Curtains : A tale beyond consciousness

She

Her limbs ached as her body longed for bedtime! But so much had to be done before she could rest her head on the pillow. She went through the motions of routine, wiping the stove , the counters and finally switching  off  tImage result for consciousness imageshe lights as she made her way across the house towards her bedroom. Both Tina and Neel were fast asleep. She picked up little Tina and took her to her room ,laying her gently on her bed before tucking the blanket around her .  She switched on the night light and made her way softly out of Tina’s room into hers.

Neel  lay sprawled across the centre of the bed!! She pushed him across from her side of the bed,. He rolled over and went back to sleep muttering something! She went into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face and after changing into her pajamas and T. shirt went back into her bedroom.

The moon was bright and her entire bedroom was lit up in a magic silvery light. She looked at her sleeping husband with a sigh and drew the sheet around her. It was always like this nowadays for both of them. Feeling tiered and then collapsing senseless in bed.  The perils of urban living !! She closed her eyes waiting for sleep to overtake her.

Her eyelids were drooping, the sound of the whirring electric fan above her head, the heady scent of the jasmine from the creeper growing outside her window and the hint of silver that seemed to glow  behind her closed lids…all of this coming together to awaken senses that she sought to shut down.  She felt her muscles relax slowly and somewhere within her she felt herself being released from her day today existence and its accompanying drudgery.  And in a few moments she was liberated ….!!!

She got out of her shell and looked at the sleeping forms on the bed.  The body of the woman in the pink T shirt and grey pajamas had given way to its need for rest. But the spirit of the woman who was hovering by the window was restless to begin her nightly journey.

She began flying through the clouds, glittering silver in the moonlight…! She let the wind propel her upwards…She looked down to see the brown, blues and greens glowing in the dark! More brown these days, she noted sadly as she sped through the wind which seemed to have now changed direction. She wondered if she should go there again? After all wasn’t that what she had been longing for ?

So she  floated along, over hillocks and dusty plains until she reached the spot!! A once flourishing mining town that lay abandoned today! A crumbling old bungalow on a hill top with a broken swing swaying  in the breeze! A place that was once her home..!  A place that she came back to so often – each visit making her sadder than the previous one ! She stopped by the swing and thought about the young girl who used to sit there with a book in hand lost in the world of printed words. A woman calling out to the girl to come inside and have dinner, a car driving in, a man coming home from work, the girl shutting her book and skipping down the slope squealing with happiness! A warm glow of lights behind windows as twilight gave way to darkness. The smell of freshly made chappatis, the clink of crockery as  the table was laid for dinner, sound of crickets and an orchestra of frogs beginning to perform a symphony…

This was the scene that she always came back to- though there were others that were associated with the same place. Scenes that  she tried to avoid -of dynamite blasting, shouts of men as the earth caved in.. She shuddered as she tried to erase those thoughts.

“Let it go” he said…

She started as she  hadn’t sensed  his presence until now .

“ Why are you here?” she asked

“I am here because you called me” he said.

“ Really?” she wondered

“Yes. You may not be aware of it but you call me often” he said

“ But who are you?” she asked

“I am what you have been seeking all this while in the universe . I have often sought to reach you but you did not respond” he whispered.

“But how could that be” she  muttered

“Think….! Remember the rainy nights, the beautiful sunsets, the silver moonlight, the strains of  music ,the velvety darkness of the nights. Weren’t you calling out to me?” he asked.

“May be. But why now after all this time…?”   she  wondered

“I have always been around you. But you acknowledged my presence only today” he mentioned softly.

“So what do we do now that we are together?” she asked.

“Come with me” he said drawing her towards himself.

A wisp of  a cloud, a touch of a raindrop and she felt herself being taken across the deep blue darkness . She could smell the sea before she heard the roar of the waves as they crashed on the rocks!

“ High tide!  his voice came through in the darkness.

“Where is this?” she asked

“Along the coast. This place is a part of me” he answered.

She watched the waves glisten in the moonlight with the white foam spluttering into tiny droplets.

“Come this way” he said pulling her towards the sand.

“Do you come here often?” she asked

“Whenever I can” he replied.

The sound of the waves was a  soothing rhythm in the background. She felt a sense of calmness overtake her.- a feeling of finally having reached a destination after years of difficult travel!

“Who are you?” she wondered

“I am like you. A wanderer and a seeker” he said

“Have you found what you are seeking” she asked

“ My answer begins where your question ends.” he responded.

“You mean, it is a continuum” she murmured

She closed her eyes and felt him reach out to her in  a way that was beyond anything that she had known! She realized now, that he had always been in her unconscious, a being  who she had been searching for all these years. She had never believed he existed but apparently he did!! And today due to some strange twist of circumstances she was able to perceive his existence! Did it matter therefore who he was? He had sensed her need for him and had come through to her. Wasn’t that enough.

