The Co Passenger


Related imageIt had been raining incessantly when she had boarded the train. Priya squeezed the water off her dupatta as she made her way into the coach. For an unreserved coach it was almost empty. But then who would board a 11.00 PM train at a way side station past Yellahanka? Anyway by now, she was beyond caring!

It had been a sudden decision. She had decided to take the train from the station nearest to her house rather than ride to the Bangalore city station. She wanted to escape, to run away… from her life… from him!

She found an empty seat by the window. Thankfully, the rain had not splashed into the coach. She drew up the shutter and let some fresh air in. The rain had stopped and the moon was peeping out of the clouds. She watched the dark shadows rise and fall as the train sped through the darkness.

Like her life… Full of eerie shadows that she ensured people outside in the sun never saw. She maintained that facade of living in cool comfort. A bright smile that stopped short of her eyes Hollows behind those eyes she concealed using expensive make up.  She adjusted herself to lean against the backrest of the seat but winced as the pain hit her! Bruises, scars and more. her body was now full of them! It had become a part of her life these days.

It was only tonight that she had decided she had had enough! But, even now she was not so sure. And that was the reason she had boarded the train to Mumbai and not the one to Chennai.

Her cousin Smita, had encouraged her to come and spend some time with her at Mumbai to think things over. She had always been nervous about going to Chennai – to her parents. She feared they might not see things from her perspective.

The train jerked to a sudden halt throwing her forward. She held on to the window rails to steady herself.

The lady on the upper berth looked down and asked her “What happened?”

“I don’t know” said Priya as she peered out of the window.

There was hardly anyone else on the coach. There were a couple of women in the next bay who looked like they were some kind of vendors. They were fast asleep with their basket of wares under the seat.

There seemed to be a flurry of activity near the engine. The guard and the driver were talking among themselves. She tried to catch what they were saying.

“Woman.”  “under the train” were some words that caught her ears.

She shuddered thinking “How awful”!

There seemed to a discussion going on near the tracks.  Apparently they were near some station called Adoni. Priya did not want to hear any more of this conversation. She pulled the shutter down and lay down on the berth. She had packed in a hurry, there was nothing she could use as a pillow. So she tucked her handbag under her head and turned around so that the bruised part of her back was not rubbing against the wall of the coach.

She must have dozed for about an hour when she woke up. The train was in motion now.

She wanted to use the bathroom. She wondered if she should go with her suitcase left unattended. But the train was in motion and everyone else on the train seemed to be asleep.

When she came back to her seat, she noticed her. A young woman, about as old as herself, she was sitting on the opposite seat. Her face was not clearly visible in the dark. She had on a sari which seemed to be glowing in the dark. Her hair was flying in the breeze blowing in through the window.

“When did you get into the train?” asked Priya

“Oh some time ago” she replied in Kannada, looking at Priya through her wide eyes. There seemed to be an odd quality about them. They were looking at her but yet it seemed like they weren’t. Her face had a luminous quality about it.

“What a beautiful woman” thought Priya taking in her features. A big bindi adorned her forehead and prominently around her neck was the black bead chain symbolising her married status.

“Where are you going?” asked the woman

“To Mumbai” replied Priya. “What about you”? she asked

“Home” said the woman.

Priya sat down on the seat and groaned involuntarily as the jerking of the train made her bruised back hit the window.

“Painful isn’t it?” she asked.   “That wound will heal but not the one in your mind. At least not unless you decided to do something about it” she continued.

Priya looked at the woman startled.  How did she know?

“What do you mean?” she asked her

“You know what I mean” she said with a sad smile.

Priya could not stop herself. Her eyes began welling up with tears and she suddenly found herself holding on to the window rails and sobbing.

“Hey stop that. Crying never helps.” she said softly pulling Priya into her arms. It was probably a few minutes before Priya regained control over herself.

“I am sorry. I shouldn’t do this” she said wiping her face with her dupatta.

“There is no need to apologise” the woman said.

“You know; I had tried everything to make him happy. I stopped wearing western clothes, I learnt cooking, I never ever stepped out without his consent” she said bitterly.

“Yes, I know. You must have also thought a lot before saying anything in case it angered him. You would have stayed out of his way until he called for you. Right?” asked the woman.

“How do you know?” asked Priya looking at the woman in surprise.

“Because I have also lived through it all” said the woman with a cryptic smile.

“Oh!” said Priya gasping

“You know I was barely out of school when my parents arranged my marriage. He was a very rich man. Owned a lot of businesses and was considered to be quite a catch. I was anyway not very good at studies. So marriage seemed like a good way out of it. I was the only daughter. My parents and my brothers spent an awful lot at my wedding. It was one of the grandest weddings in the whole of Anantpur district” she said dreamily.

“Well in my case, I had completed my education and was working in an IT company in Bangalore. He was introduced to me through a common friend” said Priya

“Oh love marriage” asked the woman looking at her with raised eyebrows.

