there can ever be.

Advait – you complete me. I love you. Happy Anniversary darling!

An Author is Born

City Cousins Visit the Village

“Why is our education system so outdated?” I ask my husband. The speed and intensity with which he drops his task at hand and looks up at me, I am sure that he thinks I have finally gone insane. “What do you want me to say? You are the teacher in the family, honey.” he replies a tad confused.

I pull out the vegetable tray of my refrigerator and begin scrutinizing the options for dinner. “Well, during the break at school today, I had a discussion with a few fellow teachers and most of us agreed that this is information overload. When I got to thinking about it, I realized that more than being information overload, it is simply static information. If my students don’t know why they are learning whatever they are learning, what is the point of all this exercise?” I demand washing the cabbage thoroughly.

“They are learning all this so that they can get a degree and land a good job and earn good money!” replies the husband looking at me as if he’s seeing a ghost. Something tells me he won’t be getting caught in a similar discussion anytime in future. “Precisely! Precisely my point!” I shout with an elated feeling of eureka moment as I being chopping the cabbage with a sharp knife. He takes a few sips of his chilled beer and says, “Careful babe! That’s a sharp knife you are holding, not the chalk!”

I bang the knife on the cutting board and turn around to look at him. “Why should an eighth-grader know about parts of speech? Why should my students have to rote poetry?” I question, almost dancing in my elation. “To get good marks?” he asks.

Thoroughly exasperated, I turn back to my chopping board and take out my irritation on the cabbage at hand. “Noooo!! It is so that they can use these skills in their working life in future. They need to learn how to express properly, how to communicate properly in the working world!” “Hmm! You might be right.” says my husband.

‘Of course I am right! I always am!’ I think to myself as I switch on the burner and place a pan on it to cook the cabbage that I just finished chopping. As I am pouring oil into the pan, I feel the need to prove my point. So, still holding the knife, I say, “I need to eat my husband”. He splutters and wiping the beer from his hands, asks, “so my vegetarian wife is a cannibal now?”

“See? See? See?” I advance towards him, “so that is why my student’s need to learn what I teach them.” He raises his hands in surrender and that is when I realize I am still holding the knife. I keep it on the table and continue, “One absent comma, and a dinner invitation turned into a cannibalistic statement.” I smile in triumph.

The man reaches behind me to switch off the burner for the oil has reached boiling point and asks, “So isn’t that what you are teaching them?” Now I am truly exasperated. “But where is the application? How do the young children know why they are learning all this? Not all of them are going to become physicists, so why do they need to study biology? Not all of them will become engineers, so why do they need mathematics? We need to show them how biology and mathematics are handy in daily life regardless of their career.”

“Now I am curious too,” smiles my guy. “Why do they need biology and mathematics?” he challenges as he leads me to the sofa in the living room. I sit down and begin my reasoning, “how do you make yoghurt? Biology. How do you know whether or not a stomach pain is merely an overdose of physical exercise or if it something more serious? Biology. When you go to purchase a set of pens at the local shop, how do you know how much money to pay the vendor? Mathematics. Love to play the drums, tabla, guitar, piano? Physics. Love your pet? Biology. Need to park your cycle in a very tight spot? Geometry. By now I am literally jumping with a sense of pride and achievement.

Hubby dearest is shaking his head in wonder. “Wow!! I never thought of it this way! Now that you mention it, life itself is a science, math, art and communication,” he agrees. By now, the hour for dinner is long past and my stomach growls in hunger. I head to the kitchen to put the vegetable for cooking, but the man of my life stops me and offers to take me out to dinner instead. Seems like my fevered arguing has caught his interest.

At the restaurant, we continue talking about this and a lot of parallel and tangential topics come up. “Do you know? That shop which I recently visited has an absolutely out of the world collection of clothes and home décor,” I say happily. I think I should be glad that hubby dearest hasn’t yet questioned my sanity openly. “What has a shop got to with education?” he asks with an uh-oh, not shopping again look in his eye. “They use only local produce like Indian cotton, natural colors like indigo and such things. You know, I would be doing my share of charity work by buying from them, I try to persuade him.”

He sits back in his chair and crossing his arms over each other, he looks at me. “Charity is great babe, but you still haven’t answered my question – what has this shop got to do with education?” Oops! I got carried away and deviated from the topic at hand again. “Oh yes! The shop sources these artefacts and clothes from a ‘smart-village’. This village uses only natural products and applies their education and learning to improve the quality of their produce. They make state-of-art flutes, hand-blown glass vases and so much more. Not only that, a few lucky shoppers get a chance to visit the village and stay in the home of one of the locals for a weekend!” I say dreamily. This spikes the interest of my techno-geek husband. “Let’s visit this shop this Sunday,” he says just as the dessert arrives. It is of course my favorite – malai kulfi with rabdi.

