Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Last Goodbye



I was sitting by my window, gazing at the gray clouds outside when my phone started buzzing. I froze for a second after seeing her name on the screen. My heart started pounding faster and I could feel my breath becoming rapid as I answered her call.

The line on the other side was still. I waited for her to respond to my hello but it never came. If she was thinking this was a bad idea, she might’ve hung up by now. But she had something else in mind. “Café. 20 minutes.” And she hung up.

The ominous gray clouds had begun to trickle down now. What a morose setting for a meeting with your ex, I thought to myself. Even God couldn’t pull up his act for this painful task like this.

The café used to be “our hangout place” back in college. It was our ‘Central Perk’ and nobody got the squishy couch but us. As years passed by, the visits to the café became a rarity. Friends who occupied those seats, moved away to different cities to pursue their dreams. The ones, who stayed close by, grew apart with time. And she grew apart the most.

I picked up an umbrella and navigated my way through the little streams of water that were flowing down the street now. I lived just two blocks away from the café. I passed by it every day, always with a heart burdened of all those memories that made me never enter this place again. I loved the time we’d spent here, but there was nothing here that I could relate to anymore. The faces behind the counter had changed, the squishy couch was gone, masala chai was off the menu. This place was as ridiculous as the idea of meeting her here after all these years.

I sat by the window, gazing outside at the still traffic. The raindrops on the glass scattered the light across the walls of the café, making it look more mystical than it was.

She came in 10 minutes late and sat down silently. Her face was covered with a scarf, something I’d seen her do from the first day I had met her. She never traveled without a scarf. We didn’t share pleasantries. I kept looking at her as she fidgeted with her bag, trying to find something and failing at it. She finally managed to pull out a white envelope and handed it to me. She’d scribbled my name on it with a glittery pink pen. How nice! Something’s never change: like her love for glittery pens and my disgust for them.

She instructed me to read it once she was gone. I thought she wanted to avoid unnecessary drama and kept the envelope aside. She ordered hot chocolate for herself and sent the waiter away. I called him back and asked for a cappuccino. If she felt bad about what she was doing, it clearly didn’t show on her face.

We drank our drinks in silence, looking anywhere but at each other. Perhaps we’d seen each other so closely that now we couldn’t even stand each other’s sight. She put down her cup and leaned forward. “I just wanted you to know that this is the last time we’re meeting. I’m not going to be in touch henceforth.”

I leaned back in my chair, a bit outraged, a bit relieved. “Sure. Suit yourself”, I said.

She pushed her seat back, stood up and asked me to get up. I asked her, “For what joy?”

“Just get up, will you?”

I reluctantly rose to my feet as she came over to my chair and pulled me into a hug so tight that I’d never known she was capable of. I dropped the act and gave in, cherishing this momentarily collapse of reasons and walls between us. Everything that stood between our egos had melted and I simply wanted to revel in this moment’s glory. I don’t know how long we stood there entranced. I don’t know what people in the café or out on the street thought about us. I had her in my arms, and that’s all that mattered.

And then she released her grasp. My shoulder had been soaked in what seemed like silent tears. Her eyes were red, with tiny droplets still rolling down her cheeks. I didn’t know what the hell was happening here. Was this a good? Or was this bad?

She quickly wiped the tears off the edge of a napkin, regained her composure and walked away. She stopped at the door, turned around, smiled and melted away into the crowd outside. I stood rooted to the spot, unsure of what had just happened. After what seemed like minutes, I sat down and found the envelope lying on the table. I opened it and out fell a card. I didn’t have to read it to understand what it was. She was getting married. I didn’t read the groom’s name or the date but knew she truly meant to say bye this time.

My stony façade crumbled inside. All the days I’d lied to myself that I didn’t need her, were staring back at me and mocking me. All the nights I’d forced myself to not think of her, were casting their dark shadows on me. My act was good only till the time she played along. But now, now she was gone. And I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t call her back.

