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To Good Times – Prologue

January 19, 2016 Leave a comment

«««««««««««««The Cigarette Ghost«««««««««««««

He was standing and digging in his shirt pocket for a cigarette that he could not find. It later came to him that he was not wearing the same shirt from office. He was waiting for a ride, hoping, someone could drop him somewhere and save him from the smoggy cold on the highway. Office shirt had a pocket which had a butt which contained enough bosom in it to make him high for the night.

He remembered the truck ride. The driver had agreed to take him all the way to Jodhpur.

The driver was a minding-his-own business-kind-of fellow who was busy humming an English tune which was copied into an Indian song, so it was difficult to know his music preferences and his exposure to world music or to take a guess about how many languages he knew.

As soon as the driver saw him breathe in through the butt from his shirt pocket, his butt was kicked out to puff the highway dust.  

image

The Dream Began.  

He faintly remembered coming back from office in that shirt that she had only ironed in the morning.

She had wanted to get high with him. It had been long. They hardly got any time for themselves with the children taking up their priorities…

…the bigger one always smiled when he saw mother and father kissing secretly, unlike the tell tale grandmother of a daughter who parroted to the whole neighborhood what happened in their house…

“Our children might have this idea that we conceived them with kissing!”, he had complained once.

“Do not say what you thought as a child, honey, bunny, cutie pie! Mmmmpchh…chh..chhaa…”, she had trailed off in glee, kissing him, mockingly now.

“They are much smarter than their cute smiles. Your daughter maintains an e-diary through which she gives daily updates to her friends about our kisses and misses…”

He had smiled and opened his mouth, “That’s a breach of privacy…even by…the kidsssssss….we’re parentsssss'”, he began but she thought better and sealed the air carrying his words with a barrage of kisses.

That evening with the children out for the weekend with their grandparents, she was dressed in her wedding lehenga. 

Looking prettier than she did 10 years ago, she waited for her magical husband to return. He had worn his black pin striped wedding reception suit to the office and was longing for the night out from their past to begin.

It was their 10th anniversary. Only their 3rd celebration without the kids…

§

He tried to remember a highway song he had heard so many times.

It seemed like another life.
All the good songs had been forgotten now.

All the bonhomie, he could understand – but it was not for him.

And the sad songs, like the one playing in the truck, seemed so unreal.

How could someone sing when one could hardly speak?

It was now two years since that fateful night.

Two years since he last saw his wife smiling.

Two years since everything made sense.

Two headlights were approaching him. He had that sudden rush to be saved. He wanted a different life.  

“If ever…”, she had breathed in, “…anything happens to me, promise me that you won’t go on the self destructing guilt…trip… of yours…”, she had prophesied before they got married and pecked on his cheek.

Now it seemed like a premonition.

“If anything happens to you, this man that you are marrying”, he had pointed towards the mirror,” won’t be alive to do anything to me!”

Yet there he was, that man all alive on the highway. Faint reflection of what he once saw in the mirror but alive with all the hope that the two headlights approaching could bring. This was similar to what he had felt when he saw the two headlights of that truck and like then he did not know that it was a truck till it stopped a little ahead of him.

§

In the TATA Safari, a female by the window was about to scream; only she did not know it yet.

He, on the highway was rising to the hope and wanted to wave his hands to be saved.

As the Safari came closer and it dawned on him that

it… was… a Safari…the Safari…that he was driving…and in whose accident the children…the children…

Then it happened.

His raised hands caught the branch of a tree by the highway, the tattered shirt felt his dehydrated and desiccated body sliding out of it as he fell face forward and as the Safari moved across the scene, what was seen was a ghostly shirt hanging by the branch which equaled to a seemingly close resemblance of a body less and invisible ghost, just lingering by long enough than the trees rushing by to scare the shit out of the pack of six doodlers.

§⊙¤«»ω

Time Capsule

July 7, 2012 1 comment

I talked with you and again my mind is buzzing to tell you what I think in the best way possible.

Did I still pursue my inner quest, to be better than I was before with you, in my worst possible time and situation?

Allow me to begin.

When it happened, it was so that I used to feel, every passing second of my waking time that I could never be forgiven for what I did.

It came to pass and along with what I felt, there were spurts of harmonic rushes, during which I denied my (in)actions as not quite guilt ridden as I thought earlier.

I would pass the buck, blame you as an equal in the robbery of the goodness in me and then would justify by claiming you to be as wrong as I was in my mind’s eye.

Nothing was wrong and it didn’t have to be that way if you could take the initiative to talk about it.

This came to pass too, I started living two lives.

One the sorry figure(only he didn’t apologize) and the other a carefree bastard(only he did not know it then).

