What is recurrent, changes shapes, rarely comes to life and almost always leads to regrets? Yes, you know what I’m talking about.
What is recurrent, changes shapes, rarely comes to life and almost always leads to regrets? Yes, you know what I’m talking about.
Word count: 597
I have never prescribed to the popular theory of the ‘onset of weariness’ with respect to your spouse as the years go by. All the jokes about the ‘7 year itch’ and ‘Shaadi ka laddoo’ etc elicited a few appropriate and perfunctory titters at best, but their meaning was pretty much lost on me. Why? Because when you fall in love with your best friend, your soul mate, your brother from another mother, your 4 am friend, your gossipy girlfriend, all rolled into one and marry them, it leaves very little space for complaints about spending too many years with them. There, I’ve placed a cliche of my own before you now, possibly as soggy as the Parle- G biscuit you dunked into your tea this morning but I really am being sincere. No matter how much we fight over the most inane things, call each other names like children despite being parents and drive each other up the wall, that love, that oozey gooey brownie kind of love that sticks to the roof of your mouth always lingers.
Of-course being so in love with your hubby doesn’t solve many other worldly issues such as gifts. Yes they are a token, yes, you keep giving each other things through the year so how does one day matter etc but who doesn’t love finding the perfect gift. Seeing a flicker of surprise, happiness and appreciation is something every gifter craves innit?! I was one of this tribe, sitting on the eve of our 7th year of marriage (yes, the ironical significance of this ‘itchy’ year is not lost on me) wondering what on earth I could buy my husband that would make his day truly special. There was a romantic dinner planned but what else could I buy to bombard him with my love?!
Like a possessed Juliet, I made some time and ran to the mall and a few stand alone stores, sifting through everything from practical to romantic gifts, from chaddis, to perfumes to watches to desperate measures like spa vouchers. It was all done and dusted (well, except the spa vouchers of course) nothing appealed to me and after 4 hours of driving myself nuts I was sitting dejected, at a coffee shop, lost and licking my wounds of defeat.
My mind was wandering but my anxious social media seeking fingers went from one post to another till I landed up staring at a poem. ‘I carry your heart’ by E E Cummings. I sat at that coffee shop for a long time, savouring every word, feeling happy and nostalgic and melancholy and grateful, all at once. That poem took me through my own journey, making me remember how we had we met, how we fought to be with each other, how we had made so many precious memories together and how we would make so many more in the years to come. On that eve of our anniversary, I sat in that coffee shop and had a pre-celebration all of my own. Of-course, once I pulled myself out of my trance, I rushed to a late night service where I printed this poem out and gifted it to my husband over our special anniversary dinner. That is the thing about words. They made the stoic, warrior-hearted husband’s eyes moisten up and reach for my hand and he held on to it through dinner. That poem and that evening are still emblazoned in my memory. The day I found those words. Rather, the day that they found me.
I have always struggled in one respect for as long as I can remember. How can I help someone else in need? We were raised on a steady diet of compassion and giving back. Even as a child I remember my mother dipping into her hiding places (often the strangest ones from grain canisters to under the mattress to a big wad in a worn silver box in her cupboard.) All saved for a rainy day but when there are four children milling around the house, rainy days are often around the corner. Even amidst the steady depletion of these treasures and day to day expenses, there was always enough food for whoever came to the house, delivery boys, maids, needy neighbors, visits from my fathers colleagues with their gigantic families in towe, kids coming to collect their errant balls. My father always had enough kind words for whoever he bumped into and it continues to this day. From sweepers on the streets, to shopkeepers, to attendants at clinics, to liftmen and security guards who everyone passes by as they blend into the world, invisible. He is a great listener as well and he always told me that at times the greatest service you can render to humanity is just to be a good listener. We are surrounded by people, daily, who are going through so much, who feel lost, who are miserable. They have no one to turn to. The joy you will give to someone by just lending a few minutes of your time will be visible on their faces. That should be the reward. Compassion was also ingrained within us in the way we were taught to treat each other within the family. Of-course four girls will always find a reason to be uncouth, fight, pull hair and beat each other up, but we saw with the passage of time that all that we had seen while growing up, without ever being preached into it, was naturally imbibed and became an integral part of us.
Of-course I have always tried to be kind whenever an opportunity presents itself but in this busy, insular world, even these opportunities have to be dug out I feel sometimes. Isn’t it then easy to just keep donating online, or give money to beggars or find some such way to appease your need to be kind and good. Each to his own. I don’t judge as this is a very personal action but I certainly was not happy as I was unable to make a visible difference in anyone’s lives, to add value to someone’s existence even in a small way. It rankled inside. Till one day I decided to take my father’s advice and listen. I was on a call with a temporary maid in our society who had finished her tenure with me and was seeking another job. I was trying to guide her towards a prospective employer in the other building and she was so uneducated that she wasn’t able to remember a name, a building number, any of the details. So she asked her son to call me later to note them down. A small incident but it got me thinking about the scores of women I had met within this compound itself who were struggling to either sign their names, fill a form, open a bank account, struggling with a bill as they couldn’t do basic math and were lacking basic language proficiency. It just struck me then and there that i could help them and it made my heart dance! Finally I had found a need gap that I could try and fill.
