Monday, June 27, 2011

Anything for honor

“Where am I? What am I doing here?”

I opened my eyes slowly as the place I was in started coming into focus. I was lying in the foyer of a house. The whole scene looked as if a battle had taken place recently. Some chairs were overturned and some were broken.

I tried to get to my feet. Was I hurt? As I started to regain my footing, a dull pain started to spread through my ribs. Yes, I was hurt, but not fatally. My bulk has saved me from a serious injury. It was a club that hit me. It all started coming back. It cannot be very long ago, just a few minutes since I passed out I thought.

“I’ve to get to Rajesh sir” I thought to myself.

I tiptoed my way into the backyard, eyes alert, looking for anyone who might still be lurking in the place. Highly unlikely, I thought. As I walked, I saw tread marks of a vehicle, tread marks unlike anything I’ve seen in the house before. I followed them till the back gate of the house before they disappeared on to the concrete road.

I went to the place where I put the one thing I always found useful in these kind of emergencies. I dug it out of the bushes where I hid it and started sprinting through the fields into the darkness. I started to recollect when it all started. It was a routine evening.

Before I get any further with what happened that evening, let me introduce myself. I am Trixie, a five year old, brown black German shepherd dog. At 35 kgs and 65 cms, I was one of the most adorable and feared dog in our little town. I was adorable because of my thick fur and my affability to children and feared by the thieves because I was one of the best and most intelligent police trained dogs in the town. I helped the police in nabbing four drug peddlers, tracked about ten local thieves and helped in tracing two bombs.

In spite of being one of the most intelligent dogs on the police force, I loved the peaceful life of our town. My owner Kamala was a sweetheart who absolutely adored me. And I cared for her no less. Five years ago, she found me in the small wood adjacent to the farms when I was just a pup and dying of starvation. She brought me to her house, fed me, took care of me and gave me a home.

She would spend one hour with me everyday no matter how busy she was. She meant the world to me and it used to drive me into an uncontrollable rage whenever someone one hurt her. Her dad in particular, used to beat her up when he was drunk. After I attacked him once when I was just two years old, he never dared to raise his hand against her again. He simply used to scold her till his drunken mood wore off. After I completed my police training, he stopped doing that as well.

She was the daughter of a farmer, who was one of the many farmers in our little town. Kamala stopped her education after her class 12, because her father was not able to afford her education anymore. But the bright girl she always was, she set up a pickle business with the help of a loan from a self help group and now, at 21 years of age, ran one of the most successful businesses in our town. She was flooded with orders in summer and in the marriage season. She had plans of saving up enough money for her college and marriage. She also wanted to leave her family, marry and settle in another city. I didn’t blame her for it. Her parents were always pestering her for the money which she wanted to save for her college. And there was another reason.

That evening was like any other evening. Kamala and I were on our routine evening walk on the mostly isolated mud road that ran alongside the river that flowed through the village. Kamala, like always had a hard time putting up with my speed as I tugged at my collar hard and ran in random directions smelling the earth.

In a few minutes, we were joined by Ram, who was Kamala’s sweet heart. As usual, her grip slackened as she spotted him coming out from a turn. They started chattering away happily about their future plans. Ram was two years older than Kamala and was a good fellow. He had finished his degree recently and secured a permanent job in a computer firm. Kamala planned on marrying him and moving in with him as soon he found a house and everything. I was happy for them. Kamala made Ram promise her that I would come along with them to the city. I did not complain. As long as am with Kamala, I am a happy dog I thought to myself.

“Don’t you think I should tell my parents before we plan on doing something?” Kamala asked Ram. I could sense a note of panic in her voice. She released her grip on my leash completely and I started moving along with them listening to them and smelling the familiar damp pathway.

“I don’t think they’ll agree Kamala. You know that we are from different castes, and your family is particularly very stubborn. I talked to my parents and they approve of our marriage. But they don’t want to get involved in a fight with your family if it comes to that. I’ll lose the edge as I belong to a lower caste. My parents will end up getting banished by the Panchayat if they stand up against your family. It’s better if we just disappear. My parents will act as if they had no idea of what happened.” Ram said.

“He has a point” I thought to myself. Though Kamala’s family wasn’t really well to do or anything, they carried a chunk on their shoulder that they belonged to a higher caste. They considered speaking to a person of a lower caste as a sin. A marriage was out of question.

“I think. I think we should just leave without telling my parents then.” Said Kamala in a voice muffled with fear and pain. Ram put his arm around her shoulders and started to comfort her. As I walked around, I smelt the exhaust of a vehicle close by.

“Very peculiar” I thought to myself. Vehicles usually don’t come on to this road. As I moved to my left into the thick bushes on either side of the path, I spotted someone lurking behind the bushes and spying on Kamala and Ram. I barked loudly and started running in the direction of the person.

Ram and Kamala ignored me, assuming that I spotted a routine stray cat. The man who was lurking in the bushes was terrified as he saw me, teeth bared, barking angrily and sprinting with great speed in his direction. He ran in the opposite direction into the fading sunset. I ran behind him for a good ten minutes till he got into a jeep and accelerated away.

I remembered that Kamala might be searching for me and ran back to the spot where she would usually wait when I wandered off into the bushes. She was not there. I looked around and spotted a trickle of blood a few feet away from me.

“Ram is in trouble” I thought to myself as I took in his scent. I followed it keenly as it led me the deep bushes on the right of the pathway. “What happened to Kamala?” There was no trace of her scent at the spot I found the blood.

As I ran into the bushes, the smell of his scent mixed with the smell of blood got stronger. I saw his lying face down, sprawled in the grass. He was bleeding profusely from the back of his head. I circled him completely, checking for any signs of other injuries. He was unconscious but not dead. Long experience with the police taught me that I should find help first. I picked up a second scent, probably the man who attacked Ram. It was strong enough to be followed. But I needed to get Ram some help first.

As I started running to the pump house a few hundred feet away where I was sure I could find help. I started to worry about Kamala. If someone attacked Ram when he was with her, there was a good chance she was in trouble as well.

