The Runner

TImage result for Dak harkarahe nights were chilly that week before Diwali as the days were getting shorter with the sun dipping down the horizon earlier  and earlier everyday . The red hue that lit up the sky soon after, was his signal to get ready for his nightly journey. He pulled the bells around his ankles , picked up the sack and got ready. He would leave after the twilight merged into the inky  darkness.

Bholanath or Bhola as they called him , was a “Daak Harkara” or a postal runner. A twenty year old young man, he had been running on the 5 kos ( about 10 miles) route between Ramnagar   and Palampur for the past two years. He ran the distance every day with a bag that carried a bundle  of letters,  that he handed over to Abdul at the “Daak Chowki” ( the post office) who ran further from Palampur . He ran back to Ramnagar, after resting through the day, with another bundle that he exchanged with  Abdul. All of this earned him a princely sum of Rs 2 per month!

“Working for the government is a matter of pride my son. Look at me, what do I have? Hardly two bighas of land that does not yield anything! A steady income like yours is definitely useful. Besides, if the Saheb Bahadurs ( a word to denote the white man/ British colonisers) are happy with your service, who knows, you might one day actually manage a dak chowki” said his father.

Bhola had not wanted to be a “Daak Harkara”. Actually he was not sure what he wanted to do with his life except for grazing cows,  playing with his friends , running races and wrestling in the fields. It was during one such race that an agent of the Saheb Bahadur had spotted him. A tall strapping young man who could run fast was an asset to the postal service.  And so that was how he had ended up doing what he did .

Bhola had quickly realized that his family looked up to him for support. Considering that their  one bigha of land ( 1 hectare)  was any way mortgaged to pay for his older sister’s marriage, it was not easy for his family to make both ends meet. Their cattle herd was also getting smaller by the day as they sold one cow after another … Besides, he also had three other siblings besides his father and a mother who was always ill.

So he began running, braving the darkness of the night, the wild animals and the vagaries of nature. His legs felt numb by the end of it all but there was no time to lament, as he had to keep running to keep his family going. Sometimes  he felt he had become just a pair of legs! No other part of his body seemed to matter to anyone including himself………… that is until he saw her…!

And that was when he realized he had eyes and he also had a heart…!

He had seen her for the first time  just outside  Palampur. It was nearing dawn and a group of girls were on their way to the river bank to bathe and fill water. A beautiful voice was singing a sad song. He could not help slowing down and looking for  the singer. But it was difficult to see in the dim light of dawn which of the girls was singing.

And then a few days later , he found out. It had been a hot and humid night. His throat felt parched and his dusty limbs ached. He had collapsed panting, on the ground near the river!

“Do you want some water?” she asked.

It was the same voice that had haunted him. He lifted his head and looked up into the most beautiful pair of eyes! He sat up and lifted his palm to his mouth as she poured water from her pot into it. As his parched lips drank in the cool water, his eyes stayed riveted on  her face. Some would call it ordinary but to him she was like a creature out of this world! Her long hair was damp after her bath. Her hands were slender and covered with gold and glass bangles and her small feet had heavy silver anklets.

“What is your name” he asked her as he wiped his mouth with the end of his turban.

“Radha” she said dimpling into a smile.

  “Do you have any letters for me”? she asked him

   “Let me see..What is your father’s name”  he asked

    “Thakur Ramdhari Singh. But I asked you if there was any letter for me- Radha Singh” she said mischievously

     “Do you know to read? Letters are only written to those who can” he said with a grin

     “Oh, I know the alphabets. I can manage” she said smiling.

     He didn’t know how to answer that because it was very rare for a girl to know how to read. He continued to look at her and she returned his look, holding his gaze until one of the other girls called out to her.

And thus had begun the most beautiful part of his running career! He would reach the river bank and wait for her, hidden behind the trees as she made her way there with her pot of water and a small bundle of left over food from the night before. She would sit quietly smiling and watch him eat. He felt very cherished  and cared for. No one, not even his mother had ever sat with him and served him food like she did. He usually ate by himself near the cow shed behind his hut.

