She waited for his phone all day long..
He waited outside her door all day long..
They both went back home, heartbroken..
She waited for his phone all day long..
He waited outside her door all day long..
They both went back home, heartbroken..
I think I was born dreaming. The kind of dreams that envelope you, engulf you, take you far in light-years.
A family of five, like five fingers- each unique, each with its own role to play. My father was the opposable thumb. The one who opposed me the most but who would also hold me when required. I guess that makes me “the little pinkie”! Nobody misses it till one needs to signal for.. well you know. I am the youngest one. Much loved, oh yes! Both my elder sisters, my mom and my dad loved me. They did all that they could to ‘help’ me. But how could they help when they didn’t understand me, or my dreams.
I always dreamt. When I was little, it would be for small things. To go to some place for vacations, to get shoes that I liked or a certain sweet. But there was one constant dream that I had for as far as I could remember; the dream of becoming a musician. I think it started when I saw a new year’s show on Doordarshan, where a group played orchestra. I was transfixed. It was new year indeed! The way movies show a person hypnotized to a point in space while the rest becomes a haze. It was something like that. Everything gets blurred in comparison. The different instruments, the unique sounds they made, the way people moved when they played, the way they played as if they are fused together. It was a whole new world. I wanted to enter the TV set to be one of them. Yes, to be a musician playing in the orchestra. That was my dream for very many years, to be that orchestra man. And I loved my dreams. And these dreams loved me.
When I was 5, my father bought me those cheap plastic guitars that kids normally pose with. He never realized it but he changed my world back then. Till then the moving image on the TV was just a moving image, a far off mirage. That day the mirage turned into an oasis. I held the guitar and struck the strings. Softly at first, and then a little boldly. I think for a 5 year old you might think it impossible, but it happened. Music came alive that day for me. I became the man in the orchestra.
After that New year, every year on my birthday I asked my parents to keep aside some money instead of gifting anything. I kept all the monetary ‘blessings’ that I got from elder relatives. When I turned 13, I went to my father and handed over all the odd dirty and partially stuck chocolate-laced currency notes. At first, he looked at me befuddled. I told him why and he smiled. He didn’t laugh. He never understood the passion behind it, as he didn’t know of ‘the dream’, but he okayed it. That was more than enough. Next evening he got it for me. A real guitar! I don’t know how much it costed and he never told me either. I hoped that all my saved money and all the 8 birthdays worth of money were sufficient. The dream was getting real. Its colors were getting vivid.
I taught myself somehow, somewhat. I played and sang in school and throughout college. Participated in all music events. But they were hardly fulfilling, forget soul satisfying. In between there were diversions and lapses on my part. There is something about a guy with a guitar I guess, because I still can’t explain why and how I ended into relationships. I am fairly simple, I guess. I love what others do- good food, good music, good people. I guess what separates me from others is my passion. When I love something, I LOVE that thing. There’s no two-way about it. Nothing to dilute my emotions. Nothing to squash it. Nothing to adulterate it. It pervades through every cell. When I entered into these relationships there was nothing holding me back. I never knew any other way, the casual way. Perhaps all my relationships failed for this very reason, although you would think that it’s crazy. When we really, crazily, passionately love somebody, so much so that it physically pains you to not see her, then you can smell the trouble. You sense the hesitations. The broken speeches. The flicker in their eyes. You know when it’s time. You can see the guillotine.
None of those lovely girls could stand it I suppose. I loved them. I loved them all. I fell for a second, then a third and then a fourth. They went, but the capacity to love didn’t. But I guess it wasn’t enough or maybe it was too much for them to handle. It left a strange feeling in my chest. Music had always uplifted me, so this feeling was new. Although every time the intensity decreased but the feeling was the same. It would flow out of my fingers on to the guitar strings. I think in some ways it helped me. It made me a better person, a better musician, a better soul.
Love has many expressions you see. You can redirect the force on another. I don’t mean on another person, which you can of course, but on something that resonates with you. And I already had one that lived inside me. Always. That one thing that was diffused in me, lived in me ever since – the love for music. No, don’t mistake me for a regular ‘fan’. I don’t understand that word anyways. I loved music. It has occupied my dreams since that first day on earth. I love the way it makes me cry, makes me angry, makes me come to terms with life, makes my life come alive. It has been my one true friend. It accompanied me when I fell in love, when I had to make myself come to terms with failed relationships, academic failures and career setbacks. Music didn’t leave me like those girls. Instead it did the opposite. It gripped me and pulled me up. Music, my best friend. Music, my soul mate.
