The Man Every Daughter Looks Up To

(Dedicated to every daughter)

“Dad, for the world, you may be just another person,
But for me, you are the world.”

There are moments when everything seems like they are moving at a snail’s pace. Be it boring rainy Saturdays when the drops of rain seem to be racing down your window at a pace that kills mood, or winter Mondays when all you want to do is get back under the duvet and sleep off the day.

And then, there are moments which take your breath away – the ones where you wish time would just freeze; and you could live each moment, oh, so slowly!

I had this thought while having a casual talk with my bride-to-be cousin. It is always an amazing experience to sit with elder cousins and ask them the life that they see after their marriage, their goals and their apprehensions. It is almost like a beautiful story – seeking perfection in the midst of chaotic randomness.

I have seen girls crying while they are sitting next to the holy pyre or standing on the decorated aisles, decked in gold chains and loads of waterproof mascara and red sarees and pearly white gowns. If you look closely, you’ll see that their faint smiles as they pose for the impatient cameramen, bring across a plethora of emotions. They aren’t always excited or happy or satisfied. In fact, those emotions are the rarest. Their eyes hold tears of pain and it is almost like an immense sadness is weighing them down – the separation from their parents.

It is rather strange, actually. One day we are ten and eleven, playing with our Barbie dolls and shying away from the neighbourhood boys. We have dreams, so glorious that they glimmer in our eyes. The world seems such a rosy place, then, with Mom who cooks us the most delicious recipes and Dad, who has always got our back. For each daughter, their Dad stands as the best man in the world. Though we never tell it aloud, we know that if there’s one person who can wipe away our tears and make us strong again, it is Dad.

And then, something changes. We are sixteen or seventeen and the phase of rebellion begins. Occasional arguments, the banging of doors, the confusion, the rhetorical questions we pose ourselves, a tad bit of lies, before it also drowns into a drone of nothingness. Then, comes a dawn where we realize how stupid we had been as teenagers. Mom and Dad had always wanted the best for us. With each passing day, you start loving them even more.

Then, one day, you find yourself walking down the aisle or sitting next to the pyre, with your Dad by your side. Suddenly, it seems like you are standing on a boat that is slowly drifting away and no matter how much you try, you can’t reach the deck. The thread that had always held you so close to your parents looks like it is metamorphosing into a loose string and withering away with each passing second.

You look at their eyes and see happiness mingled with sorrow. How you wish you could get up from there and hug them to the end of the world! How you wish you could cry endlessly and tell your mom and dad that they mean the world to you. Do they know that, you ask yourself.

The moment is intense. You want each moment to freeze so that you can stay with your parents for some time longer. It scares you – the future. You don’t know if you can stand up on your own. You need your Dad with you. You need him to hold you as you cry. For he is the one man you’ve looked up to, for your entire life and you’ll continue doing so.

You ask yourself, whose shoulder will you cry on when thunder bellows on dark night? You think of the times when he will not be there to catch you when you fall. Your lower lip quivers as you stare into his eyes that hold stories. You don’t feel like letting go of his hand.

Biting your lip to escape the tears that threaten to slip down, with an immense pain weighing you down, you tell him, “Walk me down the aisle, Dad.”

Of Things That Change

I must have been seven or eight at that time. Or probably nine. While I don’t clearly remember how old was I, I do remember I had a pink dress with crimson roses embroidered near the waist. I do remember that when people saw me in that dress with my father, they would bend down and give me their biggest smile or ruffle my hair or pinch my cheeks – things, I was surprised, they didn’t do to the elders. Perhaps, it would have been pretty weird if the chubby man, who lived next to our house, pinched my father’s cheeks. I would have been furious.

Though my father was a busy man, somehow, he managed to make out some time to take me to the bookstore on weekends.

Back then, the bookstore seemed like a clip from a sepia-toned movie – with sienna-washed pages of The Economic Times, hanging near the door, with a couple of other newspapers. Magazines – new and old, with fading letters and missing pages – were stacked into a huge pile near the entrance of the clumsy, old room that smelled of wet asphalt. If you stood on the other side of the road and watched past the speeding scooters, at the bookstore, you’d realize that it lacked colour. Though the books it had, had paint splashed on all their pages, somehow the picture in my mind is devoid of colours.

