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Of Days Like This

Something that came loose from my diary today..just today.

Have you ever had one of those days where you felt sick and slow?

Have you ever had one of those days where you wanted to fall asleep and wake up to a newer dawn?

Have you ever had one of those days when you had just so many things to say, yet nobody was around?

Have you ever had one of those days when you wanted to be in the middle of a crowd?

Have you ever had one of those days when you wanted to write till the end of the world, yet you couldn’t?

Have you ever had one of those days when you felt like calling someone, yet you wouldn’t?

Have you ever had one of those days when you sat in the dark, no matter how much it scared you?

Have you ever had one of those days when you felt lonely and blue?

Have you ever had one of those days when every breath felt painful?

Have you ever had one of those days when you wanted someone to hold you?

Have you ever had one of those days when you had just so many things to say, yet nobody was around?

Have you ever had one too many days like that?

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To The Best Friend Who Wasn’t

Only recently, I happened to come across a notification on Wattpad where the wonderful Rup had tagged me for a 30-day letter writing challenge. Now, I don’t really write a lot of letters. In a world where most of our time is spent on chatting and social networking, it’s not much of a surprise that the trend of writing letters is slowly vanishing into the abyss of nothingness. I love writing letters, though. Someday, I’ll send those letters to the people they are meant for. So for the first challenge, I had to write a letter to my best friend which reads something like this:

Dear Best Friend or rather the best friend I never had,

Has anybody ever told you that you are perfect? No? Then, hear me now, you are. I’ve never seen a person as strong and determined as you. I’ve never met a person who knows how to put things back together; it’s almost like you have some crazy magic tricks up your sleeve! I’ve never come across a person as intelligent as you or as beautiful. You present yourself like the complete package.

I remember the sleepless nights we spent fangirl-ing over some Hollywood celebrity. We’d add too many ‘a’s to their names or too many ‘e’s. At times, we would be lovesick over virtual anime guys, already talking about future plans in case we happen to meet someone like them in real life. I still hold a hope that in some undiscovered dimension, anime people exist and someday, they are going to come on earth and meet us. We’ve been sending them way too many crazy brain signals and someone told me that hard work never goes into waste.

Then some days, we’d talk about books.

On cold evenings, we’d argue over trivial matters. Though they seemed heated, they had a tendency to cool down too soon. I never wanted to lose you to some silly argument and perhaps, you didn’t want that too.

I tell you, I don’t remember when we started drifting apart from each other.

Someone had told me that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I still don’t find any truth in it. Of all the instances that have happened in my life, the first lesson I’ve learnt is that, absence makes things worse. Time is a culprit and it makes every precious memory fade away. I have only managed to have grasp a handful of memories and store it somewhere safe in my memory vault.

Sometimes, I feel that I was the only person who considered you my best friend. There was never any reciprocation from your side and it breaks my heart whenever I think of it. There are some things in life which you can’t have, no matter how much you strive for it. As for me, I’ve always struggled when it comes to making a best friend. It’s like a game of playing cards, which I’ve never been good at.

Whenever I see two bubbly girls walking on the streets, laughing to something, I tell myself that that could have been us.

But the right moment has gone by. No matter how much I try now, no matter how much you do, some things between us will never be the same again.

We do talk a lot these days, but do you notice that we hide a lot too many things?

We do laugh a lot, but those smiles are not true.

We do try and pretend that things had never gone wrong between us, but the truth lingers somewhere in the background – the very fact that some things have changed between us. We have changed. Our interests have changed. Our social circles have changed. Back in those high school days, you used to be the social bee and I used to be the shy, little girl in a corner of the class. I had always, desperately wished to be like you. We talked back then. But I thought that if I could somehow fit into your group, we could become best friends.

Now, the roles have changed. I play the part of the social bee and you tend to stay in the shadows.

Still, we are not best friends. Perhaps, we never were. I was just crazy and a little too desperate.

But I don’t regret it. I wanted you and only you to be my best friend. Who wouldn’t want a girl as perfect as you as their best friend!

But I guess, I forgot to take in consideration the fact that may be nobody wanted me as their best friend.

So, as I write this, I am still best-friend-less.

I wonder of the things we could have done as best friends. We could have those girls happily running down the streets. We could have been those girls spending hours in a mall. We could have those girls who never had any secrets. We could have been so many things. Only, we aren’t.

But we’ve come a long way without being best friends and a few more miles doesn’t really matter anymore.

Time may be a culprit, but it heals wounds, doesn’t it?

Sincerely,

The Best Friend Who Never Was.

Of What We Actually Mean

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be alone – far away from the drone of noises crying excitement; away from the blaring horns of buses and cars; away from the busyness that surrounds life.

At times, I’d wish the ground would open up and swallow me inside into a world of maddening oblivion. In those times, everything felt hazy. Every step I took made me feel immensely tired. Yet I wanted to run away to some place where nobody could find me.

