Of The People We Meet And The Memories We Make

Travelling in a local train, isn’t the best experience, I assure you, especially in a country like India where you are sandwiched between smelling men and loud women. The compartments aren’t the best looking things and with rotting peels of fruits and stale peanuts and polythene bags that swirl to the rhythm of the slightest wind, it isn’t hygienic as well. But apart from that, the thing that separates local trains from the elite express trains and their air-conditioned compartments is the type of people you meet. While express trains have more reserved men and silent ladies with their excessively disciplined kids, local trains portray a far far different picture. The women there are loud and boisterous and so friendly that you start feeling awkward. The men sit in groups and talk about things other than insurances and sports. And the little children with their pale clothes and unruly hair, stare at your food.

I was slightly apprehensive while boarding the local train from my village. I could have travelled to the nearby main station by bus and caught an express train, but I really didn’t have a great experience with buses, so I boarded the last bogie and managed to find a seat by the window. It felt too out-of-place – perhaps because I hadn’t made my hair and people were staring at me shamelessly, or may be, there was something seriously wrong with me. Either way, I had no choice but to spend two hours there because local trains had no toilets and no mirrors! Some compartments didn’t even have those red chains that were required to stop the train. Beat that!

An old hawker pushed a handful of newspapers towards me and asked if I had read the latest news. Though I wanted to buy the newspaper, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to give it a proper read because the evening winds were hitting at me directly and fifteen loose sheets of paper couldn’t make the situation any better. So, slightly shaking my head, I turned away. Beside me, a group of ladies in their heavily brocaded sarees laughed and clapped their hands to something. Squeezed between them were their kids who chewed at the ends of a water pouch. Their eyes wandered around restlessly. Somewhere, a mother slapped her wailing baby and was met with even louder bawling. Men sipped their hot evening masala (spicy) chais (tea), standing near the door and watching the sun dip into the horizon. Streaks of red and orange and purple merged into iridescence as the day slowly faded into nothingness.

Above me, the light bulb flickered lazily, casting silhouettes on the dirty floor below me. I heard a slight buzz and before I had time to imprint the noise in my head, a black beetle flew over my shoulder and landed on the broken side table in front of me. Its tiny legs scratched against the metal surface and the next moment, it was in the air again. It’s abdomen rose and fell and never had I marked an insect so closely. But then, my eyes travelled down to see the little boy who held the little beetle in its hand, shaking the poor creature madly like a dysfunctional toy airplane. Against the constant noise and buzzing busyness, I looked at the boy who stood in front of me in blissful oblivion. The noise didn’t affect him. The wet shirt that hung from one of the upper berths hit him on his bare back constantly, but all his attention was focused on the tiny little creature that had already started crawling on his hand.

From the little light that came from outside, coupled with that from the adjoining compartments, I took time to study the little boy carefully. With a little tuft of hair on his forehead and white little patches on his face, he looked like he was barely ten. His lips were partly open revealing his broken teeth. His eyes held stories. They glimmered with stories of hope. He mesmerized me in an unpredictable way. His other hand swiftly moved up and trapped the insect in its fist. Then, in a blink, he threw it out of the moving train. “Whoosh!” he exclaimed and jumped. The pair of loose pants that he wore, started slipping down slowly and without bothering to look that way, he pulled it up, his eyes trained on the scenes rapidly zoning into the obliterating darkness. It was then, the tiny blue light above my head rose to life and cast an eerie glow everywhere.

The boy turned and met my gaze, before looking down at the packet of chips I held in my hands. Quietly, he lifted his hand and pointed at it.

“You want this?” I asked and shook the packet to hear the rustle of the salted potato chips.

He nodded his head and a slight smile appeared on his face.

“Where are your parents?” I strained my neck to look at the adjoining compartments to see where his parents were. People were very apprehensive when it came to taking things from strangers. We were always taught to stay away from strangers and never take anything they offer.

So, while a part of me wanted to give him the packet, I was afraid that his parents might mistake my intentions. The man who sat behind me turned around.

“What happened, beti (daughter)?” he asked.

Chacha (Uncle),” I said. “Where are his parents?”

The man seemed like a regular passenger for recognition lit up his eyes when he saw the boy. Which was good, I had thought. Before I knew what was happening, he stood up and charged towards the boy.