It was an important landmark in my life – the bookstore.

In there, hid a wonderland, probably as beautiful and mysterious as Alice’s.

Each time we would walk into the single room, the owner would greet us with a happy smile and pat me on the head. While my father would stand in a corner, flipping through the pages of some newspaper, I would look around in awe at the never ending stacks of books around me.

I had this strange habit of picking up a book and smelling it first. The smells enticed me – the smell of the old pages of a magazine or the smell of crisp, freshly-printed pages of a children’s book. It was a smell, so faint, yet so tantalizing, it was like breathing in the strong aroma of hot chicken soup on the coldest winter night. Each book had a distinct smell that haunted its every page. They were never the same. Musty, of drying grass and ink, it smelled of untold stories growing old.

Often, somebody would stop by the store to use the xerox machine. Against the grunt of rusting screws and slapping of pages on the slider, I would read the book aloud, marvelling at the scenes it created in my head.

A lot of things have changed since then.

The bookstore has been renovated, its walls painted a dark white and the marble floor shines when the tube light on the adjacent wall flickers to life. Instead of the single room, they have two floors now. Each book is arranged majestically in large cup-boards and it feels like a new place.

The owner doesn’t greet me, now; not even when I’m wearing another pink dress. No one pats me on the head or stops awhile to pinch my cheeks.

The sepia-toned movie has rolled into a feature film with too many colours.

I don’t know if the change makes me happy.

Any day, I would prefer the old, clumsy, humid bookstore.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is that the books still smell the same.

Of The Last Letter

Dear Dawn,

And this is how it ends.

I stand in the prom, alone. I had asked you, but never had an answer. So I stand here, in a corner, dressed in something that feels too big for me. It feels like we’ve grown up too quickly and I don’t want that to be.

When we were kids, we were happy, without a bother.

And then, we grew up and our smiles became forced.

Everything that we were, was not true; our real self still hides somewhere in the blue.

We were hurt and broken and felt unloved;

When all the while we were just blind. We never looked around us – at the anchors that were trying to pull us back to the shore. We never looked back at the people who could have helped us. Matter of fact, we never opened up.

When we felt hope was scarce and footprints were missing on the sand, it was when that miniscule remainder of hope was carrying us through every difficult day.

Each day is filled with surprises. Some days will sweep us off our feet while some will crash us down, ten feet under. And even if we continue wearing a harness for the rest of our lives, we will fall. Hard.

No amount of planning can fully prepare us for what is about to arrive.

But that is just life. It is uncertain. It us a mystery. Yet, it is magical.

If we are hurt, we will heal. If we fall, we can still stand up. If we find ourselves lost, there will be light.

I leave the hall and go there, where you had asked me to.

I kneel next to you and kiss you, hard. I feel your hands coming around me and pulling me into a hug. For moments, I sit there on the cold gravel, breathing against you. The wind blows to some silent crescendo, obliterating into the maddening oblivion of the night.

When I finally stand up, I realize the uneven plaster of the tombstone has traces itself across my face. My eyes glimmer with tears and I fight them back.

Below your name, in beautiful calligraphy, is carved, “Loved by all”. How I wish I could tell you how many people cried that day. Each of us is going to miss you in some way.

It is late, but I do realize now, that perhaps every person in the world is looking for a chance and a dawn
Something to rescue;
Someone to rescue them.

Chance.

Of The Boy I Wait For

Perhaps the best part about living in India, according to me, is the people you meet here. Tall and short, fair and tanned, rich and poor – all of then blend in such a beautiful harmony that it is like watching a sunset, slowly, and without your knowing, the orange and the purple and the white and the blue have drowned into the abyss of darkness, almost magically.

Like I’ve always said, I find every person to be truly fascinating. There is a hope in their eyes. They cry happy smiles as well as sad. And even without speaking or doing any significant thing, in a strange way, they manage to reach deep and touch your heart. You remember these people. You carry their stories with you. And once in a while, when you are lost, you remember them and smile.

I do that, every now and then as I remember the toothed smile of the frail, little boy who happened to stop by my house on Deepavali.

In his eyes, shone a winter wonderland of hope, as he watched the hundred firecrackers light up around him and bursting into a million stars. He looked at them like they painted the stars in the sky.