The bastard would continue preaching what he himself didn’t believe once he became the sorry figure. The sorry figure’s life was uni-dimensional in feeling sorry. Sorry for her, sorry to himself, sorry to the world. Needless to say that too did pass and life continued to be a series of really sad phases.

It continued like that till a very real transformation happened, real in the sense I identify it most with the person I still am. This was just before everything I thought/did/felt became meaningless for 10 days or so before the sun started shining again.

We met again with other friends, for old times sake – only the current times hadn’t really ended.

Bryan Adams on the radio sang, “Please forgive me…”

We were hijacked by the moment, you were looking out of the window but I saw your face in the side-view mirror…Objects in it were indeed closer than they appeared. The rivulets of your tears matched your curls – the eyes seemed to be searching the memories going past like the trees on the roadside.

Now I tell you all this to evoke that memory with tears hazing my view.

We were discussing Dasvidaniya before that song began, how you said that it ended aptly before your capacity to take more of the implied sorrow began to fade. Just then, “…still feels like our first night together…“, faded in and we fell silent.

I kissed your hand before I dropped you home, and I held it a little tight before I let go and you said goodnight.

I remember the hopeful drive back home that I had, do you remember me telling you that?

The next day I saw The Truth about Cats and Dogs, that you had always wanted me to see.

Don’t you see the irony now about what Noelle was talking about “Did you ever look in the mirror so long that your face didn’t make sense anymore? It just becomes all these shapes. Just shapes. Not good or bad.” 

You keep staring in the mirror for hours, what is it that you look for?

Do you remember how I drew your cartoon on a paper when we met again that night and quoted the above quote.

In the car you held my hand again and life was worthwhile again…You asked me jokingly how I remembered the complete dialogues of movies…

Don’t you remember anything?

How we laughed later that Bryan Adams was such a corny excuse to infuse in us the love we really felt for each other.

How you felt cheated that I stopped enjoying the sitcoms after marriage.

How I would make genuine efforts to enjoy them but then judge them on the subtle political undertones they espoused.

How you would judge me back for not being able to laugh anymore.

Anything at all?

Alleged Lovers – Part III

March 7, 2012 4 comments
If you haven't already, you can read Part I and Part II before you proceed.

φ

She would have gotten really upset at his behavior had it been another day. Wasn’t she always a little submissive to his disposition, she wondered. Had it been another day she would not have said what she did for she knew how he reacted when the topic of their marriage cropped up for discussion. She was aware of his every mood – and what caused it – and she somehow ended up by equating this understanding with her love for him. How beautiful it is to understand a person so deeply. Had it been another day she would have responded with that understanding.

Today being the day it was triggered something inside her that couldn’t be identified as love. And the Ganga, having soaked the sun, illumined the wick of her mind to pave way for her outburst.

“Why are you so shit scared of my questions…?” she began.

“What is it that you want me to do?” he asked.

It was her turn to look away. Exhaling through her closed lips, she made an uncharacteristic sound as if purposefully mocking his plea. Seeing her reply, something told him that he was wandering in an unsheltered territory of their relationship but he couldn’t be sure. So he calmed down with,

Achha seriously, I want you to help me figure this out…”

She twitched in acknowledgment, still avoiding his eyes.

“I thought I would buy the shop in installments and considering one week for renovation after all the paper work and all that, on the first of next month I had imagined us to be receiving your parent’s blessings.”

“What?!” she was shocked. Was it a surprise? A joke?

She felt weird. It did not sound right to her.

The discomfort that she felt was at her own self. She thought of not getting excited at the sound of just his words. It did sound like a reasonable plan. Maybe she felt disappointed in his fidgety and reckless way of dealing with confrontation. No, it wasn’t that – she fought with her thoughts. How could it be that the man she looked up to get so pointlessly agitated as soon as she touched the topic of their future, which he thought questioned his intentions!

Maybe she was over-reacting, but she couldn’t stop herself, “Why now?” she asked, “Why now…how did you find such an easy answer to my perpetual question…so easily?  How do you have a solution so clearly thought out now at an instant notice of my outburst? I don’t want to feel satisfied by your plan although it does sound sensible to me,” he raised his eyebrows and tried to smile but she ignored and continued, “but you know what? I don’t trust the plan because it is just a plan! It has been more than 2 years and all I have seen you make are just plans and I have had enough of them.”

The table felt the thud of her hand and the vibration pursued via his elbows and pulsated itself to his heart.