He was sometimes worried that her friends would find out about them. But she told him “Don’t be afraid. They won’t come here”

He wondered what she had told them. It was a risk that they were taking. As a Yadav he could be killed by the Thakurs for even looking at one of their girls. But it was a risk worth taking. He suddenly felt that he had wings on his feet as he left every night. The stones and thorns no longer hurt them. He ran swinging his spear like he was dancing.

But tonight was not another night. It was a very special one.

Bhola was very happy as he cut through the darkness. He had saved money over the past few months and bought her some glass bangles from the village fair. He had wanted to give her something for Diwali. Along with the bangles there was something else in his bag. There was a piece of parchment on which he had scrawled carefully the words “Bhola” and ”Radha” .  He knew how to write his name. The Babu at the “Daak Chowki” at Palampur had taught him that. It had taken him some time to identify the alphabets in her name and now he felt very happy that he had been able to write their names together. He smiled as he thought about how he would tell her today that he had a letter for her. Wasn’t that what she always asked ?

His feet flew along with the bells on them jangling. The dogs were howling in a village as he ran past it. It was past midnight and he had another three hours of running to do. He felt impatient as he increased his pace..!  The earlier he reached the river bank the better it was. They had to meet before the sun came out and spoilt it.

Bhola kept running.  He looked at the marking stone at the side of the road and knew he was only an hour away now. He ran on, through the jungle and the clearing before he reached the green banks of the river flowing outside the small town of Palampur.

He made his way behind to their usual spot behind the tree . She was waiting for him. She looked ethereal.. like a fairy! He wanted to crush her in his arms but he held himself back.

“Look what I have brought for you” he said taking out the bangles and waving them towards her.

She tried to grab them as he moved away. She chased him as he ran around the tree laughing. This went on for a couple of minutes before he stopped suddenly and turned around to face her. Before she could stop on her tracks she found herself colliding against him. He pulled her towards him and brought his face down towards hers. Their thudding hearts collided against each other as time stood still.

He searched inside his bag and brought out the piece of parchment. “look here is your letter”. She took it from his hand hid it inside her blouse.

Did he imagine it or were there tears in her eyes?

“I have to go now Bhola” she whispered. Why was her voice breaking like that ?

 “What is it Radha? Why are you so sad? We will meet again tomorrow. Won’t we?” he asked

“No Bhola. Not anymore . My parents are arranging my gauna ( a ceremony denoting consummation of marriage. )  My uncle came yesterday from my inlaws house. He says they will be coming on Diwali and will take me back with them immediately after” she said sobbing.

“You mean.. you are married?” he asked with his mouth open

 “Ofcourse! What do you expect. I am fifteen years old. I was married ten years ago” she said

Bhola felt as though he had been turned into stone. He did not know what to say. He stared ahead into the eastern horizon that  was slowly turning rosy as Arun the charioteer of the Sun God drove his master through the clouds. And then Sun God looked out of the  white fluffy clouds  in his full red gold brilliance!

For the first time since he knew her,  Bhola saw his beloved in the morning light . A petite, dusky girl with hair until her ankles. The vermilion in her parting was as red as the sun in the sky.

His last image of her was a red veil flying in the morning breeze as she turned away from him and merged into the greenery.

The Dak babu at the Palampur Daak Chowki was a very kind man. He insisted  that Bhola personally deliver the letter to Thakur Ramdhari Singh. “It brings good news about his daughter’s gauna. He will give you bakshish ( a  reward/ tip)  . You can use the money to add another cow to your herd. Your father will be very happy.”