She was gone. And that last smile kept returning back to my mind, flashing before my eyes. I threw the card in a dustbin near the exit and walked out without my umbrella. The rain was pouring harder than ever before. Seems like God did have a trick or two up his sleeve after all. I cried as the raindrops melted my tears. The walk home was going to be painful and lonely one. After all, that’s what last goodbyes do to you, right?

The Undying Muse



She walked into the room with the elegance of a doe. Slowly, navigating through the crowd, she took carefully calculated steps. I fumbled with my fingers and glued my eyes to the floor. Meeting her was never easy, especially when she was dressed in her best.

I didn’t look up till the time she came beside me and reached out to say hi. With a dumbstruck look of awe, I wished her back and shook her hand. Those few seconds that her fingertips brushed against mine, I relived a million times when I’d taken her touch for granted. Something inside me squirmed and cursed me for what I’d done to her. 

She loved being around people. I wasn’t too sure if I deserved a seat at this table anymore. But then again, who else deserved a seat here more than me?

She waltzed through the crowd, gathering gazes at her peach colored dress and bright face. I walked in her wake, wishing that this day may never end. She turned back, summoned me to walk beside her to meet the bride. I quietly agreed. These were a few moments of solitude that I would not want to miss out for anything in the world. 

She returned to the table to sit with the others. I stood around, nervously gazing at her every now and then. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of months now and she looked stunning today. She was beautiful. She didn’t believe that because her cousin told her so, but I had expressed my disagreement over her cousin’s statement the first time I heard her say that. And that belief grew stronger over time. She was beautiful. Her eyes glimmered every time she smiled. She’d roll her head slightly back and reach out to give you a high-five every time she burst into laughter. Her nostrils would flare up a tiny bit every time she’d get angry. Her eyes would moisten up every time she felt pain, but she’ll be quick enough to wipe it off with the edge of her sleeve. She was beautiful. And I loved her, regardless of what she thought about herself.

She was hungry, but not enough to get a plate for herself. She insisted on eating out of a friend’s plate. There was a time when that plate would’ve been mine, but not anymore. She wouldn’t even sit next to me today. Perhaps, I’d pushed her too far away to expect her to be around me. Perhaps. 

We walked her to the car. She promised she’ll meet before she left in the evening. We waved goodbyes and went home. She reached the train station an hour before her train was scheduled to depart. We reached two minutes before ours. She said she’ll come meet us, but the train departed even before she could climb the stairs to the other platform.

There were no promises made that night of meeting again soon. For we both knew in our hearts that we had come a long way from making and keeping promises. She’ll be married in the coming few months and I’ll probably lose my one real true love that I’d ever had. But the blame’s not on her. She was always the more loving and caring one. I, on the other hand, was the reckless, insensitive fool. She’d had enough of troubles with me by her side and perhaps this was to be the turn of the tide for her. Perhaps her ‘happily ever after’ story begins with my exit from the scene. 

But, to an emotionally twisted person like me, there’s no way I’ll ever let her off the hook completely. In my years to come, I’ll always remember her for the times she gave me strength when I had lost hope, for all the times she helped me get up when I’d hit rock bottom. Apart from a distant dream of being around her, words are all I have. And in my words, I’ll never let her go away. She’ll forever be my undying muse, till death does us apart.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rage, rage against the dying of the light


Poems were never my area of interest. Forget writing one, I could never even bring myself to understand how people could love them. Give me prose over poetry any day and I’ll be happy. And that feeling still stands true to this day. Nonetheless, I’ve somehow grown to understand that not all poetry is boring, or full of rhyming words and alliterations. No, that’s definitely not the case. And it took me a better half of two decades to reach to that conclusion.

In late 2014, Christopher Nolan came out with a movie on space travel – Interstellar. First things first, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’ve missed out on a spectacular visual treat. Also, we shouldn’t really be friends. As the movie progresses, Michael Caine happens to read out a poem to Matthew McConaughey that plummets the movie’s plot into a deeper chasm. Now it may all sound to hyperbolic but you have to see the movie and let its background score do all the magic while the poem sinks in. Oh yes, that poem, and even that oration, is as beautiful as dark it is. 

