“I’m not saying that now is the time to act, or now is not. But you’ve to get somewhere in life, right?” Mom said.
“Mom, each one of us does get somewhere in life. They just wait for their chances and their dawns. Each day can’t bring happiness for everyone. While some might have rainy days in the month of scorching May, some will have summers in Christmas. Mom, each one us needs a chance – to prove ourselves to the world; to prove that we can stand up on our feet without any help; to prove that we can touch the stars. And we need someone to believe – someone to tell us ‘I know you can do it!’ That conviction alone can drive someone to the top,” I replied. “It takes time, Mom and people have to be given time. We can’t create magic in a second. We have to toil a bit, yet despite all these, we might fail. But we have to remember that we’ll have a chance to shine and we have to grasp that golden moment.”
Mom nodded her head.
“Mom,” I continued. “May be I’m not good enough. May be I will fail an exam or two. Failure is inevitable and it must be accepted with grace. I know I’ll fall too many times. But Mom, when I do get my chance – my chance to shine, I promise the world will watch. I promise I’ll scale that mountain and reach the top and tell myself that yes, I did it. I’ll get somewhere, Mom – somewhere high and fine. But you’ve to let me seek out my own paths. You have to give me the courage to spread my wings, else I’ll never know what it is to fly and what it is to drop from the sky. I promise, Mom, that there’ll be a day you’ll tell me, ‘I knew you could do it!’ I’m just waiting for that day. I’ll not miss my chance.”
“And even if you do,” Mom interjected, “I’ll still be proud of you, no matter what.”
The clock had struck midnight by then.
Have you ever noticed a person closely? Yes, they do look different; they have different tastes; a myriad mindsets… but look closer.
Inside, their souls, you’ll find yourself.
They are running scared; fighting for a place; living through each day, smiling and crying all the same. Inside, they are confused. Every time they find themselves lost amidst a crowd, they panic. They have dark days. They have brighter ones as well.
And look at you! Amidst the chaos of the city and dwindling light, you sit and watch the world go by. You are looking for your world. You are looking forward to a day when you’ll own the stage and the spotlight will be on you. When you have dark days, you are not afraid to cry. And when the sun shines bright, you rejoice.
You have goals like them. You have dreams gleaming in your eyes. You are as beautiful as the merging colours of the sky. You are looking for your moment to shine; they are looking for theirs!
Amidst the crowds that buzz past you, you take a breath and look at every person closely. You are blurring more and more into the crowd. And they are blurring more and more into you.
And as the sun drowns against the city line casting silhouettes across the horizon, you take a deep breath and stand up. Indeed, you looked closer and what did you find? That there’s a piece of you in those blurring faces in the crowd.
He never understood why she had to look perfect. He never understood why she had to spend hours in the mall, shuffling through a thousand dresses. He never understood why she had spend so much time gazing at the rearview mirror of his car, trying to fix every strand of her hair. He never understood the girl that she became after stepping out of his car and entering the school premises. He never understood why she’d scurry off in another direction and leave him alone.
But the day he walked into the cafeteria and found her sitting amidst the bunch of popular kids in their grade, he understood why. He understood that she no longer wanted to be his friend. So, he stayed away.
Each day, he would see her walk past him, chattering merrily with her new friends. He would see her flashing smiles and laughing endlessly with them. But he could tell, those smiles were not hers. During lunch breaks, he would see her skip her meals along with the dozen other girls in their group. Every day after school, he would see her at the bleachers, cheering for some boy he didn’t know she knew.
He wanted to tell her to stop being the person she was not. He wanted to tell her that she looked all the more beautiful without the make-up. He wanted to tell her those people were not real – their façades his a hundred truths. Their lives were not so perfect. The people they were were not the real them. He knew because he had been there.
But he kept quiet because clearly, she didn’t want to hear him.
One autumn evening, however, he met her on the street. Her hair was messy and her eyes gleamed. As they walked past each other, she held him back. Words never left her throat. Instead, she broke down next to him.
Amidst busy people and muffled voices, he held her as she cried. She spoke things which made no sense. Yet, he listened. Her shoulders fell and she sobbed against him.
The lights above then rippled below their feet on the slippery, gravel road, breaking into a million rays.
“Why?” she asked, her gaze burning into his. “I listened to them. I was there when they cried. But why was there no one when I needed them to be?”