I had to do something about it–Focus on the dream–Climb up the music ladder. Thinking that it’s the way to go, I enrolled myself in a school to learn to play. The “thumb” didn’t like that. For a 20 year old this wouldn’t possibly be a way to earn their bread. “But papa it was what kept me alive.” “Rubbish! Find employment to pay for these classes. Do all this in free time.”
Sisters and mothers always soothe you. They did. But they couldn’t understand. How can they when they don’t feel the love? When they haven’t dreamt the dreams. It would have been silly to expect them to understand. It’s all right if they don’t. I don’t expect them to.
So I found employment. Call centers are great you know. They take you in. They pay you. They don’t eat up your life. They allow you to have a parallel world outside work. I don’t know why people don’t get that. Why they frown upon BPOs? My world was split. The shifts worked well. My nights were spent in office, talking with a fake accent to fake people. Days spent with real people doing what was most real. Making music! Making something! It was like Magic!
I never told this before but I had nightmares too. They showed me what would happen if ‘the dream’ never took off or failed. What if I wasn’t good enough? Practice, perseverance and passion I had, but what if I had no talent? The day, I stepped in the class I carried all my dreams, my nightmares, all my hopes, all my reservations and me. The nightmares slowly evaporated and left behind the dreams. Have you seen a solution boil? How the impurities burn away and leave behind pure liquid? It was like that. Hard water had turned soft. They said I was a natural. I guess I was. This felt natural. Guitar was an extension of me. Fingers moved with ease. The cool metal of strings and the warm wood of its body was I. Maybe I was made of wood and metal too.
I now learnt formally too. Love of music helped me learn it. Guitar strings left deep indents on my fingers. The blue black marks of love. The fingers hardened. It hurt in the beginning, till it got numb. I loved that. I loved the pain as much as the happiness it gave me. Call me a masochist but that’s how I felt.
It gave me back in so many ways. I got a family that I didn’t bargain for. In the group of 20 students, there were only a select few who were just like me. They had their dreams too. They had love for music with the same intensity that I shared. I now had two worlds, two lives and two families. The one that understood me and the one I was born to. But I was no longer the little useless pinkie. I had a purpose, a role.
It was a perfect life. I made enough to keep expenses at bay. The job kept all other fingers (read family members) content. No questions asked. No answers given. All was fine. The graveyard shift of BPO kept me hooked from 9 pm to 6 am and sometimes up till 7 am. The travel was about 1 hour one way, but that’s city life for you. No point complaining about it. 8pm to 8am spent on job, it left me 12 hours for myself. I slept for 2-3 hours and went for my guitar lessons at 10am. They lasted all day long; rather I stuck around all day long jamming with my ‘other’ family. The progress was good, they said. I had started playing the songs that had helped me in the past. I suppose in few years I would have learnt it all. Maybe I will form a band to keep it working. I spoke to my other family about it with great enthusiasm,a new being vibrated and together we all now dreamt a new dream. A band was being born, life has never been great.
The pains started soon after the first year. Painkillers are produced for pain relief, isn’t it? I popped one or two every now and then and they worked well enough. They were like my job. They kept me working; they were necessary to keep me viable. After another six months the painkillers stopped working or my body got immune to them, I can’t say. I didn’t mind the pain at all. I had gotten used to it. I thought,I would outgrow it, just like the fingers. Wasn’t it just a way to harden my body; my soul needed no such exercise. My mother wasn’t convinced by my logic. She said I liked pain. Even when I was young, I never cried when the doctors injected me and never asked for any affection or medicine whenever I got hurt. Instead, I played with it, with the blood and the bruise. I would peel, pluck, press, rub or scratch the area till my mother covered it up to make my own body part inaccessible.
She took me to a doctor who ran all tests that he possibly could. The tests didn’t show any issues except a little bent backbone. I laughed at that. A bent backbone!! I showed the image to my father. “See papa, I HAVE a backbone. You always said that I didn’t. Hahaha” While I laughed, he just glared. I spotted a bit of weird contorted expression. Was it concern? Well, it was none of my concern. The doctors said something about taking it easy, sleeping more, not traveling etc. But I was taking it easy. Ideally I should be working on my music all day long, all week long! But look at me. Am I doing that? NO!