“You came here, again?” he shouted, drawing the attention of the other passengers.

The boy’s lips quivered in fear, yet he didn’t cry.

“Go away!” the man lifted his hand. The boy quickly moved away.

“Can’t you hear?” someone else joined the man. “Go away!”

I was getting confused. I had no idea what was happening.

“Stupid boy!” someone retorted.

Surprisingly, the remarks didn’t seem to hurt him. Ignorance plastered itself on his face. He turned to meet my gaze and in a flash, he ripped away the packet from my hand. And then, he made a wild dash.

“What a disgusting child!”

“Catch him!”

“Idiot!”

“Throw him out of the train!”

Hurtful words were hurled from everywhere and a man even followed him. After the commotion had cooled down a bit and people had taken their seats, I turned to the same man again and asked, “Who was he?”

“He is always there on the train, stealing food from people,” the man explained. “His parents probably left him on the train and never came back to fetch him. A naughty boy like him deserves the same fate!”

His words made me cringe because they were filled with so much anger and hatred. How could someone hate a child?

“He can’t speak too! Yet, see the guts the child has!” he added.

Shrugging, I turned back and looked out of the window. The story of the child affected me a lot. It was strange how people managed to smile despite their past.

It was surprising how the boy continued to survive when he knew no language except that of smiles and fear and pain. Dreams rose and fell in his eyes, with each passing day. The train was his home and he made new memories each day. He survived and fought. Life wasn’t so easy, he taught me that. Amidst the chaos, I had found a story so painfully beautiful that it haunts me every time I board a train. Each time, my eyes look around, hoping to find the same boy or probably another child like him. Yet, I see no one. His face has blurred from my memory.

But I know, his story will continue to live with me forever.

Of The Things We Never Tell

I don’t think I can ever forget the day when I walked into the classroom on the brightest Friday morning to see a friend of mine, fumbling with a bandage roll. As soon as she saw me walking towards her (she was my bench mate), she turned away and (secretly) pushed the roll into her bag.

‘Hi?’ I greeted her, unsure of whether I should ask if she was all right or not. Sixteen years of life had taught me one of the greatest lessons – people don’t want you to ask them anything, especially when they are desperately trying to hide something.

So, I kept quiet.

‘Hi!’ she replied back with feverish enthusiasm. Her smile was way too cheerful. Her hands came around me and pulled me into a quiet hug. And she giggled or hid her sniffles under its pretext.

‘I’ve missed you so much!’

When she pulled back, I couldn’t help but notice the streaks of blood that ran down the cuffs of her red sweater. I felt an uncanny chill run down my entire body on seeing that. Till then, blood had never made me scared. But it was a sight, so painful, that for a moment I felt a sharp pain bubbling through my nose and spreading throughout.

‘You know what-‘ she continued, least aware that I had seen underneath her pretence. Pulling my hand down, she made me sit beside her.

‘He is such a nice guy, I tell you,’ she spoke with a fake happiness. The smiles and blushes never reached her eyes and I couldn’t mistake the way she gritted her teeth every time she drummed her fingers on the table. She was pulling up a perfect game.

‘He offered me roses! And you know what? He told me that I’m the only girlfriend he’s ever had!’

Under the desk, my hands felt clammy and I clenched them into tight fists. For I knew those were lies. Lies. Devastating lies. At that moment, I didn’t know who to be angry with. I was furious with my friend as she was being such an idiot. On the other hand, I knew it wasn’t her fault for the guy gave her false hopes. And she was madly in love with him, nevertheless.

‘T,’ I interjected. ‘Can I ask you something?’

She nodded.

‘Do you really like him?’

Her face twisted into a frown. I had never wanted people to misunderstand me. It so happened between friends that often, they are so caught up in a web of lies and delusional hopes that they refuse to believe you. And I didn’t want that to happen.

‘Y-yes,’ her voice broke and at that moment I realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

For the next few minutes, I heard the most horrific truths. There were times when I felt like giving her a hug, but I felt so cold. It was as if I was standing there, watching all this happen to her, yet I couldn’t do anything.