How he wished he could tell her all the things he wanted to, ever since the day she left him! How he wished he could tell her about her friends’ sheltered lives! How he wished he could tell her all this and more without causing her more pain!
“You,” she continued in a broken voice, “are the only person who has always stayed by my side. But now, I’ve lost you, I guess. I was so stupid to leave you for them!”
He smiled, but inside, he was breaking.
“Everything about them is like a carefully scripted play,” she complained. “I don’t want to be them. I’m just happy being whoever I am.”
“They are nice people,” he said. “It’s just that, at times, they are misunderstood.”
Shock spread across her features.
“I know because once upon a time, I was one of them,” he spoke carefully. “I went from one party to another and drank till dawn. I laughed to jokes which were so bad. I did all that because I wanted to fit in in their group. The popular group. But half way down, I realized that there’s no such thing as that. I didn’t need to be in that group just to be popular. I could be popular in my own league!”
Amidst the bright city lights and increasing unrest, they sat in silence, thinking of things which made no sense.
“It’s getting late,” he spoke, first.
She nodded and stood up and began to walk.
A pang of sorrow ran through him. How he wanted his old friend back! He waited for her to turn around, but she never did. So, he turned and walked his way.
Only, she called him back.
“Did I really lose you?” she asked.
He didn’t know how to answer that one. So, he kept his back to her.
“Can we go back to being the friends we were? Will you forgive me this time, please?” she said.
He turned around and saw her smile.
“That’s what friends are for, after all,” he smiled too.
I bet no storyteller can beat the way grandparents tell stories to their grandkids. Stories of lions and tigers, of brave kings and beautiful queens, of hardworking farmers and intelligent women – their stories have a different charm.
Now, I remember that during summers, when there’d be no classes, Mom would send us off to our grandma’s house.
When dinner would be over and Grandma would be done with her daily chores, she’d come into our room and tell us a story.
I used to be a big fan of ghost stories. So, when Grandma would slip under the covers with us and ask us which story we’d like to hear, I’d always beg her to tell us a ghost story. My younger cousins would nod their heads gladly, agreeing to my decision because I was the eldest among the bunch.
Grandma would turn off the lights and we’d snicker and scoot closer under the blanket, grabbing each other’s shirt, afraid that some mischievous ghost would hear us and drag us to hell!
I remember those hushed whispers and scared whimpers of my younger cousins. At times, they’d pull the blanket a little tighter around themselves or look around the room, as if looking out for the hidden ghosts.
Squeezed in the middle, amongst her grandkids, she’d slowly pat our heads or run a hand through our hair while beginning the story. When she’d speak in that cracked voice of hers, everything would fall silent. The creaking of the old fan would die down, the swaying of the coconut trees outside would come to a standstill and the stray dogs on the street would stop barking – as if to hear the story she had to stay.
Be it cold Monday nights or freezing Tuesday evenings, Grandma always had the same ghost story to tell us. Strangely, we never complained.
She used to tell us about a ghost who had a strange craving for sweets! He’d visit every house after midnight, dragging away their trunks from under the bed and search for sweets. At times, he’d walk into the kitchen and make a lot of noises. Utensils would fall down from the shelves, spoons would fly around the room and slow wails would be heard all around. It would petrify the people of the town. If only they’d known that the poor ghost only wanted some sweets.
By this time, no matter how many times we’d have heard the story, we’d huddle closer next to Grandma and wait with bated breaths, our hearts racing rapidly.
Then one day, Grandma would continue in a feeble voice, trying to add a tone of dramatic stance, the ghost’s friend who lived on the top most branch of a banyan tree, would tell his friend that people kept sweets in a refrigerator!
The poor ghost would have never heard about a refrigerator!
‘How does it look?’ he would ask.
‘It’s big and rectangular!’ his friend would tell him. ‘It makes a weird noise at times.’
With a firm determination to steal sweets from the refrigerator, the ghost would walk into a house the next night. He would run straight into the kitchen and look desperately for the so-called refrigerator.
Little Tom who would be staying there would see the ghost and ask him what he is up to. To which, the ghost would tell him the truth. Now, Tom would be kind kid and he would open the refrigerator and give the ghosts a few sweets. The ghost would be too happy and would thank the kid.
And then, he would never return.
And by this time, all my younger cousins would be silently snoring. Only, I’d be wide awake and grumble.
‘You tell the same story every night!’ I would complain.