“Marriage yes! But love. well that disappeared a few months into the marriage. I never realized that he was so domineering and authoritative. It used to be very romantic during the days when we were courting. I used to think he was very protective and possessive about me.  But soon things became bad. He did not like me talking to anyone he did not approve of, he did not like me wearing jeans, trousers or skirts. He was suspicious of any man I spoke to and soon he did not like my going for work” Priya said bitterly.

“And you decided to quit your job?” she asked

“Yes” replied Priya.

“You know, how many times in those years when he started yelling and hitting me, I used to think, that had I been better qualified and with a job I would have walked out of the marriage” said the woman looking at Priya

“Yes, but it is not so easy to walk out even if you are qualified for a job. I did consider it many times. But there was always a feeling of guilt. Of not having tried hard enough to make the marriage work. You know I have only been married for two years. I thought things would get better over time. “said Priya shaking her head sadly.

“Well I was married for ten years. Among the many things he had against me was that I had not brought enough dowry, I was not able to have children, I did not respect his mother enough, I did not put enough salt or put too much salt into his food, that I was not sexually desirable and sometimes even that I was probably interested in other men and therefore not responding to him in bed” she said laughing hysterically.

Priya shuddered thinking of the strange similarity in their circumstances. Two women from two different places and social contexts and yet with such a similar marriage.

“You know I secretly started taking birth control pills after the first year into the marriage. I did not want any child to be conceived out of rape. And then he found out…He was so violent after that I couldn’t take it. I ran to my brother’s house” said the woman.

“And?” asked Priya

“They closed their doors on me. I am sure had my parents been alive I would have at least had a roof over my head” said the woman bitterly

Priya thought about her own circumstances. She had not told her parents about what she was going through. There was this feeling of wanting to handle her situation on her own because it was she who had decided to marry Srikant. She also had a younger sister and she was not sure if her troubled marriage would interfere with sister’s prospect of getting married.

But something in her had snapped when she found out he was having an affair.

“You know my husband has been seeing another woman for nearly six months now” said Priya to the woman.

“Oh mine was constantly having relationships with women- those who worked for him, relatives, sex workers and others” said the woman. “After some time I was actually glad he was doing that because it kept him out of the house and our bed for at least a few hours every day”

This seemed like some bizarre situation now.  Each one of them sharing things about their respective marriages almost like they were comparing symptoms about some terrible illness.

Did you have fever? Vomiting? Stomach cramps…?

No, I had fever but the stomach cramps were terrible.

Oh, but the vomiting dehydrated me…!

“Patients of the sick marriage syndrome” said Priya laughing loudly.

“Listen tell me what are you going to do now?” asked the woman taking Priya’s hands in hers.

“I don’t know. I will spend some time with Smita, my cousin in Mumbai and then I hope he will repent and come there to take me back” said Priya.

‘Then?” asked the woman

“By then, hopefully he would have repented, broken off with the other woman and changed his behaviour towards me.” Said Priya

“Let me tell you my dear. That is something that never happens. I have been through this many times. When my parents were alive, I would go there every few months when things became unbearable and they would either take me back to him or he would sometimes come to take me back saying he was sorry. But it is easier said than done. Things got back to our state of violent normalcy soon” said the woman.

“You had never called the police?” asked Priya

“Did you?” asked the woman

Priya shook her head. There was a sense of shame in taking the matter to a public space. Why, she had not even, told her closest of friends about this. When he had twisted her arm the last time she had asked him for more housekeeping money, she had lied to the doctor saying she had fallen down and injured herself.

“Have you considered divorce?” asked the woman.

“No.” said Priya shaking her head slowly

“When will you do that? When you are ten years into this mess like me? When you are completely scarred physically and psychologically? When your qualifications will not be relevant in the job market and you will have to take a job that will pay you half of what you might get now? Or when you are too old to consider further education?”  asked the woman in a sarcastic voice

“Listen to me. It has to be now or never. Nothing is lost yet. You are well qualified. You can get a better job. You said you have a supportive cousin in Mumbai. You can stay with her until you get a job” she said taking Priya’s hands in her own. “Don’t let your life become like mine. I had few choices. I was not well educated. I came from a small town where there were limited opportunities. My parents died along the way and my brothers refused to support me. I could have changed things even with these setbacks had anyone encouraged me to take that first bold step forward.”

Priya could see sense in what that woman was telling her.  But she needed to think more about it.

“Thank you for this….” She said. “By the way I am Priya”

“Nandini” said the woman. The clouds had cleared and the moon was shining in through the window making Nandini’s face shine luminously.

“You are such a beautiful woman!  You look out of this world!” said Priya. Nandini smiled in a cryptic way.

“Go to sleep Priya. Things will work out for you. I am sure you will take a sensible decision and all will be well.” she said taking her hand and squeezing it.

Priya nodded noticing for the first time that Nandini’s hands were icy cold.

She lay down on her berth and closed her eyes. Her last image of Nandini was a sharp profile turned towards the widow with hair flying in the breeze.