As it may be clear by now, I’m no poem aficionado and so all that I remember of that poem are these opening lines:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 

A bit fatalistic right? Well, that’s how I like it. Anyhow, here’s the full poem for you:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Honestly, I don’t even fully understand what the poet is trying to say here. That’s the primary reason why I never really liked poems. They’re like a puzzle within a puzzle, and too complicated for my taste. Anyhow, so the poem is a little dark and confusing, but it somehow makes perfect sense when you are watching the movie.

I’m still skeptical about poetry because everybody says it’s so good and yet all I can see is a bunch of fancy words stuck together across small paragraphs of 2-3 lines. And then you have sonnets and whatnot! However, I’m trying to change this illusion and would love it if you can send across a couple of your favorite poems – the ones that make sense to a reader like me.

And no, this is not a thought-provoking piece that will make you ponder over something life-changing. This was just a thought itching in my head that I had to reach out to and give a good scratch. There you have it. Go on now, off to whatever you are supposed to be doing. Farewell.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Mystical 'She'

She sucks the life out of you and blows it back with the salty sea breeze. She’s make sure that you stand for at least an hour in half a square inch of space and then sit tight on a cushioned chair for 8 hours every day. She’ll make you wait at signals for 60 seconds and feel like a sloth. And before the signal turns green, you would’ve instantly transformed into a cheetah, leaping forward on its prey by pushing the accelerator with all your strength. She would make you slurp exotic wines and taste the world’s best sushi while hungry infants would look at you from the other side of the glass with eyes that have forgotten when the last meal had touched their lips.

She would make you stand in a queue to offer prayers to your favorite deity and then kick a dog on its face the moment you step outside the temple. She would make you clean your lips with a soft tissue paper after a filling meal and then let you color the road red with your Benarsi paan. She would let you set your foot on a half a kilometer long walkway that is overflowing with beggars, hungry children, disabled persons, and people in need of dire medical attention, to get to the holy shrine where you may ask for God’s blessings for your family. She will let you spend lakhs on a private card game on the festival of lights and also offer you the courage to shoo away your peon when he asks for financial assistance to wed his daughter.

She will give you strength, honesty, courage, faith, and everything that’s noble. But, she will not forget to give you what makes these things noble in the first place. She will give you the best of both worlds since that’s her curse and her boon. She’s a mother, who loves her child dearly and also has the power to remind him who’s in control. She’s a gypsy who attracts people from distant lands and then vanishes in thin air. She has the power to change a lot of things, including your destiny. She never abandons you, but she never owns you completely. For her, you are as good as the next person thinking of her. She willingly accepts all that come to her, and never complains. And then, there are only a handful who ever dare to break free from her spell. For it’s a spell that brings down the mightiest, the wealthiest, and the poorest.

O to break away from here is painful! The one who has kept you close to her, like a mother hugging her child. It’s as difficult as snapping the umbilical cord and leaving your mother behind. She will eventually forget you, for she is busy as never before. But will you ever let her go completely?

Will you ever be able to forget the evenings where you cried your eyes out over a broken relationship and she silently saw you from the corner of her eye? Would you ever let go of the nights that you spent with your friends on noisy bikes while she warranted your safe return home? Would you ever forget that she always fed you, whether it was 3 in the noon or 3 in the night? I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

Breaking away from your mother can never be easy. No, she may not have given you birth, but nonetheless, she’s shaped you to be what you are today. After all, who else does so much for anyone? Yes, she’s your mother. She’s my mother too. There’s no wonder why they gave her that name. Yes, her last name was rather fancy and the new one sounds like its been taken from a 17th century book. Some even say that the new name is just a gimmick to appease the locals. I don’t buy that. I think the new name speaks volumes about what she does for you.

Mumbai.

For the elite SoBo’s, she’s a mum. For the middle-class suburban’s, she’s baa. And for those barely hanging onto her from far flung corners of the island city, she’s aai! Bombay was a cool name, no doubt, but it lacked a personality, a certain charisma that only Mumbai can possess.