I watched him as he cautiously made his way towards us, stepping over the stiffened grass. His eyes kept darting back and forth, fear profound in them. He had no proper clothes for winter – no mittens, no socks – he walked with bare feet. His shirt had a torn sleeve and his trousers barely fell up to his ankles. Yet, the cold didn’t bother him.

For minutes, he stood behind Dad’s car, watching us. Until, Dad spotted him and called him to join us.

I will never forget the sheer joy that spread across his face, the instant he heard Dad call him. For a moment, he looked around to see if he was actually being called. His smile was brighter than those million lights that shone in the cityscape.

He almost cried in joy when Dad offered him a phuljhari (a cracker). I had seen his lips quiver.

He watched in awe – lights, big and small, blue and red, white and dead – as if the world he was seeing was surreal.

The firework that went up at that moment – showering the night sky with showers of light – didn’t snap me out of my trance. I was too busy watching him clap his hands and jump up in joy.

It was strange – of how a thing as small as a cracker, could brighten up this boy’s life. Just because we lived a life so plentiful, did we forget to find happiness in those little things?

When the noises started dying down and every cracker was burnt, I saw his shoulders fall. A bittersweet expression clouded his face as he looked around and watched people retreat back into their houses. I wondered if it made him sad that the night was finally coming to an end.

Almost instinctively, I walked to him and knelt down before his tiny figure.

“You want more crackers?” I asked.

Slowly, he nodded his head, almost afraid.

I pushed the few packets of crackers I had been holding from the very start, into his little hands. At first, he was too surprised. Then, he smiled.

And his smile was so sincere and so beautiful that my heart swelled with joy. I remembered that there had been a few stray packets lying in my brother’s room.

“Wait here!” I told him. “I’ll bring you more.”

Perhaps I should have waited to hear his reply.

When I returned, hugging an entire box, he was gone.

Setting down the box, with scrunched eyebrows, I looked frantically, searching for him. I looked down the street but it was as empty as it had ever been. There were no noises around – no free spirited cries of the happy boy, no sound of thumping feet – no him.

To this day, I question myself – why did he leave? To this day, every year, on Deepavali, I wait for that little boy to stop by again.

At times, I think about him and find little tears prick at the corners of my eyes. At those times, I can only hope he remembers me, as well.

Of Knowing My Life In Ten Tags

1. I want to become a writer. But I don’t have a story. I don’t have the entire oh-my-god-that-is-going-to-be-the-next-bestseller plot with me. So far, I’ve faced 3 rejections and I know that there are many more to come. What saddens me is the fact that among perfections of character building and grammar, some have forgotten to find the story in the story.
I have a habit of creating memories about every other person I encounter. Even with the briefest encounters, I find every person to be truly interesting. And no matter how much wrong they have done, I believe that there’s a person inside them who is good and is waiting for his/her chance to shine.

2. I love train rides. I love the way the ground seems to be jerking underneath, even after I’ve stepped out of the train. Often, I look forward to longer journeys in air-conditioned compartments, minus noisy kids. I think about grabbing my phone or laptop and writing about something, but Mom keeps shooting me angry glares at frequent intervals, which is pretty disturbing. So, all I end up doing is lazing around for hours, feeling the leather carve against my cheeks and waiting for tunnels.

3. When I was ten or eleven, I wanted to have a Doctorate degree in English literature from the prestigious Oxford University. I had a knack for drawing and at twelve, I decided I was going to become an animation designer. At fifteen, I planed on becoming a doctor after having watched a few seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. And here I am, eighteen, and common sense has been slapped into me – what is in the TV, stays in the TV!
Till this moment, I’m clueless if sitting inside a cabin, 10*7, is what I really want to do with my life.

4. I have a Plan-B, but I don’t see the first steps for the staircase. Somewhere, in a crazy corner of my brain, I wish to inspire people. I wish to write something that will make them cry in joy. For now, I think I’m pretty young.

5. I think horror movies are romantic. I don’t understand why people don’t have horror movie dates! Though I agree that the best way to torture me would be to ask me to watch a horror movie, I find the fear, rather enthralling. For once, amidst the screams and shivers and darkness, something feels real!
I don’t understand why some people absolutely hate horror movies and tell that those are the scariest things in the universe. I believe, life is scarier.