( To be concluded in the next part – work in progress )

( Images from the internet)


Endings and Beginnings

Ajay looked at his watch. It was almost 7.00 PM. He was well in time for the 7.15 local.

It had been a hard day at work, with a tough deadline to meet! Despite it being a Saturday, and a half working day he had had to stay back. He was now looking forward to a relaxed Sunday. He hoped to catch a movie with some friends. But it was more easily said than done. Nowadays most of his friends preferred to spend time with their wives and girlfriends.

“Well that is a price one pays for being too focused on one’s career and not devoting enough attention to settling down ” his sister had told him when he had complained to her about this. After that, he had decided to keep quiet. As it is, all his female relatives seemed to be working overtime to get him “settled”! Not that he was against the idea of marriage. But it was just that none of the candidates that they had come up with so far were interesting enough for him to consider giving up his freedom. And the shy young man that he was,, he had never had the confidence to ever approach a girl on his own.

Well, one had to live with some problems he thought to himself as he felt the rumbling of the train and got ready to board. Thankfully, being a Saturday evening on what was essentially an office train route, the train was not crowded. He took his pick of the carriage and hopped into a near empty one.

“Thank God for small mercies” he murmured as he settled down on a seat by the window. The cool evening breeze hit his sweaty face as the train picked up speed. He took out a book from his bag and started reading from where he had left off. He hoped to finish it by tonight.

It was about two stations down that he noticed the couple standing by the door. They had probably boarded the train at the previous station. He could not see the young man’s face but the girl was facing him. She was slightly built – thin and petite with her hair tied up in a pony tail. Her large and beautiful eyes were swollen and red. He could see tears streaming down her cheeks.

The young man was talking “Look here Sumi, there is no point in crying like this. It is not going to change anything”.

She said something in a muffled voice that was lost in the noise of the train. And then she began sobbing!

Ajay’s attention was now completely drawn to the scene that was unfolding in front of him. He closed the book and eavesdropped unashamedly.

“Sumi, life is not a movie or a romance novel. We have to consider practical aspects. My parents want me to marry this girl. There are family priorities that I have to take into account” said the fellow.

“Didn’t these priorities exist when you started wooing me? When you wrote those letters to me, took me out for lunch and dinner?” asked the girl. Her damp eyes were now flashing anger.

“Sumi, how many times do I have to tell you that I still love you. I still mean every word I wrote in those letters and I cherish every moment we spent together. It is just that I cannot hurt my parents. They are old and they have a lot of hopes for me” said the young man trying to put his arm around the girl as she pushed it off.

“Stop touching me you spineless idiot!” she said as she moved away from the door.

“Listen, Sumi, don’t get hysterical. I am just trying to explain the situation to you. These things happen to many people. I am really sorry about this. But life has to go on” said the man.

“ Yes please carry on with your life then. Your station is anyway coming up” said the girl as she moved to the door at the opposite end.

“Okay, have it your way. If you want to make yourself into a tragedy queen, so be it” said the young man as he jumped down off the train at the station.

Ajay watched the girl standing by the door at the other end. He couldn’t look at her face now but he could very well imagine her grief. He wondered what had possessed that fellow to dump a nice girl like her. And anyway , how had this girl fallen for this fellow? He was obviously a smooth talker who had used her for what was called in local parlance as “time pass”.

The coach was empty now, except for the two of them. There were still three stations to go before he reached his destination. He wanted to reach out to her and say something but felt awkward. It was anyway none of his business.

She continued standing by the door. Her back was straight.

Wait…Was it his imagination or had she inched closer to the door? The station was still a few minutes away so she was obviously not getting ready to disembark.

He slid down from his seat by the window and moved towards the aisle. There was something odd about her actions. It was in a split second it all became clear to him as she extended one leg out of the door ready to jump. He leapt out of his seat and grabbed her

“STOP” he shouted as he pulled her in! He felt her trembling against him.

“You foolish girl.. what do you think you are doing ?” he asked her angrily

“Leave, me! I have nothing left to live for” she said sobbing.

“Stop that crying now. Here wipe your face” he said pulling out his handkerchief as he guided her towards a seat.

“ I cannot imagine life without him. He was my dream and my reality” she said continuing to cry into his handkerchief.

“ Fellows like that worm who got off at the last station may be an unpleasant reality but they can never be part of anyone’s dreams. He is just using his parents as an excuse to dump you. Believe me, he is not worth it! ” he said angrily.

She stopped crying and looked at him as though seeing him for the very first time.

“ I know…! But I feel very wretched.” she said

“Don’t!!. I am sure you have a life ahead of you and at lot of things to look forward to..umm Sumi ?” he asked.

“Sumita” she said slowly breaking into a smile.

“Ajay” he said extending his hand.

“Pleased to meet you” she said as she shook it.

“Which station do you get off?” he asked as the train started to slow down at the next station.

“The one after this ” she said.

“What a coincidence. So do I” he said

The train was pulling into their station. It was 8.00 PM and platform looked deserted.