( This is my first attempt at writing a story set  in Central India, a hundred years ago.  Though I did do some research on this, let me warn you that the story may not be historically very accurate. The “Dak harkaras” or mail runners had been there since the time  organized postal services were introduced by Shershah Suri in the 15th /16th century. The British East India company  continued with the “Runner” services. This story is inspired by a beautiful Bengali song about the Runner. There is also a famous novel in Bengali  by Tarashankar Bandopadhayay on the “Dak Harkara” or runner. This is by no means anything as good as that song or the novel. This is just a humble attempt at bringing to life a person whose occupation always fascinated me. )









A Moment in Time

Scented Flower Seeds Parijaat Or Harsingar - Small Ornamental Tree With Fragrant White Flowers Heat Resistant Flower Seeds Seeds Kitchen Garden Seeds Pack By Creative FarmerIt was a windy night…. My hair was blowing across my face. It was difficult to see anything clearly. I sensed that I was at a river bank by the dampness in the air and the soft gurgling sound of water.

The moon was playing hide and seek in the clouds.  The ground was grassy and damp with dew and there was the unmistakable fragrance of parijat flowers hanging in the air.

I closed my eyes and breathed  deeply, taking in the fragrance.

Where was this? How did I get here?

And then I heard it… the most melodious sound ever….! A flute playing.

I walked along the banks of the river , cutting through the velvety darkness towards the sound using my ears to guide me. What was the  tune  I wondered.. ? It seemed so familiar yet  so mysterious. My feet felt cool as they sank into the damp grass.

And then suddenly the surroundings lit up. I looked up at the sky. The moon was beautiful and silvery in a way I have never seen before. It seemed just a touch away.

The music sounded closer …. I walked faster and faster…. until I saw him!

Silhouetted against the moonlight under the Parijat tree sat the flutist. He was dark and muscular . His  curly hair blowing in the wind as his  lips and fingers made magic out of  a  bamboo stick.

He seemed to sense my presence as he opened his eyes – the most beautiful pair that I have ever seen,  almond shaped ,with long eye lashes.

And then I felt the universe lighting up as he slowly parted his lips and smiled at me.

“Come here” he said extending his hand towards me. I grasped those long fingers looking at them with wonder.  He pulled me on to carpet of Parijat flowers lying on the ground. I stumbled , missing my step,  falling clumsily on his lap

His skin felt cool and smooth. I could sense the sinewy muscles under it.

“Who are you?” I asked as I rested my head on his broad shoulders.

“The one who you have been seeking” he said with a laugh.

“ Really? I do not remember” I said in wonder.

“ Think…..!  haven’t I always been on your mind?  Don’t you speak to me wordlessly” he asked again.

His breath was now on my face and it was driving me crazy. I felt my senses race as I closed my eyes.

His fingers were  moving my hair off my face. His breath tickled my ears as he whispered


Sakhi… friend! Who was he? I do not remember ever having a male friend much less communicating wordlessly with him.

My senses were playing havoc with my thoughts. I felt his fingers caress my neck. Every part of my being was now tingling!

His face was very close to mine now and as I opened my eyes I became a prisoner.. lost in the depths of his eyes. I moved my hands over  his face feeling the perfection of his bones. His hair was soft and I buried my fingers in them.

“What are we doing?” I whispered , bringing my face close to his.

“Celebrating our love” he said .. his sensuous lips almost on mine.

Is this love, I wondered? This yearning for something,.. for  someone?

Was I capable of igniting love in anyone I wondered? I have always been told that I was cold, unemotional, and unremarkable in every way.

“Love is not about the physical form” he said reading my thoughts. “ Love is the inner beauty, a divine light. Few people can see it”

“Can you see it” I asked him in wonder

“ I can see everything Sakhi. The inside, the outside, the real and the false” he said smiling at me.

“ When did you start loving me?” I asked him.

“ When you were entered this universe” he said with a laugh

“ You knew me when I was born? How old are you?” I asked in wonder

“ Oh, I am old.. and also young. It depends on how you see me” he said.

“ How should I see you?” I asked him

“That is up to you. I can be your friend, your lover,  your protector. I am part of you.” he said

“ Will you come with me?” I asked him getting up and trying to pull him

“ You don’t have to ask me that because I have always been with you and will continue to be with you ? Your welfare is my concern ” he said looking into my eyes

“Really? How will I know” I asked

“Oh you will know” he said smiling at me before taking up the flute once again. I closed my eyes as strains of Raag Bhairavi filled the air.