He abused her. Each night. Each day. Them being neighbours, didn’t help at all. Instead, it worsened things. She lived in eternal fear that her parents might find out. And that was the last thing she wanted her parents to know. She told that she can’t let them go through all the grief and pain. So for months together, she kept every emotion bottled inside her. Hurt. Fury. Pain.

There was no one she could reach out to, for she knew people would judge. They’d blame her. And it wasn’t shocking, for both of us had seen some people doing just that. There were times, she confessed, when she wanted to give up – to slit her wrists and distance herself away from all the pain of the world. For months, she took antidepressants, and battled the darkest phases, but everything seemed to be coming back to her.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ she sobbed. Her hands clasped mine and the warmth on my wrists, snapped me out of my trance. Looking down, I rolled down her sleeves to expose the deepest cuts and scars. I gasped.

‘Why?’ I asked; demanded, in fact.

‘He made me feel worthless. He made me feel like I had no right to live.’

‘He,’ I said, ‘is no god! He has no right to decide who deserves to live and who doesn’t.’

An awkward stretch of silence followed and as I looked around, I realized the other students were slowly starting to stare in our direction.

‘Everything fine?’ another friend of mine enquired.

It took me a great deal of effort to nod. I wasn’t sure if shit could be called fine.

‘Do you hate me?’ she mumbled next to me.

‘I-I am not sure.’

Perhaps it broke her, but I knew that I was going to do anything to pull her out of the mess. I was going to do anything to walk her to the lighthouse that helped many a wandering traveller.

We are no angels. We make mistakes. Small mistakes. Big mistakes. But they shouldn’t define our future. They shouldn’t make us give up in everything and consider ourselves worthless. Each one of us has dark days. Cold days when blistery winds seem to cast a veil on the land. At some places, winters last longer. But when the summer comes, it arrives in all its pleasant glory. All we need to do sometimes is, wait for the summers. And we need to believe that they will be there, no matter what.

At times when we feel like giving up, we must not submit to the urges. The universe promises a wonderful life for each one of us. And what a pity if we don’t live it! Why shouldn’t we!

Today, my phone beeps to her message.

‘How are you?’ she asks.

‘How are you?’ I reply back.

‘You rescued me.’

And I smile in relief.

We all need something to pull us out of the mess; someone to rescue us in our darkest days.

Of Scars That Remain Behind

People are always looking for ways to get rid of scars. Who wants to carry a bundle of sad memories anyway?!

They try the best creams, visit a doctor, obsess too much over the broken skin. I really don’t understand why everyone needs to have flawless skin.

Perhaps the creams might heal the skin and a few tablets and a dash of make-up may get rid of the slight bump, but there’ll always be the ghost of a wound there. The wounds heal but they never go away completely.

The scars hold the stories. Just like a person’s eyes gives away a lot about how they are feeling, scars are like secret road maps, holding painful histories.

The scars remain behind for a good reason, though. To remind. Maybe the skin pulls up a new face with each passing year, but we still remember our scars and everything that has ever hurt us.

When we are down and the sky is dark, the scars remind us that we can live through that, for there have been darker days. They tell us to hold on, for light awaits us.

The scars remind us to have strength in our darkest hour.

They sketch blurred vignettes of our life. The painful ones. We remember where exactly it hurt and why.

And how it healed.

Of Expectations That Kill

Come March and I bet my parents’ blood pressures hike up drastically. It’s exam time and though children are supposed to be the ones facing the question papers, the parents are on a special marathon as well. They wake up with the child; they sit with them as they read; the house is ten decibels quieter as everyone seems to be speaking in hushed whispers and in short, it is as if someone has just died in the house! Indeed, someone has…

Think about the child for once. Do the parents have this much knowledge of what the child is going through? Waking up for late nights is no big deal, but do the parents carry that heavy burden of expectations that the child carries? Do they know that this load is slowly killing their children?

I think the biggest problem of our times is the tremendous amount of competition around. No doubt, competition pushes everyone to give their best, but in the same breath, there is no real learning because everyone is too busy, with their gazes focused on the finish line. Everyone wants to be a winner! And our universe, unfortunately, has a rule book that states that only one person can be the winner. But does that mean the person who comes last, is worthless? Does that mean the person who came second is not as good as the first? Does that mean the person with a broken leg never deserved to come first?

In the race to perfection, lies the problem.

I happened to read this in a very beautiful book : Each one of us, is born perfect.