“Sumita, shall I walk you home? It is quite dark” he asked as they got off the train and started walking towards the exit.

“No, it is okay, I can manage” she said.

“No, I insist. The street lights do not work in some of the lanes” he said, lying through his teeth about a neighborhood that probably had one of the best civic amenities in the city.

They walked through the streets in silence until they reached her gate.

“Bye Ajay.. and thanks! Please don’t mention that incident to anybody. I feel so stupid about it ” she said breaking the silence as she opened the gate and walked in.

“Don’t worry Sumita. I won’t..Take care” he said as he turned back to go home.

He must have taken only a few steps ahead when he heard her voice call out to him

“Ajay.. wait! Please give me your phone number. I need to contact you and return your handkerchief ” She said .

“Of course, ! How could I forget.. !” he said reciting his phone number.

“Thanks. I will give you a missed call. You can save my number” she said waving out to him.

“Please clean my hanky properly! It is my favorite- Ajay” he typed out a text message late into the night to the number from where he had received a missed call earlier in the evening.

He smiled when half an hour later he received a smiley in response. He put the phone under his pillow and closed his eyes.

The future was presenting enormous possibilities!!!

( This story is based on  a real life incident shared by my friend Mahesh . But I must confess that  I have taken some creative license while writing this.  Thank you Mahesh for letting me use the idea)

Making Melody Part 7


The University was closed today as it was Janmashtami. It had been raining incessantly since morning. The Meteorological department had issued warnings about an impending storm. The rain notwithstanding, the street vendors were busy selling flowers and other items for the evening Puja.

Padma had taken out the brass idol of Sri Krishna from the loft and cleaned it. The lamps were also polished and ready to be lit for the evening Puja. Padma looked out of the window. May be she should go out now and buy some fresh flowers before the rain got heavier and forced the vendors to close shop…..

For the first time in many years, she had drawn the feet of the baby Krishna walking in from her door to the Puja area. She looked at her drawing with a smile. She was not much of an artist but she had managed it.

She took out her umbrella and went out into the rain. There was a strong gust of wind that threatened to blow away her umbrella. She held on it and made her way among the stream of shoppers. Maybe this was how it was when Sri Krishna had been born she thought to herself as she tucked the garland of jasmine into her bag and made her way back to the flat. The waterlogged streets almost seemed like the Yamuna in spate…!!

“What is wrong with me? Next I will be imagining this umbrella is Sheshnag” she said to herself. as she got into the elevator.

“Ghir ghir aayee badariya kari” she hummed to herself absentmindedly, as she got out of the elevator.

It was just as she was shutting the collapsible gate to the elevator that she saw them- the pair of Tilonia sandals next to the door of her flat! There was only one pair of feet in her world that wore such sandals! She shifted her gaze from the sandals to the feet next to them. She was not mistaken…!! Those beautiful feet with the high arch could only belong to…..!

“Sorry!! I hope I did not mess up your rangoli” he said looking at her with a smile.

She stood rooted to her spot by the elevator, the umbrella dripping water on the floor and her bag ready to fall off her hands.

“Hello, have you turned into stone?” he asked moving towards her and waving his hands in front of her face.

She pulled herself together and took out the keys from her bag. Her hands were shaking . The key refused to get into the lock.

“Come give it to me” he said as he took the key from her hand and opened the door.

She walked in slowly behind him, in a detached manner, watching his feet as they moved parallel to the tiny feet she had drawn.

He looked older. The long hair was streaked with silver now. But the eyes were the same intense black. The crows feet at the corner of the eyes seemed more pronounced when he smiled.

“ Why are you here?” she asked in confusion

“I thought you wanted to see me. Didn’t you leave your address at the school?” he asked.

Yes of course. So stupid of her! How could she have forgotten that!

“What took you so long?” she asked finally, her voice breaking.

“It wasn’t that long Padma, when you consider the fifteen years that I have waited for you” he said quietly.

She felt herself bursting into tears.

“Shh!! Silly girl don’t cry” he whispered pulling her chin up with his fingers.

She threw herself into his arms and sobbed her heart out. It was a while before all the tears that were frozen within her melted out through her eyes and onto her face.

He held her tightly to himself almost afraid that that she would disappear again if he let her go.

“Where had you been all these years” she asked as the tears stopped.

“Here! Where else could I go? ” he asked

“ I heard that you were in Vienna” she said.

“Yes. But only for a couple of years. I came back after my grandfather died.” He said.

“ And then?” she asked urging him to go on.

“Then .. nothing! I have been busy with all the charity work and my music classes. There hasn’t been time for anything else. So you can lay aside your fears about my being involved with anyone else” he said with a smile..

“Oh, Madhav, I missed you so much!” she said looking up at his face.

“ I don’t think anyone could have missed you the way I did” he said hoarsely drawing her close to him.

“ Are you angry with me?” She asked
“ After fifteen long years, I am just very glad that we have found each other. “ he whispered.