I stopped at the pump house and started barking loudly at the door of the maintenance man’s cabin. He opened the door and looked at me. He knew me as I once helped him trace a thief who stole some jewelry from his house.

“What is it Trixie boy? Something wrong?” he asked and looked at me though the darkness. I pushed my leash towards him and barked again. He got the hint and took hold of my leash immediately. He called out for another person and he joined us as I led them in the direction where I found Ram.

“God, he is badly injured. Ganesh go call an ambulance immediately. We’ll carry him to the pump house and clean him up a bit. Good job Trixie.” He said and patted my head. The job was only half done. I still had to find out where Kamala was.

I ignored his startled cries and started running in the direction of our house. If she was attacked I wouldn’t find her at the house I thought to myself. But that was the first place I could search. I heard muffled cries from inside the house as I approached closer to the house. I jumped the wall in the backyard and moved quietly in the direction of the sound. The cries got louder as I came closer.

“How dare you insult our family by falling in love with that wretched Ram guy? Do you know what shame you brought upon us? How can I ever show my face to the people of the town again?” Kamala’s dad shouted as a heard the sound of wood hitting against skin and a muffled sob.

“You wanted to run away with all our money didn’t you? You wretched girl!” I heard Kamala’s mom scream before I heard a tight slap. Another muffled sound issued from the room. I was sure that Kamala was bound and gagged.

My whole body shook with a blind rage as I did the biggest mistake of my life. I barked with mad anger and ran to the front door trying to push it open with my paws. There was someone waiting for me. It was the same scent of the man from the bushes. He must have had another accomplice, the one who attacked Ram. I yelped with pain as I felt three heavy blows strike my rib cage and head. I was out cold before I knew it.

I still felt the dull pain throb my head as I ran in the direction of the police station with the collar that bore my identification number held tight between my teeth. Rajesh sir was the person who took care of the dogs in the police station. He was also the person who trained me. I hoped with all my heart that he was in.

I reached the entrance as two constables looked at me in the darkness, ready to jump and stop me from entering the police station. They apparently thought I was a stray rabid dog on a biting spree. I stopped before and held my collar out at them. They saw the name and the number on the leash.

“Is someone in trouble?” he asked me. He recognized me from some previous theft job I helped them trace down. I barked madly and turned in the direction I came from and barked again.

He removed the wireless from his pocket and spoke into it.

“Rajesh sir, your dog Trixie is here. And I think he has something.” He said into the wireless.

In five minutes Rajesh sir was with me. We were running in the direction of the house. Rajesh sir didn’t even use a leash. He was sure I would lead him to the right place. We ran to the house which was now deserted. I led Rajesh sir into the room where I heard the screams. We spotted some ropes, sticks and a trickle of blood.

“Control room, this is Rajesh speaking. We are in the north of the town in house number 23-43/1 opposite the Shiva temple. There are signs of violence in the place and I want three armed constables with me within fifteen minutes.” Rajesh sir spoke into his wireless.

Time was running out. I had to find where they took Kamala before they did something to her and it was too late. I ran around the house looking for some clue. Then, all of a sudden, it hit me. I ran in the direction of the place where I found the marks of a vehicle after I woke up. I smelt the tracks of the vehicle. It was the same jeep from the evening. With some luck we could trace down the vehicle.

The two people were apparently relatives of Kamala’s dad. They found out about Kamala and Ram and wanted to stop them from running away. The person in the bushes was a trap to lure me away from them. The other man attacked Ram and took away Kamala he must’ve used some method to conceal her scent. I barked loudly and Rajesh sir came to my side and I started running on the highway. I could trace the smell of the jeep amongst the trucks and the cars.

As the scent began to become hard to follow, I started to lose hope. Just as I was starting to give up, I was struck by fortune. The jeep veered from the highway and took a turn into the fields. I was much easier to track the scent now, amongst the smell of the paddy fields.

After half a kilometer, we found the jeep parked in an obscure corner. I smelt the seats. I smelt Kamala, her dad, her mother and the persons who attacked me and Ram. The scent was now so strong that I could walk with my eyes closed. We reached the edge of a field which had a shack on the other corner. The lights were glowing brightly in the pitch black night.

I sensed it, and I was sure Rajesh sir sensed it too. The people were in the shack. We tiptoed our way to the side of the shack. We hid behind some bushes and peeped into the room. Kamala was there, bound and gagged. Her father was speaking.

“You don’t deserve to live if you don’t change your mind about marrying that low class bastard.” Even from a distance I could sense that he was totally drunk. There was the other person who was looking out at the door.

“Constables, change of location, come immediately to the paddy fields located on the first left after the first kilometer stone of the highway, I need you here ASAP. Come from the south and find us hiding behind the shack where you can see the lights shining” He whispered into the wireless set.

In the meanwhile, I could see Kamala’s parents dousing her in kerosene. They wanted to burn her to death in the isolated farm.

The constables arrived in the nick of time, and we nabbed all the four people who wanted to kill Kamala. Kamala had to be taken to the hospital as she was on the brink of unconsciousness. In a few days of time, both Kamala and Ram were back to their routine after healing from their injuries. They got married under strict police custody and the three of us were to soon leave the town to the city. All was well and I was the happiest dog in the whole world.

Author’s note: Honor killings are a dark mark on the 21st century developing India. In a country where hundreds of castes and creeds co-exist, it is still considered an offence to marry a person from another caste or community, more so when the person is from a lower caste. Here are the various other reasons that lead to honor killings.

(a) Dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community,
(b) Wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage or desiring to marry by own choice,
(c) Engaging in heterosexual sexual acts outside marriage, or even due to a non-sexual relationship perceived as inappropriate,
(d) Engaging in homosexual acts.

People from villages and under developed areas in particular consider this as a loss of prestige and are ready to kill their children for it. These acts are mostly directed at women and girls. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women's groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more.

In India, Honor killings have been reported in northern regions of India, mainly in the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, as a result of people marrying without their family's acceptance, and sometimes for marrying outside their caste or religion.

