The Deal.

Shilpa was meeting Kunal almost after a decade now. She couldn’t believe that she would ever meet Kunal in such conditions.

‘Vitals?’ asked Shilpa to the paramedic standing beside the strecher.
‘BP 80/50, PR 110, SpO2 84%…The CT and X-Ray plates madam’, the paramedic handed over the plates to Shilpa. Shilpa looked at the plates carefully and exhaled with her mouth.

‘CT is within normal limits but the lower limb bones are crushed…Admit him in the emergency surgery unit.The patient has lost too much blood. Please run the routine tests and arrange 3 units blood for transfusion. Also inform the blood bank to keep units in reserve. The patient may collapse any minute.’ Shilpa ordered the intern. The intern started to jot down the advice. ‘Its a road traffic accident right?’ asked Shilpa to which the intern nodded yes. ‘It would be a police case then…Send the ticket to my room after it arrives…Okay?’ The intern nodded a yes again.
‘Umm…Also write a refer to the orthopedic department and after they had seen the CT and X-Ray plates, sent the plates for a proper report.’

The intern ran and began to do things she was told. Shilpa went to her room and wrote a detailed note about the findings and the injury report. Meanwhile Kunal was placed in a bed and was visited by various doctors from different departments for opinions.

‘Police is trying to reach his family. There is nobody to give consent.’ Shilpa explained to the panel.

‘He should be operated now…His condition may worsen.’ suggested a surgeon.

‘But he’s not stable yet…And blood has still not arrived.’ the anaesthesist argued.

‘Doctors,’ Shilpa said in a low deep tone going closer to the monitor, ‘Tall peaked t waves!’ she pointed to the ECG.

‘Crush syndrome?’ the anaesthesist looked at Shilpa, ‘The lower limbs were crushed…We have to operate but there is chance of hypovolemic shock. Doctor Shilpa…What do you suggest? Its your case. Anyway the patient may…’

‘Call the team immediately. We will operate. We have to take the chance. As soon as blood arrives we have to transfuse’ ordered Shilpa.

The surgery was started and one hour had passed. ‘Doctor Shilpa you seem nervous…Your hands are shaking. Are you alright?’ one of the doctors asked Shilpa, ‘Its the first time I am seeing you so stressed, we have done such emergency surgeries earlier…’

‘Nothing doctor… Actually I know the patient personally’ replied Shilpa looking at Kunal’s face.

‘What! Shilpa are you okay? We can manage. The patient is almost stable.’

‘No. I am fine. I was in school with him. I didn’t remember his name until I got his ticket. I just…’ Shilpa stopped and again looked at Kunal. The surgery went on for another hour. Kunal was out of danger now.

Shilpa was exhausted by the long surgery and couldn’t go home. She slept in her cabin and was awakened by a knock on the door the other day.
‘Goodmorning Doctor…The patient has returned to conscious state, the police is here to meet him. Should we…’ the nurse stopped when she noticed Shilpa shutting her eyes. ‘Should I tell them to wait?’

‘Yeah…First I would examine the patient’s state, till then tell them to sit in the waiting room.’

Shilpa quickly freshened up and headed to the ward. Kunal was sitting with the help of the back support. He still had his oxygen mask on his face and looked drowsy due to the pain medications he was put on.

‘Goodmorning! Mr. Kunal…I am your Doctor, Doctor…’

‘Shilpa? Hey we were at school together! Don’t you remember me?

‘Yeah I do Kunal. How are you feeling today?’

‘I don’t know…I mean you chopped off my legs and…’

‘It was necessary so as to save you…You were dying and I had to save you anyhow. We didn’t had any of your relative or friends for the discussion and you were totally unconscious…We did what we thought was right.’ Shilpa sighed. ‘The police wants to talk to you and before you tell them about the accident I want to…’

‘What do I tell the police? I don’t remember a thing from the night. I only saw lights coming towards me and the next thing I remember is lying in this bed without my legs!’

‘I am sorry Kunal. What happened is unfortunate…But the police will investigate into it and I would not… rather cannot stop them from doing their job.’
After examining Kunal, Shilpa let the officers question Kunal while she attended other patients.

‘So what do you remember from that night? Anything and everything.’ the officer asked.
‘I was returning from my studio late that night on my bike and suddenly a speeding light came towards me. That’s all I have officer.’ Kunal sighed. ‘I might have had a little alcohol but certainly not much to jeopardize my riding. But wasn’t there any clue of what happened there? I mean the vehicle or something?’

‘I am afraid but no.’ replied the officer. ‘We checked the road thoroughly but haven’t got anything yet. Also to our bad luck the CCTV camera on the road was out of order. It is indeed difficult to find the culprit but we assure you we’ll try our best. Till then take care Mr. Kunal and if you remember anything…feel free to give us a call.’

‘Yeah sure..Thanks officer’. Kunal smiled overcoming the pain he felt.

Shilpa was heading home after the tiring shift she had but before going she stopped by the ward to talk to Kunal. Kunal was talking to the nurse and seemed disturbed.
‘Is everything alright Nurse?’ Shilpa investigated.
‘Doctor I have given the adviced pain medications to him but he is arguing to give him more. I told him…’

‘It’s okay, ‘ Shilpa smiled at the nurse and patted on her back, ‘I will talk to him…Please attend other patients.’

‘Kunal…I know you are in pain but we cannot give you more of the pain killers. It would be harmful to you.’ Shilpa tried to calm Kunal down.

‘It’s too hard. Its paining a lot. You can never ever imagine the pain.’

‘Hey, did you tell the management about your family or any known person? I am sure if you have a good company you would feel and heal better.’

‘I have friends but nobody is so much close to me. Moreover they have their lives to life…Many of them are my mere drinking partners.’