The wind was blowing gently now. My eyelids were drooping with sleep. The smell of parijat filled the air as I sank my head into the softness of his shoulders.

The music stopped after some time and the last words I heard were his as they whispered into my ears “Sleep in peace dear friend. I am awake”


It was 6.00 AM and the alarm was shrieking!! .  I got up from the bed and looked at my husband’s  sleeping form beside me.  Some people would call him overweight placid and middle aged. The same people would probably also call me skinny  and shrewish.

We were the typical middle class  Indian couple who plodded through life working diligently at boring nine to five jobs to make enough money to build on their material dreams- paying for home loans, car loans, saving for their child’s education and their old age.

“Well life beckons” I thought as I went into the bathroom and squeezed toothpaste on to my brush.

I looked at the woman staring at me out of the bathroom mirror. Who was she? She seemed like a stranger. Why was her skin so flushed and her hair so wild? The grey strands seemed invisible in the light reflecting off the mirror.

What had happened to her during the night?, I wondered as I combed my hair and knotted it in place. Middle aged fantasies I suppose, coming out the desire to hold on to a fast ebbing youth …

I went back to the bedroom  and  started to wake  up my husband. He turned around with a groan and pulled the covers over his head. I gave up and  started tidying up my side of the bed.

And then just as I moved the pillows I saw  them  ……….. a handful of  parijat flowers strewn  below!


(Nyctanthes arbor-tristis (Night-flowering Jasmine), known commonly as the parijat, is a species of Nyctanthes nativeto South Asia and Southeast Asia. It  is a shrub or a small tree growing to 10 m (33 ft) tall, with flaky grey bark.)





The love letter

It was publicly posted on face book. Addressed to an unknown woman.

Strange….Usually one hears about unsigned love letters sent by anonymous admirers. However a public declaration of love to an unnamed woman… this was certainly a first!

But then, Aniket had always been like that! A genius bordering on madness…the kinder ones called him gifted, those who were  less kind called him eccentric.

But what a lovely letter it was…

My dearest Soulmate-. my anchor in this stormy sea of life.

You fill my thoughts with your presence, your voice whispers words in my ears every waking moment of my life. It has been nearly two decades since we parted but it seems like yesterday. Memories  vivid like photographs are etched inside my head. Your smile, that fleeting touch of your hand ,the sound of your voice, the softness of your lips  and the fragrance of our bodies together

Can we bridge the time lost?  Can you spare me a day from your life?  A day that will help me tide through my mundane existence? Tell me yes… come meet me tomorrow – let the supermoon –blue and bloodied be our witness. “

Inside an investment bank in Mumbai

Reena was shaken when she read it… Had he really not forgotten her? Theirs had been a brief relationship at the university.  He had been a difficult man to deal with.. a brilliant physicist with a gift for music. He could play the violin like no one else she knew. Long walks on the beach punctuated by silences that spoke for themselves. A lovely ‘in the moment’ feeling but with no future.

Her phone was ringing.

“Hey Reena, did you see that message of Aniket on facebook?” asked Meenakshi excitedly.

“ Yes “ said Reena cautiously, wondering how much did Meenakshi know about their relationship.

“  You know, I think I can tell you now. I never realized that he was so affected by what happened between us” said Meenakshi breathlessly

“What did happen between the two of you ? “ asked Reena – mother of twins, ashamed after so many years, for  feeling that  sharp pain of jealousy when she heard this

“Umm it was mostly physical.. but definitely an out of the world experience” said Meenakshi in a dreamy voice.

Reena was finding it hard to breathe!! Meenakshi, the very traditional Marwari bahu living in a joint family had had a physical relationship with Aniket!!!

“Are you kidding?” she asked her disbelievingly

“Ofcourse not!!! It was not something I planned. It just happened one evening and then well…it went on for a while until I got engaged” said Meenakshi matter of factly.