6. My brother’s name is Joy and he forms most of my life.

7. I believe in God. But I do not understand Him. I do not understand why in a world so beautiful as ours, people are still in pain.
When Mom asks me to stand in front of Him and pray at a particular time, I ask her, why? Why do we have to remember Him only a particular time? I tell her that I’ve told my prayers throughout the day. He is around me and He provides me strength. Although I do not voice out everything aloud, I know that He knows all of them.

8. I’m having a hard time figuring out two other interesting points about my life!

9. Theya Catalan is basically my pen name. I go by the name “Akanksha” (pronounced: anyway-you-like-it) which means hope and aspirations and wishes, or that is what my mum tells me!

10. The Diwali of 2013 happened to be one of the most painful ones for me. I met this little boy who was an orphan and he had been lingering on the road, secretly watching us burst those crackers and shout in merry. Dad happened to spot him and called him to join us. I will never forget the glimmer of happiness in his eyes. I will never forget the way he smiled when he held those crackers in his hands and lit them with us. When it was time to leave, I gathered some packets of the left crackers and gave it to him. When his eyes lit up with unparalleled joy, I asked him to wait awhile so that I could run into the house and grab some more crackers.
By the time I returned, he had already left. I waited for long, in the chill of the winter night, thinking he would come back, but he never did.
He taught me a very important lesson that night that, don’t make people wait; for they’ll leave.
I’ll write more about him some day.

Of The Delusional Human Heart

She pulled out a few letters from the old, brown leather bag that she clutched weakly in her hands. The little young man, who had helped her get on the ride, had asked her to leave behind her bag in the waiting area, but she had smiled at him and told them that she needed to keep it with her.

She ran her hands over the skin of the letters, running the tips of her fingers along the crumpled edges of the hundred letters she had written to her husband over the year. There were blotches of ink on them and some letters had been smudged. Yet, she could read them like the back of her palm. She knew the contents of the letters, in her heart. Subsequently all, she was the one who had penned them with extreme care, debating her husband’s replied with every course she wrote with the drying ink.

How she had been so madly in love with him to write the letters and expecting him to reply back when he was serving the country at war! Oh, how she had been so madly in love with him that she kept on sending the letters without an address on them! Oh, just how madly in love she had been to write “To, My Husband” on top of the pale, yellow envelope and throw it into the mail box and require it to be handed over! Indeed, she had been so crazily in love with him that his loss was breaking her apart every second the ride moved up a short bit in the breeze.

The old mailman, with his several thousand wrinkles intricately drawn upon his face and a bald, shiny head, had seen those letters and collected them over the years. More often than not, he would have discarded them as they never carried an address, but something close to the letters reached him. Maybe it was the illegible writing of the solitary woman who sat near the window, waiting for her husband. He had lost his wife and he knew the grief. So he kept them in a corner of the post office.

And one day, he had seen the old lady make her way to the post box again. He had run after her and inquired her husband’s name. And he had written it on all her letters and sent them with the army men who occasionally came to their town.

Only, the letters had returned back to him as no one had claimed them. With a painful heart, he had given them back to the old woman.

The trumpets and several noises filled the town. The men were coming back from war. Instinctively, she looked down from there, thinking that her husband would be there, although she knew that he would never return.

Yet, a part of her held on to the hope. A part of her believed that the news reporter had made some mistake while reading out the names of the soldiers who had died on the field.

How could her husband be one of them?!

He had always been so strong and so bold!

He had survived several bullet wounds!

He couldn’t have died!

Oh, the pitiful, human heart!

With a painful smile etched on her face, she returned to those letters and read them aloud as the ride soared up. She read those letters to her husband who was probably somewhere, listening to her…

Of Confession Pages

I remember waking up to Facebook notifications.

It wouldn’t have been a surprising thing if it hadn’t been 20 notifications at once. For a person like me who has always maintained a low profile in the school, I was surprised someone or a few people even took the chance to visit my profile. I presumed the notifications were those of people liking my posts or something, but when the Facebook app finally managed to load completely, what I saw… scared me.

Mornings were supposed to have a schedule. I used to leap out of my bed, faster than a rat in trap and rush into the shower before anyone else occupied it. The usual clanking of metal utensils downstairs confirmed that Mom was busy cooking breakfast for all of us, and at occasional intervals, she’d shout to me and ask me to come to the table. Everything in the morning happened in a rush because no one was willing to wake up ten minutes earlier.