From the dark alleys that are littered with hand-carts to the halogen-lit flyovers that are packed with never-moving traffic; from a sea that offers solace to lovers while staring at sunsets on Marine Drive, to letting people thrive on the fringes of the literal black joke called Mithi river, Mumbai is full of ironies.

A line from Hotel California, a very famous song by The Eagles, aptly describes Mumbai and its relation with anybody who has ever lived in this crazy city:

Relax, said the night man. We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

If this doesn’t resonate with you, you’ve probably never known the city. But if it does, remember that you may take a (wo)man out of Mumbai, but you can never take Mumbai out of a (wo)man!

In conclusion, ghabru naka! Aani gheun tak, Mumbai ishtyle!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tehzeeb aur Nazakat

College days are undoubtedly the best days of one's life. You make friends, fall in love, bunk classes, take trips together, study a night before exams and eventually help your friends pass the examination. Those golden years of life also bring about a change in one's thought process, and build onto the character that will stay for the rest of the life.

Your company pretty much defines who you are. It's only wise to choose the right friends, while you still have the choice. I was more than lucky to have landed up with my bunch of friends in college. You may hail from the most diverse backgrounds but if your thoughts match, you’ll stick together.

It was these similar thoughts that brought Yetoo and me together. We belonged to the same region, but different religions. And yet somehow, our thoughts made us the best of buddies. We were practically of the same age group, have had similar relationship experiences in the past, and even preferred the same kind of girls.

It was during one of such conversations when we came unto the topic of what qualities a girl should ideally have. Good looks, yes. Smartness, yes. Sense of humor, yes! But above all, a girl should have tehzeeb and nazakat.

Sounds alien? Let me break it down for you. Both these words are derived from Urdu and are rather difficult to explain in English, but let’s give it a try.

Tehzeeb means something close to being ‘well-mannered.’ This includes your conduct with elders as well as young ones. A woman with tehzeeb knows how to respect others and thus wins hearts without trying.

Nazakat means delicacy. Of course, a woman should have a strong willpower and thoughts, but what makes her a lady in the first place is her delicacy. Her ability to be strong on the inside and yet somewhat tender on the outside is just another display of her multifaceted personality.

While I’m writing this post, Yetoo and I have moved to different cities. It shouldn’t be a shocker if our thoughts have changed with times. However, I still look forward to tehzeeb and nazakat in the woman I fall in love with, and hope Yetoo has found it in someone by now.

While this post may sound patronizing or sexist to some, it certainly wasn’t meant to be that way. It’s just an idea of what two young boys wanted in the girls they fell in love with. If this offends you in any way, please accept my apologies.

A Fragrance Lost in the Cold Night

I’m sitting shotgun and nervously gazing in the rear mirror. We have stopped right after crossing the signal over the underpass and are waiting for her to arrive. It’s almost a year since I last saw her. Things have changed between then and now. 

Last to last winter had been a little harsh, particularly for her. As Christmas approached, the love in my heart fizzled out and I decided to break up with her. We met on Christmas Eve in a park nearby. She tried reasoning with me, but I did not budge. She accepted the fate of the failed relationship silently with tears. As I walked her to the train, she asked me to buy her a rose for one last time. I was particularly against buying these knick-knacks and often denied her an occasional flower or chocolate, calling it as something that only smitten teenagers do. However, I couldn’t pull up the courage to say no and break her heart again. I brought a rose and gave it to her. She took it smilingly and smelled it before walking ahead. 

We walked the last few meters together before she got into her train, but kept standing at the door. It was almost past rush hour and the train was relatively empty. I knew she wasn’t going to go inside and sit, so I didn’t pursue her. As the train gave a whistle and started moving ahead, tears started streaming down her cheeks again. The train had left the station but I could still see her waving back at me, while growing smaller and smaller. Eventually, the train took a turn and disappeared around the corner. I turned and walked back home, relieved but broken. That night, I cried. And I’m sure she must’ve wept her way to sleep.