‘Family?’

‘Only my father who is least bothered about me.’ Kunal looked at Shilpa . ‘He disowned me when I denied to run the family business and started to follow my passion.’

‘So what’s the passion? May be that could help!’

Kunal laughed to it and looked at his legs which ended soon after the knees. ‘Dance…Dance is …Or I should say, was the passion of my life.’

Shilpa felt as if a dagger went straight through her heart. ‘Kunal I …I had …I am so sorry…I .’

‘You took my passion to give me life. Pointless life?’

‘No. Life is never pointless. I will help you Kunal. I promise,’ Shilpa held Kunal’s hand.

In the coming weeks Shilpa spent her spare time sitting beside Kunal’s bed and talking to him. She tried her best to provide the emotional support and confidence which seemed to be lost in Kunal after the amputation. They talked about the stupid stuffs they did in school. The classes, the classmates, the gossips of the classmates and more. When Kunal was stable enough to be discharged he had nobody or no place to go to.

‘Where would you go?’ Shilpa asked.

‘I only have my studio and that too is of no use now I guess… but I will figure something out, I have the strength now.’

‘I know you are better now but I still insist that you come to my place. It would be good for you. You have some disabilities now and…’

‘Right…I forgot I am handicapped now.’

‘I didn’t mean that besides you are not handicapped. You are a man with disabilities who still has the ability to serve the society and hence not a handicapped person…until you give up!’ Shilpa said in one breath.

Kunal smiled at Shilpa with astonishment. ‘You have done so much for me Shilpa…You even paid the bills. I don’t think I could take anymore favours from you.’

‘Okay then do me a favour…Live with me!’ Shilpa teared up while speaking. ‘You know I had feelings for you since a very long time. You ignored it. Even I ignored it afterwards thinking it may be for the good but it never turned any good for me. I still…After so many years have not found anyone for whom I could feel the way I feel for you!’

‘Shilpa I know that but think about it… I am not a good choice…I am not even a choice for you. I think it’s the sympathy talking. You will eventually feel burdened. I will make you slow. I will…’

‘May be I am ready to slow things down a bit.’ Shilpa shrugged and went closer to Kunal who was in the wheelchair. She bend forward to kiss him. ‘Please! I am literally begging you.’ They kissed.

‘You don’t have to. Last few days were something different for me. I was happy. The only thing which made me happy was dancing. And now that I can’t dance the way I did… the thing that brings me joy is you!’

Kunal went with Shilpa. They started living together and seemed to be enjoying every bit of it. Kunal started a new passion that was music. Shilpa would go to work as usual in the morning and when she returned in the evening, all the tiredness would just vanish listening to Kunal’s music. They would talk for hours.

‘Hey! Isn’t this your slam book?’ Kunal picked up a fancy thin book from the magazine rack.
‘Yeah…My first one.’ Shilpa replied. ‘I always keep my firsts in a special place.’
‘There is my note too…’ Kunal laughed as he turned the pages. Kunal rolled the wheels of his chair and went close to Shilpa who was sitting on the sofa. Kunal brushed her hair with his fingers.

‘Will you marry me?’ Kunal proposed.

Shilpa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘I have something to confess to you…’ Shilpa seemed nervous. She took Kunal to the garage and handed him a broken rare view mirror.
‘It was my first car. I couldn’t get rid off my first so I had to at least keep a piece of it. It is the car…’

‘Which hit me?’ Kunal completed. ‘I know.’

‘What? I don’t understand you told that you didn’t remember any thing…’

‘I lied. I was conscious till you came out from the car and checked if I was alive. I also heard when you made the call to the hospital.’

‘Why did you not tell the police? Why did you save me?’ Shilpa cried.

‘To save me…Not you.’ Kunal laughed while Shilpa looked at him with astonishment. ‘I was finished…I was a complete failure. The studio was gone from my hands. I was heavily drugged and was about to finish my life. Then the best thing happened to me…The accident!’

‘So you used me to get all this..’

‘To get a decent life…You almost killed me but you saved me.’ Kunal winked at Shilpa.

‘You didn’t love me? I did all this for you and…’

‘Oh! You loved me? You too pretended didn’t you? You hoped to get out of the guilt.’

Shilpa wiped her tears and stared straight at Kunal’s eyes. ‘Yeah it’s true…I didn’t love you. But what next? Would you tell the police about that night?’

‘No but I want my reward to keep it a secret…’

‘So you are blackmailing me?’ Shilpa lifted her eyebrows.

‘Not at all… Think it like a deal.’ Kunal replied with cool.

‘Its a deal then…But marriage is off the table.’ Shilpa clarified.

‘Absolutely Doc!’ Kunal threw the rare view mirror in the bin.

The Pride.

‘Papa please let me study there…Please papa,’ Gauri begged to her father who was busy solving the soduko in the weekly newspaper. ‘All my friends are going there too and that is the best in the country.’

Gauri lived in a small town with her parents. Her father worked in a big company and was a respected person there. Gauri went to the best school in the town and was a bright student. Once in a while the family would go on trips and vacations outside, mostly in the big cities. Gauri was always intrigued by the city life. While growing up she always thought of living in the fancy big cities. She was fed-up of the narrow roads and the even narrower mindset of the people living in the town. So when she did complete her school, she was determined to study further in a renowned college in the city. She thought it was the only chance to get out of the boring life she had in the town.
The father sighed and folded the newspaper. He could no longer concentrate in the soduko due to the constant whining, ‘I told you that I would not let you stay alone in an unknown city. It is dangerous and you would not be able to live there alone.’

‘You are seventeen now and still cannot tie up your hair or wash your clothes,’ Gauri’s mother jumped into the conversation, ‘How would you manage there without us?’