He was shaken by the surprising intensity of the frustration in her eye. He was shaken by her exasperation of which he was the cause. He thought about what she had said. In their earlier conversations he just went on maybe because he liked the sound of his voice and the assertion of his myriad and random views just led her on. It led both of them to believe that life was to be lived in the moment and that is what he was practicing. Did she not share that view with him?

She was waiting for him to reply and all she could see was his perplexed expression. He was staring blankly at her. She suddenly felt regret at having said what she said. She felt that maybe, maybe he did not share her concerns at all.

As the majority of her scuffle with her heart had been silently fought in some sub-conscious recess of her mind earlier, he could not quite comprehend today’s unexpected unrest in her otherwise smooth and predictable behavior.

“You don’t think about us and our future when everything is going fine how do you suppose I understand that you will take a stand when things are really rough?!” She stopped and thought that she was making it more difficult for him to understand by just voicing her uncontrolled thoughts out of her buzzing mind and so she decided that enough was enough and got up and started walking away.

He could only begin to absorb what had happened as his eyes, disconnected from his mind saw her moving away. Involuntarily his feet felt firm and his body stood up. The head itself couldn’t know what the body was doing.

A slight thought was given to his bodily movements; his frame of mind disregarded it as he had disregarded her. She was fooled into thinking that he would soon act and do something about the promises he had made. Of course you could have done this and that right, his old-self made an attempt to make him ponder a little, but she really didn’t let you know what she was feeling, you played along and carried on because she misled you into believing that she was fine by accepting you as you are. She seemed fine by all of it and what is all this now?

Like a lifeless, breathing image of himself he dragged his body in the direction she had gone. Down the stairs, she had become a part of the crowd that was going towards the Laxman Jhoola, but she had cut across to the spiraling road that went down to the Ganga Snan cafe and had disappeared along the curve.

He thought he would run and catch up with her but at the bottom of the stairs he also met the crowd thronging the bottleneck at this end of the Jhoola. He made his way past them, lost in the guilty realms of his mind – disillusioned at the prospect of what he would say to her when his legs caught up with hers. It seemed that she had moved away holding an end of the thread that he had coiled over himself. The coil of self-righteousness had begun unraveling.

His mind was churning and mental retina was forming images of the time they had spent together – “…You can be whatever you want to be.” She had read from a book about a year ago “But you’ve got to know what you want to be first. As that knowledge alone would create the drive in you to achieve your goal…” He had dismissed it as “self-help crap” then. Now he thought that in dismissing it, he hadn’t really given any real thought to what was being said.

He thought he was done justifying his actions and words with more words. At least he thought so in so many words! It could be really easy for him to blame her right now, he told his old self. He grew all aware of his need for her which jolted him out of his reverie of (mis?) leading himself on.

He was surprised that she saw through his farce before he could. But now that she had seen it, wasn’t she the one who could help him the most at this hour?

He saw an old man smiling at him with toothless glee as he moved on.

He saw a little girl giggling blissfully as her father played with her.

He wondered whether he felt sorry for himself. He wondered whether his pursuit of her was foolhardy attempt that would again lead to such a confrontation if they got back together.

She was sitting on the spiral staircase of the Balakrishna massage center, looking at the heavens for answers. It began to drizzle and all she got were drops of rain, hitting her face and then sliding across her skin before they were united together at the chin and fell to the ground.

He saw her as soon as he reached the curve, she didn’t seem to notice or care. He thought he fell in love with the faraway look in her eyes as if he was looking at her for the first time. He saw her indifference – an hour ago it was muffled pain at his futile plans. He wanted to go and cry in her lap. But he went to the adjacent shop and gently removed the plastic curtain protecting the books from the drizzle and went and sat besides her, covering her from the rain. She did not revolt or show displeasure.

The plastic sheet over their head began to make sounds at the falling drops of rain on it. It filled their proximity with the lack of silence that was needed to break ice between the two alleged lovers. Alleged lovers – up until now.

Her eyes closed and she let a lot of air out of her mouth, as if she was trying to hold on to the oxygen inside her forever. She started crying. He could just muster up the courage to ask, “Are you okay…?”

“This is the first time… this is the first time as far back as I can remember you have shown your care for me by doing something…” and she dug her face in her knees.

The shop keeper whose polythene sheet had been taken away came and started calling them names.

Although he couldn’t hear any of it and she didn’t look up, he just looked in the shopkeeper’s direction, gave the sheet to him and smiled. The shop keeper went away, continuing with the name calling.

He put an arm around her and said, “I know better now, I think.”

Surprised at his own admission, he quietly said “I am sorry.”

Together they sat there till the rain drenched them. In the rain drop silence she got up and wiped the rainy tears of her cheeks and smiled.