And I agree with it. When children are born, there is absolutely no comparison. We don’t measure how loudly they cry or how many times they sneeze. We are plain happy. Period. And that implies, we all had once been, perfect!

It is when we start growing up, that comparisons begin. Suddenly it’s about how fast a child can grasp the alphabets and the other can’t! It’s about how quick one kid grows, but the other doesn’t! Comparison kills the perfection we had grown up with. And most of the parents, just wouldn’t accept that. If you are short, they’d ask you to play basketball! If you are dull in studies, they’d hire a hundred tutors! If you can’t draw, they’d send you to a class! In short, they can’t just accept the fact that each child has certain limits.

Just like everyone can’t dance or sing or paint, everyone can’t have perfect grades or a perfect personality or a perfect physique!

Why do we chase perfection? We are like this, and this is perfect! And why wouldn’t anyone understand that?

It gets particularly serious when a person reaches teenage. He/she is constantly compared and asked to become like someone else. My parents want me to become the best doctor. My neighbours want their son to become the best teacher. Why does everyone want the best? Why can’t average be just as good?

I happen to have arguments with my mum constantly, whenever she tells me to study else I can’t get anywhere in life. I ask her, why? Why do I need to get somewhere in life? Is it the sole purpose of life to get a fine job and have a fine house? Is it the sole motive and agenda of life?

She tells me that people have too many expectations from me. And the very realization, kills me from inside, just like it kills several other people in my place. It is scary. There’s always a nagging fear that if I don’t live up to their expectations, where will I be? Will people still like me?

What scares me even more is the fact that I’ve never let anyone down and it is only natural that people believe that I’ll shine again. But what if, what if I don’t? Don’t I stand a chance in the world? Will it be the end of the world?

Each night, I sit thinking of what might happen if I fail – fail to reach that mark they have set for me? I see nothing but frightening darkness. And the chill haunts me. It makes me want to breakdown and cry my heart out. Because that load of expectations is overwhelming. Each random person who I meet and who tells me, “You are a great student. You’ll do just fine!”, contributes to that load. If only they had known that I was nothing but an average student!

As I sit at my desk, writing down these random musings, I wonder of the many students who go through these depressing periods. Hope seems scarce. And in a moment of utter frenzy, it feels like everything is lost.

I tell my mum to worry less and to expect lesser. Instead, I tell her to hope. I ask her to hope that I do good, and not expect I reach perfection. To be honest, I don’t even know what is perfect perfect!

And I lean back on my chair and tell myself that even if I fail, it won’t be the end of the world. It won’t be.

Of Growing Up

When we were kids, things were simpler.

Be it our first steps or our first strokes on a paper or our first ride on a bicycle, there was always someone who had our back. If we happened to stumble, someone lent a hand. If our strokes were bent, someone taught us how to do it right. If we fell off the bike, someone picked us up and wiped our tears.

So we were not afraid to fall. We were not afraid to fail.

Our smiles were simpler.

Our words were easy.

Our eyes glimmered with hope.

If, back then, someone had told us we’d fly if we jump down the terrace, we’d have gladly done that, for we knew no fear.

When we were tucked into our blankets and whispered fairy tales, we believed they were true.

And then…

We grew up.

Smiles were no longer simple. They hid a plethora of emotions.

Each word was carefully uttered, strategically planned in advance.

Our eyes gleamed, not with hope, but with confusion.

Fear resounded in every corner of our minds. The world seemed scary.

We were careful at every step, afraid that we might fall. If our strokes were not perfect, we let them be, for there was no one to teach us. When we fell, no one was around.

And the fairytale we had dreamed of, almost every night, seemed to slip right through our fingers.

What changed in those few years?

Did we?

Of Dark, Darker and Darkest

There are days when nothing seems to be making sense. The world seems fifty shades darker. There is no one around. And even though the sun is shining bright, inside you, there’s a storm raging.

They are dark days. Grey days. When every defeat, everything that has ever hurt you, returns and bites you in the ass.

They are days when you can practically hear the drops of rain trickling down your misted window panes and settling in the pipes below your street. Your hands feel clammy and the cold makes you numb.

Those are days when you feel that your existence is worthless and that you must give up.

But, don’t.