‘Then come with me mom. And I know how to tie my hair or wash my clothes. You didn’t ever give me my space to do those things myself. I wouldn’t be alone there. My friends would be there for me…Papa please ‘ Gauri sobbed.

The conflict went on for days until Gauri’s parents had to surrender to her stubbornness. They were reluctant to send their daughter so far but they couldn’t fight Gauri’s urge to get and explore the world on her own.

The first few days were the best for Gauri. She was finally out of the captivity of the overwhelming care and suffocating love of her parents. She was tasting freedom for the first time. The clean campus, new friends, the happening hostel life. She loved it but everything has a price attached to it. Soon she realised how badly she was missing her home, her mother’s food, her father’s boring speech. She missed the overwhelming care and suffocating love! She missed her small town. She missed the warmth she got in the town where almost everybody knew eachother. She got her new friends but missed the old ones she left behind.
Soon she found herself drowning in her routine. Her happening life started to becoming less and less happening. The boring lectures, the projects, the filthy canteens and the dirty hotel’s washroom. The only thing which she anticipated was the phone calls from her home and the vacations.

Then suddenly something changed. She once again started liking her life in the city. The change was a boy named Shoib. Shoib was a senior in the college. She met him in the second year of college. Shoib was like a fresh breeze in Gauri’s life. Gauri had many flings earlier but this time it was different, either Shoib was a perfect boy for Gauri or she was really emotionally vulnerable and looked for a support. Shoib helped her in her studies and projects, they would go out almost every night and spent the nights talking on phone. The bond was getting stronger. They were in love.
Shoib had an elder brother as his family. It was easy for him to convince his elder brother about Gauri. But for Gauri it was a difficult task to make her parents agree upon the relationship. When Gauri was in the final year of the college, Shoib got a government job and both decided to get their families involved. They wanted to get married.

‘Shoib?’ Gauri’s father frowned, ‘He’s a Muslim?’
‘Never. Gauri…this is too much. We have had enough of your tantrums but this time you have gone very far.’ her mother yelled.
‘But I love him and…’
‘Love…what about us? A Muslim boy? There was so many good boys in our community…’ her mother yelled again.
‘Mom..but I said I love Shoib… please understand…please mom…’ Gauri pleaded. She had cried enough to make her eyes swell. Her nose was all red and watery. She was trying hard but she knew this time it was hard to get what she wanted.
‘Enough is enough.. Gauri. We would never allow this boy into our family’, her father said in a shivery yet firm tone trying hard not to cry.
‘Then I guess,’ sighed Gauri wiping the tears rolling down her cheek, ‘I should get out of this family. I know you have done so much for me but …’ Gauri went to the door opened it uttered, ‘bye mom…bye dad.’
‘What are you saying…have you gone mad?’ the heartbroken mother tried to stop Gauri.
‘Let her go.’ shouted the father.
Gauri went out and slammed the door hard. She left her parents, her home and the town that day and promised herself to never return.

Gauri and Shoib got married two years later after Gauri got into a decent job. Shoib mostly had to stay away from Gauri due to his posting. It was more like a long distance relationship except for some lucky days when Shoib had his vacations. It went like that for a year or so but one day Shoib left Gauri. Shoib went away from Gauri and never came back. Gauri was devastated and angry. She always questioned herself why Shoib left her alone. She sometimes thought if she got her parent’s support everything would have been different. If she didn’t marry Shoib everything would have been different. She often questioned the decision she had made so far.

Two months after that Gauri came to know that she was pregnant. She didn’t know what to do. She was happy that she has got someone to live with but at the same time she was worried whether she could give birth to the baby alone without any support. She was tempted to return to her home; to her parents but there was something inside her which didn’t give her the affirmation. It was very difficult. The monthly visits, the abdominal cramps, the frequent refluxed. She managed them alone. She again started questioning the decision she had made. She was approached by many people mostly males for help. She had many proposals for marriage again. But she denied them all. She still loved Shoib. She wanted to live with dignity. She wanted to give birth to a healthy baby with dignity.
After few months she gave birth. She gave birth to a healthy boy. She named him Armaan. Raising a child in the economic conditions she had was tough. It was tougher for Gauri as she even didn’t have the emotional or mental support. She missed Shoib badly but was strong enough to not breakdown. She again had questions to herself that whether she could give the boy a good life, whether she could make the boy a good human. Self doubt once again surrounded her.

Now Armaan was four years old. It was time for him to enter the school. Gauri made sure that Armaan got the best education. She wanted to get him admitted to the best school in the city. She got him trained to answer the questions ususaly asked during the admission interview.
‘What is your name son?’ the teacher asked Armaan in the interview.
‘Mohhemmud Armaan…miss!’ he replied in the cute voice. Gauri sat beside him and filled the admission forms and heard his son answering the questions without any fear.
‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ the teacher asked. Gauri lifted her head to look at her son. She had not rehearsed this question with him. She was tensed. She then looked into the form. The next point in the form was ‘FATHER’S NAME’. She rolled the pen in between the fingers and continued to look at her son. She could feel her heart thrombing.

‘I want to become…’ Armaan paused, ‘l want to become a soldier like my father … Caption Mohammed Shoib…he died protecting our country.’ he then looked to his mother.
With his answer all the questions Gauri had in her heart were answered. She knew she had made the correct decisions. Her eyes filled with tears and her heart filled with pride. She took a deep breath and wrote in the form ‘Late Captain Mohammed Shoib’.