Bhagalpur in the northern Indian state of Bihar has also been notorious for honor killings. Recent cases include a 16-year-old girl, Imrana, from Bhojpur who was set on fire inside her house in a case of what the police called ‘moral vigilantism’. The victim had screamed for help for about 20 minutes before neighbors arrived, only to find her still smoldering. She was admitted to a local hospital, where she later died from her injuries.

It’s time we spread awareness amongst the people and stop people from committing such heinous crimes to their own children. It’s only when these social illnesses cease to exist among the people, we can call ourselves a developed country.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love: 'Arranged' at first sight!

“One. . Two. . Three. . And heave.”

I felt every muscle in my body ache as we tried to push the stone aside. It had already been two hours since we found the entrance to the cave where we had evidence of the existence of a dinosaur fossil, a completely unique dinosaur which would be a ground breaking discovery in the field of Paleontology. But the wretched rock prevented our entry.

“Let’s make one last attempt guys. If it fails, we’ll call for an earth mover or something for help.” said my teammate Sandesh.
He and I were the only Indian people on the team. The six of us nodded our heads and got ready for a final push. The seven of us combined the last reserves of our energy and gave one final heave. This time, it worked! The huge rock moved aside, revealing a dark tunnel. It must’ve been here for ages but no one had discovered it for so long.

We moved in cautiously with our headlamps and flashlights illuminating the path. As I moved forward observing the limestone deposits on the walls of the cave, one of my teammates yelled, “Watch out Rahul you are on the edge.”

But it was too late; I stepped on some loose earth and lost my footing. Before I knew it, I was plummeting down into a huge fracture in the ground probably caused by an earthquake. As I wondered if I’d be alive by the time I touched the ground, I heard a bored voice from above.

“Dude, are you going to wake up or should I switch off the fan?”

I woke up with a start and gaped at the blurred form of my sister. “So it was just a dream.” I thought to myself. Damn, it felt so real! I rubbed my eyes and squinted at my sister and she came into better focus. I looked at her appearance and gaped at her.

“Woah, don’t tell me that we are going out for some marriage on a very short notice.” I said and smirked at her.

My sister, who was in the final year of her med school, was a person who rarely gave a damn about how she looked. It was only on rare occasions that she dressed up the way she did right now. She was wearing a red and white salwaar with heavy embroidery, a heavy gold necklace and bangles which she hated. Her shoulder length hair was straightened and looked sleek.

“When you find out why I’m dressed up, you won’t be so smug annayya.” She said as she gave me a twisted smile and walked out of the room.

This might be trouble, I thought. I looked up at the watch. It was close to eleven in the morning. The jetlag hadn’t worn off. I was home after a long time. Four years, I thought to myself. Finishing my masters, immediately getting a job offer from one of the best design companies in Canada, it was a dream run. It was after all these years that I was finally able to afford a vacation.

I twisted lazily on the bed, and looked at my iphone which was lying on the side of the pillow. The last conversation I had before falling asleep made me let out a weary sigh. My two year old relationship with my French girlfriend was facing a deep crisis.

Matters took a shitty turn when my father found out about it from some of my facebook conversations when I didn’t log off from the home computer after I came back home. That was a week ago. From then, it was a choose-between-your-parents-or-girlfriend situation for me.

Though Victoria and I agreed right from the beginning that we would take the next step only with the consent of the two families, it was hard to break away from her. One week of talking with my dad hadn’t yielded any result. He was very stubborn about the whole thing. It was unlike him. He was always a man who gave my views a good thought. That stubbornness was what alarmed me.

“If you try hard enough, we can convince your parents. It is not impossible.”

“But I don’t think your parents can ever accept me. I don’t want you to abandon them or fight them for me.” said Victoria. She was wavering between agreeing to break up and unable to leave me. She had a point.

“Even if you marry her, she can’t adapt into a family like ours. She’ll have a tough time adjusting to our traditions and customs. You may say all that can be worked out, she is ready to adapt and she’ll be ready to live with us. All this may sound good in movies. But I’ve seen too many relationships fail after marriage due to reasons like frustrations arising from fighting stubborn relatives and families who refuse to accept the couple.” said my dad. Coming from an ultra conservative family, he had a valid point too.

Unable to decide on what to do next, my vacation was being spent in utter confusion. I got up and made my way into the living room. The room looked neat and prim as usual. My dad was sitting in the farthest corner talking to someone on the phone. I noticed that he was dressed up too, like my sister. He was wearing a neat pant and shirt and not in the Lungi and Baniyan which he preferred whenever he was home on holidays. He looked at me and nodded his head. I nodded my head in return and walked into the kitchen.

My mother was there busy cooking. She was also dressed up in an elegant saree, cooking in bigger vessels. I noticed Pulihora and Paneer.

“Is anyone coming to see sis?” I asked her. There was no other reason why all of them were dressed up so nicely on a Sunday morning, especially my sister. But her expressions in the morning suggested otherwise. She meant I was in trouble, not her. But there was no chance that it could be happen without my dad telling me beforehand.

“You still didn’t brush your teeth? Look at yourself Rahul, you look all groggy. Oh my god, go brush your teeth and take a bath. What will they think when they see you like this?” she bellowed at me. She was angry that I still in my bed clothes and anxious for some other reason.

“Amma, what is going on?” I questioned in a firm voice. I needed to know what the heck was going on in the house.

The anger vanished from my mother’s voice and she looked apprehensive and started fidgeting.

“Dad got a match for you Rahul. They’re coming over for lunch today.” she said. She looked at me with tension clearly showing on her face. She was bracing herself for my violent reaction.

My body stiffened up at her words and my grogginess disappeared. I became alert and a fresh burst adrenaline started to course through my blood. My whole body started shaking with anger. I was in such a rage that words didn’t come out properly from my mouth.

“Why. . . Why haven’t you told me?” I managed to mutter, trying to keep my voice steady and from shouting at her in anger.