The universe is funny. It preaches that only after the darkest hour, shall you see the light. It conspires a myriad things behind your back. Trust the universe. Comets return. Some place has two suns. Magic, happens, up there. All you need to do is live through your darkest days to see the brightest dawns.

Those are days when you must learn to pick yourself up and have courage. And if you do hold on to that withering thread of hope, the universe promises to let you see the glorious spectacle ahead.

For more inspiring stories, visit here.

Of Families That Make/Break Us

I have seen my parents obsessing a lot about their jobs. Generally they work till late and by the time they return home, they are exhausted and frustrated as well.
In a recent conversation with my Mom where she argued that job provides money and that her job is important, it led me to wonder if people these days are putting their work ahead of their family.

Our world has a very competitive setup. Each one of us is running some kind of race. The motive is yet unknown. It’s like we want to please just everyone around us, which is in fact, impossible. Somewhere, a clerk wants to impress his manager and a teacher wants to impress the principal. In bigger companies, the employees work hard day and night to reach a so-called “target”. And all this, at the cost of what?

I quote a few lines said by a famous poet, “What is this life if full of care, where nobody has time to stand and stare?”
Don’t we all agree with the fact that our world is becoming too busy? Forget the entire me-time, are we even finding enough time to spend with our families?

Teenagers are nose-deep in their social media profiles; children are busy with cartoons and action games; adults are busy with their jobs and so on. By the end of the day, we are all naturally exhausted and the dinner table is silent and stale. It lacks excitement. It lacks love. I’ve felt it.

I don’t see a clear solution to this, though. And I really don’t see a specific person or thing to blame. Should we blame these people who pay too much attention to their work or should we blame the companies who put so much pressure on their employees? Shouldn’t there be a little family-time and me-time? Because that is what we all need!

Our families give us motivation. Without them, where on earth would we be! Who would be share our conquests with? Who would we share our problems with? Who would pick us up when we fall? And in a race to impress others and earn money and be in someone’s good books and perhaps be in line for a promotion, should we forget about them?

Each time we spend a little extra time at our offices, we must remember to spend the same amount of time with our families as well. They deserve all the time in the world. For they make us.

Of Blurred Faces And Old Photographs

Do I ever cross your mind? Do you ever happen to think about that one random person you saw on the street today and imagine how their life is? Do you look at your old pictures and try to remember the blurred faces in the background?

I do that. A lot.

At times I happen to take out junior high photos and I happen to look at them for long. I see the camera focused on a few, leaving the rest of the people out of the view. But do they really go out of the picture? No, they don’t. They are the ones who make the picture truly beautiful. Even though you don’t remember them, they have graced a moment of your life. The people in the background or behind the stage aren’t necessarily people who like to remain there. They want to come out and shine, but they wait. They wait for their turn. So they become the “unnecessary” people in the background.

It makes me wonder about the many lives I’ve been a part of. Maybe I played a small role, but I was there.

I don’t even remember the people who had been around me when I was in “focus”. True, no one remembers the background people, unless they are in the same place.

Of Decisions And Desires

My mom worries a lot… about what others would think. Be it a job or a career choice or clothes, I think she puts others first, instead of herself.
But, it doesn’t always have to be about them, right?
Though we can say that we don’t care about what others think, there will always be a part of us that will have such questions like what will he or she think? Or what will the society think?
And, it’s okay to have them.
But, sometimes, it has to come down to us.
Our decisions must worry us. Each time we take a step, we must stop to think, ‘Does this make me happy?’
If it does, I bet the sun will shine a bit brighter that day!

Of Living Tomorrows Instead Of Todays

It surprises me of how people spend their entire lives saving grains for tomorrow; collecting pennies for tomorrow; planning for tomorrow; worrying for tomorrow. In fact, we do so many things for tomorrow, that it makes me wonder what we do for today?

That is probably the biggest problem. We always want to be a step ahead in everything. We are always… prepared. And this way, we leave no room for miracles and surprises.

We fail to realize that we can never stop what is about to happen. The future is always changing and life is uncertain, yet we want to be geared up for everything. It’s like wearing a harness for your entire life if someone has predicted you’d die of a great fall!

No one can predict the future fully. The future is dark and deep and scary. Nor can we be prepared to face future. It will always manage to shock us.