The Mirror

Rani looked into the mirror. She could see her pink coloured lips, the thick black eyeliner on the border of her eyelids, her perfectly plucked eyebrows, the shimmery blush on her cheek. Everything seemed perfect but then she noticed the thick black hair under her chin. She was very disturbed. She plucked the hair and gazed at it with tears filling in the corner of her eyes.
Rani was now 32 years old. A beautiful smart and independent woman living in the city with her overwhelming dreams. She looked into the mirror again and smiled thinking of the other night when Tanmay proposed her. That night was as perfect as she had imagined. The lights, the moon, the fragrance of fresh roses and Tanmay standing with the usual smile he carried on his face. Rani was becoming more and more impatient thinking about the moments. She wanted to call Tanmay and give him the answer which she didn’t tell him that night. She wanted to tell him how immensely she had fallen for him but was afraid of her past. Her past that ruined all previous relationships she had. The past which she had to tell Tanmay but every time she thought of it, her heart sank deeper and deeper.
Rani was identified as a male when she was born and named Samrat. Her childhood was full of confusion and pain. She wanted to play with dolls and wear a frock but instead she was handled a toy car and was dressed in pants. As she grew up, the pain and confusion also grew with her. She wanted to learn dance but was denied by her parents. Nobody could understand her. Her parents were embarrassed with their child. She had no friends since the boys in her class used to bully her calling her ‘girly’ and the girls just laughed at her. But she could do nothing. Academics was the only field where her sex didn’t matter. She excelled in her studies but still couldn’t make her parents happy. Like others they too thought she had a mental disorder. Like others they couldn’t accept her. She was living a life of a female soul but trapped in a male body.
Now it’s about 7 yrs she had not seen her parents. She was disowned by her parents the very day when they came to know that she had thought of ‘Sex reassignment surgery’ which is often casually termed as ‘sex change operations’. The surgery was painful. The emotional stress, the physical pain and the never ending self doubt, Rani had to bear it alone. She had to spent the pathetic nights in the hospital following the surgeries.
Now after all those horrible nights, Rani was living her life on her own terms. Her parents didn’t accept her but she had forgiven them. She knew it’s nobody’s fault but the ignorance. The ignorance of the fact that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are not interchangeable. Gender is the way a person feels or sees one self. She knew that this acceptance will take time. This ignorance will takes ages to disappear.
She took her phone out and wrote to Tanmay, ‘You need to know about my past. Can we meet at Sharma’s tomorrow?’
Her phone buzzed after a minute or so. It was Tammy’s reply. She opened the message.
‘I know what you want to say. I know your past. I know you were born with male genitalia. But you know what…I love you as a person. I respect you as the person you have become and your past doesn’t bother me at all. So….Coffee at Sharma’s tomorrow?’
Rani was shook to her core. She looked at the mirror again and smiled and tasted the salty tears. She felt complete. She felt respected. She finally felt accepted.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS.

‘Ritu, There is a call for you at the reception.’ the warden told Ritu who was all covered in paint.

‘Yes, I am coming in a minute.’ said Ritu rubbing her hands on a cloth kept beside a huge canvas. Ritu was in the second year of painting. She has been in love with this art since her childhood. The love grew even stronger after she lost her parents in an accident. It was like a mechanism to cope up with the loss.

‘Hey Ritu here, may I know to whom am I talking to?’ she asked in a casual manner looking at spaces between her fingers which were still carrying paint.
‘Madam, I am from the insurance company your brother was working for. There is a very bad news….Avinash is no more.’ the man on the other side said, ‘You need to come to the city to receive the body’.

Ritu dropped the receiver and sat on the chair next to the phone. She remembered how she fought with her brother two years ago for opting arts. Her brother wanted her to take admission in a science college and believed it would give a more secure future for her. Tears rolled down her cheek as she repented not talking nicely to him for these two years. All they talked about was money. Even when Avinash tried to know about Ritu’s well being all she did was cut the line. Now that Avinash was gone, Ritu wanted to tell each and everything about her life,her college , her paintings to him.

Ritu went to her home the very next day and did all the rituals. Her brother’s colleagues helped her arrange things. Avinash was buried in the nearby graveyard where their parents were buried.
Ritu was left with some land property her parents owned and some money Avinash left behind. The land was in the outskirts with no good communication with the central part of the city and so it was difficult to sell the land. The money that she had was also not enough to continue her college. So she had no choice but to drop the year.
She decided to do freelance painting job to earn some money for living. She intended to save some cash to continue her college the coming year. She also needed a place to live since she didn’t get to stay at her Hostel and the quarter that her brother lived in was taken back by the company. Now finding a decent house in the crowed city seemed like the toughest task for Ritu. She neither had a stable job nor did she have good amount of money.

‘But the rent is too high, I do not have that much money. Please help me sir… please..’ she begged one owner.
‘I can not compensate with this house but I have another house in the next block which I can give in the price you want but…’
‘I will take it sir,’ Ritu jumped up with excitement.
‘But the house is …’ the owner stopped as of calculating whether he should tell her the truth or not.
‘What is it Sir? You can tell me without any hesitation. I will not change my mind whatever be the problem with the house’ Ritu assured him.
‘I do not know whether it’s true or not but I have got complains from the previous families living there that they have felt something spooky in the house. I bought the house some twenty years ago but the seller didn’t mention anything. Since then I have rented the house about three times and every time they have left saying it is haunted. That’s why I was reluctant to show you the property but if you need an accommodation at such small amount that is the only place that I can arrange.’

Ritu never believed in spirits and ghosts. She even didn’t believe in God so it was easy for her to make a decision. She took the house and was quite happy with the space. It was bigger than any other property she visited. It seemed quite old. She believed that since the house was so huge and old, people might have made stories to ruin the business of the old owner.
Ritu now wanted to focus on freelancing to get good money and make her savings. First two or three days went great she got some great deals in her freelance and house was not that bad except for the long and dark passages. The lighting in the house was also not great.
But then things started to get strange. Things were often getting misplaced, sometimes Ritu would be awake at midnight hearing some sound which she could not hear after waking up and sometimes wind would blow madly even when the windows were closed.