We pay the bill (yes, I staunchly call it a bill, for in India, money notes are called notes and not bills. So, I am adamant about using “bill” instead of “Check” in our motherland) and head home. By the time we open the door to our apartment, an idea has taken root in my mind and refuses to leave even after a month. So I follow through on it and persist despite the many time-constraints and other issues. Today, the idea has taken shape in a physical sense. I am happy and proud to present to you the physical and digital forms of the idea – “City Cousins Visit the Village“.

Dear readers, if you enjoyed this blog post, you will definitely enjoy my latest book – City Cousins Visit the Village. Available across all media in paperback and ebook formats including Kindle and Google play.

 

Thank God it’s Friday

“Thank God the week is finally over!” Beth exclaimed as she entered the house and kicked out of her stilettos, placing her laptop bag and office bag on the table near the door, she headed straight to the couch to rest her tired feet. With her free hand, she untied her chignon that kept her mass of gorgeous hair in place. ‘You wouldn’t be so tired if you didn’t volunteer so much of your time at the community centre!” her boss’s constant taunts resonated in her ears.

Beth thought of her thrice a week voluntary activities at the centre.  In her mind’s eye, she saw the thousand-watt smiles of the orphans she taught there. And she knew she was never going to give up her voluntary services. She knew she was in love with the innocent joy writ on the faces of the homeless children and the orphans at the centre. Each week, Beth taught at the centre. She enjoyed spending time with the children and never thought of her services as charity.

As she lifted her legs to place them on the coffee table, she saw an envelope lying there. ‘It wasn’t here this morning,’ she thought to herself as she lifted it. Maybe one of her flat mates had kept it there. It was addressed to her, and she was a little surprised to see the initials N.B. as the sender. She opened the envelope and out fell two tickets to the fashion gala coming up next weekend. With it was a letter. “A handwritten perfumed letter! How classy!” she said to herself. As she opened the letter, the beautiful handwriting was the first thing that struck her tired mind. It felt great to be holding something so painstakingly beautiful. She read the letter almost reverently.

“Dear Miss Elizabeth,

May I have the pleasure of accompanying you to the charity fashion gala next weekend? If you are in agreement with my proposal, please visit the 21, Boutique and select any dress of your choice. The payment has already been made. Your visit to the boutique will convey your acceptance.”

She turned the note over, but there was no return address for R.S.V.P. She shrugged to herself and decided she would go. She was feeling positively elated over being wooed in such an old-fashioned manner. She was curious to see and meet the man who took pains to look for perfumed stationary and exhibit such beautiful penmanship.

That night, she showed the letter to her three flat mates with who she shared the apartment in the expensive city. The girls all squealed in delight at the beautiful invitation and couldn’t hide their jealousy at her luck in being invited to the most sought after fashion event of the century. “Make sure to select the most exotic gown for the gala. Don’t look at the price tag. Buy some new make-up. New Shoes!” they all advised her.

Next day, Beth set out to visit the 21, Boutique. It was situated in the most expensive part of the town and the area was known to be extremely elite and posh. As Beth stepped off the bus and walked towards the shop, she was amazed by the beautiful arches and tree-lined streets. ‘I feel as if I have stepped into a different time and place!’ she thought to herself. The 21, Boutique catered to the cream of the cream and the question of looking at price tags never arose – there WERE no price tags! She fingered the dresses and relished the soft feel of the gorgeous material. She tried on a few but couldn’t decide as they all looked and felt lovely. Almost as if by some divine intervention, she chanced upon a delightful blue gown. It was very elegant and the sapphire hues of the gown gave it a royal look. She knew it was destined just for her.

Beth’s week went by in a daze. On the day of the event, her flat mates accosted her and helped her get ready. They dolled her up. Her make-up and hair looked just perfect with the new gown. She stepped into a pair of stunning blue shoes. Their velvety sheen lent her a glamorous look. “How are you going to arrive at the venue?” asked her flat mate. “I don’t know babe! He has given me both the invites, so I assume he’ll come here to pick me up,” she replied trying to quell the butterflies in her stomach. The doorbell rang as soon as she finished her sentence. Angel, one of the flatmates went to open the door. When she didn’t come back for quite some time, Beth and the two others went into the hallway to check upon her. And they too lost their voice.

