Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Those Missed Conversations

‘Aarti, dinner is ready. We are all waiting at the table’, Anita called out for the fourth time. ‘Yes mom, I am almost there’, Aarti shouted back. Ten minutes for that episode of Game of Thrones to end. Aarti could not possibly leave it at the climax; Joffrey was dying. It was the most satisfying moment that television has ever given her. How could she leave the show for anything in this world; food was way below in her priority list anyway. The show ended and with happy tears, she left for the dining room. Much like every day, everyone was done with their food by the time she arrived.

‘How’re you feeling now, Daddy’, she asked throwing a cursory glance at him and started nibbling away on her food. ‘I am fine, dear’, Ashok replied, just the way he replied everyday no matter how excrutiating the pain was. He knew that the questions were a formal exchange of words that her daughter found time to utter in the midst of her board examinations, friends and Facebook. He knew that his health was far behind in her list of priorities. He did not blame her, it was a hectic schedule she had; school, then coaching classes, then self-study. Where was the time? His sickness was nothing new to them after all. Over the years of prolonged illness, the family had gotten used to it. However, they were not completely immune to the grief. Tears were still shed every time they held the medical report with trembling hands in which at least one vital health parameter was shot way above the normal range. However, somehow the grief had become an ordinary affair for them, especially for Aarti. She could not recall the last time he was healthy. She grew up seeing her dad take some ten different coloured pills during lunch every day. From the age when they seemed amusing to her to the age when she could understand the graveness of the situation; somewhere in between she learnt how to feel pain most deeply and to let it go of as easily.

‘Aarti, Aarti’, Ashok shouted on one of the usual days. She was in the middle of her novel. She hated it when somebody interrupted her when she was reading. ‘Why can he not call mom or the helper for that matter? Why me? I’m sure it’s some trivial work which anyone could have done’, she thought to her herself as she stormed out of her room in utter frustration.

‘What happened dad, why did you call?’ she asked trying to moderate her voice so that it doesn’t come out as rude. ‘Honey, I want to watch the Television, can you please get the remote for me? I feel too tired to get up.’ She handed him the remote and was about to leave when he stopped her, ‘Can you not sit here by me. You’re always engrossed in your own world. I feel lonely sitting in the room all by myself. You never have time for me’, he managed to let it out. ‘Yeah…okay, I’ll just get my book and come’, Aarti said. She sat there next to him for the next one hour, lost in her book smiling away at the adventures that the protagonist of the story went through, oblivious to the fact that someone sitting next to her was yearning for a conversation with her. She kept flipping the pages and at 4 PM, she got her dad his medicines and kissed him goodbye as she left for her coaching classes.


Sometimes in the middle of the night when she would be working on her Mathematics problems or browsing through Facebook and liking all the pictures of this insanely cute guy she had given away her sixteen year old heart to, her dad would come with his coffee mug and sit by her table. She would hate those interruptions at that time, she had to change the tabs and pretend to be going through some educational websites. It was one of those days.

‘Why do you stay up till so late, dad? It’s not good for your health. You should be sleeping by now’, Aarti said in an emotional mix of concern and botheration.

‘I don’t get enough sleep these days. I feel there is no purpose of my life. I am just surviving each day’, Ashok said.

Aarti- ‘Please stop worrying about the purpose of your life. You’ve lived the majority of your life giving back to the society, now is the time to sit back and enjoy. You have played your role brilliantly till now. The school which you started is well established now. It will provide education to millions of students and positively impact thousands of lives each year.Travel the world, enjoy great food, read books and help me in discovering the purpose of my life maybe; stop being too hard on yourself dad.’

Ashok- ‘Yeah dear…I just feel empty sometimes, like I’m not needed anymore.’

‘Coz no-one told you it’s gonna be this way...’, Aarti ‘s phone started ringing. ‘Anjali calling’, it said.

Aarti- ‘Dad will you excuse me for some time. I’ll just take this call and come.’

Ashok- ‘Yeah, sure honey’

The conversation started with how Sameer has been acting strange since the past few days and was giving disinterested, curt replies to Anjali’s messages. It grew with how there were only three months left for the Board examinations and whether Aarti could solve problem fifteen of circle geometry. Apparently, Aarti could and then she started explaining the details of the tangents and radii to her. They ended on a note that they must finish the syllabus in the coming week and start with their revisions as soon as possible.

The phone call consumed some thirty minutes of her time. She realized that she was having a conversation with her dad and rushed to her room to check if he was still there. To her surprise, he was there perfunctorily scanning the pages of ‘An Argumentative Indian’.

Aarti- ‘Hey dad, how are you feeling now?’

Ashok- ‘I feel okay. I think you should sleep. It’s 2:30. I think I will go and make myself a cup of tea.’

Aarti- ‘You should sleep too. It is 2:30 for you too, you know.’

Ashok- ‘I will sleep in a while. I feel like staying up for some reading.’