“They are just coming over for lunch. It’s nothing serious. Talk to your dad. It was his idea.” She said and turned back to her cooking. I could see her flinch.

I stormed into the living room. I was in such a blind rage, I wanted to lift something and break it against the wall. I felt mutinous. My dad was sitting in the same corner, his face obscured by the newspaper. I stood there until her shifted the newspaper to turn a page. He saw me staring at him, put the paper aside and motioned me to sit. I didn’t feel like sitting but under my father’s pointed gaze I always found it very difficult to shout. I was intimidated and I hated it.

“I know you don’t like it. I’m not trying to do this out of anger or out of an insecure feeling. I know how much you love us and I also know that you are trying to end your relationship because we don’t approve of it. Don’t think I don’t appreciate what you’ve done. Just meet the girl and talk to her. I am calling them over just for lunch. We won’t discuss marriage. I just want to you to experience how arranged marriage takes place. How we used to marry a girl after seeing her for a few minutes and talking to her for an hour or two. Now go and get ready. I am sure you want to present yourself decently.” he said in a calm voice without any sign of agitation or anger.

I opened my mouth to protest. But he sounded reasonable. There was no immediate threat. I could just pass it off as a meeting with some random friend of my dad and his family. For the second time in the day, I just nodded my head and walked off. I brushed and looked at myself in the mirror. I had a three day old stubble. Long experience made me learn that girls liked guys with a stubble rather than a clean face with no facial hair. I looked at my six foot frame. Not bad, I thought to myself. At 25, I was fair, had a weight well proportioned to my height, broad shoulders and thick dark hair which I kept short most of the time.

I took a head bath and wore a short length white shirt which I didn’t tuck in. I wore a slightly old pair of faded blue jeans. I wanted to look good, but I didn’t want to look like a person who was eager to please. As I finished dressing up, I heard a car pull up in front of our house. I came out of my room and came out along with my parents and sister to greet the guests.

Three people got down from a Ford Figo. The man was about my father’s age with conventional features for his age. He was of medium height with a gaunt face, slight paunch and with grey black hair which was receding rapidly. His wife was a short and plump woman with a cheerful face. The girl was the last person to get down from the car. She must’ve been my age I thought, probably a year or two younger. She was about five foot eight, tall for a girl, had a golden white complexion which was enhanced by a salwaar with a deep violet top and a white bottom with a print on it. She made her taste clear. She wanted to look elegant but not gaudy. She had long silky hair which crossed her shoulders and came a few inches above her waist. She was slim with a trim waistline and no sign of extra weight. She had deep set brown eyes. I looked her as she entered the foyer of the house along with her parents. She smiled pleasantly at my parents and folded her hands into a respectful Namaste. She gave my sister a friendly handshake.

“Smooth” I thought to myself.

She was not trying to overdo it. She looked calm and composed. I greeted her parents with a formal Namaste and shook hands with her dad. Our eyes met as we walked into the living room. Her gaze was calm and steady as I looked into her eyes and sized her up. I had a feeling that she was doing the same. She had a very piercing gaze. I found it hard to withdraw from the steady eye contact. I flinched slightly as she kept looking at me even after all our parents had settled down into the sofas and started exchanging pleasantries. She caught me flinching and smiled. I found myself smiling in return. She had a pleasant warm smile. It was a sweet smile neither haughty nor stupid. I felt dumb. This was the first time I had broken eye contact with a girl. All my life it happened the other way round. My sister, who was following the whole chain of events silently, looked at me with a smirk written all over face. I gave her a dirty look and she turned away trying to hide a grin.

We introduced ourselves to the family on the other side. I found out that her name was Sanjana and she was working as a charted accountant for a famous firm in Hyderabad. I was right. She was about my age just a year younger to me. I explained her parents about my job in Canada where I designed safety systems and improved the existing ones for automobiles. I also told them about my plans to leave the country after the end of the contract next year and settle here. From the look of it, they looked pretty impressed. After sometime, both the older women escaped into the kitchen discussing recipes while my father and the girl’s father immersed themselves in discussing current politics.

I found myself engaged in a three sided conversation with my sister and Sanjana; we talked about random things like friends and our respective areas of work. Sanjana had a sweet feminine voice which was neither too shill nor too meek. She listened attentively to my sister as she told her about her course and spoke with enthusiasm when she had to reply. She always maintained eye contact when she addressed me and talked to me with ease and confidence. Not a girl who can be intimidated, I thought.
“Rahul, why don’t you show Sanjana the floor upstairs? Said my dad after a while. My sister made a smooth apology and disappeared into her room. I was soon upstairs with her giving a tour of the recently constructed floor upstairs. She took in everything with enthusiasm, her deep brown eyes darting in all directions whenever I pointed to some painting or decoration and why we picked it up. Soon, we were sitting on a pair of chairs in the balcony.

“You have to know that I already have a girlfriend and she is French. Her name is Victoria.” I told her in a flat voice.

“Oh . . . That’s cool . . . How did you meet her?” She asked with no sign of emotion in her voice.

I told her about how I met her in the first year of my master’s course and how we have similar ideas and how much we liked each other.

“That’s very sweet . . . So, you people plan on marrying each other?” She asked, again, with no sign of emotion. But I could see that she was paying rapt attention. Her gaze never left my face as I spoke.

I told her about everything about my situation. How we decided on proceeding to the next step only if our parents approved of it, how my dad disapproved of the whole thing and how I was in a fix on what I should do next.

She listened to my ten minute long monologue and nodded her head but did not say anything in response for a long moment. I could see she was thinking. As a person who hated awkward silences, I had to say something to break it.

“So, how about you? Did you ever fall in love with anyone?” I asked her in a matter of fact tone.