∞ 

Alleged Lovers – Part II

March 3, 2012 5 comments
If you haven't already, read Part I before you proceed.
Ø

They were sitting on the banks of the holy river and she read out aloud from a book,

‘…The effect of cessation (ending) of breathing on the central nervous system is of considerable interest…The patient may lie in the chamber for hours without moving his head or changing position. The desire to smoke disappears when voluntary respiration stops, even in patients who have been accustomed to smoke two packets of cigarettes a day. In many instances the relaxation is of such a nature that the patient does not require amusement…’

“So that means he won’t need her for amusement if he stops smoking. But he can’t leave her, you know!” he smiled.

“And that is why he doesn’t stop smoking, for if he does, he won’t need his alleged lover” she replied.

“Look he can’t stop smoking just because someone somewhere experienced something and did not feel like smoking anymore, okay? He cannot stop smoking until he stops feeling the need, understood madam?”

“But you aren’t trying. And stop with the third person nonsense, will you? Or you don’t want to do that either!”

“That’s what he is saying; He doesn’t feel the need to stop smoking, so why does she want to force him?”

She closed the book and her retort remained unspoken.

How could she not force him when she felt it was the right thing to do? She wondered whether all their heated discussions were worth this much only. Just when they seemed to be getting head and tail of each other’s perspective in any matter, the topic was closed. The discussion was over. And there was nothing more to say. Or it just fizzled out with a joke or the awkward silence that was now enveloping her.

The overwhelming silence came and passed as the Sun shimmered on the Gangesand wind was only to be sensed by the wavy river surface. They had begun walking up the stairs that curled up towards the bustling Laxman Jhoola and their fingers entwined on the way.

“You know this German Bakery’s original name is Devraj Coffee House…He thinks it was Socrates who said what’s in a name? Socrates was right.” he said, wiping the sweat of his brow.

“Ha Ha, very funny! It was”, she yawned, “Shakespeare.”

“Well, as he said, what’s in a name.” He lit up a cigarette and continued,

“They should adapt it to the psyche of their traditions and change it to what’s in a surname!”

He made a ring out of his fore finger and the thumb and exhaled the mouthful of smoke through it.

“You know I don’t like you smoking” she tried to say it with a skeptical indifference of a cringe.

“Oh ho ho!” he puffed out, “So she doesn’t like him smoking but have no problems with others who smoke!”

“I don’t know them!” she said.

“What difference does that make?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter, I feel I don’t know you too!” and with that she ended the conversation as they took the first empty table of German Bakery.

As she looked over his shoulder to the Ganges flowing by, his eyes wandered over hers and he slightly tilted his head to the right to see if anyone was to be bothered by their love talk yet unspoken. He saw a foreign national in saffron robes, asking the waiter to get a lighter. He smiled in knowing. Now she wouldn’t have a problem with even him smoking, he thought.

Then getting back to his lover and realizing that he had upset her, he said, “Look here…look here na, the inter-caste thing is not really a problem in my family, I mean yes, my extended family will be a little surprised when they get to know about this but nothing beyond that!”

“Oh my God, I don’t care if they do, you know”, she said, “but you seem to care about that so much! Is that what is the issue here? Do we have any less problems of our own that you make more issues as you go along?”

He wondered if she really thought about it not being an issue in these socially unequal times.  Then getting a little grip on himself, he re-entered the conversation to make his case again.

“Why don’t you understand, what can I do about your father now? I can’t talk to him right away…what would I tell them I do for a living?” He took a hurried drag and continued, “ How am I going to take care of your daughter, you ask old man, I will make food in the bakery and feed her of course!”

She remained silent like other times in the past but it weighed on her mind to ask him the question that had long been overdue.

“What are you doing about your Oh-So-Great business plan then?” she had repeated the question in her mind before asking it out loud and even with much restraint that she was trying to show, she couldn’t avoid the sarcasm.

His momentum of words brewing in his mind stalled after her remark and he looked away visibly agitated.

He saw the same foreigner, who wanted a lighter was now chatting away blissfully with the woman besides him, also in saffron clothing. He wasn’t smoking a cigarette though; he had lit an agarbatti instead and fixed it in the ash tray!

A little shocked at the things not going his way either at his table or hippies-in-saffron table, he called out to no one in particular,

Ek chai laana!”

When none of his co – waiters acknowledged his order for tea, he shouted as some of the patrons of Devraj Coffee House shouted at him when he was on duty.

“How will you get customer the tea unless you listen to the customer? I pay for it; am I asking it for free?”

The mood of the morning was just as peaceful as it was everyday. The reverberating sounds of the chimes carried by the wind from the opposite bank of theGangesengulfed the moods of the people at their end – except the two alleged lovers. His mind wandered on these lines and he lit up another cigarette.