Having said that Ashok left for the kitchen staggering painfully with each step that he took. The operation for the pelvic fracture was clearly not undertaken properly. The tea took a few minutes to boil; the water gradually swelled up and reached a peak only to crash down when the gas was turned off. He saw the essence of his entire life in that; rising up with passion, reaching the maxima and gradually falling down only to crash down completely when Lord would choose to turn off the gas. He could that feel the end was near, waiting for him to wrap up his roles before he could bid a goodbye. It was probably waiting for him to finish some conversations, conversations he yearned to have.

Aarti did sense some unsaid words that her dad probably wanted to say. Something told her that he was not really interested in reading that book, he probably wanted to have a conversation with her. However, too fatigued with the day’s work, she pushed the thought away and chose sleep over walking over to the living room and engaging in a conversation.

She curled up in her quilt and dozed off. Five minutes later, the phone beeped rather loudly. ‘There? :) ’, the WhatsApp message read. The name on the screen sent a chill down her spine and trashed sleep out of her system altogether. She took no time to respond, ‘Hey, yes. What’s up?’ and the exchange of messages continued till she no longer had the strength to keep her eyes open.


The pre-board results were out. She topped the class again. Ashok could not attend the parent teacher meeting as usual because his health did not allow him.  Anita exchanged the usual pleasantries with the class teacher who told her how brilliant a student Aarti was and how she must be a proud mother. Anita was certainly a proud mother. She treated Aarti at one of her favourite restaurants that afternoon and told her that she was an amazing daughter.

Content with her results, Aarti returned home. Back home it was rather gloomy, her dad’s medical reports had been consistently poor. Funny thing how circumstances make you capable of feeling ten different emotions in a single day and surprisingly you do justice to those emotions. From being elated to being melancholic, she sometimes wondered how it was possible for one person to feel such divergent emotions all at the same time.

‘Congratulations love, you’re my darling. Like father, like daughter. You always make me proud’, Ashok was beaming with happiness

Aarti- ‘How is your health now, dad?’   

Ashok- ‘It gets better the moment I see you, love. I’ll cook the best butter chicken in the world for my darling today.’

Aarti- ‘No, I think you should rest. The cook will take care of the food. Also, I have dinner plans with my friends tonight. This is our last get-together before Boards. I have to go.’

Ashok- ‘Oh, okay dear.’

Aarti- ‘Bye dad, take care. I’ll go and get ready. I love you.’

Ashok did not say bye. He probably did not want her to go. Those conversations were still lying within him, waiting to unfurl someday. That day was taking too long to come. He was not sure if he had that much time.

Days passed by and Aarti got busier with her preparations. The little time that she got now and then was spent over the phone discussing either Sameer or Aditya and asking/answering, ‘How much done?’ questions. Results came out and she scored outstandingly in all her papers. Life had been rewarding on the academic side.


Class eleventh happened and seventeen is the kind of age when friends become family. Somehow our world starts revolving around them. Yes, Aarti did blame the age sometimes. ‘Teenage knocks all senses out of you’, she sometimes consoles herself with that statement. With the board pressure out of her shoulders, the starting months of class eleventh were all about partying, get-togethers and dating. Somewhere amidst all the fun, family took a back-seat for her. No, she was not one of those spoiled girls; she just was not a great daughter, not even a good daughter. A good person maybe, but not a good daughter.

She was in the movie hall, lost intently in the movie when her phone started ringing. She put it on silent mode and kept it away. When she got out of the hall, much to her shock the phone read, ’Ma - 45 missed calls.’  A small part of her knew what those missed calls meant, but every other part refused to accept it. With trembling hands, she called back her mother. ‘Aarti, come home; just come home right now. Please come home’, Anita managed to speak amidst the wailing. Aarti did not ask her what happened. She knew what had happened. 


‘Girls aren’t allowed to go to the funeral pyre’, they said. She turned a deaf ear to them and kept walking ahead. With every tear that fell, she remembered those missed conversations and wondered what they could have been about. Every scene flashed in front of her eyes. Every day when she could have had those conversations which he was taking back with him kept coming back to her. It was pinching her conscience every second and screaming out loud to her about how she failed to be there for him.

She did not cry. ‘Such a strong girl’, they said. She knew that she was not strong. She did not cry because she wanted to keep the pain within her. Crying might have relieved the pain. She wanted to go through it each day and remind herself about how terrible a daughter she was. It was her idea of penance. Some actions are not worth forgetting and forgiving. She did not forgive herself. The regret and pain was for a lifetime and deservedly so. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Breaking out of the cocoon!