But by then, Grandma would have dozed off too. And after twisting and turning for some time, wondering why the ghost never returned, I would fall asleep as well.
To this day, I never understood why Grandma kept telling us the same story over and over again. Though I know now that ghosts do not eat sweets, nor do they live up banyan trees and have friends, Grandma’s story continues to haunt me. I find myself thinking of how the ghost looked and why little Tom wasn’t scared on seeing the ghost.
Grandma had simple stories up her sleeves. But those stories were the ones I grew up with. And no matter how stupid they sound, I find myself telling the same story when a bunch of kids ask me to.
And on sleepless nights, when the moon would be high up in the sky and the street dogs would go on a rampage and a slow wind would blow outside, I would think of the same story and fall asleep.
…So one fine night, I asked her something.
“Have you ever had an instance in your life that has changed you?” I said.
“No,” she replied.
“Anything interesting or inspiring?” I pressed.
“No,” she said again.
“Something?” I asked.
She kept quiet. Her eyes wandered momentarily, staring into the far horizon. The evening sunset gleamed in her eyes.
“Interesting,” she mumbled. “My life has been way too interesting. I have been broken to pieces and have managed to glue it all together.”
Her reply surprised me. For all these years I had known her, she had never been like this – so lost. She had always been the bubbly teenager who knew what to speak and when; how to dress right and for what; how to live life and for whom. She was this tiny quantum of energy and never before had I heard her so … defeated.
“You don’t sound like you,” I told her.
“Wow, that’s new,” she said. “Why?”
“It’s just that deep, dark, sad has never been you,” I said.
She sighed. A ghost of a smile flickered on her face. A sad smile.
“If only someone asked,” she said in a low whisper. I heard her, though.
‘Mumma?’ he called.
The old woman in her worn out dress and wrinkled face, turned away from the sink to look at her little son lying on the couch, staring up at the ceiling fan. Rust had settled on its corners and the slight squeaks it caused, made her cringe in distaste.
‘Yes child,’ she said as she wiped off her hands on her apron and walked to him. Dropping down on the couch, she allowed him to rest his head on her lap.
Her heart broke as she held his feeble hands and rubbed them gently.
When he did not speak, she asked again.
His eyes met hers and all they reflected was nothingness. Her son’s eyes were blank; they held no trace of emotion and she did not know whether to be happy or sad for that.
‘Mumma,’ he mumbled. His voice shook. ‘Does God love me any less?’
Almost immediately, she shook her head and looked away, blinking back her tears. The last thing she wanted to do was to cry in front of her dying son. His body felt so fragile against hers that she was afraid a slight touch would hurt him.
‘No, child, our God is beautiful,’ she told him. ‘He loves us all the same. We are all his lovely children and He loves us to death.
‘Then why does he let other children run and jump and shout while I lie here all day?’
It was difficult to swallow the lump stuck in her throat. Her temples throbbed as unwept tears threatened to spill.
‘It is because He has something special for you! He wants you to wait so that He can shower you with all the happiness in the world. He loves you, dear child, more than you can imagine,’ she aid and ran a hand through his hair. ‘Up there, He sits, watching over all of us. He picks us up when we fall. And when we cry, He is there to wipe away our tears. Each day, He presents us the most beautiful dawns to create histories. See? He is here with us. He is all around, child. And He loves you. So please, hold on.’
The doorbell rang, filling the house with a lovely tune.
She looked down at her son who was breathing quietly. His eyes were closed in blissful oblivion. She got up and opened the door.
The mailman handed her a letter.
After he took his leave, she closed the door behind her and tore open the pale yellow envelope to reveal her son’s medical reports. Her eyes glimmered with several hundred emotions as she looked frantically at the sheets.
And then, she saw it.
‘Wake up, child,’ she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘Wake up! You’ll live, child! You’ll live for long!’
He remained quiet.
I’ll shamelessly confess that I don’t know how to cook.
Some people have at least the basic idea of cooking, but sadly, I have none.
The only thing I mange to cook with perfection is Maggi and yes, I do know how to make coffee (wouldn’t that be a serious travesty of logic if the person with a blog named “A Caffeinated Blog” doesn’t know how to make coffee!). But that is it. I can roll a dough but I make amoeboid shapes! Children love them, but sadly, Mom dumps them into the batter again and makes a fresh batch. Often, I question why does a roti (flatbread) or naan needs to have a round shape? It is pretty illogical, right? Why can’t we have square-shaped rotis and round slices of bread?