My mother made me take a day off that night. The first leave I took in 1.5 years. Nobody complained. I snuck out that night to a club and saw a LIVE performance. That was the new dream! Performing live in front of an audience. Sucking energy out of them. Getting a feedback then and there. Like a tango. In tandem.
Another six months. The pain worsened but I didn’t tell anyone. I have no idea how my mother came to realize. She took me back to the doctor who severely advised complete bed rest and physiotherapy. I bargained for physiotherapy and weekends rest. Agreed!
This worked for a year perfectly. I think the pain subsided somewhat too. My mother also used hot water bottles on the areas. She sometimes would use mustard or coconut oil to massage the affected area. It didn’t help in any way but I didn’t say so. She thought she was helping and I didn’t want to dismiss her emotions.
And then, I broke. It happened so suddenly that none of us had time to react. We didn’t realize it at that moment. I just fell down. Luckily I was home, having just returned from guitar jamming sessions. The doctors confirmed it. The twin-life had sued me. It took away my spine. Literally. I am still I, but just an empty vessel. I am nothing, but I’m something. A body that knew how to love didn’t love anymore. A mind that worked went in defunct mode. A heart that pumped, forgot to pump the magic and the love. It knew passion, love, emotions, tears, and laughter. All that is now locked away. I don’t know till when will my body decide to punish me and for what? Was it the job that betrayed my heart or the music lessons that didn’t make sense to my boiled brain?
The ceiling fan is now my constant companion, a friend. It goes round and round. Never tiring. Maybe it is running after something, or maybe one blade is trying to catch up with the other, like a dog tries to catch its tail. Was I a fan after all? Had I been doing just that? All my life? I guess I understood the word now. I now spend my days watching the fan or my mom’s silent tears. I sometimes request her to pass me my guitar, which she does reluctantly. I place it on my stomach and try and strike. A little sound floats my way. Not enough. My other family has moved on. Last I heard they were playing regularly at some place that I couldn’t even go to, forget playing with them. They are going to come up with a release soon. I need a release too, from this prison of my body. My dream became their reality. My fantasy became their actuality. The ideas I floated, drifted away to attach themselves to theirs. I can’t even complain. Sometimes, I think, would it have been different had my father allowed me to do Music and not search for a job.Would it have been different, if I had rested as advised and not challenge my body pushing it to its limit or is it just plain karma,my destiny.The questions come and go,find myself playing music in my dreams still for as a dreamer I came and dreamer I remain.
The battle of my body and my wishes will continue for sometime, till it’s finally resolved. Who will conquer, I don’t know. I sure will know,one day.
He : Ahem. Hello?
The Voice : Yes, I see you have arrived.
He : Arrived? Oh you are mistaken. I think I am at the wrong place. I do not recognize this place and I don’t remember setting out for here.
Can you tell me where am I and the way to go back?
The Voice : Calm down son. I understand your confusion. The questions are always the same, but so is the answer. You, my son, have ARRIVED.
I hope you had a good vacation. Now that you are back, let’s get to some work. Shall we?
He : (trembling a little) I am sorry but I do not understand you. You say that I have “arrived”, but where? You said that ‘I am back’ but, I have never been here. You must be mistaken. I am not the person you were waiting for.
The Voice : I am never mistaken. You do not belong to the place you come from; the place called ‘Earth’. It is a short vacation that everyone gets to go to once they complete 1000 years here. Your journey on Earth is similar to what earthlings call ‘vacation’.
You would not recognize anyone here who came back from Earth, for they are faceless, just like you are.
(At this point the listener tried to move around to feel himself, but he couldn’t do so. He couldn’t see himself either, not because of absence of reflective surface but because his limbs didn’t guide him at all.)
The Voice continued-
Earth was made as a break from this neverland, but even there people couldn’t stay happy. They talk of struggle when it’s they themselves who created it. I tried to create an ideal world. There was everything of need provided to the vacationers. If only they knew how and how much to use. If only they learnt how to peacefully coexist. If only they knew that happiness is a state of mind, that they can’t be happy until they want to be happy. If only they knew that it’s up to people to make their vacation heaven or hell.
Hope you used your time well.
(The Voice faded away.)
© Shivani | forewordMarch
Who are you? Do you believe in your own capability or do you think that your life has been a product of good and bad luck? What governs your actions? Do you, believe in yourself?