Standing in the doorway was the most dashing man any of them had ever seen. With Greek-God looks, a chiselled jaw line, and a physique that could put any model to shame, Beth’s date was downright drop-dead gorgeous! He offered the flowers to her, which she took with as much grace as she could muster and bowed to her. It was all Beth could do not to swoon right there.  She excused herself to put the flowers in the vase and was immediately pounced upon by her flat mates. “Beth! Where have you been hiding this vision of a man all this while? Who is he? What does he do? Men as gorgeous as him should carry a warning sign tapered to their heads – ‘Caution: Vision advancing!’ joked the girls.” Beth’s heart was hammering in her chest. She had never seen him, nor did she know his name other than that he signed himself N.B.

She took a deep breath, and grabbing her clutch, she headed towards him. He was still standing in the doorway. As she went to him, he held out his hand to take hers in his own. She felt like a fairy tale queen to be treated in this old-world gentlemanly fashion. As they made their way downstairs to the entrance, the lobby-man stood up in respect.

Their ride drove up and Beth would have swooned right there had it not been for her date supporting her with his palm on the small of her back. It was a dark stretch limousine. The uniformed chauffeur stopped the car and got out immediately. With a slight bow, he held the door open for them. He even tipped his cap as she thanked him. The inside of the limo was grander than the exterior. With champagne chilling in the mini-fridge and crystal chutes for drinking it, Beth felt like she was Alice in Wonderland.

Part 2

They made a grand entrance at the venue. The chauffeur once again held the door open for her and she stepped out on to the plush red carpet of the event.  With her date firmly protecting her, they made their way into the hall, escaping the frenzied crowds of paparazzi and gate-crashers. “Who are you N.B.? Why were the photographers going crazy over you?” she asked, finally finding her tongue. “Not me Elizabeth, the paparazzi was going crazy for you!” replied her mysterious N.B. “Why me? I am neither a celebrity, nor a tycoon,” she asked, puzzled. “Maybe so, but you are so striking in your beauty, my beautiful Elizabeth,” he said, running a finger over a strand of her hair that had come loose. At his words, she felt beautiful, the way she never had before.

As they made their way towards the VIP seating, Beth relished the feel of his hand in hers. She eyed him surreptitiously and a sly grin slid up his face as if he had read her thoughts. She quickly turned away. Once they were seated in the special section of the VIP seating, she turned to him and asked, “Who are you N.B.? I have never seen or met you before.” “There will be time for questions later my lady. Please enjoy the fashion event for now,” he smiled.

As the show proceeded, Beth was thrilled to see some of her favourite models and designers at such close quarters. Some of the dresses were beyond gorgeous and she wished she had money enough to buy at least one of them. Sipping champagne from the delicate crystal canters and popping the to-die-for hors d’oeuvres, Beth almost forgot the reality of her existence – a small town girl come into the big bad city to eke out a career working in the unforgiving law offices.

After the event drew to a close, many people gathered at their table and N.B. introduced her to many of his friends and family. She was nervous and barely managed to make it through the round of seemingly endless introductions. Whenever someone asked who she was, N.B. simply replied, “a dear friend.” Nobody dared to question the nature of their friendship.

The pair exited the hall, but their limousine was nowhere to be seen. A call to the driver revealed that the limousine was stuck in the rush of cars and people and it would be a good twenty minutes before the driver could bring it to the entrance. “No problem N.B., we can wait here,” Beth chattered through her teeth. The cool evening had given way to chilly night and Beth was shivering. N.B. took off his tuxedo jacket and wrapped it around her bare shoulders. His jacket carried his scent and Beth felt immediately warm as she hugged it tighter around herself.

The car drove up to the gate and they got in. Much to her surprise, the limousine drove them to an exclusive ‘by reservation only’ restaurant for dinner. She took in the ambience of the place and let herself enjoy the fairytale evening. The Michelin star chef dished up a variety of exotic dishes and Beth loved them all. Throughout dinner, she kept pestering N.B. with questions, but he replied only with, “please enjoy your meal. There will be time for questions later.”

With her permission, N.B. dismissed the limousine and the driver with a thank you and a wad of Franklins. ‘He must be paying the rent of the limousine,’ Beth thought to herself. N.B. looked up at her and gave a wry grin. As they walked by the bank of the river, Beth hugged his tuxedo tighter and he looked at her worriedly, “Are you cold? Should I drop you home?” “No no! I am fine,” Beth replied hurriedly, not wanting the evening to get over. She felt as if she was in a Cinderella story and would have to go back to her dreary life when the clock struck the midnight hour.