She felt the words rather than hear them, as his lips descended down on hers. Between mingled breaths, the flutist and his love created the most beautiful music in a life time. The thunder crashed outside and the wind picked up speed. The music in her body reached a crescendo with all the seven notes ringing as he picked her up and took her inside to her bedroom. She felt the coming together of heaven and earth as their two bodies became one. Time seemed to stand still. She put her head on his shoulder and drifted into the most blissful sleep ever…!!

When she woke up, the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared.The waning moon of the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha cast a dim light. She found him gazing at her.

“What time is it?” she asked him.

“Well past midnight my dear” he said with a smile. “You have been sleeping for nearly five hours now”

“Oh my God!! I forgot all about the Puja” she said putting on her clothes hurriedly.

“What Puja?” he asked her

“Don’t you know? Today is Janmashtami” she said

“Oh! That was why all the Rangoli and the little feet! I thought all those preparations were in my honor” he said with a laugh.

“Don’t be silly!! Just because you play the flute does not mean you are Sri Krishna” she said pushing him away playfully as he tried to pull her down onto the bed.

“ So, what is it that you are going to do now?” he asked her as he watched her dress.

“ I don’t know. Just light the lamps and make the offerings I guess. It is well past the time of his birth” she said moving towards the puja alcove in the kitchen.

She wondered if she should have a bath before that! But she decided against it because bathing was done to purify one self. And what was more pure than the expression of love that she had just shared with Madhav?

The lamps in the Puja room were still burning. The idol of Sri Krishna seemed to be glowing in their light. She took out the Jasmine garland and placed it around the idol. As she brought her palms together and closed her eyes in prayer, she heard the familiar strains of Raag Tilak Kamodi.

A part of her wanted to turn back and look at the man in flesh and blood by the window who was playing his flute while the other part wanted to concentrate on thanking the glowing image of the Lord in front of her. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the image of the God with his peacock feather crown. Bu strangely the image that kept coming up in her mind was that of a tall man with shoulder length hair holding a flute to his lips. One image seemed to slowly blend into the other until they were both one.

When she opened her eyes, the music had stopped. She found him standing by the kitchen door looking at her with amusement.

“So what did you ask your God for?” he teased her

“I did not ask him for anything. He has already given me everything that I have ever wanted” she said with a smile.

“Thank you! I was worried you might be asking him to get me to marry you” he said with a laugh.

“Why? What is wrong in marriage?” she asked him.

“Nothing! Except that I do not believe in it” he said

“ You do not believe in God. You do not believe in marriage. So what is it that you believe in” she asked him sharply.

“Padma, I believe in music and I believe in our love. A love that had withstood the pain of separation for fifteen long years is not going to be sealed by some rituals or a legal document. My parents were married and so were you. Does it guarantee any happiness?’ he asked her softly.

She looked up at him. Yes, he was right. Marriage was only a ritual that was man made. Love on the other hand was divine.

“So tell me, will you always love me ?” she asked, putting her arms around his neck.

“ As long as there is breath in this body, I will love you and play my flute” he said pulling her close to him.

She looked over his shoulder at the idol of Sri Krishna. Did she imagine it or did she see the idol stretch its lips into a smile?

“So when do we start our life together?” she asked him

“We already have… our life together has begun” he said with a smile.

….. And they did not get married but lived happily ever after!!!

( For those of you who have not guessed it  already, this story has been inspired by the tale of Radha and Krishna! Though they were never married their love has always been held up as the epitome of romance. I would urge you to  read/listen to Poet Jaidev’s “Geeta Govind” which describes this love in the most beautiful manner. Mine is only a poor effort)

Making Melody Part 6


That there were no second chances, she was sure of by now. She had had her chance that night at the gate outside her house. She could have chosen to walk away with him but instead, she had chosen to go inside and stand behind the door as her father slammed it shut on his face.

There was a split second before the door had shut when she had managed to catch a glimpse of him. He was standing outside her gate, illuminated by the street light above his head . The rain had petered out to a light drizzle. The play of the street light on the falling raindrops had created an illusion of a halo around him. And that was the image that had stayed with her all through these years.

She remained silent right through the drama that took place on the other side of the door. Her father had raved and ranted about how she had belied their trust while her mother had been sobbing about the shame that this would bring onto their family.

Padma was to date unsure of exactly what it is that she had supposedly done. Yes, it was 10.00PM. Her parents had been worried about her. But the delay was not deliberate. The heavy rain had brought about a land slide on their way down from the school up in the hills. The bus had halted for about two hours as efforts were on to clear the road. But the two of them had been blissfully unaware of anything that was going on around them, so wrapped up were they in each other.

Only when the road was cleared and the bus had begun to descend downward to the plains did she realize how late it was. The traffic on the winding roads was very heavy and by the time they had reached the bus station down in the town it was nearly 9.00PM.

Madhav would not let her go alone from the bus station. He had insisted on escorting her home.