“Yes that is enough for me” he whispered

She lay her head on the sand feeling the vibrations of the waves as they hit the shore..!! Peace.. may be this is what all beings were looking for through eternity before they decided to rest in it!

“Don’t think about that yet” he murmured.

She looked up and tried to piece together his form. But it was difficult ! The  veil of clouds across the moon were now moving away and she could see the golden light across the horizon. The vibrations that she felt seemed stronger and she felt herself being lifted away

“Wait….for me” was all that she could say before the force pulled her away

The woman in the pink T shirt was moving around in her bed trying to put off an alarm clock. The curtain separating the day and the night , the conscious and the unconscious  had come down.

It was a different day, a different act and a different role now

(to be continued)

(This is a different genre I am exploring. Requesting readers to please be patient if I meander around like “she” 🙂 ! But do leave your comments they would be most useful in tying it together)

Hello All 

Thank you for visiting my blog. May I request you to please buy my book “Bridges and Crossings” that has a collection of stories published here. You can buy it from

Notion Press : https://notionpress.com/read/bridges-and-crossings

or

from Amazon.

Look forward to your reviews on “Good reads” and “Amazon”

Meera

 

 

The Brown Sari

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It was Minku who pulled out the sari from a dark corner inside my cupboard.

She had been on a cleaning spree for the last couple of days after her arrival in India. Yesterday it had been her book shelf and cupboard . This afternoon, my cupboard seemed to be the target .

“Amma I never knew you had this sari. It is so lovely! Where did you buy it from?” she asked shaking out the folds and pulling  it out of the hanger.

I looked at the fabric she was holding aloft in her hand- a beautiful printed silk pochampalli sari in brown with a burnt orange border. I had fallen in love with it the moment I had seen it on the shelf  inside the shop.  But my mother had felt it was not suitable for a sixteen year old girl.

“It is meant for older women Priya” she had said,  trying to get me interested instead in a blue  sari on the shelf below.

But I had been adamant!  My grand father who had accompanied us to the shop decided to humour me and pay for it. My mother wasn’t so sure.  Not only did she feel it was too dull  for a young girl  but also that the the cost was too high for something that wasn’t in her opinion that attractive. Then  ofcourse my dark complexion was the final clincher about its unsuitability !

But despite her protests, her father ie my grandfather had asked the salesman to pack it and had paid for it. It was his gift for my sixteenth birthday and he had wanted me to have what I wanted.

We went home with me, holding the  the sari  packed in  brown paper, close to myself while my mother went on grumbling about how I had made her father throw away a large part of his pension money for the month, on something so expensive.

I had worn the sari for my birthday which also happened to be the day we had the  farewell party for the tenth standard girls at my school. I had felt like a princess. It was my  first sari and mine in every way.  I had felt very grown up and smart as I walked out of home balancing myself on my high heeled slippers with the pallu swirling behind me in the breeze.

The farewell party and afterwards had been such a blast !! We had gone for a film – the entire class together occupying a full row inside the movie hall. And then after the film when we were standing together near the panipuriwala and stuffing our mouths with panipuris, a little urchin selling flowers had come up to me and tugging at the pleats of my sari had handed me a single rose saying “Didi this is for you” . I had looked at him pleasantly surprised wondering  why he was giving it to me.

“No I don’t want it. You will lose money if you give our flowers like this for free” I said pinching his cheeks.

“Oh it is not free Didi. That Bhaiya standing there  has paid me for it” he had said pointing across the road.

All our eyes turned collectively in that direction. It was a crowded pavement that faced us with an assortment of people walking up and down.

“Are you sure it is for me?” I had asked unsure,  because there were with me, Pinky , Afsa  and Ruby  who were by far the most beautiful girls in our group and who constantly attracted admirers.

“No no it is for you. He said to give it to the girl in the brown sari” said the urchin

The three beauties looked surprised . I realize now that they were  probably a little hurt that a plain Jane like me had attracted the attention that they rightfully thought was theirs. We went on  quizzing the little fellow but he had not been able to give us any further leads.

“ Be careful. Must be some weirdo” Afsa had said finally. Pinky and Ruby had nodded in agreement. I had also pretended to agree, though secretly I had been thrilled that I had stolen the show that evening!!

“Amma, why are you smiling” asked Minku looking closely at my face.

“Oh nothing baby.. just brought back a lot of old  memories” I said giving hera hug.

“It is such a beautiful sari. Why have I never seen you wear it” she asked  me.

“Your Appa did not like these colours much. He preferred  brighter colours” I said folding the sari carefully.

“ But why did you care about what he liked. He was not wearing these colours. You were” she said with her brow creased in a frown.