She looked at me for a moment before answering and said, “Yes . . . I did . . . I fell in love with this guy who was my classmate used to work with me in my first job one and half years ago. It was all very good in the beginning, but soon he started imposing himself on me. He started getting insecure whenever I used to talk with other guys. Yes, he was very devoted and caring, but soon after my father found out, all hell broke loose and I found it very difficult to cope with his insecure feeling and the pressure at home about marrying a guy who is not of the same caste. I tried to fight and convince them, but one day I sat down and weighed my options. I decided it was not worth it. It was very traumatic for the next few months. But I got over it now. He is transferred to another place and it’s been a long time since we talked to each other. And yes, I do miss him, but I am ready to move on with life.”

Her calm voice and her honesty impressed me. I was not expecting such an honest account of life from a girl I’d met for the first time in my life.

“Why did you tell me all this? Don’t you want to make a good impression?” I asked her, looking into her eyes.

“I don’t know. . . Why did you tell me all that? You didn’t want to make a good impression either?” she said, boring her eyes into mine.

I was taken aback and kept looking at her face, feeling a warm feeling of intimacy growing between the two of us.

“I trust you. If you like me, I want to marry you.” She said suddenly.
I nodded my head.

“I like you too. This is the best first meeting I’ve had with a girl till date.” I said and paused.

What has gotten into me? I thought to myself. I met the girl an hour ago, I knew nothing about her interests, her hobbies, her likes or dislikes. But I had already started imagining marrying her and living with her. I am shallow, I thought to myself. Forgetting the girl I liked for two long years after talking to this girl for an hour. Was it because of a feeling of security that she could make herself a part of my family? Was it because of the feeling that she had a similar upbringing and could understand me better? Was it because I thought she could reconcile with my past and live with me comfortably?

As I kept looking at her, lost in thoughts, my mother shouted saying that lunch was ready and we went down to join them. Lunch was cheerful and filled with laughter and healthy conversation. Soon, they had to leave. I shook hands with Sanjana’s dad. She made a respectful greeting to my dad and mom yet again. She wished my sister good bye with another handshake. I could see that they had exchanged phone numbers.
We simply looked and nodded at each other. I came back into my room and lay down on the bed. I closed my eyes and replayed our meeting. I must’ve dozed off due to the heavy lunch when I heard a voice.

“Wake up dude . . . Screw your jetlag. . . Wake up. . . I need to talk you about something. . .” It was my sister yelling at the top of her voice.
I woke up with a start and looked around. The time was eleven and the sun was shining brilliantly. My iphone was lying on the side of my pillow and was not in my pocket as I put it last. My sister was dressed up in a t-shirt and pajamas, her hair in a knot on the top of her head.

“Listen, dad said that there is a family coming over for lunch. It’s a potential match for you. This is the picture of the girl.” She said and passed me the photo.
I looked the person in the picture and gaped. She was talking about something, but I didn’t quite catch it. I kept staring at the picture.

Friday, March 4, 2011

L.O.V.E. Part II

Rakesh come back into the world and looked around him. The sun was still shining and the kids were still playing. Reema switched on the portable music player and the Bee Gee’s 1977 song, ‘How deep is your love’ started playing. It was their favorite song from the time they fell in love. Reema looked in his direction and gave him a wink. Rakesh smiled in spite of his serious mood. He found it amazing that his kids still swayed to the tune of the song that was more than 30 years old.

"I know your eyes in the morning sun…
I feel you touch me in the pouring rain…
And the moment that you wander far from me…
I wanna feel you in my arms again…
Then you come to me on a summer breeze…
Keep me warm in your love…
Then you softly leave…
And it's me you need to show…
How deep is your love…"

But this triggered another memory in his head. The person who made him ask himself the question for the second time.

August 1997, Virginia Tech University, Roanoke.

“Love? It sounds like such a plastic word already.” Were the first lines she spoke to him.

She was two years his junior, doing her under graduation in the same department as his. And just like him, she was nursing a broken heart and had become skeptical about the veracity of love. Being a part of a very small community of Indians in the University, soon, they started seeing a lot of each other.

The first half year of their knowing each other was spent in philosophical discussions pertaining to various things like life, love and how they impact the human life. And not before long, they started liking and respecting each other. And not too long after that, they started dating each other.

Soon, the city was theirs. Weekends were almost spent entirely with each other avoiding all other human contact. Movies, restaurants, parks, long drives in rented cars. In a few months, they visited almost every place that had chairs to sit or some food to eat.

“We’ll make this work. We understand each other completely, we have the same set of ideals in life and we can have a wonderful life together.” She said to Rakesh on a cold December evening as they cuddled up with each other.

“Yes, we will make this work.” Rakesh said, beaming with pleasure and happiness, looking at the girl who mended his broken heart and made him believe in love again.

They were insanely happy as they slowly waltzed to the song playing on the tape recorder. The Bee Gee’s accentuated their mood by singing ‘How deep is your love’.

September 1999.

“We need to give each other time. Maintaining a long distance relationship is going to be very tough. “

Rakesh had graduated out of college and was about to get back to India to work in a reputed company. They had spent the last few weeks preparing each other mentally for this very moment.

“Yeah… I totally understand all that” She said, as they looked into each other’s eyes.

“We need to give each other time to adjust to our new lives. It is not going to be easy for both of us. We are going to meet new people and going new places. All I am trying to say is that, we need to take this break to learn how to live without each other.” Rakesh said, as he held her tight.

They spent the rest of the day with each other planning how they would talk to each other every day and how they could meet once every year.

The last image Rakesh had of her was in the airport. Her face was white with the physical strain of holding back her tears. He felt weak in the knees and his heart heavy.

As he boarded the plane, he wondered.

“Is this love? Is it a convenience? Is it something that can be paused because the people were going away to different places? Something that distance can decrease? A feeling that can alter because the physical distance is increasing?”

He felt stupid about the whole ‘giving each other a break’ thing. But, he was still unsure if he could stand the darker emotions like doubt, insecurity and jealously. He was trying to barricade love so that none of these unpleasant emotions could creep into his head.

But somewhere, deep down, he had faith that he could still make this relationship a permanent one.