She supposed it was their body language, as they had walked down the lane leading up to her house in the light drizzle that had given them away. No words had been exchanged but her parents had immediately understood that there was something that connected the young man and their daughter. It was more than an umbrella that they shared.

Despite all that her parents accused her of having done, she had refused to feel to guilty. She knew what she had experienced that day was something very rare. Never in her life had she thought that she could be connected to another human being in that way! She had stayed awake that entire night reliving each moment.

By the time the clouds cleared and the sun rays burst into the horizon, she was sure her parents would have forgiven her. However , that was not to be.

It was just before dawn that her mother had woken her up saying that her father was feeling unwell. He was complaining of breathlessness.

She had run down the road to the doctor who lived next door. He had told them to move her father to a hospital immediately. He was in the first stage of a heart attack. They had rushed him to the hospital.

The clouds had floated away, the sun had risen, the birds had sung but all that Padma could remember of that morning was the inside of the hospital room. The guilt that she had fought against engulfed her now!  In some corner of her mind a thought was slowly creeping in – that maybe she had brought this upon  her father!

She had prayed hard for him to recover, in sheer desperation promising herself that if her father recovered she would never do anything to make him unhappy again. The gods had probably heard her prayers because he had recovered and after two weeks been discharged from the hospital.

Now, it was up to her to keep her word.

She had stayed away from Madhav for the rest of the semester. After a couple of attempts at talking to her he had stopped seeking her company. He had graduated that year and she had stayed away from the graduation ceremony.

There were many a times that she had wanted to meet him and explain to him why she was staying away. But she never managed to muster up the courage to face him. She knew she had failed him and he would probably not forgive her for it ever!!

She focused her energies instead on her studies. She aced every exam that she took and it did not surprise anyone when she won a scholarship to go abroad for her master’s degree.

But she could not deny the fact that his absence had left a void in her heart. She had tried to make discreet inquiries about his whereabouts. But considering the fact that he was such a loner, it had been difficult to find out about him. He was like the air that blew out of his lungs, through the holes in his flute. Invisible, until the music started

A few years into her doctoral program, she had run into one of his classmates from college. During the course of their conversation she had learnt that he had been at  Vienna for a while, studying western classical music and playing with an orchestra. She had wanted to know more but by that time, she was almost engaged to Vineet and she did not think it was right to open what she considered a closed chapter from her past.

Unfortunately, what she had considered a closed chapter was anything but that!. It was a continuing melody. She knew it deep within her, the “Mukhda” had to be followed by the “Antara”. It was only a matter of time……..

( To be continued)

Making Melody Part 5


She had tried calling the number given to her by the boy at the school. It was a land line number that kept ringing every time she called. It was truly frustrating…! She tried watching the school from her balcony to see who was coming and going. But that was a wild idea anyway!

He continued to remain elusive…!! Her eyes filled up with tears. It had been her fault ..! She had had her chance but had lost it.

“A confused coward of a girl who was out to please everyone!” she thought bitterly. It had taken her, fifteen years to realize that pleasing everyone was not something that was humanly possible. It also meant displeasing a very important person – her own self! It was this realization that had given her the courage to do what she had, in the last six months.

People had thought she was crazy to leave a lucrative research career in the US and relocate to India. Vineet, her husband was vehemently opposed to her plan, which in the beginning, had included him.

“What? Are you crazy?” he had thundered in his usual loud voice.

For a man who was least interested in her career, he seemed to know a lot about how India would not offer her any options in post doctoral research. She could not imagine how she had spent nearly ten years married to someone like him.

To him everything was either money and what money could buy. A man who cared neither for art nor science. She had to listen to music in her car while she was driving to the university least he be “disturbed” by the sound. She could not read books while he was at home- unless they were connected with her work.

Every minute of her attention had to be devoted to him.

She realized soon enough, that she was to him, an acquisition. A brilliant scientific mind that also cooked his meals and did his laundry. And that is what she became after a while – a trained robot!

She had kept the reality away from her parents for as long as she could. But soon, her late parents had understood what was happening with their daughter’s life. She did not know if it was guilt, but her father had died willing to her the flat that she was now living in! It wasn’t very much by way of an asset, considering that it was small and located in a very modest part of town. But yes, it was a roof over her head. An asset she could count on, when she decided to tell her husband that she was going anyway.

She had by then, obtained a teaching assignment at the University in the town. They were very honored to have her. She did not know if teaching was what she wanted to do ultimately, but it certainly gave her a platform to land on when she came back home.

Vineet had raved and ranted about her decision to go anyway. And finally he had thrown at her what he considered his final ultimatum- “Stay here or be prepared to be divorced”.

Strangely, she had been so relieved when he had said it! It had saved her the trouble of having to articulate it at some point later.

He had been very nasty about the entire process of separation . But she had stood up to it ,had finally packed her bags and moved out.

“Is this what I want? This lonely existence?” she wondered turning her head to look out of the window.

But the path to self realization wasn’t an easy one. She knew she had wandered away from everything that she had wanted at one point in her life . Today, it might not be possible to get all of that back but she sincerely hoped she could get that one vital part of her past back- Madhav!!