I looked at her face, marveling at how strongly she expressed herself!  How had I , a woman who had spent her entire adult life learning to please the man in her life by molding herself in every way possible to be exactly what he had wanted in a wife, produced a daughter who was as individualistic as I  was a conformist?

“Minku it is not so simple” I said finally.

“Of course, it isn’t Amma. It is called Patriarchy and it has been perfected over centuries. Women like you have allowed yourselves to be so subsumed by it that today you live by what someone else has defined for you. And even when he is not there in this world “ she said, glaring at me!

I knew what she said held so much of truth that I could not face her. But it hurt when she spoke like that! I could feel tears welling up in my eyes

“Hey..Amma now don’t cry. I did not mean to hurt you. I know you are missing Appa a lot. But that is also because you have never tried to have a life outside of what he designed for you. And now with him gone from this world and me abroad, you do not know who you are or what is your purpose in life” she said lying down on my lap

I ran my fingers through her hair , pulling those baby plump cheeks and admiring at how easily she had summed up my life. I looked at the sari that lay folded beside me on the bed. How strange it was that at one point in my life I had known what I had wanted and had pushed for it despite opposition. When had I become this woman who had started living her life, pleasing others?

But  it wasn’t that Murali was a monster or something. If anything, he  had been a very charming  man. It was difficult to say no to anything he had wanted. He could be quite persuasive  but yes, he was rather opinionated. When he had said I looked good in yellow , everything I had bought had been yellow. When he said he didn’t think chiffon suited me I had put them all away and had switched to silks. It was not just the clothes I wore but everything else in our lives was defined by whether he liked it or not.

“Listen Minku, why don’t you wear this sari for  Shreya’s wedding reception this evening. I think we can find a blouse  that will go with it ” I said.

“No Amma, I am not wearing this. You are going to wear this and we are both going for the reception” she said getting up

“No Minku, I don’t feel like coming with you. I have been feeling tiered in the evenings since my surgery” I said trying to find an excuse.

“Amma, come on.. you had a hysterectomy eight months ago! Don’t tell me you are still recovering from it! You have been managing fine,  living by yourself. So why should it suddenly make you tiered when you have to come out for a function ?” she asked,  looking exasperated.

“I don’t know anyone there” I said , making one last attempt to get out of the situation.

“Amma, you are not some social recluse. You used to go out with Appa for all his office functions and speak to his colleagues and their wives. They were not exactly your friends” she said challenging me.

I knew she had a point. But somehow, I just did not feel I was that same woman any longer. Hell, I did not even feel like I was a woman any more!  My uterus was out of my body, my husband out of this world.. what was left in me ? I couldn’t stop the tears as they started welling up in my eyes . My body started shaking with sobs

“Amma please stop crying” said Minku hugging me close .  I continued sobbing , clinging on to her, thinking how strange it was , that today at fifty two, my twenty eight year old daughter was playing the role of mother.

We fell asleep afterwards,  holding on to each other like that.

When I awoke, I found Minku was up and getting dressed up for the reception. She was wearing her favorite black chiffon sari and for me she had ironed out the brown and burnt orange pochampalli and a matching blouse.

“Come on Amma get ready,  Meanwhile, I will get you some tea ” she said walking out towards the kitchen.

“Listen Minku, I don’t think I should wear this sari. I will something in white or cream” I said going towards to the cupboard

“No, you are going to wear that sari” she yelled  from the kitchen

“What a brat”  I thought fondly as I went into the bathroom to have a shower.

When I came out,  I found Minku armed with a cup of tea in one hand and her make up kit in the other.

“Come on drink this up quickly Amma. I want to do your face and your hair” she said

No amount of protesting would stop her. But finally when I looked at myself in the mirror, I looked different. I think  I could see glimpses of that sixteen year old again.

My pallu felt like it was flying  again as we stepped out of the house. And when we entered the hotel where the reception was being held I felt like I was back at my farewell party.

Minku was pulling me along and introducing me to all her friends. I knew she was determined to get me to mingle with people.  But this crowd, the people and the music, all of this was overwhelming me…! I wanted to sit down

“Minku please let me sit somewhere I need to breathe” I told her

“Amma are you sure you wont   slink away?” she asked me doubtfully

“Of course not!  Now please go and get me a glass of juice.  I am feeling thirsty  ” I said moving outside towards the lawn where there were fewer people.

“Alright. Please go and sit by the pool” she said

But I made my way in the opposite direction from the pool  In her effort to get me liberated , Minku was behaving exactly  as her father had  in his desire to enslave me. I felt rather annoyed. I wasn’t going to have this kid  tell me where to sit!!!

I wandered along aimlessly  in the lawn until I  found a  table under a gazebo . I  plonked myself down on one of the chairs, hoping this table was part of the wedding reception arrangements. But frankly, I was now beyond caring.