I had to start with a name. Even if for no one else but myself. To excite and instill a sense of ownership, I came up with a name. My ‘Bai-lingual’ classes! (I stuck with it despite a lot of jokes from my husband) Now I am no teacher. And what was on offer was very basic math and language proficiency. But I had to learn how to teach! So I started reading about teaching aids, pulled out my daughters stock of slates and alphabets and books as she looked at me strangely and started preparing myself. Then came the price of benevolence, time! Where was I to find time for this noble activity between work, home, a young daughter and my writing schedule? I decided to take an hour out each week to begin with and then let that slot evolve as per their requirements and their work. the biggest hurdle though was the recruitment. My proposal was met with suspicious looks (where they possibly thought I was mad or a drug dealer) and ‘How much will you charge?’, ‘ I am too old for this’, ‘I have things to do at home’, ‘My family will laugh at me,’ , ‘I don’t have time.’ All of this made me realize that it was a bigger stigma for them to opt for education at this stage of their lives rather than being coined illiterate. It was a sort of battle for their rights vs their mental and societal attitudes.
I can’t say it’s been easy. I’ve managed to finally recruit two helpers. 4 more have been on-boarded. And I am hoping this army will grow as I learn with them. It’s strange but I feel like a jilted lover when someone promises and doesn’t show up! But what thrilled me the most the other evening was when I passed by my daughter playing downstairs, while walking to my kickboxing class. She was busy recruiting two maids who had come down to the playground with their respective wards, telling them eagerly to come home. ‘My momma is very nice. She doesn’t get angry. She will teach you with my class things!’ As tears pricked my eyes, I smiled wide! At 4 years of age, compassion and caring for others was making a home in her little heart. This is the additional reward. To let my child see the importance and happiness of giving back. In however small a way. For there is no greater joy.
Every change begins with a small step, whether it’s a change within your family, or the whole country! India’s hero, Padman, had its digital premiere on ZEE5, on 11th May. Don’t miss this inspiring true-life story, only on ZEE5. Download the app and subscribe now. For every subscription, ZEE5 will donate Rs. 5 towards the personal hygiene needs of underprivileged women.
The biggest and most genuine love stories can sometimes be found in one’s own backyard. I have found one tucked away in a corner of my home and heart. No, I have no salacious details or a scandalous story. This simple heartwarming tale is about a 75 year old man and a 70 year old woman, who could not be separated by distance, grief, needles, pain, suffering or wrinkles. Their bond, much like the heavily advertised Fevicol one on TV, has stood the test of time and troubles to emerge unbreakable.
For as long as I can remember, they have been inseparable. There were many ‘typicals’ in their past. A typical arranged marriage, a typical dramatic and torturous mother in law, a typical life full of four children. But while growing up, we never felt like we had an average life, nothing typical about it. We always felt special and well taken care of, primarily because we saw the love and bonding between our parents which cemented our foundations with comfort, confidence and trust. And mind you, this was never the expressive or overtly evident kind of love. there was no hugging or kissing or hand holding or date nights, which the current generation views as obvious hallmarks of a healthy marriage or relationship. But it was clear to all of us. Everytime their eyes were searching for each other when troubles came knocking, the way our mother used to hang off the balcony every evening at 6:30 pm, waiting for him to appear around the corner, how she carefully ironed all his handkerchiefs and rolled up all he would need the next morning, the way they stayed up nights, together, for years, trying to ease away our pain and suffering, remembering how lost they looked whenever either one was traveling alone, how she would wake up at 4am to pack fresh parathas when he was leaving for a tour. It might seem that she was busy making all the valuable contributions while he was just wafting around. But despite being in a full time and very important government job, our father managed to fulfill all his duties and shower us with all the love we needed.
Years have passed. We all are married and grown up with our own children. But in the last few years, I have seen a more evident and feverish sort of love emerge between our very own Romeo and Juliet, bordering on reverential. And the tables have turned. After years of silently working and slogging away as the core of this family, my mother’s wheels are now a bit rusted, her pace has slackened and she has almost come to a standstill by the side of the road, literally run over by an onslaught of diseases. And the unsuspecting, unassuming Romeo has emerged as the hero. The setting of this love story has changed as well. Even the props are different. There are multicolored medicine boxes, tubes, wires, injections, walkers, sticks and everything that could unhinge the strongest hearts. But his trembling hands are firm when she needs to hold on. His false teeth are always ready to widen into a cheery smile everytime her tears start flowing. There are cobwebs in both their minds but he fights much harder so he can be clear and steer her through her everyday challenges. This humbling and debilitating ‘new normal’ rips our hearts out on days when we are feeling weak in our resolve but every other time, it makes us proud and melancholy. For we secretly pray for a similar love story in our own lives. Hoping that when the world chugs on around us and we slow down, there will always be one set of feet, slowing down with us, with a silent promise that we will never walk alone.