Friday, February 25, 2011

L.O.V.E. Part I

Present day, a private island near Hawaii.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was just bright enough to make the day neither hot nor cold. The long stretch of sand that marked the coast of the little island was empty expect for a small patch of land which had a landing for a ship. A couple of maintenance engineers fussed about the motors of a beautiful private yacht which was anchored there, while the other members of the crew sat there and enjoyed the beautiful Sunday sunshine.

On the other side of the island, on another beach was Rakesh. At 35, he was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the world. His engineering skills combined with a thorough knowledge of the industry made him grow on the professional ladder of the company where he was first employed as an assistant engineer. Realizing that his full potential could only be realized only when he became his own boss; he started his own industry with help from people who believed in his potential. Six years later, there he was, spending his summer Sunday in his own private island with his family.

At 30, people could easily mistake him for a 25 year old. His deep business involvements and the stress of managing a company did not affect his features. He still had the boyish charm which won him many a hearts in his college life. The wind rippled through his curly hair which was left in a tussled mess, the way he always liked it. His loose Hawaiian shirt showed through it a lean torso which was always in shape with the help of a strict fitness regime that he never missed.

As he sipped on his orange juice comfortably settled in his easy chair, he gave a loving look and the three figures he saw on the beach. His wife, Reema, a successful lawyer, a caring wife and a devoted mother. His son Ryan, an energetic ten year old who could never get enough of cricket and football. His five year old daughter Deeksha, who showed an unending passion for dance.

As he looked on at them splashing water at each other and laughing in joy, he reminded himself how lucky he was to have such a wonderful family which supported him through thick and thin and made his life meaningful. As he was musing this to himself, Reema came towards him drenched in water, a smile spread across her beautiful moon shaped face. The sunshine made her soft brown skin look more luminent. Her five foot seven inch frame looked leaner than usual with the soft top and pajamas she was wearing.

“Are you sure you don’t want to build sand castles with us?’” she asked, giving him a small peck on the cheek.

“You people carry on; I’ll join you in a bit. I just want to watch you people for a while.” Rakesh remarked looking up at his wife.

“Alright, come join us soon.” Reema said, as she picked up a small shovel and a bucket.

Rakesh watched her as she called out to the kids, who came running to their mother. They huddled up in a small part of the beach and started digging sand for the grand castle. He felt love pouring out of him for his family. Love, the force that binds people, the unfathomable feeling that holds people together.

“What is love?” he thought to himself. As he thought about it, he remembered the first time he asked himself that same question.

September 1993, Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh.

The first days in an engineering college are special to everyone. The transition from a school to a college brings about a mixture of emotions in a person. They grow in knowledge and maturity, simultaneously their heart pines for love and care from another person.

Rakesh was no exception. The first time he saw her, he was convinced that she was the girl for him and nothing in the world could stop him from winning her heart. His heart was already won over by her innocent eyes and beautiful face. Payal was a typical Punjabi girl with a face complexion like that of milk, huge black beautiful eyes which could win over any male in a matter of minutes. Her physique was such that, it drove guys crazy without being obnoxiously thin or voluptuously tempting.

He started going with her in an auto, ignoring the brand new scooter that his dad gifted him on his admission into college. Talking to her for the first time was proved mighty difficult for him. But one lucky break got him going and soon, they started talking more and more. Soon, he was spending an hour extra in campus in the canteen and college ground, talking to Payal, each day, growing fonder of her and more convinced that there could be no other pair in the world with such similar interests and synchronizing personalities and opinions. He just couldn’t wait for the right moment to express his love for her. That day came soon.

24th April 1994

It was Payal’s 19th birthday. Rakesh planned everything in advance, calling her to his flat just for five minutes, so that they could exchange materials for Thermodynamics. He drove out his roommates saying that his parents were visiting him for the evening. He cleaned the messy place and arranged a small corner with all the flowers he could gather in the various gardens of the neighbors. The cake he placed amidst that small forest of flowers. He put the beautifully wrapped present in one corner.

He met her that morning, acting as if he never remembered that it was her birthday. He observed her sulky attitude in the evening with a smile, remembering what he planned ahead. He was filled with nervousness and apprehension about what would transpire and how she would react as her guided her on the steps to his flat.

“So, here we are. Come inside, you want some water or something?” Rakesh asked as they moved into the two bedroom apartment.

“No, I’m fine. You people have a nice place for yourself. It’s wonderful to live on your own isn’t it? You people keep the place so neat” she said, as she looked around the place.

“Yeah, it’s nice to live on your own, to have freedom, to be self dependent… Yeah, it’s wonderful” Rakesh remarked. “Come in here, I have the materials here”, Said Rakesh, as he pointed out to the room where he arranged his little surprise.

He guided Payal into the room and lit the nights. Before she could take in the flowers and the pla card amongst them that read happy birthday, Rakesh grabbed her hand and wished her happy birthday with a smile.

“Wow, you did all this... All this for me?” Payal exclaimed, still looking at the flowers and the cake in between them.

“Well… Yeah… I sort of... Wanted to give you a little surprise. Did you… Did you like it” Rakesh said, with a note of apprehension to his voice.

“You are asking me if I like it? No one has ever done anything like this for me Rakesh, I feel so special. Thank you so much” She remarked as she held his wrist and looked into his eyes.

“I’m… I’m so glad that you like it… Come, let’s cut the cake” He said, as they walked to the table, still holding to each other’s wrists.

The next sixty minutes were memorable, as they cut the cake made each other eat it. They sat down in the balcony, talking about the evening, college and life.

“Do I get to take the present at least now?’ Payal asked, eyeing the package on the table as she prepared to leave.

“Yes, you can. But before you leave, I want to say something Payal. Listen to me first and then take the gift.” Rakesh said, as he felt the butterflies fly in the depths of his stomach.

“Payal, ever since the day I met you for the first time, my beautiful life became more beautiful than it previously was. With you, I feel happier than ever. I feel more complete and happy. I wanted to ask you if you share the same feelings for me. If you do, I’m sure we can spend the rest of our lives together and happy. That gift I gave you has a record of the beautiful memories that we shared till date which I hope will be filled with more beautiful memories in the future. ”

He let go of her hand and looked at her in nervous apprehension, as she remained dead silent for a couple of minutes, her face transacting from shock to realization of what she just heard.