“ If anyone comes here to sit then I will move away” I thought as I removed my feet from my slippers and placed them on the chair opposite. There was a gentle breeze blowing and I felt drowsy. I felt sixteen once again. I closed my eyes and started humming a tune from that film we had gone to watch.

I must have been couple of minutes into this bliss when I sensed  a presence near me. I opened my eyes with a start. He was standing there – a tall man with grey hair and  beard holding two glasses of wine in his hands.

“ I am sorry I can’t offer you a rose today but would a glass of wine suffice? ” he asked extending a glass towards me. His eyes were twinkling mischievously. I felt my eyes locking into his like I was under a spell.  And then I who had never even touched alcohol  in my entire life,  found myself extending my hand in his direction and taking a glass.

“Cheers… to us !” he said raising his glass  in a toast.

“To us” I replied raising mine

I wanted to ask him so many things .. like why had he not come forward and introduced himself that day. Why had he chosen to give me the rose and not to one of my beautiful friends

“You were the most interesting and exotic in that group of ordinary girls” he said as though reading my mind.

I flushed with pleasure.

He walked over across the table towards me . I waited quietly , my heart beating wildly. He was now very close and I could feel his breath on my face . When  he bent towards me I closed my eyes and felt myself drifting away…..lost!

“Amma, please wake up” said Minku shaking me

“Huh… what happened” I asked startled , putting my feet down from the chair opposite.

“What were you doing sitting so far away from the party?” she asked scolding me

“It was very pleasant under this gazebo. So I sat here” I said

“Well this is not part of the reception scene. It is an intimate dinner setting for two. Cant you see,  candle sticks, the cutlery and china is all laid out ?” she asked looking at me like I was some kind of an idiot.

Yes indeed the table had china and cutlery laid out – a table for two. I had been sitting on one of the chairs and  had put my feet up on the  one opposite it,

There was one empty wine glass in the dinner place opposite mine  with a few drops  of wine sticking to the bottom of the glass . I looked around for the other glass that seemed to be missing.

As I pushed my chair away , put on my slippers and got up,, I felt something crunch under my foot. Minku heard it too!

“My God Amma you have just smashed a wine glass with your foot! ” she said picking up the broken pieces from the grass below.

“Oh is that so “ I murmured moving away from the spot and bumping into her.

“Easy.. Amma, Don’t sway like you are drunk.. Or are you? Your sari smells of wine” she said giggling

I joined her giggles and  we walked away  holding each other ,  towards the building and the noise of the wedding reception.

But I must confess, I couldn’t resist sneaking a glance behind me to see if he was still standing there somewhere.

 

 

Name of the father and the Son

TImage result for father and son imageshe letter came in a simple brown envelope marked “personal”. It had  probably come in a few days ago. But since I was travelling , the mail had piled up. I slit it open wondering who it was from? I could not think of anyone who would write an address by hand.

The letter was also handwritten and the  message simple

Dear Mr. Rao

My mother Dr Rupa Bharadwaj is seriously ill and admitted at the Healing touch hospitals on R.N. Road . I am writing to you on her behalf. She  suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage last night and was rushed to the hospital . Her condition is critical.

 I do not know if you remember but we had met briefly at Hyderabad airport three years ago when I had come to receive my mother. We were introduced. My mother had given me your card and told me to contact you if I ever felt the need.  I  have unfortunately misplaced the card but I am contacting you now because I know she would have wanted you to come and see her.

Look forward to seeing you.

 Varun.

He had followed up with a post script giving his mobile number.

It somehow felt painful that he should address me so formally.  Did , he know, I wondered? There was only one way to find out, I needed to get in touch with him. So I  dialed the number wondering what I would say or how I would introduce myself when he answered. I also felt anxious about Rupa hoping she was recovering. It had been almost a week since the letter  had been posted.

The phone was answered by a girl. “Hi,  This is Arushi. Sorry  Varun  can’t take your call as he is busy with the funeral arrangements. Who is speaking please”

Funeral!!! Oh my God, it couldn’t be….

“Hello? Are you there” she asked impatiently

“Yes. I am Varun Rao, an old friend of Rupa’s. I am sorry to hear about  her demise. When and where is the funeral?” I asked trying to keep my voice steady.

“ Oh, we leave for the crematorium in  about half an  hour” she said

“Which crematorium?” I asked her

She gave me the address.  There was no way I could reach there in time given the evening traffic. I asked instead for Rupa’s home address and noted it down. I would go there and meet my namesake.

I put the phone back into my pocket with shaking hands. I couldn’t believe it !! She would have hardly been fifty.  Who would have thought she would  leave me like this forever!! I had failed her once again, I thought as the tears came down my face.