Now, I have a brother who is eternally hungry!
So the day Mom happened to call me up and tell me that they’d be late, my brother took it as an evil opportunity to force me into the kitchen and make him some food. He knows that I have zero cooking skills and I’m pretty sure it was a sick, little plan of his mischievous brain, but at the same time, I was bored and I really wanted to do something new!
So, I decided to cook!
(Yes, I can already see you clapping in appreciation. Why, thank you!)
Here, in my part of the world, we have dosas, which are basically pancakes made from rice flour and ground pulses, typically served with a spiced vegetable filling. Mom had the batter ready, resting in the fridge and I knew that all it took to make the dish was to pour some oil into a pan, pour the batter and somehow make a round shape out of it.
I had seen Mom making those numerous times and I was pretty sure it wasn’t such a tough job.
So, I did the same, that is – poured some oil into the pan, poured the batter and spread it with a spoon to make a remotely round shape.
Though I really hadn’t thought it would work, what happened two minutes later, surprised me.
I managed to make a picture perfect, delicious dosa!
Just when I had managed to lift it up from the pan and rest it on a plate, the doorbell rang and from the living room, my brother informed me that Mom and Dad had arrived.
See, now it happens that some times we are too shy. Sometimes, we are apprehensive while sharing some things with our parents and I believe that it is natural. So when Dad walked into the kitchen and asked me what I was up to, I really didn’t know how to tell him that I just cooked something. It was awkward.
“What are you doing in the kitchen?” Mom joined, hurriedly walking into the kitchen wondering if I had burnt something.
“Mom!” I cried when she spun me around to check if I was all right. This was getting too dramatic.
By then, Dad had pulled the plate from behind me and was already taking a bite of the dosa.
I kept my gaze low, waiting to hear what he had to say.
“You made this?” he asked.
Slowly, I nodded.
“This is so good! I can’t believe you made this,” he declared. “This is better than what your mom makes!”
“I prepared the batter!” Mom retorted.
“But she cooked it so beautifully!”
And when I had least expected it, he pulled me close into a small hug.
“My daughter has grown up so much!”
I had a tingling feeling at the pit of my stomach. My heart swelled with pride and it was almost a foreign feeling for I had never been so much happy. I hadn’t been looking forward to Dad praising me for what I made because I had presumed it would be bad, owing to my history of zero cooking skills, but no, it was great and Dad loved it! What could be a greater happiness than that?
True, little things can bring someone immense joy.
That night, as I sat at my desk, clicking a pen rapidly, thinking about what to write, the only thing that struck my mind was how Dad had praised me that evening. It was that giddy little feeling, tugging at the corners of my lips and I kept on breaking into small smiles. Every step I took felt like strokes in air. Every breath I took seemed so effortless.
The entire you-have-grown-up-so-much gave me an immense pleasure.
True, I had grown up from the nervous little kid who never tried anything new to an eighteen year old amateur cook!
Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. Happy tears they were. If Dad would’ve asked me to cook him anything else, I’d have gladly rushed into the kitchen and gave it a try, never mind those zero cooking skills.
That night, I learned the most important lesson of cooking – the first ingredient is love.
So, as I write this, I bite into the most delicious chocolate ice-cream that Dad bought me as a reward for the delicious dosa I made. Dad generally keeps telling us not to have ice-creams and chocolates because we are always eating that. And it surprised me when he happened to call me up and ask what ice-cream do I like the most!
“Why this?” I had asked, surprised.
“For cooking me such a lovely dish!” he had said.
And that was my biggest reward. Period. The ice-cream doesn’t sum up the happiness I feel.
And now I know, I am not that bad a cook!
She sits alone on those lonely nights, waiting for someone who sits on the other side of the bridge. Their lives are parallel lines. But she thinks it’s no tragedy. Think about the souls who cross paths once and don’t meet for the next million miles! This way, at least she lives in eternal hope. And hope… isn’t that what drives you and me?
Today, I don’t want to wake up.
I don’t want to wake up from this wonderful dream I’m trapped inside. Or is this real?
The paper below my hand feels coarse. It brushes against my fingers slowly, as if trying to remember every crack and every line on my skin. It is trying to pull me further into its lure.