‘Hey…I heard you live in the haunted house. Don’t you feel anything yet?’ a lady asked Ritu while she was in the vegetable market.
‘No. The house is fine.’ she seemed annoyed.
‘But you should not live there. I have heard someone died in the house many many years ago and his spirit roams in the house.’ the lady whispered.
‘Oh! Good…I have company then. Its good to know I don’t live alone.’ she put on a fake smile and went ahead. The lady seemed puzzled seeing her reaction.

The moment Ritu opened the lock of the house and went in, a mouse went over her feet.
‘What! Mouse?’ she jumped on the table kept in the centre of the room.
‘So this is the ghost? A mouse…’ she sighed and laughed to herself.
Every night she used to set her canvases in the middle room which was like a dining hall and paint. After she finished the pieces she left them to dry, ate her dinner, put some bread in the corners of the kitchen for the mouse and went to sleep in a smaller room adjacent to the hall. Though the strange sounds which would make her awake every midnight didn’t stop but she did stop searching for sounds and believed it was the mouse. But she did notice that the intensity of sound increased day by day.

One morning she found the mouse dead in the hall where she left her paintings. The room was filled with the obnoxious smell of the dead rat but she still managed to get close to the rat and found that it had blood all over it’s body.
‘May be some other rat killed it. The neighbour has a cat which could also kill it.’ she talked to herself. She was still in sleep and as usual felt tired due to the interrupted sleep.
She went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. As she spitted the gargled water she saw a man standing behind her in the mirror. She at once turned back but could she no one. Each and every part of her body was shaken. She froze for a second. When she got hold of herself she searched the whole house for the man but could not find anyone.

‘Madam did you see anyone coming out of my house?’ she asked the lady next door who was busy watering her plants.
‘No my child,’ she answered in a very sweet manner. ‘Did you see someone in your house?’ she asked.
‘Yeah…Actually I am sleep deprived for many days, I think I might be imagining things. I am…’ Ritu was interrupted by the lady.
‘You must be careful. The spirit does not like anyone living in his house.’
‘There is no ghost or spirits. I am sorry for bothering you.’ Ritu was disturbed. She knew she saw someone but could not agree upon the ghost story. Though she felt something in the house but she was stubborn enough to ignore all the strangeness in the place. That house was the only option for her and whatever was the cause she was ready to fight it.

That night as usual she was awakened by the strange sound. This time it was louder and didn’t stop when she woke up. She traced the sound. She started to walk towards the hall were she put all her paintings. The sound could be heard louder. As she entered the hall the sound stopped. There was silence. She looked around. All her paintings were torn and distorted. All her paints were scattered here and there. She looked at her paintings with tears collecting in her eyes. She walked forward and saw something written on the empty canvas. ‘Go away’ it said in red ink. Wind started to blow madly in the space.

‘It’s my house!’, screamed Ritu. She now lost all control over her anger. Tears rolled from her eyes. ‘I do not care who you are…Or what you are but I won’t leave this house. How dare you ruin my paintings? What do you think of yourself? You are going to kill me now? Go ahead. I am not afraid because I have already lost many things in my life. You ruined the paintings…I was supposed to ship them tomorrow. Now …What…Will…I…’ Ritu started to become unconscious.

The next morning she woke up on the floor of the hall. The door bell rang constantly and probably woke her up. She got up from the floor, dusted herself and looked around. The paintings and the canvases stood as if nothing happened. Ritu was confused. She went through the passage to open the door convincing herself that all that happened the other night was nothing but a bad dream. She opened the door. The packers came to take the paintings.
After they had gone Ritu went close to empty canvas and brushed her fingers over it. She picked up the brush and took a generous amount of the red colour and started writing.
‘Are you here?’, she wrote with each letter showing the fine tremors her hand was having. She waited patiently . She kept rewinding the moments she went through the other night in her head. ‘Was all that my wild imagination?’ she whispered to herself. ‘Am I losing it?’

While thousands of thoughts ran through her mind she looked at the canvas. ‘Sorry’, was written below her question.
‘Who are you?’ asked Ritu aloud looking around the hall.
‘Anil. I used to live in this house with my family’ answered a husky but firm voice.
‘ So you can communicate with people?’ Ritu was anxious.

‘Yeah…If I want to. I never did in these years but you seem different.’

‘I don’t have much knowledge or experience regarding spirits and…’
‘Please stop calling me a ghost or spirit. It has been a long time I am talking to someone and it feels so great.’
‘Then why did you scare away the people who came here earlier?’

‘Agh!! They were a bunch of annoying persons and did make a lot of sound. You seem to be interested in painting. You are a great artist and sorry for ruining them.’

‘But you did correct them and so it’s okay.’ Ritu answered with a smile. She was excited for the fact that she was talking to a spirit. ‘So we are sharing the house then?’ Ritu asked with nervousness reflecting in the shrill of her voice.
‘Yeah sure. I won’t disturb you.’
‘Can I see you? I mean is it possible to…’ Ritu was now running out of breath.
‘If you are comfortable then yes but promise me you will not tell anyone about me. I want to live peacefully in my home.’