My mind went back in time and I saw once again that smiling face with a dimple on the left cheek, the mole below her lower lip,  her petite frame . I could hear her tinkling laugh, her soft voice and feel her burning stare. It had been a shock to meet her on that flight to Hyderabad that day. A crazy part of me had wanted to find out where she lived and lay my soul bare in front of her. Finding all about her would  not have  been difficult considering the resources I had at my disposal but sanity had prevailed. I had realized that it was not right on my part to intrude into her life again after so many years.

It must have been nearly six thirty before I collected myself and got ready to go to her house and meet the boy.

A small lane tucked away from the main road, it was exactly the sort of place she would live in. There were a few small and unpretentious houses in what was an old middle class neighborhood. I walked up to door number 5 and stood quietly for a moment. The name plate on the gate said “Dr Rupa Bhardwaj” , “Varun Bhardwaj”. It was nearly seven thirty and the porch light was on.  I could see the light was on inside the house indicating someone was there.

I opened the gate and walked in, waiting for a moment before I rang the door bell.

The door was opened almost immediately and I stood looking once again at my reflection as I had three years ago.

“May I come in?”  I asked him. He opened  the door wider to let me in.

I followed him into the living room where the furniture had been cleared and pushed away around the walls. A smell of stale flowers and incense hung in the air.

The boy had dark circles around his eyes. His hair was tousled  and there was a stubble around his jaw line . My heart ached for him . For a moment I forgot my grief as  I reached out to touch his shoulder. He flinched as my hand made contact.

“What took you so long? ” he asked me angrily, eyes flashing like his mother’s

“ I am sorry my boy. I got your letter only today. I was travelling” I said quietly

“She loved you a lot you know. But she was fiercely independent. She braved social stigma, financial crunches and so much more , bringing me up She had decided she would never ask you for any support” he said breaking down as I watched helplessly.

A part of me wanted to hold him in my arms and comfort him but another part of told me I had lost that right three decades ago. He may carry my genes but he was otherwise entirely his mother’s son!He suddenly stopped crying and collected himself , asking “Can I get you something?”

“No its alright. I had coffee before I left my office” I said.

“I did not mean coffee or tea. I was offering you something stronger. I don’t know about you but I certainly need it” he said moving towards the fridge and pouring out a drink into a glass.

“Yes please make one for me too” I said

We took our glasses and moved into the porch outside. The night was cool and there was a faint smell of  mango blossoms from the tree in the garden. We sat together as two adults- father and son nursing our drink as they show in the movies- except that this was complicated in ways that such scenes  in movies were not.

We sat silently for some time. I wanted to give the boy some time to  calm down before I started speaking.

“ I am sorry Varun that you and your mother had to go through all this. I was a selfish bastard . If I could live my life again, I would never have let her go. ” I said softly.

He listened silently before suddenly turning around and asking me “Do you have kids?”

“Yes I have a son. A very bright boy who unlike his father is loving and duty bound” I said smiling at him.

“Oh! No one else?” he asked

“No” I said as silence engulfed us once again.  I could hear traffic noises somewhere  far away .

“You are a lawyer, Varun?” I asked him breaking the silence.

“Yes” he said nodding. “I have my own practice”

“Would you be willing to join my company as a legal advisor” I asked tentatively

“Why? Do you want to make amends for your sins or is it because  you think you can only trust your own blood, even if it is your bastard son, when it comes to handling important legal matters for your company” he asked sarcastically

“Neither!!! Whenever I see talent I want to give it a chance. My own rise in the company has been because the former managing director had seen potential in me” I said

“Oh yes. Your father in law “ he said laughing angrily

“Don’t blame him.  He was a gentleman. He would have probably understood had I been upfront with him and told him about Rupa. I was the one who did not want to take a chance ” I said

I do not know  how long it was before he spoke once again

“Look, I am sorry for being so rude.  I appreciate your offer but unfortunately I cannot take it up because I will be leaving to the United States in a couple of months for higher studies in human rights law” he said.

My heart felt like it would burst with pride!! But I contained myself and extended my hand saying “Congratulations!! I am proud of you”

And that when I  noticed it –a dimple on his left cheek like his mother as his lips parted in a smile and he said “Thank you”

The moment was precious and I wanted to savor it but it was not to be. There was someone at the gate, a young girl who had opened the latch and was driving inside on a scooter. He got up abruptly and went towards her.

“Varun, I got us some dinner” she said pulling out a take away bag from the front of the scooter. He took the bag from her , helped her up the steps until she was standing face to face with me. She looked at me for a moment and then at Varun. I felt nervous wondering  what conclusions she might be drawing.

“Arushi,  please meet my Dad” he said introducing her to me as  tears pricked my eyes

“Dad this is Arushi, my fiancée. She is also a lawyer and we are both going abroad for our studies” he said

“ I am so happy and proud of  you both”  I said taking both their hands into mine.

“Uncle why don’t you come inside and join us for dinner? ” she asked

I looked uncertainly at my son. “Yes Dad, please come in” said  he said , putting out his hand and leading me inside the house once again

I could feel Rupa smiling somewhere far away…!