So he was two timing her!! Reena wondered if she should tell Meenakshi about her relationship with Aniket. But before she could say anything Meenakshi herself brought it up” Reena I am sorry I know you were interested in him but then passion is not something that knows reason.. It has a life of its own” said Meenakshi before she hung up.

Reena was finding it difficult to breathe! Had she been a fool to keep their relationship at a platonic level? Should she have yielded to him physically? For the first time in her forty three years she felt she had been a fool on that score….!!

Somewhere near Kodikarai in Tamilnadu

Radhika had logged on to the internet with some difficultly. She wanted to update her face book page on Carnatic music. Just as she was scrolling down the home page she saw the message..! “Has it indeed been two decades?” she wondered. To her it seemed like it was yesterday when they had met.

A student from the music college and daughter of a renowned Carnatic musician she was a violin player with a lot of promise. When she had got admission for the one year course on music  appreication at Cambridge university, she had had to fight tooth and nail with her traditional family to allow her to go there.

But how glad she was that she went there. It had opened up to her a world that she never knew existed. Music that she had never heard before and the freedom to experiment with compositions . She had met people who were so different from her and yet so similar in their talent and love for music..

And then there was Aniket…!!!

Whenever she thought about it now, she always put it down to the madness of youth and new found freedom….! But sometimes, just sometimes she wondered if it was not destiny that brought them together? Otherwise what was it that drew a very traditional Tamil girl from Chennai to near genius Astrophysics major who had in his own words “randomly “ enrolled for a course on music appreciation.

“Instant chemistry” was not a word that did adequate justice to what happened to the two of them. She found herself spending more and more time in his company and before long she moved in with him. If there had been a love that bridged the physical, emotional and the spiritual it was theirs!

And then it was time for her to return to India. She was faced with the difficult choice of staying there with her love or coming back to continue with her musical tradition. And finally music won over the mortal and she was back in Chennai – a changed person .

She continued with her music but not through public performances. She set up a school along the coast where she taught music to the children from the coastal villages. Her music combined the sound of the waves with the songs of the fishermen. She wrote about her experiments with folk and traditional music.

She often wondered what was happening with Aniket. They had been in touch off and on through social media. He was following her page on music and she sometimes read his comments and observations on her posts. She heard he had been married and divorced. Maya… yes, that was his wife’s name….She was secretly happy that it had not worked for him. She herself was not married. She had not been able to bring herself to accept another man in her life.

 Outside the Kennedy space Centre, Florida

Maya walked into the coffee shop and ordered a glass of cold mocha. She took out her phone from her bag, checked her email  and then slowly scrolled down the messages and the notifications from the various social media apps. Emily had sent her screen shot of a facebook post from Aniket with the message “ Look at this Maya, Come on , talk to him. He wants to make up”. Maya shook her head slowly…! It had been a painful experience, this separation from him but she was slowly coming to terms with it. Marriage to him had been a roller coaster ride- both the highs and the lows affecting her equally. He had seemed to be everything that a woman wanted in a man- brilliant , talented and charming. But she had realized soon that men like Aniket could not be domesticated. He was a free spirited person and marriage was restricting him. She had tried her best to be open to his need for freedom. But there was a limit .. she was hurting emotionally from his dalliances and then one day she had decided to talk to him about making a choice between commitment and freedom. He had chosen freedom and she had given that to him. It had taken her a long time to come to terms with it but she had managed towards the end.. And now , this …! Could it be true that he was asking to meet her?

31st January, 2018,  Chandipur on sea, Odisha

Dr. Aniket Sen, walked slowly along the beach looking at the moon coming out the shadow of the earth. A celestial occurrence that happened rarely…! He looked out at the sea… shimmering in the moon light. He could hear a violin play in the background. She was beckoning to him from across the universe… He wondered what her name was? Reena, Meenakshi, Maya or Radhika?”  He saw her rise out of the sea and walk towards him…! He smiled and stretched out his hands . The words played in his mind

lBue moon you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for 
Someone I really could care for
And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will ever hold

Yes they were going to be together finally!