However, something was strange about that morning. Either the house was unusually quiet or I was too lost to keep a track on the drone of noises. The sky wasn’t amber but grey, exactly like how I was feeling when I scrolled through the notifications.

“XYZ Confessions tagged you in a post.”

“R commented : This is precious.”

“T commented : Check this out! That girl deserves this!”

“S commented : Lol.”

“P commented : So fucking true!”

Even before I had opened the entire post, I knew it had to be something bad, because the comments came from people who I really didn’t like a lot.

I remember my lips quivering as I clicked on the post and waited with bated breath for the post to load. A hundred apprehensions clouded my brain and suddenly, the schedule of the morning was forgotten. When Mom called for me to come downstairs, I lied and told her I was dressing up, when in reality, I was still sitting on my bed, chewing on my nails, waiting to read the post.

Every second of wait was killing me.

And when I happened to finally read the post, it killed me. Goosebumps arose on my skin when the slightest wind brushed past me. The comments started blurring and when the pain started settling across my nose, I realized I was on the verge of crying. Questions shot through my mind. Who could have written something like that? Why would anyone hate me? And why have some of my friends liked the post?

Mom called for the umpteenth time and after getting no response, she decided to come upstairs herself.

The moment I heard her footsteps on the wooden staircase, I took a deep breath and slipped under the blanket again, burying my face in the bulges of the pillow.

“What?” she asked, entering my room. “Why are you still in bed?”

“I’m having a headache. I don’t think I can go to school,” I mumbled.

“But you have a practical test today!”

As much as I didn’t want to go to school that day, I knew I had to. I couldn’t miss my practical exams. But a part of me was okay with the prospect, if it meant not having to face the students in the school that day. I was afraid that they’d talk about me in the hallways. I knew my classmates were going to have a questionnaire ready for me. And I knew I couldn’t take all that.

However, after Mom’s constant persuasion, fifteen minutes later, I sat in her car.

“Do you still have a headache?” she asked when we reached the school’s parking lot.

I shook my head and managed to give her a convincing smile. After her car had left the school premises, I walked slowly towards my class.

Yes, they were talking about me. Everywhere. Be it the crowded corridors where group of girls sneered and made dirty comments or bathrooms, where everything was discussed in hushed whispers or my class where the recent post on the confession page was as trending as hash tags on Twitter – they all talked about me. And it was tough to put on a pretence. It was difficult to behave like nothing had happened when everything written in that post, affected me a lot. I acted like it was okay with me, but deep inside, I was breaking.

Over the days, though the discussion died down, I found it hard to face someone or to talk with them, because at the back of my mind, I always had a perennial fear about what he/she might be thinking about me.

All my frustration started to build up. I lived in constant fear and doubt. Each night, before I went to bed, I thought about the people who hated me and could have posted that. Too many names came to my mind. Every minute that I was free, I whiled away my time on the Confession page, stalking every post, refreshing the page every five seconds to check if there was another confession about me.

Then one day, I decided that it was enough. I couldn’t live my entire life with my face glued to some stupid Facebook page. Once or twice, I took out my frustration on posts, commenting on how derogatory certain things on the page were and that they must be stopped, but I was faced with even more criticism. Some told me that I was plain jealous because there were no good confessions about me. Others retorted that it was none of my business.

I deleted my Facebook account. I knew it was no use talking to deaf ears. And I never visited confession pages anymore.

Until last night.

One of my friends happened to forward me a link to a post on the same confession page. The post called a girl too fat and that she must get a life. Below were several comments, criticizing the girl on her weight and making cheap remarks on her clothes.

It made me sad. Depressed. To think about what the girl might be going through.

We all have flaws. Perfection is something that can’t be achieved. So what if someone is someone, they could never be? Does it give them the right to tell her whatever they wish? Does it give them the right to bully her to a point where she starves herself to fit in someone’s books?

As I happened to scroll through the various posts, I wanted to know WHY? HOW? How could people be so rude? How could they be so insensitive to post things like this about another person?