There’s a pen next to the sheet of the pale, yellow paper. The pen is old with splotches of dried ink and numerous fingerprints on its dull, white exterior.
Somewhere behind me, a clock is ticking to some erratic rhythm. It is just so slow. Every other second seems longer than its predecessor. And with each passing second, the sheet of paper in front of me is slowly starting to fade away. The corners are curling on their own accord and the sides are starting to tear away slowly.
Someone is coaxing me to write.
Someone is asking me to pick the pen and write something. Anything.
Someone is asking me to paint a picture with the words.
Someone is asking me to write.
Don’t they understand that I can’t remember anything?
What am I supposed to write about?
Anything, they cry in chorus.
I know I want to write – about the sun that is nowhere in sight; about the little lamp beside me that flickers to life; about the darkness that envelops me; about the dream that holds me within it.
I know I want to write something – about you; about me; about them, calling out to me. I know I want to write about too many things, but I don’t know where to begin.
Please, they beg me, write something.
The page in front of me is merging into the darker paint of the chestnut table next to me.
Write about us, they tell me.
Who are you? I ask.
But they don’t answer me.
So, I write – I don’t want to wake up.
And here I am, trapped in my dream. Or is this real?
(An old lady thinks about her husband as she writes this letter… To her husband, to the snow, to the winter that is slowly withering by)
I’m thinking about you as I write this.
An entire year has gone by in a flash. The sun was out here. Autumn did cast its cloak. The winter has arrived, but there’s no snow.
I’m sitting in this big white room. The chandelier stares down at me in an awkward stance. Everything around me is white-dull, dark white. The walls have queer shadows imprinted on them. They trap the melancholy of this place-the silent cries, the hundred thousand dreams that threaten to ooze out of this place. The white holds the silence.
The mist has descended from the mountain. It presses against the window, whispering against the glass. It’s as if I’m viewing the world from behind a cloaked mirror. I’m trapped within the mirror. I’m looking at the universe, seeing them stare back at me without a trace of response. It’s as if I’m no longer there.
Slightly hitching my gown up and tucking a strand of my white hair behind my ears, I stand up and walk to the windowpane. The fabric of my gown drags behind painfully. It warns me to not breathe the breeze that has started to waltz outside the windowpane. It whispers me not to get carried away by the memories. It spreads its invisible hands and tries to hold me back.
With every stride, I feel the cold, white marble caresses my feet. The chill presses against the wrinkles and cracked skin. They make a shiver to trail upward, but, it never touches my spine. The fabric crawls along without a noise, its shade mingling with the white everywhere. Everything around me is as white as the Christmas snow. But, what I’m looking at, casts a gray glare.
Everything outside the window is gray. Colorless. Lifeless. Devoid of any shades. The mist has tucked them under her blanket. She, probably, doesn’t want me to see the radiant shades. She doesn’t want me to call back the kisses under the colorful mistletoe. She doesn’t want the Snowman to lure me into building a cheerful one. She protects me, only by trapping me away from the world.
As the white ceases away from my peripheral vision, I realize I’m near the window, staring right out at the world.
Bringing my hands up, I touch the misted glass with the tips of my fingers. It blends with the chill. A vague scent of winter seems to have sneaked into the room. It teases my senses for a spell before being withdrawn by the void of the clean room.
It reminds me of how much you enjoyed the winter. It reminds me of the time we first met-it had been a Christmas morning. You had held my hand and guided me down the aisle. Everything had been so red and green and gray. You had taken me to the fair and bought us cotton candies. I had had my teddy bear so near to me as I had gazed into your black eyes. I had struggled with the unknown emotions at the pit of my stomach. And you had held my hands when we had kissed under the snow.
Leaning against the frosted glass, I press my face against it. I’m not looking for warmth; I’m looking for something that feels real against my skin. You.
See, the snow is here! The silhouettes against the shades of gray are slowly starting to bathe themselves with the Christmas snow. The universe outside is suddenly as white as the room I’m in.
A flicker of hope takes birth in my eyes. I look down from the window, anticipating your arrival. You had promised me that you’d return with the snow.
My eyes are refusing to stay awake. Someone is calling for me. There are faint noises around me. Everyone is so excited to see you. Everyone is waiting to hear stories of the war. I’m so proud of you already. I wait, patiently.
Christmas is here. But it doesn’t feel real. The winter is here. The snow is here. You aren’t…