‘I would never disclose anything. I promise…’ Ritu stopped talking. She was startled when a tall man with a sharp face appeared in front of her. It was Anil smiling at Ritu.
‘You are so young. How did you…’

Anil looked at Ritu and then turned to the window. ‘I was sleeping in my room. Its the same room where you sleep and suddenly I don’t know how a massive fire broke into the room. I struggled hard to get through but failed. The next thing I know I am stuck here for about twenty years now.’
‘But why are you stuck? Was there any incomplete work or dream that you had? I have read in books that if someone has some incomplete work it might be difficult for him or her to leave.’
‘I know. I have been thinking about this for the last twenty years but I don’t know what is the thing which I have left incomplete. My parents passed away two years before me. I lived all by myself selling clothes. I had no other ambition or hobby. Its tiring now. I am living in nowhere.’ Anil sighed.
‘I bet it might be something like photography or learning guitar or owning a bike.’ Ritu suggested.

Ritu and Anil talked for hours that day. They shared their life experiences. Ritu would someday rent a guitar to teach Anil. They even tried photography. They spent time painting, reading and doing whatever came to their mind but nothing worked. It was about two months now they had become good friends. One day the door bell rang at the afternoon when Ritu was finishing one of her paintings. Ritu was not expecting anyone. The shipping guys usually came in the mornings. Ritu was irritated at the odd timing of the door bell ringing. She washed her hands and went to open the door cursing the person the other side of door.
‘Hey, I am Meera.’ a girl in her mid-thirties stood at the door carrying a small child.
‘Do I know you?’ Ritu asked looking at the baby first and then looking at the lady.
‘No. I was passing by and my son really needs to use the washroom. I am sorry to bother you but would you please let my…’
‘Yeah sure. Please come in.’ Ritu said.

‘What a lovely house! Who do you live with?’ the lady asked looking around as if searching for something.
‘l live alone. I moved here about two months ago. There’s the washroom’. Ritu showed her the washroom.
Ritu was startled by Anil again.
‘Who is she?’ he asked.

‘Don’t know. The boy needed to pee so I let them in.’ she looked at Anil and smiled.

‘Meera!!’, Anil cried.

‘You know her?’ Ritu was puzzled.
‘To whom are you talking to?’, Meera seemed even more puzzled.

‘She is my sister. She eloped with her boyfriend a year before our parents passed away.’ Anil told Ritu.

‘Do you know Anil?’, Ritu asked Meera who was still looking for something in the house. ‘Do you know him?’.

‘How do you know about him? Where is he now? How is he?’ Meera asked in one breath. She became more impatient each moment.

‘Ritu please ask her how is she…Is she happy? Is she still with that man? Please…’, Anil begged Ritu. ‘I promised mom and dad that I will find Meera and make sure she is happy. How did I forget my little sister!’

‘Meera …Are you happy with your life?’ Ritu asked Meera with tears in her eyes.

‘First tell me who are you? I came here to see my brother. Please tell me something…Please’, Meera broke down. Her baby was too little to understand why her mother was crying and he too began to weep.

‘Your brother is dead. He died in a fire but he is still here Meera. He is watching you.’ Ritu looked to Anil. ‘And now I know why he could not leave this world. All he wants to know is whether her little sister is doing good in her life.’

‘I am very happy. I have two kids with Harish and we are a happy family. I want to see you brother. I want to apologize about my deeds. I am sorry. Please talk to me…’ the desperate sister cried madly.

‘Your sister wants to see you Anil. She is happy and’, Ritu turned back but Anil was nowhere. Anil was gone forever.

Ritu took a deep breath and held Meera.
‘You set him free! You set him free Meera!’ Ritu cried joyously. Though she lost a great friend but still couldn’t be more happy for Anil.

The next day Ritu went to Avinash’s grave. She wanted to apologize to him for every harsh thing she said to him when he was alive. She wanted to make sure that Avinash was not struggling like Anil.
‘Ritu’, a soft female voice called from behind. As she turned back a young girl hugged Ritu tightly.
‘I cannot believe I finally found you!’ the girl sobbed and laughed at the same time.

‘I am sorry I didn’t recognize you…’ Ritu asked.

‘I am Swati. Avinash’s girlfriend…He was so excited about my meeting with you and now that we are finally seeing each other…he is lying beneath the soil’ she sighed. ‘I searched for you everywhere but failed. Why did you leave college? What have you been doing all these days?’

‘I didn’t have the money to pay this year’s expenses in college so I decided to drop this year…’

‘Avinash and I have been saving money for your college. He wanted you to follow your passion. He said you are the best artist he had seen in his life. You would not drop this year Ritu. I promised Avinash that I would take care of you and I will keep the promise.’

‘You loved him so much?’ Ritu asked Swati. Her voice was choking and her throat pained.

‘I still love him and you know what he loved someone more than me…And it was you!’

STANDING ALONE.

She held it as tight as she could only to flush it down the toilet. She wanted to get over with it though her soul was getting ripped every second every moment.

Maya, a sixteen year old girl was rushed to the nearest health set up at midnight. Her mother, father and aunt accompanied her while she cried in intense pain. The two emergency medical officers were busy attending other patients when Maya entered the emergency room. She could barely stand and cried in pain every now and then hearing which a doctor went to her.
‘Where is it paining child?’ the doctor asked Maya.
Maya could not speak. She just kept her hand on her abdomen. The doctor gestured her father to take her to the bed with curtains meant for examining patients.
‘You stay outside Sir and only the ladies may come with me’ said the doctor in a very calm tone.
Inside the cabin the doctor palpated Maya’s abdomen and started taking the history.
‘She is always binge eating junks. She does not listen to me anytime. She was complaining of cramps since a month now but never wanted to visit the hospital.’ Maya’s mother told the doctor. Her tension could be sensed by the frowns on her forehead. She constantly brushed Maya’s hair with her fingers.
‘Does she have problem in her monthly cycles?’ the doctor asked . ‘When was the last time she got her periods?’
‘I think last month she got it in the first week.’ she answered. ‘Doctor recently she has gained too much weight and eats very unhealthy food. Her cycles are mostly irregular.’
‘It may be due to PCOD… Polycystic ovarian disease, it’s very common these days in teenage girls.’ The doctor took the stethoscope and put the diaphragm on Maya’s abdomen.
He sighed and wrote a small note on the ticket. ‘Take her to the gynaecology and obstetrics emergency’, said the doctor handling the ticket to Maya’s father.
‘What is the matter Doctor?’ the concerned father asked in an anxious tone.
‘Sir please take your daughter to the second floor immediately,’ the doctor said to the father ‘there are doctors there who will make you understand better.’
Maya was taken to the gynaecology and obstetrics emergency. A hospital staff accompanied them to the emergency. ‘Sir you wait here, only women are allowed in this room’, the staff told the father.
‘Mom I need to go to the toilet,’ Maya begged her mother after entering the room. Her mother helped her get into the washroom attached to the emergency.
Meanwhile the gynaecologist entered. ‘Who is the patient?’ she asked.