Rapunzel of the 21st century

Hello there. I am Rapunzel… you don’t believe me? I really am – Rapunzel of the 21st century. Though I don’t have a wicked witch keeping me locked in a tower, I do have the society and expectations of the various ‘well-intentioned’ aunties and uncles who keep me locked in the tower of society’s dynamic definition of ‘decency’. <wink wink>. My braid may not run down the length of the tower, but the society I live in looks askance if I cut my hair shorter than my shoulder. “Good girls do not cut their hair so short. A long thick oiled braid is the mark of a good girl,” our neighbor Pammi aunty passes her daily comment as I open the door to keep out the bag of trash. “But aunty, I don’t have time to braid my hair daily. A quick shower and I am off to college.” I reply. “Sssh!! Nina! Don’t talk back to your elders!” my mother shushes me and pulls me back from the door. “But Ma that Pammi aunty always pokes her nose in my business! Why can’t she mind the oh-so-long think oiled braid of her own daughter-in-law?” I complain. “Nina! You know what a gossip-monger she is! Now she will tell the entire society that you are a rude girl and that you have no manners!” wails my mother. “Why do you care so much about that illiterate lady’s opinion anyway?” I demand with one eye on the clock. “Because she is loud and brash! She makes her opinion known in the most uncomfortable of ways!” shoots my mother. I shake my head and start getting ready for college.

In the shower, I start daydreaming as I am prone to. The fogged up mirror shows me myself but with long tresses. They are cascading in dreamy waves and I am looking like a princess. A sharp pain in my skull brings me out of my reverie. “Ouch!” I have pulled at my tangled hair a little too sharply. I hurriedly finish cleaning up and then get ready in my bedroom. On my way out, I am still rubbing the sore spot my poor scalp which bore the brunt of my daydreaming. At college, my BFF looks at me weird and I am about to ask her what is cooking when the english lit. professor walks in. She brings Shakespeare alive and I am drawn to focus on the lecture. By the time the lecture is over, I have forgotten all about the looks my BFF gave me and am in Shakespeare’s world. At break time, we all gather in the cafeteria and my BFF walks up to me. “What have you done to your hair?” she asks me. “I have showered and accidentally pulled a tangled mess of them to the point of detaching a piece of my scalp. Why? Have I lost too much hair that I look bald?” I ask. My BFF sighs in resignation, “Nina, you haven’t looked in the mirror at all today, have you?”I am now really scared, I begin to stroke my fingers through my hair and at a point, I stop. I am in shock. My hair has grown long. The cascading waves of tresses I dreamt of in the shower… well, let’s just say I wasn’t dreaming! “But how did this happen?” I am almost in tears. “Chill babes! They are actually looking gorgeous on you!” my crush puts his arm around my shoulder in an effort to console me. ‘Wait a minute! Since when did he begin to look at me other than that as a buddy?’ I wonder. But whatever, this feels nice. So I continue my boo-hoo charade for a few moments more, relishing the feel of his arms around me. A few not-very-uncomfortable seconds later, I pull back.

He looks at me as if he’s seeing me for the first time. I shyly lower my eyes. Mentally, I am kicking myself. Where in the world has my self-sufficient and independent self disappeared? Why am I behaving like a quailing little lady? My thought is not even complete yet when I am wonder-struck. I am dressed in a very vintage-looking dress! I don’t even remember purchasing it! ‘Hmm! Must be my mother! She isn’t above surreptitiously buying me something that fits her definition of an adolescent lady. She anyway doesn’t like my daily attire of jeans and tops,’ I feel a little annoyed with her. ‘How dare she mess with my wardrobe!’ struggles the teenaged rebel in me. Meanwhile, my crush hasn’t stopped looking at me. “Nina,” his words sound as if they are coming from far away, “you are looking absolutely stunning today. Your long hair, and this dress, are all so alluring. I just can’t seem to be able to take my eyes off you.” Now I am in a daze. How did I not pay attention to what I was pulling out of my wardrobe this morning? Much to my surprise, even my food selection in the cafeteria seems to be different today. Instead of my staple of cold sandwich and canned juice, I have chosen fresh salad and herbal tea. What is happening to me? My heightened senses tell me that this is not all. I get up to fetch myself a glass of water and I finally notice one more thing that is different about me. Urrk!! I am wearing a pair of extremely effeminate sequined gladiators instead of sneakers! And much to my surprise, I am slowly beginning to feel comfortable with all these changes!