3rd February 2018

The newspapers carried a long obituaries  about him.

“A brilliant astrophysicist who had done phenomenal work on mapping the surfaces of the moon and studying its atmosphere” … “ A genius who had contributed to India’s space program”

But to the four women who attended his funeral he continued to  remain an enigma



The Co Passenger ( Concluding part)


Image result for Indian girl sitting by train windowPriya woke up when she heard the local commuters asking her to move so they could sit down. She sat up on her seat and looked out. It was nearly 7.00 AM. The train was slated to reach Mumbai by the afternoon. She took out her phone from her hand bag. There were two missed calls from her father.

“Oh God. what is it now” she thought worriedly as she dialled back. Her father picked up almost immediately

“Priya, what is this I hear?” asked her father

“What have you heard?” asked Priya wondering whether it was Smita or Srikant who had spoken to her parents.

“Smita told us all about what that husband of yours has been doing to you! How come you never told us anything about this?” he asked

‘I wasn’t sure how you would take it’ she muttered.

“What did you take us for. Do you think, we are the sort of parents who would force you back into an unhappy marriage” he asked her angrily.

She could have hugged him for that, had he been in front of her!

“Listen, you mother and I are both coming to Mumbai by this afternoon flight. We should be at Smita’s house by early evening. We will discuss the matter in detail there. Smita told me she knows of some good lawyers who can help with the divorce. Meanwhile stay calm. All will be well” he said before hanging up.

All will be well… wasn’t that also what Nandini had said? She looked for Nandini on the opposite berth. There seemed to be no trace of her.

“Where is the lady on that seat” she asked the woman on the upper berth.

“What lady? I do not remember seeing anyone here except you and the two vendors in the next bay” said the woman.

She wondered if Nandini was in the toilet or had moved to some other part of the coach. She made her way  up to the end of the compartment but there was no trace of her.

“I guess she must have got down en route” thought Priya.  It was funny how she had not actually told her where she was going. All she had said was she was going “home”.

Priya wondered where that was. She had said that her brothers had not accepted her back at their place. Did she mean that she was going back to her husband? She hoped not. But what else would “home” mean?

She felt guilty about not showing more empathy towards Nandini. Maybe she could have asked to come along with her. But she was so caught up in her own grief and psychological trauma that no one else’s pain seemed to matter.

The train was approaching a station. She decided she would get down there, find a tap and wash her face. The toilet inside the train looked too dirty to be used.

The train was pulling into the Daund junction. She requested the lady sitting next to her to watch her suitcase as she got down at the station. The ladies waiting room was just opposite her coach.

She quickly went in, used the toilet and washed her face, using the wet tissue from her bag to clean herself up as best as she could. She combed her hair and went back into the platform. There was a boy selling newspapers. She bought an English newspaper from him and made her way towards the coach.

The engine was hooting as she hurried into the coach, making her way toward her seat. She took out the newspaper scanning through the pages. It was the Gulbarga edition of the paper. Lot of local news. Even the political news appeared to be very local.

She was just going to turn the page when a photograph caught her attention. A small black and white picture of a young woman who seemed eerily familiar with a tiny write up below it “A  28  year old woman identified as Nandini Reddy committed suicide by throwing herself under the Udyan express near Adoni yesterday. Police are investigating”

Priya’s hands froze. If this was true, then who had boarded the train yesterday?

Who was the Nandini who had encouraged her to believe in herself and boosted her the confidence to make an important decision regarding her life?

The wind was blowing strongly through the window and before she could stop it, the page detached itself from the rest of the newspaper and flew out of the window. Priya tried to catch it but it was too late.

Did she imagine it or was that Nandini’s profile that she saw for a split second resting against the window opposite? And yes.. what was it that she had said ……?

“All will be well”


( Image from the internet)



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)

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