Confession pages were supposed to be fun. But halfway through, they presented a darker picture to all of us. People started using it as a platform to post rude and derogatory comments about someone and to spread rumours. Seventh grade girls were called “sluts” and senior girls were the so-called “bitches”. Are these called confessions?

I was frustrated.

Just because confession pages allowed the confessor to be anonymous, didn’t mean one could bully someone to no extent?

And what about the people who actually run these confession pages?

The few posts I saw were pretty rude and the admins of the page were quite okay with it, even joining the line and adding a few more shameful remarks!

Amidst a hundred positive things, a person will only remember the one negative comment told about him/her. That one negative comment, destroys a life. People drown into fits of depression. There have been cases of suicide due to instances of cyber bullying. After how many such incidents, are people going to learn something?

What have we done to the social networking portals?

Is it always going to remain such a scary place?

Of What I Never Told My Friends

I’m travelling in a crowded bus as I write this. And no, it isn’t like they always describe – sweltering heat and grumbling people – in fact, though it isn’t that great an experience, it isn’t that bad, either.

Sandwiched between the metal rods of the window and a heavy woman who is reading a Stephen King book, I watch the group of teenagers in front of me. One of them, a short girl with raven black locks, in her pair of faded jeans a loose shirt, is busy pulling away the earphones from a boy who is probably one of her friends. Beside them, there is another girl who is talking feverishly with the girl who sits cuddled in the furthest corner, pressed against the window. She is hearing but her eyes are trained on the duo who are arguing over the earphones. An occasional smile lights up her pale face, causing her friend to smack her on the head and demand her to listen.

I quietly turn away from them and look outside the window where the scenes are gradually fading from ordinary reality of the town to infinite possibilities.

The crisp late February air hits my face, almost numbing my senses, but I can still hear their voices, loud and clear. Though I can’t figure out what they are talking about, the one thing that is clear is, they are happy.

It reminds me of those days when school had been a daily affair. I find myself remembering that perhaps the only reason I used to wake up with so much enthusiasm on winter mornings was because of my friends. Each day, after returning from school, I’d wait eagerly for the next day so that I could get to meet my friends again. Though very little things happened in a span of six hours, at school, I found myself talking with my friends for long, discussing every insignificant detail of the day. It was strange – of how we always used to have something to talk about, no matter what.

As the bus moves over a bump, collective groans rise from everyone. The bunch of friends in front of me make dramatic noises, and then burst out laughing at their antics. A smile crosses my lips as I remember the days when I went for picnic trips with my friends. The miles never bothered us. Hours were spent gossiping, singing like badly trained artists, pulling out pranks on each other and laughing on senseless jokes! Before we would know it, the journey would have come to an end.

I see my friends in them. I see us laughing and crying and calling each other at night, discussing boys and homework and what not!

A silly grin lights up my face and I shake my head, remembering the weird conversations we used to have.

Almost immediately, it is replaced by a frown as I remember the bitter memories I’ve had with them – when they broke my trust; when they left me alone.

The bus wobbles slightly and the woman beside me, almost squeezes me into the damp corner, but I don’t mind. I’m too lost in my train of thoughts to know that the bus has come to a halt and the conductor is calling to me.

“Madam?” he shouts in his thick Bengali accent, causing me to snap out of my trance.

“I-I am so so sorry!” I tell him as I pick up my bag and manage to make my way to the exit door.

Before stepping down, however, I turn around and take a look at the bunch of friends and find their eyes trained on my movements. A smile threatens to burst, but I press my lips together tightly and get off the bus. It would’ve been so weird to smile at a bunch of teenagers!

As I walk down the street, the gravel scratching against the sole of my heels, I remind myself never to wear those shoes again.

I cross a nursery school and the little children, loitering around the gate, wave at me and I wave back.

I don’t have schools to look forward to. In a few months, I’ll be heading for college and the entire idea of a new place, of new people, makes me nervous and afraid. Having changed so many schools, I have learnt that distance does make things worse. Your friends will start fading away and then, there will be a day when you meet each other at a shopping mall and there will be no excitement.

As a teenager, I’ve always had a problem in placing my trust on people. It does take a lot of time, because after so many betrayals and the so-called “backbiting”, you know, for a fact that making friends and keeping them is a tough job. There are times when the people you trust the most, will leave you at your darkest times. And their places will be taken by utter strangers who will come to mean something more.