However, the question was whether he wanted her back? Yes it was a coincidence that he worked in a school near her house but that may not mean much..!! And anyway why hadn’t he contacted her? The school would  have shared her name and contact details with him.

It probably meant he may not want to renew his contact with her…!

Why did she ever imagine he would be still waiting for her at the gate to her house as she had left him on that fateful night…? He was not like a constant note in a raga or a stabilizing notation in a formula. He was human and therefore subject to change

She was definitely a fool..! Such things did not happen in real life. One had to face to the consequences of one’s actions.

In life there were no second chances.

Pancham : The  Power of the constant 

Making Melody Part 4


The three hour ride up the winding roads on a rickety state transport bus was probably one of her best journeys so far! The lush greenery on both sides of the road, the spray from a waterfall as the bus passed close to it and of course Madhav’s presence on the seat next to hers.

She had been in two minds when he had asked her if she would come with him to the tiny village up in the hills. There was a residential school for tribal children up there, where he went every now and then to do some volunteer work. It was not something that many people knew. So she felt very special that he had asked her. It was to be a day trip. They had left early in the morning and were expected to be back later in the evening.

It hadn’t been easy to get permission from her family. However, when she had told them about the school and volunteer work her father had agreed. But of course she had omitted to mention the fact that it was just her and Madhav who were going. She felt a bit guilty about that. Anyway, she was glad that she was here with him. She loved the way her body bumped into Madhv’s as the bus negotiated the curves. She had looked up to find him smiling at her.

She remembered that smile even today.. it had been such a special moment!

They had got down from the bus and trekked up the hills for about twenty minutes before they reached the school.

“Why have you chosen a school in such a remote village to do your volunteer work ?” she had asked.

“I did not choose the school. It chose me. I used to come here with my mother when she was alive” he said.

She had itched to know more. She knew he had lost both his parents and lived with an old grandfather in an equally old and rambling house in the middle of town. It was rumored that his family was one of the oldest in the town. They were also considered to be one of the richest. She  wondered what had brought his mother to this place.

He was obviously a familiar figure in the school because everyone in the school from teachers to students were greeting him. The Head master came out of his room with hands folded in greeting.

“It was so nice of you to come. As always we have prepared our special lunch. We will have it served in some time” he said.

The children in the meanwhile were surrounding him and asking him to play the flute. Some of them looked at her curiously.

“This is Padma Didi. She is my friend. Say Namaste to her” he had said.

She blushed as the children turned their attention to her and chorused out the greeting.

She sat next to him under the shade of the huge peepul tree on campus as he took out the flute and held it to his lips. It was 10.00 AM , mid morning. He started to play Raag Asavari and then Raag Bhairavi. Bemused as always, she had watched him play. Clad in a black T shirt and jeans with his hair flying in the breeze he made a strange sight amid the children in this remote school.

“What are you thinking?” he had asked with a smile as the last note left his lip and fingers.

“I was thinking about the Pied Piper of Hamelin You have the same kind of magic with these children’ she had said with a laugh.

“ Only with the children?” he had asked softly looking into her eyes.

Dared she hope that he was giving her a message or was she reading something that was not there?

“ Well even the teachers and the others seem to be under your spell” she had said blushing.

“Not any spell Padma. They are just grateful for the support they are getting for the school from my family” he had said

“Support? But isn’t this a government school? “ she asked

“ It is . But these schools rarely receive the funds they are entitled to from the government. So the trust set up by my late mother helps with the day today expenses.” He said.

“Sir, lunch will be ready by 12.00 noon. Do you want to sit inside the office until then?” asked a teacher

“No. It is okay. We will walk around.” He said waving him away.

“Come lets go up that hill. I will show you a beautiful spot” he said pointing eastward.

She followed him trying to keep pace with his long strides. She admired the way he lithely negotiated the steep hill side.

“Here let me help you” he said extending his hand as she tried vainly to climb up a particularly steep section.

She hesitated, not wanting any physical contact with him.

“Come on trust me. I will not let you down” he had urged, his hand outstretched. She had felt silly about her reluctance and put her hand into his hoping he wouldn’t feel her racing pulse as he pulled her up.

They were at a clearing. The view beyond was fantastic. She could see the world stretched out in front of her. The breeze was strong. She could feel her dupatta flying away. She watched him grab the flying fabric in mid air.

“Here. Hold on to it now” he said with a laugh as he draped it around her shoulder.

“Come, its not far from here” he said pulling her hand.

She could hear the roar of the water fall even before she saw it. It was beautiful!! They were less than a couple of feet away from it. She watched the sunlight play on the water droplets and saw a rainbow.

“Did you see the rainbow out there Madhav? That is caused by the refraction of sunlight on the water drops which act as prisms” she said excitedly.

“Yes!! But everything cannot be explained by the laws of physics” he had said sitting down on a rock.