As the bell tolls end of college day, I pick up my books and look for my bag. And lo and behold, there is a dainty looking but roomy satchel in place of my trusty back-pack! Now why am I not surprised? After all the feminine changes I have been undergoing all day long, nothing holds the power to faze me. I pick up the satchel and carefully tuck in all my books and pens. Another one of my friends is looking at me in shock. “What?” I signal. “You just packed in all your books and stationary in an organized way!” he mutters. “Yes, so what about it?” I shrug. “You? The self-declared slob of the college packed it all in so nicely! Are you sure you don’t have the flu or something?” he teases. “Or something” I quip. “Thankfully your sense of humor seems to be intact at least!” my crush joins in on the conversation. This putting an arm around my shoulders is getting old real quick. I primly take his hand off my shoulder and he puts it right back on. “I’d like to walk you home today,” he says. “If you don’t mind, that is,” he corrects quickly when he sees my annoyed expressions. I agree and we begin to walk towards my home. “Don’t you have to go to work today?” I ask him. I have a crush on my crush mainly because he’s so eager to earn his way through college. He works at a nearby shop for a few hours after college to earn the fee-money. His parents are super rich, but they have taught him to earn his own finances early on. “I do, but I’ll go a bit later,” he replies. As we walk on, I see him behave in the long-forgotten manner of gentlemen. Opening doors and pulling out chairs for ladies is now considered quite passé by the college crowd. So I am surprised when he places his hand on the small of my back to guide me towards the zebra crossing. He is even chivalrous enough to shadow me into the inner side of the road while he walks on the ‘dangerous’ side.

We reach home and I turn to say good-bye. But he walks me right up to my door and asks me to open it. Now I am confused. However cool and chic I may be, inviting friends – male friends over while my folks are away at work has been a line I have never and don’t intend to cross. I am about to refuse when he says, I’ll leave as soon as I hear you lock the door from the inside. I give a mental shrug to this sudden burst of chivalry and take out my set of keys to the apartment. I have just inserted the key into the lock when who else but my oh-so-favorite Pammi aunty steps out of her door. Sometimes I wonder if she has a special antennae fitted only to catch me at inopportune moments. “Who is your friend Nina? Won’t you introduce us?” she pokes her nose. “Of course aunty. This is my friend Al and we study together in the same class,” I reply unhappily. Pammi aunty extends her hand to Al and says, “Hello Al, I am Nina’s neighbor. You can call me Pam.” I almost drop the keys when I hear these words. ‘Is Pammi aunty flirting with a college boy?!’ I wonder. I hurriedly open the door to my home and ask Al if he would like to come in. “I’ll take a raincheck Nina. I only wanted to make sure you reach home safely,” he says while smiling at Pammi aunty. “Oooh!! They don’t make gentlemen like you anymore. Are you sure you weren’t born a decade too late?” she asks. I am shocked! Pammi aunty is definitely flirting with MY crush!! What do I do. But I need not have worried, for Al smoothly cuts in, “Oh no! My cousin is a cop and he told me that pickpocketing activity in this locality is rampant at the moment. They are targeting young college going girls and stealing their mobiles at knife-point! So I walked Nina home today.” While talking, Al guides Pammi aunty toward the exit of the building, and their voices get weaker and weaker as they near the outer gates. I shut the door and lean against it. What a weird day this has been. I think I’ll go sleep it off. Maybe when I wake up after a nap, I’ll be my old self again. But do I really want this dream day to end? Al finally noticed me, my professors did not scold me at all. All the beautiful and hot girls at college were shooting daggers at me all day long. I feel as if I was a modern-day Rapunzel today with who else but Al being my knight in shining armour. The way he stepped in with Pammi aunty was a masterstroke. With these wonderful thoughts in mind, I head to my bedroom for a siesta.

 

Proposing a fashionista

“Oh!! I absolutely dislike summertime!” she storms in. “Well! That’s what you say for every season when it is in season!” he retorts. Oops! You have pulled the plug on your safety buddy! She whirls around and shoves a finger into his chest… “How dare you! Huh? How dare you say that? I love springtime, and I love autumn.” He raises an eyebrow and looks smug. “What? No! Don’t shake your head. Say it!” she is now fuming. “Baby, you like springtime for you can finally pull out your colourful clothes and shine in all your glory.” Of course I love springtime for the short hemlines and deep necklines… he thinks, but is smart enough not to say so. “Well yes, why should I hide my beauty behind dull drabs?” asks looking into the mirror. Is that a zit I see coming up on my nose? She wonders. “But I seem to remember that last season; you disliked spring as the weather was finally pleasant enough for you to shake out of your heavy winter wear, but the stares you got made you uncomfortable.” he mutters. “You remember too much,” she retorts without looking away from her reflection in the mirror.