Now that I think about the friends I have who are still my friends, very few faces come to my mind. Along the way, I have lost people – so many beautiful people and my heart breaks in painful realization. A part of me wonders where they are now and if they remember me sometime. Then, I find myself thinking about the friends I’ve lost to numerous rumours and misunderstandings. I hope to find them some day and ask if things can go back to being the same again.

I realize that it’s not like you can protect yourself from getting hurt. Sometimes, unknowingly, you are going to hurt others. And then, there comes a point in everyone’s life, where you sit and think about all these times and what you could have done to keep those people close. Regrets. And that’s all a part of growing up, I presume.

Mom had once told me that friends are not people who will stick by your side always, but they’ll have your back.

Amidst the share of misunderstandings and hurt and happiness, I’ve come to realize that friends not only deserve second chances but also thirds and fourths. At times, we have to take a leap of faith. At times, we have to forgive them for all their mistakes and go back to being friends again. At times, we have to trust them with all our heart.

They will disappoint us.

And once upon a dark day, they will surprise us.

Of Nothings and Everythings

The sky is winter white. The horizon gleams with a thin streak of grey clouds. The grass below us is wet with the first few drops of the summer rain. A slight northern wind caresses our skin, whispering strange dreams. Against the backdrop of mesmerizing beauty, somewhere behind us, crickets chirp to some unheard tune and the poor little pigeon, flaps its wings and flies off to find some food for her kids. The few stale drops of rain trickle down the calloused branches and seep into the thirsty ground.

He tugs at my shirt and his eyes burn into mine as I look up at him. His dark pupils gleam with curiosity as he studies me.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

Shaking my head, I push myself up and stand beside him. His fingers intertwine with mine and he pulls me lightly, urging me to take quicker steps.

The circus is here in the town, again. He wants to go to the circus. He had once told me that he held a special liking for the circus. And I had never bothered to ask him why.

As we walk on the bare grass, its tips pressing against the bare soles of our feet and flicking drops of water, he tells me that the smells will entice me. He tells me that the place will feel warmer and so better than that under the blue, infinite sky. I don’t believe him.

He tells me that the faint aromas of cotton candy and apples will tease my senses to no end, until I join them. Then, as I will walk to the stall, the magnificent smells will couple with those of the wet asphalt and lift me up to the clouds. He tells me that that is happiness. Absolute perfection.

As the noises become closer, his steps become more frantic. He pushes past the hordes of people, dreams glistening in his radiant blue eyes that have never failed to amaze me. They hold a sincerity, so profound that I can feel myself live the stories that his eyes hold.

He begs me to join him on the Ferris wheel. Amidst the howling chaos around me, I hear him tell me that the sunset from veranda will make my life perfect – that the streaks of orange and purple merging into the abyss of blue will enthrall me.

I watch him with awe, demanding to know how he knows so much about circuses when he had never visited one.

I’m afraid of clowns, but I don’t tell him so. My heart sinks when the acrobats defy gravity. And I am afraid of the fire that the ringmaster holds. I want to stand up and walk away quietly, slipping from his hold. I want to hide somewhere – far away from the world where no one will ever find me again.

“What are you thinking?” he asks, yet again, his lips parting slightly.

Before I can answer, he turns back to the stage.

The circus is over; now he wants me join him on the Ferris wheel. Grumbling, I follow him to the stands.

We are ushered into a cheap, gold painted cabin that sways to the slightest wind.

The clouds are gone. The sun is peeking out from its golden robe, spreading warmth all around. Though the darkness is descending, the sun stays there, perhaps, determined to present me a sunset.

Resting my elbows against the window, I lean out and watch the Ferris wheel slowly picking up speed. We are leaving the ground, floating up with the clouds. The sun spreads its arms, waiting to embrace us in its golden light.

From up there, the people look so tiny. I’m not afraid of them anymore. The lights that flicker on the street below, seem like iridescent orbs and fireflies. I glare back at the mocking swirls of colour, wondering how a sunset can bestow so much beauty all around me. The sunrises are supposed to be the ones filled with hopes; the sunset carries a plethora of hopes as well. The radiant glow sings the legacy of the sun. I find myself being lifted higher up to a world unlike others. It feels like I’m sitting on a cloud. It feels like I’ve finally found my place in the world – here. It feels like everything I have never ever felt until now.