I guess I’m fine
I’m always fine
When your warm hand slipped out of mine after an entire life of holding on and became cold, when I didn’t want to live anymore, they told me, don’t be like this
You’ll be fine soon they said, so I was fine
I think it’s been so long since you’ve gone that I should feel fine all the time. But to be honest, everything feels lacking, a bit sub-par
I eat all the same things we used to but all of it tastes a little bit different you know, like its missing some salt
When I look up at the sky, I sometimes see your face in an odd shaped cloud floating by. That does make me feel better for a while
No matter how many times I make your side of the bed, it never seems right. I think I mess it up myself, just so that it can look like you’ve slept in it
I try to keep myself busy but ever so often, silly things, little things flood my head with you,
A smile I see yours in, someone slurping tea like you did, a nervous hand tapping a table that used to drive me insane
Once I had to berate myself quite severely, when I saw your rusted razor and I cried for days
Don’t worry I’m better now
I have to feel better don’t I? There’s no choice
I try and go for long walks but lately I’ve been forgetting the way back home so I try not going too far
I go to parties but I feel even lonelier sitting all by myself in a corner of the room
I can understand. I don’t blame them. I don’t hear too well and have nothing much to talk about either
So you see? I’m living my life. It’s not much of a life without you, but I live it.
I always lay out an extra plate for you, every-day. It looks empty, just as I feel inside, but I know that one day we will hold hands again
And then I shall truly, truly be fine
I would feel cheated for my money.
If I had paid good money, to buy silence.
Post purchase dissonance for sure.
I would rip open the package it was delivered in, but gently, aren’t all wrapping papers engineered to shout and crackle?
I would expect a whole day’s worth of deafening silence but I’d be in for a shock.
The early morning solace, pounded by the unrelenting waves of unfinished conversations playing back from last night.
The quiet coffee lull, shattered by the newspaper screeching its warnings about the world gone mad.
A long run up the hill, without a soul in sight, would fill my head with the noise of aborted work and the instructions I never uttered.
No one plays cassettes or tapes anymore but there is a broken down tape recorder in my head that is always powered up and replaying memories and songs I have long muted.
Try stuffing your ears with cotton and your head with reverberate with the echoes of your own thoughts.
That fellow commuter,listening to music on his earphones, will still, egged on by an incensed sense of politeness, murmur pleasantries while craving his own quietude.
Makes me wonder if it’s more polite to be quiet than to break someone’s quiet.
Did you know that even the sun sets with a slight thud? Everyone’s a talker I tell you.
And don’t even get me started about bedtime orchestras.
Those crickets are my sworn enemies.
If I was really delivered that package, I would send it right back!
When is too much enough?
From the time we are born, it’s a steady diet of superstitions.
Don’t laugh too much, or you will end the day crying.
That’s too much happiness. Don’t jinx it.
I’ve had too much good luck, I’m in for a downward slide for sure.
Is it that we are scared of utter happiness?
Or is it just second nature to doubt normalcy and stability.
Why must our hearts be gripped with weary predictions of doom,
When it’s just so much easier to be happy and carefree?
Does an empty house with bare walls make you pine for what was?
Or does the resident laughter, the memories, the echoes that ricochet off the ceilings, rebound into your heart and light it up like a Christmas tree?
You can’t stop the sun from setting, the lights from dimming, the darkness from descending every night.
But what you can do, is welcome the rising sun with a smile, and tell yourself, that whichever side of the bed you get off, your glass will be half full every day of your life.
It felt like a day that should be forgotten, quickly.
Nothing made sense.
I looked at a wall, and upon this vast canvas I painted and projected all my contemplation.
Then suddenly you crawled into my lap. I hugged you and breathed in your tiny soft curls.
I will never forget that smell.
It was a heady mixture of baby powder, happiness, innocence, trust, joy and peace.
It carried me away on a cloud.
I was weightless, drifting, with your tiny trusting fingers wrapped around mine.
You gurgled and burped. This amused you so much that you toppled over laughing.
When was the last time I had embarrassed and entertained myself this way?
Back on the ground you crawled over everything that came your way, never losing that smile.
I wish I had thought of your resolve and tenacity when I needed it recently.
When you wrapped your tiny finger around mine, I knew I had to trust in my instincts as well.
For all the fancy schools and colleges and miles upon miles of books,
Some of life’s simplest lessons can be carried in the tiniest hands, you just need to know where to look.