There he was, the king
Pacing a corridor up and down, for he had lost his precious ring.
You may ask, what is a mere ring to a king,
But that ring was the reason for his lost zing.
The ring caused him to be think and act.
It was the reason for his tact.
Without his ring, he was nothing.
He felt his reign depended on one thing- the ring.
The king didn’t sleep for nights.
He had lost sleep and also his might.
His fear got the better of him,
He felt he could never regain his unfulfilled dream.
The queen witnessed it all.
She did not want to witness his fall.
But the way he behaved it wouldn’t be too far;
When they lose the kingdom and see it from afar.
She regained composure and decided,
Action is a must and his behavior needs to be thwarted.
The queen met the royal jeweler.
She took him in confidence and acted like a ruler.
She drew for him the design,
Of the lost ring that was benign.
She asked him to make the ring,
And not to tell a soul, else he would need a sling.
The jeweler got scared and agreed.
He had heard the rumours and wanted to help without greed.
Queen relieved and asked him to begin immediately.
Delay would only be too deadly.
The jeweler made a new ring,
But it was not the same and was not shining.
The queen was not happy and asked him to remake,
The jeweler went back, melted it and worked without a break.
After a week, the ring was presented.
The king was surprised and there was nothing that he suspected.
He wore the ring as it was his size.
He got back his lost zing and gave the queen a prize.
Everything was restored back to normal.
The King got back his mind and manner.
After a month passed, the queen spoke to the king.
She told him everything about the ring.
She said “It was not the lost ring but you who had the power.
Believe in yourself, for you need no magic. You still stand tall, like a tower.”
The king got angry at hearing that and glowered.
He went away, as he had turned sour.
King threw away his ring,
He felt cheated and did not want to see a thing.
The queen grew sad and upset,
But she could only wait; she did not have any regret.
She wanted the king to realize and trust his own capability,
And not give credit to a ring and see its futility.
Months passed and the king continued to look sore,
But his reign wasn’t affected and he still worked like before.
He still didn’t see, what others saw;
He still didn’t trust himself and thought the kingdom worked well because of good laws.
The king of the neighbouring kingdom heard the news.
He thought it was a good time and he must use this ruse.
He declared war on the good king, with a hope to get his kingship.
The good king, forgot all about the ring and discussed with his ministers to outstrip.
The war was fought and got over in a matter of days.
The good king’s strategy fared well and even the other army was amazed.
Everywhere he went, he was praised.
His reign shined bright, like a good blaze.
It dawned upon him, that his reign was because of him,
No ring could do all that, and he must get over this whim.
He went to the Queen and apologized,
He thanked her much and she mollified.
The king’s rule lasted long.
He did not care for any ring and he knew the right from wrong.
His tale became a folk-song,
For generations to hear and for some, a work-song.
We have all faced or seen some sort of racism and examples of inferiority complex emanating from being different. You might have yourself felt that you are less or lower than others because you aren’t as fair or because you look different? Why do we humans give so much importance to looks instead of integrity and credibility of a fellow human? We all know better than that and yet instances of racism prop up every now and then. The possible solution to eradicate this sickness would be to start early, that is, to educate our young.
Read the short children’s story, written with an aim to educate children (and adults) and prevent them from categorizing others on the basis of their “color”; to encourage them to be happy for who they are and to not feel inferior for being different.
The zebra looked at itself and then at others;
Then at itself and it shuddered.
It saw the bold solid colors of others,
And he saw himself as just a drunk stripes of black and white.
Even the tiger, which was striped like him, was a brilliant yellow and black.
The giraffe had a unique pattern; he too looked good in yellow and black.
He looked at himself and saw the same old boring pattern,
No graceful neck or mane either.
It walked for days that turned into weeks,
Looking low and feeling weak.
He met nobody and saw nobody.
His friends soon stopped asking for him,
For he did not return their howls in time.
He went one day to the local watering hole,
To drink a little and howl with his soul.
He met the old rabbit, which served the drinks,
And asked him how it feels to be so white, without kinks.
The old rabbit, which was very astute
Looked at him for long, with a glance that wasn’t rude.
He asked Zebra “What is troubling you? This isn’t your habit.”
The zebra looked at himself and told the rabbit,
That he is ashamed of his skin, which is just black and white!
The rabbit smiled and said,
“O Zebra, look up.
Why are you looking down? Buck up!