She agreed. Who could explain the magic of this moment? It seemed like the entire universe had come to a stand still. She wanted to reach across and run her fingers through his locks. He was looking at her intently. She clenched her fingers at her side, hoping he hadn’t read her thoughts.

“My mother brought me here nearly a dozen years ago” he said. “ I used to accompany her to all the places she went to as part of her charity work. But this is my favorite. And you are the only other person I  have brought here with me ”

“ I am honored” she had said with a smile.

“Today is her death anniversary” he said looking away abruptly.

“How many years has it been ?” she asked softly

“Ten years” he said

She waited in silence for him to speak again. It seemed like an eternity before he resumed the conversation. “She died in an accident on the way down to town. The car skidded off the hill side. It was raining heavily that evening. It was a miracle I survived”

“ I am sorry “ she whispered.

“ It is okay. I think death for her was a release. Her marriage had already broken up thanks to my grandfather’s meddling. My parents divorced when I was hardly seven. It was just this charity work that gave her some purpose in life” he said looking away from her.

“But I am sure you would have also been a source of joy to her” she asked.

“ I was .. I guess. Until my father and her father decided to use me as a pawn in their power game. There was a long drawn custody battle. My father’s family tried to paint her as mentally unsound so that they could get custody. But the old man had better lawyers. He portrayed my father as a drunkard and a womanizer. Anyway, my grandfather won the case and here I am living with him” he said bitterly.

“Madhav..please don’t feel sad.. turn around” she said putting her hand up to his shoulder.

And when he did turn around she had found herself melting in his arms. She felt his lips come down on hers and closed her eyes enjoying the most beautiful and silent melody ever! As his hands moved over her body, an irrational part of her mind wondered if the flute tucked away inside his pocket was envying her now.

( Teevra Madhyam …. Can we now expect the Vadi and Samvadi to start coming together…….)

Making Melody Part 3


It was 3 o’clock ! About four hours since the music had stopped. The clanging of the school bell every three quarters of an hour gave a pretty good idea about when the school was likely to get over for the day.

The sound of the bell was now followed  by that of children getting ready to leave for the day- As squeals and shouts of young voices, filled the air, she closed the door to her flat and made her way downstairs towards the school.

Standing outside the school gates she watched the children coming out. She wondered if she should go inside the campus to look for him.

After about fifteen minutes she decided she would go inside. It was unlikely that she would get any worthwhile information about Madhav from the watchman at the gate.

“Excuse me sir, can you tell me the way to the school administrative office?” she asked the old watchman.

“ Go straight down and turn right. First room at the corner” he said waving her inside.

She walked down feeling rather conscious about herself. It had been ages since she had left school. Unlike other women of her age , she hadn’t rediscovered it as a mother yet.
Why, she hadn’t even discovered motherhood ….! She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present.

The administrative office was dotted with people- the staff, some teachers, parents and students. Padma stood outside wondering how she should go about asking her question. Mustering up some confidence she walked up to a woman seated behind a desk and said.

“Hi, I would like to admit my child in this school. Can I have a prospectus and an application form?”

“ Admissions for the new academic year start from next month. Please pay Rs 200 for the form and prospectus” she said depositing an envelope in front of Padma.

“Thank you” said Padma pulling out her wallet and taking out a Rs 500 note

As the woman was looking through her drawer for the change she asked casually. “ Do you have music classes for children here? My child is interested”

“Yes of course, we do. Madhav sir comes here twice a week to teach the children to play the flute” said the woman fishing out the change.

“Madhav…. Do you mean Madhav Menon ?” asked Padma carefully.

“Yes. Do you know him?” asked the woman looking at her .

“Oh .. a little bit! He was in my college. When did he start teaching music here ?” asked Padma

“I don’t remember. May be two to three years ago. I have been working here only for a year now” said the woman.

“Do you have his contact details?” she asked, her heart beating loudly.

“We do. But then we cannot give it out to anyone like that” said the woman.

Padma turned around to leave, trying to hide the disappointment on her face.

“Madam, please wait . You can leave your name and address here. I can pass it on to him if you wish” called out the woman, extending a small notepad towards her.

With shaking fingers, Padma wrote out her name and address. There was no telephone number yet that she could share.

As she started walking out from the room towards the gate she heard a young voice call out to her. It was a  boy, about twelve years old who had been standing outside the office overhearing her conversation.

“Aunty, I have Madhav Sir’s phone number?” he said.

Taking a notebook out of her bag she scribbled down the number. She smiled at the little fellow and thanked him.

“Aunty, Sir is a very nice person. He pays my school fees here” said the boy looking at her seriously.

She nodded. No one needed to tell her that. His passion to help less privileged people was almost the same as his passion for music.But he rarely spoke about it. Like everything else about him it was camouflaged behind an unorthodox exterior. A facet of himself that he revealed only to those who he considered close.

She had been one of those few who had seen and experienced that side to him. But sadly, it hadn’t given her the courage to follow her heart..

( From Shuddh  to Teevra  next )

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