She’s now worried about the zit. “My school reunion is this weekend. I don’t want to go there looking like a pimply gal,” she cries. He rolls his eyes. “I saw that! You don’t know how we girls look at each other. Any excuse to pull down another girl, we use it,” she’s nearly in tears. “Yes! I know feminine penchant for gossip and bitching. I grew up in home full of females –my grandmother, mother, aunt, sister and female cousins. We men-folk were always in minority at home,” he reminisces. “Yes yes! I know all about your minority. How much you had to bear at hands of the women at home- how much they all pampered you boys, how they all always made your favorite dishes, shared their toys with you and so on,” she quips. “Puhleeez! They made our favorite dishes just to ensure that we would be willing guinea pigs for their culinary experiments. As for the toys they shared, what boy in his right mind would enjoy playing with dolls? And when we did play, the girls would get angry with us for breaking their oh-so-precious dolls!” he replies.

“Ok, now back to my problem. What do I do about this giant zit on my nose?” she worries. “It is only Monday yet. The zit will be gone in a couple of days,” he shrugs. “But why are you so worried about a measly pimple? You aren’t worried about my disliking it. How do opinions of your classmates who haven’t seen you in a decade matter to you? Or is there something I should know?” he wiggles his eyebrows. “Oh please! I told you already, I don’t want to be a laughing stock when I attend the event. I want to look my glamorous best when I walk in to the venue. I have told them all that I am a successful career woman. So I have to look my perfect best – porcelain skin, a to-die-for figure, shiny hair, well chosen ensemble, a dash of Chanel and a pair of my favorite Blahniks, teamed with my stylish Prada bag! Moreover, I need to time my entrance perfectly – I should be fashionably late without seeming tardy! I have been working out ever since I received an invite for the reunion. I am fit and look good,” she preens.

She turns from the mirror to see his shoulders shaking in a failed attempt to control his laughter. He can hold it in no longer and he laughs till tears begin to flow from his eyes. With hands poised on her waist, she pierces his laughter with an angry stare. Recognizing the famous ‘angry woman stare’ for what it is, he immediately stops laughing. He wipes his eyes surreptitiously and looks at her. “May I know what is so funny?” she demands in a dangerously controlled voice. “No no, it is nothing, I just…” he stammers. “You just what?” her volcano is about to erupt. Think quickly if you want to save yourself. Redeem!! “Your talk of the reunion reminded me of mine. A group of school-time bullies had decided to pick on their favorite victim – a guy who had been extremely skinny back in school days. But to their shock and everyone’s amusement, the guy they had known as a nerd back then, was now known as ‘the rock’ in social circles. He is now a body builder and a very famous entertainer!” he says. Whew! Good save. Or is it? “So what does that have to do with my school reunion? Are you saying that I am a bully? Or do you think I am the nerd?” she advances. Uh-oh! You are treading on dangerous ground here my friend. “No no! I am calling you neither. Like I said, your mentioning the reunion reminded me of a funny incident from ours, it had been the highlight of the evening!” he says in surrender. “Hmm. I’ll have you know that I was always an intelligent and good looking student,” she says going back to scrutinizing her beauty in the mirror.

She walks into the bathroom to retrieve her pair of tweezers to shape her brows. “But you know what? I think all this hoopla surrounding the reunion is a bit overrated. We don’t really need such a ball for it, do we? They could have simply arranged a no-fuss event. We could have met each other in our casual attire!” she says while examining her work with her eyebrows. She pulls out her compact mirror for closer inspection. “You look gorgeous in everything baby!” he calls out from his seat in the living room. “Are you trying to point towards the expensive gown I purchased for the reunion?” she peeks out from the bathroom. “Oh no!! Never! As I said, you look gorgeous in everything you wear. So why not present yourself in your best?” he replies quickly. After all, what man in his right mind would tell a woman she’s spent too much on a dress? He doesn’t want to suffer instant death and/or damnation, does he? “Honey, are you sure the pale blue dress will bring out my color? Should I go exchange it for a bolder color? Is it long enough to look elegant? I want to look classy, not dress like a nun,” she ponders as she comes back out into the living room. She’s wearing the pale blue dress she’s bought for the gala and is now posing in front of him. His jaw hits the floor and he gets up. “I think you are right, the dress is definitely a little pale. It needs something to spruce it up,” he walks toward her. “I thought so. I’ll drop in to the shop tomorrow and look for something different,” she decides. “But what if you don’t like what you see?” he asks, still walking toward her. “Why didn’t I think of it?” her faces falls. “I was so excited about finding the perfect shade of blue that you like so much, that I didn’t give much thought how it would look on me,” she continues. He has reached her by now and he takes her hand in his. He kneels down and slides a beautiful ring on her finger. “Now the dress doesn’t look pale at all,” he smiles at her. She is shocked. On her finger sits a giant blue diamond. “Is this what I think it is?” she asks shyly.