‘She is in the washroom,’ said the aunt and handled the ticket to the doctor.
‘Call her out of the washroom,’ the doctor screamed after reading the note on the ticket. She seemed tensed.
‘Get her out now!’ she yelled at the top of her voice. All the medical staff in the adjacent labour room gathered and after a while a cry of a baby could be heard from the washroom.
Maya’s mother and aunt didn’t know what was going on. And her father had no clue as he waited outside.
‘Break the door!’ the head nurse suggested. The staff broke the door and there was Maya…holding a tiny baby covered with blood. She held the baby just above the toilet. She herself was bleeding. She looked exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. She was breathing heavily. She wanted to flush the baby down the toilet. Didn’t she think about the life she was holding?She held it as tight as she could only to flush it down the toilet. She wanted to get over with it though her soul was getting ripped every second every moment.
The nurse was quick enough to save the baby on time. The paediatrician arrived and suggested to keep the baby in SNCU till the vitals got stabilized.

Maya’s family was devastated. The sixteen year old girl was pregnant and concealed her condition for nine months. She betrayed her family. She betrayed her mother and father. So was all this Maya’s fault alone? Or the boy who got her in this condition was the culprit? The boy might also not know she was pregnant or what ‘statutory rape’ is.
Why was Maya suffering alone? Why didn’t she tell her mother about her pregnancy? Why didn’t she seek any help?
‘I was afraid that my mother would kill me. The boy is a senior in my school and like me also feared that his father will throw him out of the house. We didn’t know what to do.’ she burst into tears when the doctor asked.
There are so many cases of infants and neonates being abandoned every day. The mothers might be in fear like Maya was. The fear that their family would not accept them when the truth comes forward. Maya did a huge mistake. But was that mistake bigger than a life? Was it bigger than her life? Is the society we live in not a bit responsible for such condition? Is the education system so weak that so many teens keep repeating such mistakes? Is Maya answerable to the society or is the other way around?

The questions remain unanswered as thousands of Maya stand alone in the crowd of judgemental people.