Why can’t you see, what we see in you?
The unique pattern of stripes, that becomes of you!
No one in your species looks alike;
They all have unique pattern, unlike us who are just white.
Be proud and own this.
Why do you feel sorry for yourself? You are distinct. Can’t you see?”
The zebra then realized,
What he had until now he had not recognized,
That he was unique, and it was true;
He wasn’t like others even if they had colors of different hues.
The zebra then rose to his full height,
And never did he look down upon himself and walked tall, with giant strides.
There was a village surrounded by hills.
With houses like polka dots and small mills.
The mills had rich grains,
That were famous everywhere!
So fragrant and tasty were they,
That it attracted mice, that came sniffing all the way.
Mice became such a menace,
That villagers grew weary and wanted to drive them away.
They tried every trick in the book,
The mice scrammed away without a second look.
But one mouse ‘Meesa’ kept himself safe.
He loved the village and didn’t want to leave it in this rat-race.
He loved the food the villagers made,
And the mills offered an all day buffet.
He hid all day in a small hole in a mill,
And went out in the night to have his fill.
Meesa loved the village and helped people whichever way he could.
People thought it was some secret angel,
Who came in the night and corrected everything mangled.
One day Meesa noticed the water level had risen in the village stream.
The village hadn’t noticed and life went on, like a dream.
How would he inform the villagers, he thought?
They would drive him away, without a second thought.
Before he could do anything, it happened.
An outburst of rain and the village half-submerged.
Few people climbed the higher areas, but it was not easy.
The children and elderly were left behind, as they were rather measly.
The water level kept rising and there was nothing to do;
Everything seemed dark, everything seemed blue.
The hills that were the village’s protective walls,
Now proved to be the cause of its fall.
The hills kept the water in,
Like a cup it held the water up to its brim.
Meesa took courage and faced them all.
He offered to help, but it was their call.
He told them that years of special diet had sharpened his teeth.
His teeth were very strong and can gnaw through the hill.
Some said ‘shoo him away’,
And some just looked dismayed.
But they were helpless, so they agreed to try his way.
Meesa hurried to the south hill,
As it was the lowest hill.
He started nibbling his way through, like an electric drill.
Seeing him, few people came to watch and sat very still.
Soon Meesa gnawed his way through the small southern hill.
The water that had collected, now drained downhill.
The villagers were surprised and few clapped.
They all approved of Meesa and sat as if rapt.
They realized that not all mice were menace,
and Meesa in particular, was an ace!
Originally called ‘The snake and the fish’, this story is a brainchild of my 6 year old nephew Keshav, who has also done the illustration for it. I took the liberty of writing it down in a poetic form with slight changes to the original story and tacit permission of the artist.
Hope you enjoy this sweet little story on friendship between two who are unlikely to be called friends.
Happy Friendship’s Day!!!
There was once a snake called Slither,
Because he slithered, slithered and slithered.
He sawed (saw) something blue and cool,
He slithered to it but he was fooled.
For it was a cloud,
Reflected in a big water pond.
He was upset and was trying to slither back,
But just then he saw something slippery.
It was in fact a fish shining shimmery.
He called out to the fish,
whose name was Fishy,
He asked her it’s name
And privately wondered if his own body was a bane,
For he could swim merely.
The fish, a little haughty, responded coolly.
She boasted that she could swim in the water, rather boldly.
She was happy in her pond,
And said that a being who couldn’t swim didn’t matter at all.
Slither marveled at this and requested,
“Could I see your house? Could I look after I have rested?”
The fish let out a big ‘hmmmpphhh’
She refused outrightly with a big gruff.
Slither slithered back to his own place,
A little sad as he was disgraced.
A few days passed by and he saw Fishy again,
She was swimming proudly in a little stream that ran past his lane.
Fishy saw Slither and asked him if the big round hole was his home.
He replied with a cool nod as she looked at the dome.
She asked if she could visit what looked like a pantry.
Slither remembered how he was disgraced and refused an entry.
He recounted to Fishy the day he had come to her,
And told her what had incurred.
Fishy felt ashamed; she apologized and said, “Sorry Sir.”
“This wouldn’t happen again, believe me. Let it blur. ”
She told him that he can come anytime now as her behavior had improved.
She was earlier proud and haughty and implored him to forgive her.
They became best friends thereafter.
Each visited the other’s home, had lots of fun and shared laughter.