“I… I just can’t tell you anything now…” Payal said, as she ran off with the present in her hand.

29th April 1994

“I can’t do this Rakesh.” Payal said, avoiding his eyes, looking at the ground and toying with the threads on her college bag.

“Okay, tell me the reason why you said no to me. I’ll not bother you again.” Rakesh said, as he let out a sigh.

“Well… I don’t know… I just feel you are not the right person for me… I mean… I still like you and all… But… I don’t know… I just don’t have that feeling that you are the guy for me… I’m not scared that my parents will say anything and all… But…” She said, avoiding his again.

“How do you know that I am not the right person for you without actually knowing how it is being with me?” Rakesh asked, with a note of anger in his voice at the stupid reasons she was giving him.

“I simply don’t feel the love for you… The feeling you get when you are with him… I’m sorry Rakesh… But… I can’t say anymore…” She said as she collected her bag and books and left him there.

Further talks and discussions could yield nothing but a more firm no.

Rakesh sat down thinking, “A girl rejected my love because she didn’t feel it. She gave me up to her gut feeling without giving it a thought.”

That was when he asked himself the first question for the first time.

“Is this love? Is it a gut feeling that assures you that you are with a person with whom you can share relation for a lifetime?”

He assured himself that she’ll realize what she gave up in the due course of time.

A playful shriek from Ryan brought him back into reality.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Powercut

Sujith was on the laptop sprawled across the bed with the music going on full blast through the 5.1 woofer system arranged systematically to produce the most effective reverb effect. His fingers moved like lightning as he operated his two favorite gadgets, the laptop and the cell phone with amazing dexterity.

He was juggling three tabs on his laptop each them dedicated to yahoo messenger, orkut, facebook, gtalk and twitter. In the other hand he had his Apple iphone in which he was chatting with three of his friends.

Sujith’s father, Rana, was on the phone, debating with his friend about the latest dirty work that happened in their company and the bribes that the boss had to offer to hush up the entire affair. They were blaming the boss for his carelessness and at the same time appreciating the ease with which money could solve all the problems.

Sujith’s mother, Shailaja, was busy watching her daily soap opera and was acidly cursing the bad husband who tortured his pregnant wife and the wily aunt who was happy to ruin the mood of anyone who came in her way. She was also crying for the lead lady who kept crying all though the episode for some great tragedy befell her every five episodes.

Sujith’s grandfather, Shinde were sitting in drawing hall, reading the newspaper and blaming the government for its inefficient methods of working, pointing out that every politician in the world was corrupt and was suggesting a hundred methods which could be implemented to improve the system.

Sujith’s grandmother, Lilavathi sat in another corner of the drawing hall, goading on the landline to another old lady about a hundred things which included, a rich in-laws heavy necklace set, the latest gossip in the family, who is getting married, how much dowry they got/giving and so on.

Sujith’s sister, Reshma was in her room, talking to her friend about the latest designer wear in town, the latest love pair in their class, the latest guys who were hitting on them, their merits and demerits.

As everyone was in their own orbit, lost in their own world, each blissfully unaware of the other person’s existence, a sudden calamity jolted them out of their world. The power went out in the entire grid, enveloping the entire locality into darkness. At the same time, the cell phone towers went offline, all at once, without any warning.

Everyone walked into the main hall, feeling for the walls and searching for the potential obstacles. They were angry with the officials for being so negligent about the basic needs of the people.

Rana worked on the landline with a torch in one hand and a stabbing the numbers with the other. He made calls to the local power station to find out what went wrong. They said that some main transformer at some main power station failed and they were making ‘all possible efforts’ to get the power back before midnight.

‘Bloody idiots, they said midnight which surely means that they are going to take till next morning.’ Rana growled.

‘This is what happens when you have an inefficient government in power.’ Shinde muttered in an undertone.

‘But why did the cell phones go down? Both of my SIM’s are not picking up any signal’ said Sujith, shaking his phone and trying different things like changing the settings and switching it on/off several times.

‘Now, I have to watch the re-telecast in the morning to find out if Ekta finds out that her husband is cheating on her on not. This is so putting off.’, Groaned Shailaja.

As they all settled down in the sofas of the drawing hall, they observed that the room was filled with the bright night sky.

‘Hey, did anyone notice? It is a full moon day today’, said Reshma excitedly pointing out into the sky.

Everyone turned into the direction of her hand and noticed the full moon shining brightly in the clear January sky.

‘Why don’t we take the chairs and sit on the porch?’ Sujith suggested, finally giving up on his cell phone.

‘That is a good idea, Sujith will get the chairs and Reshma, you arrange the food that your mother made for snacks.’ suggested Rana.

All of them set into motion, setting up chairs, bringing out rugs and blankets which would make them comfortable in the cold night. As the snacks came, everyone settled down in their chairs, munching the delicious food, looking up at the beauty of the sky, basking and soaking in the moon light and for a couple of minutes, lost in awe.

‘This reminds me of my childhood’ Shinde remarked, bringing everyone back into the world.

‘We used to sit like this in the moonlight and used to play several games which were our modes of entertainment back in the days when we had no television sets, internet or cell phones’ he remarked.

‘What kind of games?’ the brother and sister asked, curious.

‘Oh, we used to sing songs, play mime and the most interesting game was where we make
different animals with shadows. The persons who used to make the most complicated animal shapes were made to compete with each other and the person who made the best moves won the competition.’ Said Shinde, and effortlessly produced the shapes of a hooting fox, a soaring eagle, a grazing cow and a barking dog.

Sujith and Reshma, by now very fascinated, abandoned their chairs and jumped to their grandfather’s side, each trying to make their own animal with their grandfather’s guidance.

Soon, Sujith’s shadow snake and Reshma’s shadow Eagle were having a raging war on the expansive front wall, complete with the sound effects.