It had taken me thirty years to make peace with my heart and conscience  !

(This is Part 2 of the story “Flight of Fancy” as those of you who have read the earlier part might have guess.  I wrote this sequel because of requests from some of my readers. I thank them all for their encouragement.  I would especially like to acknowledge “Amanram”  on whose idea I have built this part ) 

Flight of Fancy

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Rupa

I would recognize that scent anywhere!  A mix of the woody and the musky!!!

What was it called?  I don’t remember …. My memory fails me these days ….

And of course the hint of tobacco that went with it ..….. and that peppermint flavour around his mouth!!!

I felt shocked with the sudden rush of my senses coming together like this…!!

He was sitting at the aisle seat next to mine. Actually his seat was three rows behind but the family that was occupying that row wanted to sit together and he had agreed to swap seats with the boy whose seat it actually was.

He was reading a newspaper.  I watched him covertly from the pages of the book that I was no longer reading.

He had aged. The curly brown hair was now grey and he was wearing glasses. He had also grown a beard that covered his cleft chin.

Twenty-five years… and I was still breathless when he was nearby. It was crazy…!!!

The elderly lady sitting next to him in the middle seat was getting up to go to the toilet. He unbuckled his seat belt and got up, moving to the side to let her pass. His legs were now just a touch away from me. I screwed up my fingers and held them tightly on my lap!

“Excuse me Ms Rupa, may I have your boarding card please?” asked the stewardess from behind the food cart.

I pulled out the boarding card from the pages of my book looking up to hand it to her. I had no sense of when she took it from me and returned it because I was now looking straight at him. It seemed like eternity before his lips parted into a smile

“Hello Rupa!! What a surprise!” he said

“Yes indeed” I said hoping he would not hear the beating of my heart.

“What would you like to have” I heard the stewardess ask, bringing me back to my senses.

“Some coffee please” I said

I hoped he could not see my fingers tremble as I took the coffee from her.

“So what are you doing these days” he asked leaning towards me.

“I run a market research firm. A small company, we mostly do data analytics for larger research firms” I said “What about you?”

“I am still working with Amalgamatics. I am the CEO” he said giving me his card.

Well I was not surprised!! After all wasn’t he aiming for something like that all along?

“So what takes you to Hyderabad” he asked me

“I am going there for a client meeting.” I said

“What about you? “I asked him

“I am also going to there like you. on business” he said.

The basic information being exchanged, there was this awkward moment when neither of us seemed to know what to say. I felt once again like that gawky intern I was a quarter of a century ago.

I had been assigned to his team to do some market analysis work. A mouse of a girl, just out of university, I had been completely overawed by the flashy corporate environment. I kept to myself and spoke little to anyone else.

And then fate through us together. We had to do some analysis on the market trends around one of the products that the company was planning to launch. I think that was probably the first time Varun had even realized I existed. He was the team lead on this and I was working with him, providing him with data that he would require. A hard task master, he had kept me with my nose buried in numbers until late in the evening. It was nearly eight o clock when we were finished.

“Can I give you a lift?” he had asked me as I was getting ready to go

I had agreed and we left the office in his car. He then offered to buy me dinner. I was staying in a paying guest and my land lady had given me the keys to let me in if I was late. So I had agreed.

Dinner and then a walk along the beach. I had got to know him as a person during those couple of hours.

The next day, we had to stay back again and we again left the office together. On the third day I had goofed up on the numbers so I had to redo the projections. He had been angry and had yelled at me. I had burst into tears and run out of his cabin.

An hour later, with the numbers redone, I had taken the print out and left it on his desk, and tried to leave his room quietly. Before I could leave tip toe away, I had felt his hand on my wrist.

“Wait, don’t leave” he had said. I sat in front of him and watched him look through the numbers before putting them into his drawer and shutting it.

“Is it all okay?” I asked him feeling relieved when had nodded.

I got up to leave. “Rupa, wait let me drop you” he said after me.

But I did not want a lift. I wanted to go by myself, on my bus route number 15 like I usually did. His proximity was disturbing me in ways I could not understand. He was nearly seven years older, charming and dynamic. He was also engaged to be married to the daughter of the company’s Managing Director.

I found it was pouring rain outside when I left the building. I had braved the rain and run towards the bus stop. Fifteen minutes of waiting at the stop and Varun had stopped by in his car and asked me to get in. I had got in dripping wet. We had driven for a while before he had stopped the car. I knew instinctively what was to follow.

A kiss and then more……!!!

I had often wondered later if I could have stopped him. But my senses were against me. I was crazily attracted to him- a romance that I had never imagined would sweep me away like that

 Varun

To say that I had been surprised to suddenly find her next to me would be an understatement!! I was simply blown away!! Yes, she had aged but like wine, seemed to have only become better. Gone was the gawkiness and lack of confidence. She held my gaze my steadily …!! A slightly built woman, she looked younger than her forty odd years. The grey strands in her hair notwithstanding, there was something girlish about her even today.