ξ

Click Part III to read the concluding part of the story.

Alleged Lovers – Part I

March 1, 2012 6 comments

“What’s with these people opposing Valentine’s Day?” he asked, looking up from the television which beamed, what passed off as big news in the sleepy, small town of Rishikesh.

“What about them?” she asked, a little depressed with what she saw in the TV.

“They say its not part of  Bharthiya Culture to celebrate this day!”

“Is it part of Bharthiya Culture to beat up and harass  innocent couples who are just having a nice time?” she countered.

“No. But tell me, is it sinful in the same vein to oppose Valentine’s Day intellectually too?”

“Why would you want to oppose something that does no harm to you in particular? Do you feel more Bharathiya when there is something to oppose?”

“[Laughs] Trust you to make an extremist out of me! Do you know that there is a V-day equivalent in our culture too? It just isn’t popular enough”, with that he asked the man at the counter of the adjacent book-shop to hand him the booklet he was holding, “Listen to this:

…The world’s balance soon crumbled in his (Shiva’s) absence and Sati took rebirth as Goddess Parvati to try and win Lord Shiva’s heart and wake him up from his trance. She tried all ways to get the attention of Shiva. When she had exhausted all her feminine ways, she invoked the help of Kamadeva, the Indian cupid-god, who agreed to help her in the cause of the world despite the risks involved. He shot his love-arrow on Shiva’s heart. Disturbed in his trance, Lord Shiva opened his third eye that fired anger and instantly incinerated Kamadeva. It is said that it was on the day of Holi that Kamadeva had sacrificed himself for the good of all beings. Later, when Lord Shiva realized his mistake, he granted Kamadeva immortality in invisible form. To this day, people offer sandalwood paste to Kamadeva to relieve from his stinging burns and mango blossoms that he loved on Holi.”

“See”, he said, “ain’t that awesome? Our own V-day or better known as Vasant Utsav!”

“Yes it is”, she said, “but what booklet is this?”

“How does that matter? We aren’t so intellectually bankrupt as to judge a book by its cover, hi-jack a thought and judge it on the basis of from where it is coming from!”

“So what you are saying is that these people who are physically opposing the idea of V-day should instead give it competition in the free-market of celebrating festivals?” she gasped.

“Ya kinda, that would be so much better, don’t you think? May the better festival win or better still may both festivals acquire an equal mind-space of the youth which needs a reason to celebrate at every drop of the hat!”

With that, the now mellowing exchange of words was cut short with the screechy ringtone of his mobile phone.

“Yes I am on my way!” he said to his presumably waiting mother on the phone.

Earnest in his tone, he took his forefinger to his lips to tell the waiting girl by his side to hush with the giggling. The gentle breeze of the Ganga blew across the girl’s face, making her prominent features smile a little more as she looked at him.

“Why did you not tell her that you are with me in this beautiful moon lit evening and that you would be late my dear Valentine?” she mocked and was shy in her voice while doing so. The arti on the opposite bank was carried to them by the breeze and it brought with it the chime of the holy bells. He closed his eyes and touched them with her soft fingers and breathed in, thus avoiding the answer to her query.

They used to meet at the German Bakery by the Laxman Jhoola every evening, for it was filled with tourists more often than not – most of them foreigners, so the chances of someone known catching them were miniscule.

“I think that you don’t love me. Don’t you trust me?!” he tried to reply in her voice’s imitation.

“Don’t bring this mischief in your eye as if you are two timing me!” she stopped his teasing by pinching his arm.

“Okay, okay…” he said, pulling his arm away.

And in the hurting seriousness he said, “I have to handle the situation in such a way darling, that even if they refuse when I tell them about you, I would be able to support us financially.”

“What would we do every evening after we get married?” she resumed the playfulness.

“We could meet daily you know”, he winked, “Also we would meet here in the midst of these same people and then if someone calls from home, I wouldn’t even have to lie!”

Their hands touched. She had a funny feeling in her stomach and he sensed her twitch a little.

“I showed my hand to that babaji”, she said pointing at the entrance of the Jhoola, “and he asked me if I had someone in my life and I said yes.”

“What!”

She divulged further “I told him your name and date of birth and he told me that we can’t get married and I told him that I may die but I can marry you only – only you.”

She inhaled and huffed a little in breathlessness.

An overwhelming moment came to pass whenever she thought about her future with him and looking in his eyes it seemed possible. He held her chin by the thumb and forefinger. She could hardly look at him lest the tears would fall, but she wanted to be kissed to seal the future of their love to come.

Click Part II to read the next part of this story.
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