I feel old. No, there isn’t just a truckload of negativity around it. There’s wisdom too, a lot of it that all these years have brought along. Wisdom that I feel proud to have earned by making mistakes, falling down and doing utterly wrong things at the utterly right time. Wisdom that tears and smiles brought along with them. I’m certainly unnerved about what lies ahead, unnerved about breaking out of the cocoon and learning how to live all on my own. I don’t know if I’m ready to be on my own, I don’t know if I’m ready to trash all the innocence and gullibility out of my system and turn myself into a sterner and shrewder self, who is ready to face the big bad world(I know, too dramatic). I don’t know if I’m ready to pass fake smiles to my innumerable colleagues and make bonds that would sometimes be as superficial as ‘you-might-gain-from-me-and-I-might-gain-from-you’ and give it a pretty name called networking. I am painting a very cynical picture of the world that is going to lie ahead, let us just say I’m not in one of my best moods. Without digging any deeper into tomorrow, I feel like reflecting on the lessons all these years brought along, lessons that have shaped me into who I am…the good, the bad and the ugly.

I have learnt about people and about love. No matter how much I learn about love or try to understand it, it will never be enough. Love is an abyss…infinite, indefinite and inexplicable. There are bits that my twenty two year old self could fathom, though. I would share those bits with you. I have learnt that sometimes the magical stumbling upon and falling in love doesn’t happen. Yes, it does happen to some people who just come across the right person on a rainy afternoon, waiting for them with an umbrella. However, those people are lucky, not everybody is. Most of us have to make efforts to come across the right person. We must talk, explore, get to know people; then maybe we’d hit it off with one of them.
As far as friends are concerned however, I understood that we don’t choose the people who are going to enter our lives, that it is often random stumbling upon that brings them to us but we definitely choose who we will allow to stay there forever. This is a choice we must make with utmost discretion because the wrong choices hurt, hurt real bad.
We will always value some people more than they value us. We try to convince ourselves that it is not true, that they probably are just not as expressive as we are but deep within we know that we lie somewhere on the lower half of their priority list while we put them out there on the top. Now, there are two things we can do about it – pluck them out of the top of our priority list and push them back in the same position as they’ve put us or make peace with the fact that we will never be as important to them as they are to us. Making peace means no cribbing, no cribbing after that at all. Sometimes it gives us enough happiness to give in whole heartedly into a relationship without expectations of equal reciprocation and it is great if we can do that but we should be honest with ourselves about what gives us happiness. We must understand, however, the difference between not being on top of their priority list and being an option. We must understand the difference between somebody hurting our ego and hurting our self-esteem. The latter is something we must never make peace with, ever. 
I have always belonged to the people and hence my deepest source of pleasure and pain have most often been people. I learnt along the years that I cannot continue doing this. People are important and sometimes if you’re lucky, the way I have been for most part of my life, we come across some amazing people and we fall in love with them, we always want to be there for them and sometimes we make the mistake of making them the center of our life.  Some of them change, some betray and then it hurts. I have learnt to keep my goals above people unless my goal is some person, in which case there’s nothing much I can do about it. I understood that investing all my energy in goals is always wiser than investing it in people. If I fail to achieve my goals, it’s almost always because my efforts weren’t good enough but with people it’s never the same. Goals are loyal, people aren’t. People change, priorities change. Sometimes you can blame them for it, sometimes you cannot. Change is inevitable; things that held importance for one when they were 17 need not and in most cases will not hold the same amount of importance for them when they are 22. The sooner we make peace with this fact, the sooner we will be able to understand people better and expect lesser.
However, there would always be this one person whom we can keep above our goals, above everything, who will be worth all the suffering and hurt. If we’re lucky we’ll come across that one person and if we’re luckier they’ll never leverage the importance they have in our lives. Everybody else should be at a safe distance where the expectations are kept too low to be a cause of hurt.
Hurt and betrayal bring along with them the chance to forgive. I have learnt to forgive, to forgive someone is the best thing we can do to ourselves. Yes, to ourselves not to them. There is an unmatchable sense of freedom and relief that we get when we truly forgive. Life is too short to live it being mad at someone.
I have learnt that there will always be people smarter, more accomplished and wiser than me. There is so much that I can learn from them rather than being boggled down by their wisdom. These people keep the curious little child in us alive, the child who wants to question, learn and grow. We must take care of this child within us, nurture it and make sure that it never dies because the day this child dies we turn into a human vegetable. We are no good anymore, we’re just surviving.
I am learning how to shoulder responsibilities. Being so used to being pampered and loved, I seldom understood what it is to be on the giving end. Even though responsibilities might sound like a really heavy burden cast on our shoulders, we have to learn to shoulder them. All this while somebody has been there for us, probably the time for role reversal has come and we have to learn to be there for people and make ourselves worthy of being look up to.   
Ever since I have been trusted with the responsibility of taking a decision, I have been a major disappointment to myself. Worrying too much about whether I am making the right choice, I have never been able to take a firm decision. I learnt along the way, though, that sometimes there is no right or wrong choice. There is something to lose either way. The best we can do is to go with our instinct and let the dots connect backwards when we look back in retrospect. That time, it makes sense, it always does.
Mistakes and rash decisions make our life a really interesting story, if nothing else. We’re all stories in the end after all and we are the protagonists of our stories. One day the story is going to be complete. The lesser mistakes, the more the perfection, the more boring the story will be.
I think that it a lot of musing for the day. I feel wise, already J.