Hers had been a razor sharp brain. She could work wonders with numbers!! She was also well read and knew a lot more beyond just her work. It was not often that I met someone who I considered my intellectual equal. I had been attracted to her right from the day we had first worked together.  I had pushed for every opportunity to work with her. And I had engineered situations where she would have to stay back late into the evening to work so I would get to drop her back.

Those were different times in India’s corporate history. I do not know how it would be viewed in today’s “Me-too” world!! Had I taken advantage of her innocence I had often wondered? I knew I was engaged to Anita so why was I getting involved with Rupa? But then Anita was my ticket to fulfilling my career ambitions. A middle class boy, son of a government officer, I had a burning desire to make it big. A graduate from the top business school in India, I knew that I had good looks and charm to complement my intelligence.

Anita’s father had recognized my potential and it was he who had encouraged me to court his daughter and sure enough as his son in law and the CEO of his company I had taken his business to heights that he could never have done by himself.

I had often thought about Rupa.! She had walked out of my life after the show down we had that evening many years ago. I had never thought her capable of going away from me like that and not looking back. We had been six months into our relationship and Anita’s father was pushing for finalizing our wedding date.

I had suddenly found myself in two minds.  What had seemed like a great idea when I had joined the company no longer seemed so. Anita was beautiful and nice but she was not Rupa! I could never relate to her intellectually the way I could with Rupa. I wanted to stall for time but Rupa wanted a firm answer from me. She wanted to know if I was serious about her and if I was, then she wanted me to break my engagement with Anita. It had been a difficult choice. but finally it was ambition that had won.

Today I had money, power and everything else that money could buy. To the world, it seemed like I also had a great marriage. But we did not have a child. Anita had wanted to adopt. But I was not sure I could love a child that was biologically not mine. She had been through bouts of depression. We had gone through numerous fertility treatments. We had also met counsellors and psychiatrists to deal with her depression.  I had handled all the emotional stress by immersing myself in my work.

But seeing Rupa like this suddenly had disturbed me in a way I never thought would be possible- at least not after so many years! It was like those years between then and now never existed. I wanted to reach out and hold her hand …!!

I looked at her covertly. I wondered if she was indeed that much caught up with what she was reading or was she doing it to simply avoid talking to me.

 Rupa

Varun had wanted to have the cake and eat it too. But I am glad I had been firm. It had broken me emotionally to go away from him like that. Life had been a struggle for the few years after breaking off from him. However, looking back, I think it was all for the best.

I wondered if he was happy with the choices he had made? But what if he wasn’t? Was I going to let him back into my life? Was I going to put myself through all that pain once again?

I could feel his eyes on me. He could pretend he was reading the newspaper but I knew he was looking at me. I could always sense that. from those days when there was just a glass wall separating us in the office.

The public address system on the aircraft was announcing landing. I shut my book, retrieved my bag from under my seat and put it in.

“Rupa do you have your card?  Let’s talk sometime. We might have some assignments for you” he said

I had his card but I wondered if I should share mine. It was very tempting. But I decided against it.

“Thanks Varun.  We do not have the resources to take on large assignments. It is a small firm and we work at our own pace.” I said smiling at him

“But can you give me your card” he asked me directly now.

“Sorry, I have run out of cards” I lied.

Varun

I knew she was lying. But then I could do nothing about it.  The ball was now in her court.

The flight had landed and people were getting up and opening the luggage compartments to collect their bags.

As I helped her retrieve her bag I was for a moment transported back in time. That smell of Cubicula talcum powder was so nostalgic! Reminded me of a soft body I had kissed on moonlit nights so many years ago. Her smell and her presence had lingered on in my flat for days after she had walked out of my life.

Passengers were moving out of the aircraft now. I followed her out of the plane. She was walking briskly towards the arrival lounge. A part of me wanted to stop her and ask her if we could drive together. I finally mustered up courage and called out after her

“Rupa please wait. I have a car coming to pick me up. I can drop you at your hotel”

“Thank you Varun but that will not be necessary. I have someone coming to pick me up at the airport” she said looking back at me with a smile.

Okay, I hadn’t thought of that. She wasn’t an intern any longer. She was heading her own company. So I guess she had a car to pick her up.

But I continued walking beside her hoping she would change her mind.

We were now outside the building amidst the crowd of people waiting with name boards and bouquets.

“Mom, look here” shouted a young man waving from behind the railing.

I saw Rupa walking towards him as he ran up to her and enveloped her in a hug.

Tall and lanky with a cleft chin and curly brown hair, this young man was a replica of another young man whose photographs lay in my college album!!! I felt like I was looking at myself from many years ago.