This is the world I had dreamed of when I had been a kid – where sunsets don’t bring pain; where one can stand on the sidewalks and watch the world go by; where one can see the silhouette of the cityscape against the backdrop of fiery red.

“What are you thinking about?” he demands this time, his gaze not leaving mine. He raises his thick eyebrows and clasps my hand, begging me to tell him.

I don’t admit anything aloud.

As I stare into the distance, watching the daylight linger and a hundred possibilities emerge, I say, “Nothing.”

Of The Stories We Tell

I have grown up listening to stories. Fairytales. Stories of war. Stories from Grandma. Stories of returning soldiers. And so many more. So have you all, probably.

I believe that the stories I have heard have the greatest contribution in making me the person I am, today.

The best part of a story, in my opinion is the essence of the tale – the pain or the sorrow it delivers or the bundle of joy that hits us after reading the same. The characters do play a significant role, but in the end, the story is what we are left with – the one that stays with us forever.

Sometimes, I like to miss my regular train and wait awhile at the station, because I have this (strange) habit of observing people. Each random face that I come across leaves a distinct impression on my mind. At times, I forget them. Then some days, when the weather is cold and I’m sitting by the window, watching the mist settle down from the mountains, I remember them – those people who had once graced a scene along with me. The crowded places mesmerize me, actually. Instead of the maddening chaos, what I find are melodious synchrony of people from various spheres, backgrounds and families. Each one of them tells me a story. Their eyes tell me of the conquests from their pasts. Their sighing and frowning tells me of the regrets they have. Each time, they bend down to kiss their children, they tell me of their love stories.

Often, I find myself looking at the lone man at the far end of the train. He holds a newspaper and squints as the old light flickers terribly in the compartment. He wants to know what is happening around him – what is happening in the world! Or perhaps, he wants to take his mind off certain things. So he hides his tired face with those sheets of paper. Does he have a family, I wonder. I think of his wife waiting for him, staying up late so that she can see her husband before the end of yet another day. The children have been put to bed and now, she sits at the dinner table, staring at the clock, having a hundred apprehensions run in her mind.

As the station draws closer, the man folds his newspaper and tucks it underneath his coat. His shoulders fall as he breathes out a sigh of relief. He has made it past another day. Isn’t that quite an achievement in itself?

After he gets down at his stop, I see a young girl board the compartment.

She is dressed in a rich red dress that exposes a lot of skin. The few women beside me frown in disappointment on seeing her attire. She is probably headed for a party. Every few minutes, she stands up from her seat and checks herself in the reflecting windows, making sure not a strand of her hair is out of its place. She wants to look as gorgeous as her friends do. She is seeking delusional perfection.

I have the urge to go to her and tell her that she looks beautiful. However, I want to know her entire story. Why a late night party? When is she going to return?

The woman sitting beside me keeps looking at her. Is she in awe of the dress she is wearing? Does she envy the fact that the girl is young and bold and the woman sees her youth in her? Or does she disapprove her clothes? Doesn’t she see the story that the girl is telling? Is she so busy doing a character study that she forgets to enjoy the story?

The train jerks to a stop and I have to get down. The stories remain incomplete. My questions remain unanswered.

As I get out and stand on the platform to watch the train leave, I see their silhouettes against the window. They are moving, going far away. I do not get to know the other stories they carry and it frustrates me to no end. I wish to meet them again – somewhere on the road, maybe on the same train again.

A cold wind caresses my skin and I realize the train has gone and it is time for me to leave as well. As I walk down the street, under the canopy of stars, I find myself thinking about the man. Did he reach his home safely? Is he having dinner with his wife and telling her about his day? Has the girl reached the party? Are her friends complimenting her on her dress? What about the woman? Has she gotten home, yet? Is she sitting with her daughter and reliving her own youth?

Under the faint moonlight, in the silence of the night, their stories haunt me. In some parallel universe, each one of us is a story. We hold tales of remorse, pain and joy and losses. Those tales are what we present to the world. Our stories are immortal. They are as infinite as the universe that traps us in its care. And these stories continue to live beyond time and space, presenting wonderful vignettes to lost travellers.