One of my favourite ones. A relook, a revisit
We lived in a small one bedroom-hall-kitchen government flat in south Delhi. They were our neighbours who belonged to West Bengal. Bengalis, as Indians would call them. We Indians have a way of tagging people. Instead of simply calling them as Indians we give them tags. So they were Bengalis, while we were Punjabis. The lady’s mother, a 5 feet tall lady in her early 70s, was called Dida (grandma) by her two daughters. I too called her that.
Such a pretty word : dee-da. Like a song. Deeda.
I used to come back from school at 2pm sharp and my brother, whose classes ended a little later, would reach around 2:30 pm. My mother and father both worked, so Dida used to help out us kids with after-school meals. Everyday, she would come to our place in her signature blue-bordered white sari, keys tied at one end of her…
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We reached home early. It was only 11:30 pm, which was early for a typical army party or any party for that matter. Tired, stomach full, and a little tipsy, I drove back home from our officer’s mess to our house, about 1km away. My wife unlocked the door and went in, while I parked the car in the garage downstairs. She went first to the ‘other’ bedroom, switched off the TV that was still on and playing a sentimental song from some new Hindi movie, as a background score to a nonsensical soap opera. These soap operas play such songs for half their running time, while the actors hold their expressions, often that of sadness, shock or despair. Why on earth do people watch this, I wondered. She switched off the light and went to our bedroom.
I was not far away. I entered and, like her, went straight to the other room. While all she saw was the light and blazing TV, all I saw was the motionless figure lying on the bed. I smiled and asked softly “Sleeping? You okay?” It’s curious why we ask people that, when we know that if the person is asleep then it is pointless to ask for he can’t answer and if not, then a “yes” would immediately negate it. And yet, we have this innateness to ask the obvious. I suppose it’s reassuring in some way. The figure stirred, turned few degrees to face me and then flashed a big smile and said “Aa gaye?” (Are you back?) In that one moment I flew back 25 years. The time when they would come back from such parties and she would immediately enter my room to check on me, caress me and make me go back to sleep. Her touch was like magic. The sleep that would come thereafter would be more relaxing than the unconscious state I would be in otherwise. That motionless figure was that of my mother! Our roles have reversed. Now we check on her multiple times during the night, just like parents check on their kids. We put on tv for her and change channels for her. Hold her hands so that she can walk. She needs helps with most basic bodily functions. I don’t mind all this but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish if I would get that warm reassuring caress back. The soft stroke of her hand on my hair. The way she would carefully cover me with a blanket and kiss me goodnight. She would leave one of my feet uncovered as that was my most comfortable sleep form and only she knew that. That will never happen. This is one wish that will stay unfulfilled.
Time, can be cunning.
Sometimes, I would feign sleep on hearing the car approaching. I would quickly switch off the TV and jump on the bed and lie very still. But my faster breathing and the warm TV screen never fooled either of my parents. Still, they played along. My mom would say “Goodnight beta. Sleep well. Don’t watch TV this late” before retiring to her room. How do parents come to know, I often wondered? They didn’t have a camera in my room, or did they? Maybe it’s some sixth sense or some parent’s sense I read about. Can’t possibly know till I assume that role myself. But it was always so reassuring to find them back in the house. Although I was a brave, rather naughty, little one and could easily hold on my own, their presence in the house meant something to me. Perhaps it would have been different if I had a sibling, or maybe not. Another thing that I would never know.
The wasted body on the bed was more than a body and sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes, it was little more than a human machine- empty, emotionless, eroding. But today, she remembers. That smile made me remember too.
Her bright banarasi saris and gold jewelry, high heels, laughing red painted mouth, hair set in the latest trend, a big red bindi and vermilion on her forehead. She enjoyed life. She enjoyed these parties and why not, when there was good food, good company, ample laughter and a time off from the daily rut. For her, it was something to dress up for, something she looked forward to. Now the clothes she wears hung on her. The mouth, unpainted, now only smiles to herself. Her forehead is barren, no Bindi and no vermilion. Her hair cut short, scarce and few, are usually unkempt. My wife keeps gifting her new dresses, but my mother hardly cares, hardly knows the difference. That fashionable woman is hardly now a woman, let alone fashionable. Sometimes, my wife paints her nails and my mother would look at her own hands with a child like glee and a sort of open unabashed wonderment, with slow blinking wide eyes and mouth open agape. Memory, rather loss of it, brings old joys back. I suppose that is the only positive that comes from losing it.