I watched the boy as he took the bag from his mother. She turned back for a moment and our eyes met. I waited with bated breath. The young man turned back to look at me and then at his mother

“Varun, please meet Mr. Rao. We used to work together many years ago” she said introducing me. My hands were trembling as I shook his…!!

“This is Varun, my son. He studies at the law school here” she said looking directly at my eyes, smiling enigmatically.

“Aah!! And what does Varun’s father do” I asked shakily

“Uncle, mom is both my mother and my father. Isn’t that right mom? ” asked Junior looking at his mother with pride.

“Good bye, Mr. Rao, it has been nice meeting you after so many years” she said extending her hand towards me. I took it in mine and shook it, searching her face with my unasked questions.

But I got no answers. I stood silently watching, as mother and son walked away from me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uprooting

They were left with very little time to pack. Her father and uncle wanted them to leave immediately. It was no longer safe to stay back. The mobs were literally at their door step! They had less than an hour to decide what and how much to carry.

It seemed unbelievable, the way things had come to this! Even one month ago it had not seemed possible that things would deteriorate to this level. People who had until recently peacefully co existed in this small town up on the hills suddenly seemed to be reaching for each other’s throats. What had turned them against each other like this? However this was not the time for reflection. As the minority group in the town, they had no option left now but to flee.

She walked around her room looking at the beautiful four poster bed, the mahogany dresser laden with cosmetic and trinkets., the cupboards filled with silks and satin. What was she to take with her? Why, even the furniture were like family members. The dresser had arrived here with her mother when she had entered the family as a bride, the bed had been her aunt’s , later her cousin’s before they had got married and left home.

“Hurry hurry” said her mother running into her room and opening out the cupboard , pulling the jewelry out of their boxes, bundling them into scarves before stuffing them into her large purse.

She watched silently as the doll that she had played with in her childhood fell out of its perch from the top of the cupboard. She remembered the day her grand father had bought it for her at the local fair. This doll for her, was more than a play thing. It was her link to her grand father and the happy childhood she had in this beautiful house on the hills. She remembered falling asleep on his lap with the doll clutched tightly against her chest as he sat on the swing in the verandah.

Grand father was no more. She was glad about that! She could not imagine what he would have said about leaving like this. His portrait smiled benignly at her from the gallery of ancestral photographs up on the wall in stairway outside her room. How many generations had lived and died in this house…!!

A photo album slipped out of the cupboard and landed on the floor with a thud. Images of happy times, birthday parties, college picnics were all packed in between those pages. She dared not pick it up!

The books on the shelf beside her bed beckoned her pleading with her to open them just once more before leaving. She resisted. Each book had a story beyond the words that were inscribed within. The rainy afternoons spent reading “ Pride and Prejudice” sitting on the window seat came back to her. She would probably find another copy of the book wherever it was that they were headed for now but none of them would give her that special feeling that reading this one did or would have her name inscribed in a childish scrawl…

“Are you done with your packing ?” asked her father rushing in. She stared at him vacant eyed.

How did he expect her to pack all the memories of her eighteen year old existence in this house within twenty minutes? She had never known life anywhere else. Most of her family and almost all her friends were from this small town in the hills. Many of them had already fled while others like them were now in the process of leaving. Was there any way that they would ever meet again?

She collapsed against her father’s shoulders sobbing. He hugged her close whispering “It will be alright. We will come back when all of this settles down”.
But when she got into one of the two cars lined up outside on the driveway she knew they were only fooling themselves about coming back. She pulled down the window gazing at her beloved home.

The swing in the verandah moved slightly in the wind. Did she imagine or was it her grand father that she saw seated on it? And was that her grand mother in the garden plucking flowers? She wanted to scream “Stop!! We are leaving grand pa and grand ma behind”

She shifted herself inside the car, allowing her mother and aunt more room to keep the bundles of things that they had managed to bring along with them. No body spoke. Her father and brother sat in the front with their uncle who was driving.

They drove carefully taking care to ensure that the cars stayed together. The streets in their quarter seemed empty. There was not a soul outside. They passed her school and then her college. Both buildings were ravaged in the violence of the past few weeks.

She wanted to look out of the window for one last time to see if he was there. The boy on the bicycle who often stood outside her college gate gazing at her. She had never got round to knowing what his name was because he did not ever come up to her to speak.

But it was better it remained that way.. Her mind was already overloaded with memories. She did not know if there would be room for one more.

She looked ahead at the road in front of her wondering what was it that lay beyond. Was it possible to start afresh? Could all uprooted plants take root again on new soil?

It was more than their belongings that they had left behind. Lost now was their history, their lives and their identities. They were like pieces of wood floating in the sea after a ship wreck. The pieces might reach the shore but the ship would never be rebuilt!