It’s winter again. Christmas is 3 days away. It’s a mutual friend’s birthday and we are waiting for her to arrive. It’s been 362 days since she boarded that train and disappeared into the night. I see her approaching from the corner and steal a second to gaze at her before others notice her. She reaches the car, pulls open the door and slides into the backseat. Pleasantries are exchanged with everybody but me. I try playing cool and ignore her. Obviously, she notices it but doesn’t mention it. For the next half an hour that we are in the car, not a word is exchanged between us. I start to feel a little uncomfortable, as well as guilty for abandoning her. Thankfully, there are mutual friends around and it’s not all that suffocating.

As we enter the village themed restaurant on the outskirts of the city, my mind goes back three years when we all were here. There’s a certain gloominess in this evening that wasn’t there three years ago. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in between then and now.

However, we aren’t here for all that. We are here for mutual friends and that friendly love still holds us both together. I enjoy the evening by being as normal I can be. She does the same. We all are having a good time – dancing, laughing, and pulling each others leg. And it’s time for dinner.

As we enter the wide dining hall, coincidentally, we both end up sitting next to each other. After the past two hours of laughing and chatting, it’s not that uncomfortable anymore. I smile at her and she smiles back. For a fleeting moment, it feels like old times again. I’m glad I came for this trip. And I hope she is too.

A cold breeze flows through the open windows and she starts shivering. Whatever she’s wearing looks good,  but is certainly no good against this cold. I offer her my jacket but she refuses. I insist, and she finally accepts.

She takes a long look at my jacket and smiles. “I always loved this jacket,” she says.

“I know,” I reply, before returning to my plate.

She wraps the jacket around herself and starts having her food. We speak a few more times during the meal. I tease her for eating too little, and she teases me for eating too much. Our friends, who are sitting on either side of us, glance at us and smile. I’m too busy having a good time with her to worry about them.

Post dinner, we all head back to the car. Only this time, I’m sitting in the backseat, right next to her. I make few small talks before we drop off everybody to their house. She’s the last one to be dropped off in this part of the city before we head back to our place. As my friend pulls up the car around her house, she pushes a white envelope in my hand. “Open this when I leave,” she says and returns my jacket. For a second, she looks me in the eye and then opens the door and walks away. 

We watch her get into her building and then head back home ourselves. As it turns out later, she has passed out similar white envelopes to everybody in the car. So, maybe I’m not that special anymore. Well, it would be wrong of me to expect her to treat me specially anyways. What a fool I’d be to think of that happening.

Once we reach home, I tear open the envelope and find a pen with my name etched on it. A folded paper accompanies the pen. My heart skips a beat as I make wild guesses about its contents and open it, only to find that it’s blank. She put in a blank paper along with the pen! I feel like laughing and crying at the same time but end up staring at the piece of paper, hoping for words to materialize on it. They don’t.

My friend walks in and asks what was written on my letter. I show him the blank page and he asks me, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It probably means that there is nothing left to say anymore,” I reply, sounding like a hopeless romantic.

My friend looks at my face and starts laughing so hard that he falls off from the couch. I join him too and let the blank paper drift onto the floor. 

My trip has ended and I must head back to my city now. I’ve packed, said my goodbyes and boarded the overnight bus to my city. It’s a little cold in the bus and I pull out my jacket to wear it, only to find that it’s smells different. It is then that I remember that she was the last one to wear it. I smile and pull the jacket a little closer, not feeling so bad about that blank piece of letter anymore. 

As the bus journeys south through the night, her fragrance fills my senses and takes me back to that cold winter night 365 days ago. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have let her board that train while tears still ran down her cheeks. Perhaps, I should’ve brought her more roses while I still had the chance. Perhaps, I should’ve given us another chance. Now all I have left is a jacket that she once wore. 

It’s another cold winter night tonight and she’s hundreds of miles away from me, oblivious to the fact that it’s been so long that I can’t even remember her scent anymore. Her fragrance has drifted away into this cold night, leaving me shivering and alone, deserted with nothing but the hope of finding her trail again.