I accompanied them to many parties till I decided I was too old for it all. In most army parties children weren’t allowed, and this particular memory belongs to one such party. I guess we don’t give enough credit to our memory cells. They allow us a peek into those moments in our past that we can no longer visit. I am thankful to my memory. Very thankful.
My mother, the way she was, is captured and safe in these memories. The power to recollect isn’t completely in my hands, but when these memory cells gift me with those memories, it’s precious. No matter if it happens often at odd times. I am not complaining. Whatever little I can get of them is good enough. People don’t realize how lucky they are when they have their parents around. Even if the parents are no longer agile and young. Their presence is more than enough. Their few words can get you going, pull you up and push you to live on. Their complete absence and the feeling of belonging to nobody, gives a sense of being a speck in a vacuum. You can see yourself but you can’t hear yourself, no one else does too. You are alone with your troubles, in your troubles. It cannot be completely described in words. I have only half of the pair and she is half the time unavailable. She has lost herself to an unknown world, a world where none of us exist but her thoughts. But the other half, when she is lucid, is enough- for now.
I lost my parents 8 years back; my father to death and my mother to a long battle of schizophrenia. The day he passed away it was as if a switch was flipped. She just- left. She went into her own world of thoughts. She talked only to her own thoughts. What were we to her -strangers or shadows – I don’t know.
I know I will never get my parents back and I will never see them like that image of happy laughing pair of healthy adults, but I trust my memory to serve me well till it’s time for me to move on.
Today I see them. He, looking dapper in his grey double-breasted suit with a half unfinished drink in his hand, and she, looking beautiful in her red banarasi sari, both laughing. They look happy. They don’t know what will happen in future and I wouldn’t tell them too. If only they had stayed like that moving image, which replayed in my head from time to time. That’s all there is- the moving image of happiness and a wasted body lying on the bed. Both true, both existent, both not permanent. I don’t know what will I tell my future kids when they grow up and ask. Their own mother had never seen either of her in-laws when they were alive and lucid. She has only known this talking human figure with hardly any memory and hardly any life about her.
My wife tells me that schizophrenia is a disorder that is congenital, that it is always there somewhere- like a creepy monster hiding in the basement; but she hasn’t known the mother I have. She hasn’t seen the loving way in which my mumma got up before Sun to make breakfast and pack my school lunch. The mother who bowled endlessly for my batting practice and smiled ever so widely when I scored a six. She hadn’t witnessed the times when me and mumma used to go to my grandparents house for summer vacation and would watch Hindi movies together back-to-back, while the rest of the house took their afternoon nap. She doesn’t know the woman who cooked for the entire house from morning to night untiringly, ever smiling.
She hasn’t seen the long period of rather eventful times when it used to be just me and her, when my father went away for work or was posted to field areas where families weren’t allowed or on an exercise or camp. She hasn’t seen the person who travelled alone with a young kid and bags of luggage in trains from New Delhi to Guwahati,which took two days, to Dimapur by an overnight train journey, and then 6-7 hours by bus till we somehow finally reached Imphal. The destination was Limakong, which took another day’s journey. How tattered and threadbare this seemingly never-ending journey had made us. I still shudder and flinch at the memory and I am myself an army officer, which makes this part of my life. My wife hasn’t shared the moments me and mom did, like the time when we were posted in Babina and how we used to sit half the night, during stormy weather, holding a long rope that kept the TV antenna in place, to prevent it from falling as repairing it would have been too costly and time-consuming. She doesn’t know the woman who cried silently and stealthily, not wanting her 7 year old child to know that his father had gone to Sri Lanka as part of IPKF, while watching news of fresh casualties in Sri Lanka. The woman who would wait for one ISD phone call all day long, all week long. The woman who would walk miles to drop and pick me up from school, took me for all games sessions and birthday parties, bought gifts for kids, and managed her house in an ATM-less world. She hasn’t witnessed any of it. If that’s not normal, I don’t know what is. I don’t know if her schizophrenia was this pertinent since she was little, but I do know that it never kept her away from being a mother, a wife and the person I know.
I capture whatever remains of her in my head, my heart and in my eyes. I hope that together with some old black and white and technicolor photographs that I have from those times, my memories would suffice to tell her grandchildren that she lived. That they lived. I am proud of her and I hope they would be too.