Their parents were giving them battle strategies, awarding points for a hit, cheering an intelligent move and booing the bad one. After sometime, the battle was over and everyone was smiling.

‘Let’s play something else now.’ Reshma shouted, excited.

‘How about we play mime?’ Rana suggested.

‘That would work awesome.’ The kids cheered.

The father and the kids made one team as the mother and the grandparents made another team. Everyone was cheering and laughing as Lilavathi tried to depict a battle scene to make her team understand the name of an epic movie.

The kids roared with laughter as their always serious father tried to imitate the cat walk of the lead lady from a recent film. They fought over the points and argued about the extra time taken by each person to finish the act.

As their noise reached peak levels, the curious neighbors started coming out to see what was going on.

‘What’s up Rana ji, you seem to have a party going on here.’ Said his neighbor Bhaskar, as he walked into the porch of Rana’s house.

‘Oh hello Bhaskar ji, yeah, we are having a little mime competition going on here, why don’t you join in?’ Said Rana, with a big smile.

Bhaskar, after watching for some time, caught up with the contagious enthusiasm and joined in with his family and kids, and they were having a whole new competition which reached a fever pitch with a lot of cheering and booing. For that moment, all differences in age were forgotten and everyone was having their share of fun.

Soon, they were joined by the other people living nearby and they shifted their picnic spot to the center of the road on their lane. Meantime, the ladies called them for dinner.

‘Why go back into the houses? We are having so much fun out here. If all of us put in a little effort we can arrange the dinner here itself.’ Suggested Ali, who was another resident of that locality.

Everyone consented to the idea and soon, the next fifteen minutes were filled with wild activity as the ladies got the dishes out, and the children ran inside and outside fixing the necessary items.

The dinner was a huge success, with everyone talking, laughing, and hollering at each other’s jokes. The computers, televisions, cell phones and politics were forgotten for those two hours. Everyone present there found happiness in each other’s company.

As they were finished the dinner, everyone was talking about locking up the houses and making camp beds in the local park in their lane. The uncles were discussing effective methods to move the stuff into the park when the power came back on and the cell phones got revived.

Slowly, the calls started coming in and soon, the people found excuses to exclude themselves from the camping program. Soon, the people were back in their own orbits, doing what they normally do with the full moon night all forgotten in the glow of the electric bulbs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The face on the inside part I

Tuesday 1-1-11 9:30 AM:

I looked up at the sun, now a brightening golden disc. It took it’s time in the laziness of the winter morning to transform from a cool red to the fiery golden color. I enjoyed this solitude each morning. It gave me time to reflect on the hard work that got me here and the future that lay ahead. Most importantly, it helped me focus on the present for the rest of the day without any distractions.

I stood up, stretched and fanned out my vision across my duplex sized office. At 30, having my own business was a dream come true for me. I looked at the brass name plate which read, ‘Phoenix constructions Pvt Ltd.’ the fresh morning sunlight was making it shine. I experienced a proud moment as I looked at my own cabin and name plate which read M.D. and C.E.O. As a construction company, we specialized in acquiring and remodeling the old buildings in the city for the current usage. This we did by either remodeling the building or by destroying the existing building and constructing an altogether new building.

The people started to come in at the standard time, 10 AM and the office began filling up. I went back to my desk after greeting everyone when I saw the paper on my table. The file was unmarked which surprised me. Usually the files on old buildings came from rental agencies or other smaller construction companies which owned the existing constructions. We also hired several private agents to keep an eye out for hot deals. This one wasn’t from any of them.

I opened the file to find out a map of the town. I found one part in the heart of the town marked in red.

Impossible I thought to myself. It was one of the most populated residential localities in town and there was no chance of the existence of any property which was not in use or which was too old to be used anymore. I was starting to suspect a prank and was about to close the file when I flipped to the second page of the file. This page gave a more detailed picture of the pin pointed location. This map showed a small, thick woodland which marked the boundary of the locality and the start of the hill range. I became more interested and looked in more carefully. This particular place was in the midst of a particularly thick part of the wood. But I did not know that such a property existed. I called in one of my private agents to find out if there was such a property for real. I gave him the details and he promised to get back to me within the hour.

The next page of the file contained pictures of the property. The pictures were obviously developed from a very old film and were not taken within the past ten years. The black and white photograph showed two buildings, obviously residential buildings spread over an area of 1500 sq ft which was given in the previous map. If true, and if I could lay my hands on the property, I would become the richest builder overnight by just selling the site given its land value. The next page gave me an address in London which said the location of the current owner. The page ended with a line which said,

Existing site with building is ready for sale. Contact the owner ASAP”, it said.

I was wondering why the person could possibly wait for so long to find a deal for the site when my agent called me back.

“So, did you find out about the current status? Are you sure that it is still open for sale?” I asked, my words falling into an irregular prattle with the excitement.

“Yes sir, I have positive information that the site is unused and is open for sale. The owner lives somewhere in Europe and interested people have no idea on whom to contact.” He said.

“They don’t have the address of the owner? Strange.” I said as I looked at the address in front of me.

“Yes sir, and more over the municipality is planning on seizing the land since it has been unused for many years and the owner is nowhere to be traced. They’re planning to announce an open auction in a week.” He said.

“We have to get our hands on it before anyone else does.” I said, firmly.

“How sir?” he asked.

“Leave that to me. But, in the meantime find out what other information you can gather about this strange plot.” I said and cut the line.

As I was about to make a call to the phone number given with the address, another sheet of paper which I hadn’t noticed till then fell out of the folder.

Great things in life come with great risks…
Fortune favors only the brave but no one…
Before you step in and make contact, make sure you are bold…
For there is going back once you take hold…

The words were cut out from newspapers with each piece of paper in a different shade of brown which indicated the age of each cut piece of paper.

I was looking at the strange verse in my hand when my cell phone rang. The display showed an unlisted number. As I picked up the call with a small shiver, the cheerful old male voice on the other end said,

“Up for the deal young man?”