“Don’t think, feel it. Will you marry me?” he proposes. She curtsies in delight and finally giving up her ladylike stance, runs into his waiting arms and squeals, “YES YES YES!”

A rainy evening

She came home drenched that evening. The summer sun had suddenly given way to rain clouds and she had been caught in the deluge unexpectedly. As she stepped home, she was not surprised to see that the power had been cut as the transformer had blown. ‘Where is Satish? How many times have I told him to get the inverter repaired, but he always forgets,’ she entered the bathroom muttering to herself. She changed out of her wet clothes in the dark bathroom and pulled on a bathrobe. She stepped into the bedroom to look for a set of dry clothes to pull on. In the light streaming through the windows, she was a little surprised to see her favorite cotton dress arranged neatly on the bed. “Satish? Are you here? When did you get home? I thought you are still stuck in office!” she called. Receiving no reply, she assumed he must be in the living room or out in their covered terrace. Feeling a little better, she went into the kitchen to make tea. Normally, she did not have tea at this hour, but the soaking rains had made her wish for tea. As she entered the kitchen, she opened the drawers and took out a few candles. As she lit them, she was surprised to see a cup of hot tea kept on the kitchen platform. ‘Wow! How sweet of Satish to make me this tea!’ she thought as she sipped the soothing warm liquid.

She then began to think about what to make for dinner. She was feeling a little tired that evening and did not have much energy to cook. ‘I’ll make some pulao! That should be filling and I won’t have to spend too long standing in the kitchen,’ she decided. She went to the refrigerator to pick out the vegetables for the dish, but the doors wouldn’t open. She tried once again, but they didn’t budge. ‘Huh? Now what is wrong with this old thing? Why won’t it open?’ she fumed. “Satish! Please come into the kitchen! I need your help! I cannot open the fridge!” she called. Still no response. “Satish?! Can you hear me?” she shouted. Finally, feeling frustrated, she headed towards the terrace to tell him in person. Knowing her way around her home, she didn’t even feel the need to pick up a candle. Just as she was to reach the kitchen entry, she banged against someone. “Thank God you heard me Satish! I am feeling very tired already and this refrigerator is acting funny. We need to call the service guys to fix the door again. It acts funny every time the power goes out,” she said and turned back into the kitchen to set the cooker on the gas stove. She measured out the rice and washed it thoroughly. She turned her head at a sound and was glad to see the basket of vegetables on the counter next to her. “Thanks Satish. You go on ahead to the terrace. I’ll join you as soon as I set the pulao in this cooker,” she said without turning to look at him. It took her a few minutes to chop the vegetables the way she liked them for the pulao and took care to add some dry fruits just the way Satish liked them. She set the cooker and thought, ‘I’ll enjoy a nice cool evening watching the rains with Satish. We can gaze at each other in the candle light and chat to our heart’s content. No phones and TV to distract us today.’

So she lit up a tea light and placed it in its holder. As she made her way through the living room towards the terrace, the tea light whiffed off even though it was covered. ‘Oh no! No one makes any quality goods these days! Even the wax seems to be defective.’ she grumbled. Wanting the much needed romantic evening, she made to go back to the kitchen to light it again. ‘I’ll carry two tea lights now,’ she thought to herself. She again slammed into someone. “Satish! Stop walking into me. One of these days I am going to fall from being walked into so much,” she smiled. But she didn’t know what to think when she was able to just suddenly walk through without feeling Satish make way for her. And why wasn’t he saying anything? She went into the kitchen, but was shocked to see that the gas flame under the cooker was off and try as she might, she could find neither the matches nor the gas lighter. ‘I am sure I had switched the gas on for the cooker. Or did I think I did and just forgot?’ she wondered. Anyway, now let it be. We can order something from outside and eat in the terrace,’ she thought. “Satish! Please call up the nearby restaurant and order something hot and spicy for us!” she called. “Or do you want to go out for dinner? We can take the car,” she suggested. A pair of hands gripped her arms from behind. “Oh! So the rains have brought out the romantic mood in my husband?” she teased. But she felt uncomfortable. Was it her imagination or were the hands gripping her so cold? And did they feel much rougher and larger than those of her husband’s? She tried to turn around, but the hands held her firmly in place.