“I want to be alone,” I’d tell them when they’d coax me to attend their parties.

“I want to be alone,” I’d tell them when I’d be fighting the adamant tears from escaping.

“I want to be alone,” I’d tell them when they’d ask me if I were okay.

“I want to be alone,” and they’d quickly scurry off in a desperate attempt to give me some space. They’d always respect my decision and desire and wouldn’t bother to ring me up until I did so.

Now that I think of those times, I find myself wondering if I really wanted to be alone.

No.

When I told them I wanted to be alone, a part of me feverishly craved for someone to stay behind an offer me a shoulder to cry on.

When I told them I wanted to be alone, I wanted someone to stay behind and hear me out.

When I told them I wanted to be alone, I wanted them not to leave.

When I told them I wanted to be alone, I meant, I didn’t want to be.

I agree we have complicated notions. Complicated emotions.When we are, in fact, bubbling with so much to say, we cut short with a simple ‘Nothing’. When tears prick our eyes, we blink them back and smile. When we are hurting deep inside, we still manage to pick ourselves up and walk.

It is about knowing what those sweet nothings hold. It is about knowing what those smiles hide. It is about knowing that no matter how strong a person pretends to be, they still have a vulnerable side.

And how I wish, back then, each time I’d uttered, “I want to be alone,” someone would have pulled me into a hug and whispered, “No. I know you don’t want to be.”

Perhaps that would have solved half of the problems of the world…

Of Strangers At A Coffee Shop

(On Somebody’s Demand)

I liked him. A lot. As a friend. As the boy who sat in the last bench and yet managed to dig up some pretty good scores. As the boy who was loved by all; desired by all; dreamt by all. I liked stopping by his class to steal a glance. I liked talking to him. I liked scrolling up numerous Facebook conversations and reading them over and over again. I liked him.

At first, back in those high school days which now roll by in a soft, nostalgic tone with a tint of grey, I liked him. That was all it was.

But then one day, I fell deeper. I found myself lost. I started wondering if he liked talking to me all the same or not. I started questioning myself whether he cared about me the way I did. I started to delve deeper and care about how he looked at me. Whenever he did, I wondered if the stories he held were true. I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Then, what mesmerized me, what kept me on my toes, what made me smile giddily for no absolute reason – was not him, but the idea of who we could be.

I was in love, or so I think. To this day, I still look for something that can convince me that that wasn’t love.

Over the years, something changed – as it happens in every story round the world. Something snapped. Some feeble hope that I catered in a lone corner of my heart, withered away with the sands of time. Before I could fully realize what was happening, we were drifting far away. The Cheshire cat grins were mingling into confused frowns. Heartbreaks were no longer literal; they drew blood. Sleepless nights merged into lonely days.

I never thought that I’d be this girl – someone who cared too much; someone who felt something so strongly. I kept telling myself that this would be different.

Oh, how wrong was I!

So here I sit today, inside the very coffee shop that entraps memories of the times we spent together.

The grey and gloom outside the faintly lit café reflects my mood. Drops of crystal, clear rain slide down the glass in a painfully slow stance, painting distorted images of the world outside. Cars speed by with blaring horns, casting reflections that glisten like undiscovered orbs of light entrapped in illusions.

The red walls and chestnut tables don’t catch my interest. Nor does the aroma of ground coffee beans grunting in the old coffee machine. The squeaking of sneakers and click of heels don’t break my oblivion. How can they when you are sitting right next to me!

With another girl, though.

I look at both of your reflections on the misted window glass. It is rather surprising of how clearly I can make out your smiles, yet I can’t trace the cars that roam right outside the window. Why, windows were made to look at the outside world! Did they sometimes reflect the inside as well?

For the first time in my life, I decide to order my coffee entirely black, just the way you liked it.

I hope you notice when the chirpy waitress places the cup in front of me. But you don’t. You are smiling at her, trying to make her feel better, while I’m crumbling deep inside.

You are whispering sweet dreams of everlasting happiness to her, while I’m desperately wishing you’d turn and look at me.

But you don’t.

My vision is hazy. Perhaps, it is not you. Else you’d have noticed. Or did you move on? Quicker than my scars healed?

I push away the cup of coffee and stand up quietly. I walk away. Behind me, you push away a strand of her hair and look into her eyes and fall in love. How I wish you’d look at me again and fall deeper in love this time! Your smiles are deafeningly louder. I’m blinking back tears as I walk, rather run faster.

We are both strangers now. Nobody ever told that people who had been in love could become this. Then again, nobody ever told me that people change and you’ve to let go.

Now I realize that these things needn’t be told

You’ve to learn them.

As I climb back into my jeep and watch you flashing her a wink, I don’t feel the same pang again. For I’m starting to let go of the thread that I had been holding for long – the one that you left, long ago.

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.

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 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.