The Second Chance

THE SECOND CHANCE

‘What the hell is going on between my husband and that woman?’ Subha’s patience was at it lowest ebb.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Subha. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’
‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay…’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man’. She got up from her seat and walked around the room muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back , looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? Did he ever tell you anything about it?’
‘What! Subha you are stretching your thoughts too far…stop,’ Sanjay shouted in anger, ‘We both know that Sukesh would never do that.’ Sanjay looked at Subha with disgust. Suddenly Sanjay’s phone rang and he went out of the room banging the door behind him. Subha knew Sanjay was hurt.
Subha, Sanjay and Sukesh were friends since college. Though both the boys had feelings for Subha. Sukesh was the first to confess and Sanjay didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship so didn’t speak a word about his love for Subha. Sanjay had nothing with him when he passed college. He was not one of the brightest minds in batch and so didn’t get placed in a decent company. He came from a middle class family and all he had was a small house in his native village. It was Sukesh who supported him. Sukesh gave Sanjay a decent position in his family business and even a proper residence in the town. Sukesh thus became more like a brother figure to Sanjay. It has been two years since then. Subha and Sukesh have been married for a year now and everything seemed good until Deepa came into their life.
Sanjay went to Sukesh’s office and without even knocking the door he stormed straight to Sukesh’s cabin.
‘Sukesh…’ He uttered in anger but stopped. Sukesh and Deepa sat on the sofa, a file lied open on the desk in front of them.
‘Sukesh I want to talk to you.’ Sanjay said clenching his teeth as if suppressing the anger between his teeth.
‘Go ahead…I’m listening.’ Sukesh answered casually sipping the coffee.
‘I want you alone.’ Sanjay said looking at Deepa.
‘I’ll leave…’ Deepa nodded and left the room with her usual grace leaving behind the wonderful fragnance of the perfume she wore.
‘What is the matter with you? That was rude Sanjay…’ Said Sukesh this time looking straight at Sanjay.
‘Exactly…what is the matter with you?’ Asked Sanjay with a certain restlessness, ‘Seriously …Is there something going on between Deepa and you?’
Sukesh’s face went pale at once. He didn’t know what to say or where to look. He gazed at the file for a moment and then took up the cup to take another sip of the coffee. Sanjay at once got the answer.
‘Are you insane?’ Sanjay shouted with anger and then took a deep breath and sat beside Sukesh. ‘Subha is a wonderful girl…you love her…she loves you… Don’t ruin all this for any random girl!’
Sukesh got up from the sofa and went to the window. He moved the curtains and stared outside through the window glass and said, ‘Deepa is not any random girl Sanjay… At least not for me.’ He turned around to Sanjay.
Sanjay stood up and started walking towards Sukesh with slow steps. ‘Do you love her?’ Sanjay asked but feared what the answer would come.
Sukesh looked at Sanjay and shrugged his shoulders saying, ‘I do.’
Sanjay came to Sukesh, held his collar and dragged him to the wall.
‘How could you even say that!’
Sukesh took himself out of Sanjay’s grip.’I know that you are concerned about Subha,’ said Sukesh adjusting his tie, ‘but…’
‘What?’ Sanjay uttered in anger.
‘I know Sanjay that I am ruining my marriage, I am being selfish but I never want to hurt Subha.’ Sukesh sighed, ‘ I love Subha but what I feel when I am with Deepa is just so beautiful that I …’
‘But you can’t be with both of them!’ Sanjay interrupted, ‘It would leave all three of you wounded.’
‘I know and so I have made my decision.’ Sukesh looked at Sanjay nervously.
‘Are…are you thinking of leaving Subha?’ Sanjay stammered as he asked.
Sukesh just nodded.
Sanjay was left speechless. He at once lost all the respect he had for Sukesh.
A month later while Sanjay was in his apartment suddenly the door bell rang. It was Subha. She looked worried.
‘Subha…Is everything alright? You could have rang me, I …’
‘You knew everything, didn’t you?’ Subha was furious.
Though Sanjay knew what she was talking about but still asked, ‘ About what?’
‘I thought you were a friend. You knew about the relationship blooming between my husband and that Deepa.’ Subha took a deep breath. ‘We are getting a divorce Sanjay… You could have saved our marriage.’Subha burst into tears.
‘That’s insane. You two are responsible for all this. I thought it was best for both of you to sort things out yourself. Moreover who am I to interfere in your matter.’ Sanjay came closer to Subha, ‘I was a third person between you two then and I am a third person now.’
Subha came even closer to Sanjay, stared at him for a moment and kissed him passionately.
‘I love you.’ Sanjay said softly.
‘I know that…’ Subha leaned over to kiss him again but this time Sanjay pushed her back with a thrust. He was not able to believe what just happened. He was frozen.
‘Since when do you know that I …’ Sanjay’s heart was racing.
‘Since college Sanjay. I believed Sukesh was the best man for me but clearly I made the wrong choice.’
‘But this isn’t right either!’
‘Why? Is this because I am married? Didn’t Sukesh do the same thing to me? Why didn’t you stop him then?’
‘This isn’t about you. Sukesh is my best friend. He gave me everything I have today in my life. I can’t do this to him!’
‘Fine…save your friendship and kill your love once again!’ Subha left his apartment leaving him confused and restless.
Sanjay couldn’t sleep that night. He held his scotch and thought about Subha over and over. He knew that deep down somewhere in his heart he wanted the divorce of Subha and Sukesh. Life had offered him a second chance to be with his love. He might lose his friend but he had the most precious thing to gain. He picked up his phone and called Subha.
‘I know some good lawyers for your divorce!’ Said Sanjay.
‘I love you too…’ Replied Subha to which Sanjay couldn’t stop smiling.
The next day Sanjay went to Sukesh’s house along with the lawyer. When he reached there the discussion had already begun. Subha, Sukesh, Deepa and Sukesh’s lawyer sat on the sofa. Sukesh was shocked to see Sanjay. Subha got up and offered her seat to the lawyer Sanjay had brought.
Sanjay was not able to look at Sukesh. Subha grasped his hand and made him sit beside her.
‘I didn’t expect this from you Sanjay…’ Sukesh uttered, ‘I never imagined that you would go behind my back like this.’
‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ Sanjay finally looked at Sukesh with confidence. ‘It is you who is to blame.’
‘Please settle all this peacefully. We don’t have all day.’ Deepa held Sukesh’s hand to pacify him. After an emotional and long discussion Subha and Sukesh decided to file a petition for a mutual consent divorce.

As Sanjay had guessed Sukesh took away his job. After about six months the divorce finally happened giving Sanjay and Subha the freedom to get married.
Subha and Sanjay planned to do a registry marriage. At the day of their marriage Sanjay got before time at the court to do some special arrangements. He brought all his close friends and relatives with him. He waited eagerly for Subha to arrive. He was confident of the decision he had made. He was finally getting married to Subha and his joy knew no boundaries.
Sanjay waited for two long hours but Subha didn’t arrive. He called her but her phone was switched off. She was no where to be seen. He called everyone who might have had any knowledge about Subha but still he couldn’t trace her. Finally the registrar called their names, it was time. The registrar told him that they couldn’t wait any longer and that he had to choose any other date. Sanjay was embarrassed in front of his friends and relatives but the only thing he was worried about was Subha’s well being.
He thought of checking his apartment before filing any missing complaint.
When he got home he saw a parcel lying on the floor. He opened it. There was a letter. It was from Subha.
‘I never intended to hurt you Sanjay but I had no other way. I know you are worried about me instead of being angry but trust me I am fine. In fact I am the happiest person in this world today. I wanted your help in this divorce and so had to put up this little drama. But the truth is …I love someone else. You know the person very well. It’s Deepa. Deepa and I met in London last year when Sukesh took me with him in his business trip. We met at the hotel where I had to spend most of the time alone. She is the most beautiful person I have ever met in my life. Explaining all this to Sukesh and our parents was difficult so I had to go the other way. I plotted everything; from Sukesh meeting Deepa to me kissing you. Everything went great according to the plot. We are together now. I am with my love. I know it’s hard for you to forgive me but still …I am sorry.’
Sanjay didn’t know how to react. He could not believe to the piece of paper he was holding. He was confused. He was angry with his life. He was filled with disgust. But finally he was left with a smile on his face thinking about the second chance Subha got.
‘Good luck Subha!’ Sanjay uttered with a smile and threw the letter in the dustbin.