“Please let me go Satish. I need to check the milk in the fridge,” she said. The hands released her immediately and she went to the fridge. From the corner of her eye, she saw light streaming from under the main door. ‘Oh, the power is back up. She flipped the light switch but no lights came on in the house.’ Now she was really scared. She ran towards the main door to escape, but the door wouldn’t open. She checked, but was shocked to feel all the locks and latches were unlocked, and yet, the door didn’t give an inch. “Help! Somebody help!” she began to shout. Just then, the same cold large hands covered her mouth and stopped her mid scream. Her throat went dry with fear and she didn’t know what to do. Just then, she saw something gleaming in the corner. She realized it was Satish’s cigarette lighter. She stopped fighting and her assailant loosened his grip. She inched her way towards the lighter and closed her hands around it. She quickly brought it up to her face and switched it on. He blew it off even as she was lighting but not before she caught a quick glimpse of his face. Her scream caught in her throat and she recoiled in horror.

He looked like something that had walked straight out of a horror movie. His face was distorted and his hands were huge. As he edged towards her, she saw that his legs were bow shaped. He walked with a slight limp. His hair looked dirty and disheveled and his eyes… oh my God! His eyes were blood red! She wanted to shout for help, she wanted to run, but she was frozen in place with fear. Her brain had ceased to function and she couldn’t think. She felt around for anything that she could use to her aid, but everything seemed so far away. Her brain finally kicked into gear and she managed to stand up. ‘He doesn’t want to kill me. I am sure he would have killed me ten times over by now had he felt the desire to. He even helped me by bringing out my clothes, fetched me the vegetables from the fridge… he was here all along. Why didn’t he harm me then? And what does this monster want from me?’ she wondered. She tried to look calm and relaxed her tense shoulders. She even mustered up a smile for the looming monster and said, “I am sorry I screamed. But as you must already be aware, I was scared by the presence of an unknown person in the house.” At her words, the monster stopped in his tracks and looked at her. He raised both his hands as if in surrender. She relaxed when she saw him go easy. And then… he lunged. She screamed. There was no sound at all for a few minutes and then, she opened her eyes. The monster was getting off the floor and held a bloodied knife in his hands. She could see a pair of legs on the floor. “Who have you killed? Let me see!” she shouted. He pushed her back and stood in her way. She tried to look around him but could not see anything beyond the legs.

With her heart trying to jump out of her throat, she moved back into the passage. The monster guided her towards the bedroom. He pushed her to sit on the bed and went out and locked the door. She was completely off balance by now and had no idea how to react. She just sat there like a stone and trembled over the past hour. In just a few short minutes, she heard a scrape at the door of her bedroom. She turned around, fearful of what might come next. The door opened and she nearly fell off her bed in shock. Satish walked in nonchalantly and asked, “Why are you sitting alone in the dark? Why have you not switched on the lights?” Before she could reply, he flipped on the light switch and the room shone with brightness. She was shocked. She could not form coherent thoughts. He walked towards her and she flinched fearing that the monster might leap out any moment and kill Satish. ‘But why was Satish so calm? Hadn’t he seen the body lying on the living room floor? And how had he gotten in? The door had not moved when she had tried.’

“Satish? When did you come home?” she asked placidly. He went to her and replied, “I have just come home. And I am very hungry.” She suddenly remembered the pulao and said, “Oh! I am so sorry. You freshen up and get changed. I’ll serve you dinner in a few minutes,” and rushed out of the bedroom. She was completely in a daze and could not understand the events of the past hour. As she stepped out of their bedroom and made to go towards the kitchen, the monster came out of the living room. Now she was really worried. She didn’t want the monster to see Satish or harm him. So she went to him thinking she would reason with him. But before she could say a word, the monster pulled her into the living room and she stumbled with the force of his grip.

It took her a moment to regain her bearings and as she looked up, she broke into a huge smile. The entire living room was decorated with flowers and all her friends and family had gathered there. A huge placard on one of the walls read, “Happy Birthday”. Satish walked in carrying a huge birthday cake. But wait, why was the monster heading towards her husband? Much to her shock, the monster and her husband exchanged a high five and the monster in all his scary gory look, turned towards her and sang “Happy birthday to you” in the most gruesome voice. Unable to bear it any longer, she went to him and took off his mask. Her squeal of delight could be heard five stories down… behind the monster face was her son who lived in the United States. He had come home to surprise her on her fiftieth birthday! And the legs and the bloodied knife? Well, they were all props to add to the scary scene!