The Smell of Rain.

“Aah! Love the smell of the first rains…It’s so simple yet feels so warm like the earth is hugging you…”Laila said entering the room. She tried hard to close the old umbrella but failed. She threw it behind the door. “How long have you been waiting?”

“You haven’t changed…” Said Kunal, “You still get joy in little things. I hate the smell…I ”

“Yeah.. I remember you feel as if someone put soil in your mouth…” Laila laughed.

“Times like these are so strange…They often take you on a trip to memory lane.” Kunal sipped the hot brewing coffee and looked out of the window. The droplets touching his face and wetting the papers on the table didn’t bother him.

Laila went closer to Kunal and stood beside him. “The wind feels so refreshing and wild at the same time. It messes with my hair but the moment it stops I start missing it.”

“You don’t miss him?” Kunal looked straight in Laila’s wide eyes which were looking at the dancing trees. The smile on Laila’s lips was about to fade. Her eyes were about to give up the thin tear forming but then she smiled even brighter. Her eyes glistened as she took a deep breath and looked at Kunal.

“I sometimes wish that time should stop in some beautiful moments. The moments where I feel truely alive. Moments were I forget about the world.” She went close to the window glass and wrote on the fogged glass with her finger…Vijay.

“But the times you wished did the time actually stop?” Kunal turned his back towards Laila to hide his tears. He cleared his throat. “We wished many things…But…”

“We cannot get everything! Life is a story of getting and not getting.” Laila still smiled. “Why do you hide your tears? It’s okay to cry Kunal.”

“It’s been like six years Laila…Six years since the three of us haven’t played as a band. Why is it so hard even after so many years?”

“You remember last time we played…You almost fought with Vijay for the lyrics!”

“Yeah…” Kunal finally looked at Laila and smiled, “and you slapped both of us. He stormed out of this room and went in the rain…”

“We dreamed of becoming the biggest band…” Laila absentmindedly interrupted, “If vijay was here in this reunion, the girls would have still gone crazy for him.”

“He was a show-off. That brat. He was so arrogant… Ill-behaved… mannerless. But still I miss him. Why did he take his bike that day Laila? Why didn’t we stop him? Why did I fight with him? I feel guilty Laila…It’s like a stone on my chest. It grows bigger and heavier each day.”

“The stone…I too was burdened with the stone. It got smaller and smaller once I forgave myself. It was nobody’s fault Kunal. What could have happened! We could have not faught that day. We could have not rehearsed that day. He is gone. But look! he is still with us…You asked whether the time stopped or not…It did for me Kunal. Can’t you hear us singing, fighting, laughing…Rainy days like this, our guitars, the hot tea from the canteen and this music room…”

“And the smell of the rain…”, Kunal closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Time stopped indeed”.

THE KNOCK

“There is an age for love. It’s when you are in college. Everything seems good and pleasurable. You seek for new adventure…new faces…new people in your life. And that’s when love happens. It may lead you to a beautiful reality or a dark nightmare.Not at this age…I am thirty three. Now is age for saving money, making life more secure, searching for a good decent life partner. Love never is a priority at this stage of my life.” Said Shiv holding a glass of chai in one hand and taking a puff from the cigarette held in another. He stood at one of the many tea stalls lined up outside his office. Shiv a bearded man with a peeping tummy from the bottons of his shirt was a stressed overworked IT employee.

“But what about the concept of true love? What if there is a special someone out there? What if the concept of the one is true?” Asked his friend Som. Som was Shiv’s junior in office. A non smoker with a cute face wanting to argue with Shiv on love.

“Huh…true love. A concept to misdirect the youth…tell me…who has time for this? I work my ass off here, go home freshen up, cook or order whatever the mood is and then sleep. Neither do I have the energy nor the time to get on a trip of finding my true whatever.” Shiv looked exhausted at 11 in the morning. He finished his cigarette and threw the burning butt in the drain. “One more cup…bro.” he ordered the owner of the stall.

“I think we should rush, bhaiya…” Som said looking at the clock. “It’s almost half an hour…”.

“You go…” Shiv seemed irritated. “Go butter the boss.”
Som left without any argument this time. He knew he would never win an argument with Shiv.

Shiv did the work in the office with a grumpy mood and headed home quickly after submitting his work status. He generally took a cab to his home but that day he was compelled to take the bus seeing the price hike of the cabs. The buses were generally crowded during that time of the evening due to which Shiv preferred a cab but the bus that Shiv took was quite empty. He immediately got a seat when he boarded. The bus was a very old dusty bus. With foam coming out of the seats and rust on the iron bars. He sat near a window after properly dusting the seat. He was planning of wearing the same pants to work the next day. Though the roads were good the ride to his destination was quite bumpy. He took out the earphone from his pocket, played his playlist and continued to look out of the window. The shops were closing their shutters and the people were heading back to their houses. Like Shiv the city seemed tired too.
Suddenly Shiv noticed something weird happening to his hands. His palm got sweaty and numb. He got scared for a second. Then he noticed a vein engorging in his left wrist. This time it pained a lot. It seemed like the vein was getting lifted. Shiv got even more scared. He felt a bit dizzy. He removed his wrist watch quickly, put it inside his bag and pressed his left wrist with his right hand. He waited for a moment. Then he removed his hand to have a look. It was completely normal. Shiv was relieved. He took out his water bottle and took a sip. His heart was still racing but he pacified himself thinking that all was his imagination. He knew he needed rest. “It’s alright…Shiv. Wait for the weekend. I’ll get some chilled beer and I’ll be good!” He talked to himself. The co-passengers were probably too engulfed in themselves to even notice Shiv’s weird behaviour.

After about an hour Shiv reached his apartment. It was a small apartment with one bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. He used to live with a roommate but about a year ago his roommate got married and left the apartment. Shiv didn’t even bother to look for a new roommate and share the rent. His company paid him enough. He was eventually loving living alone. He kept things wherever he liked, he could use the bathroom for whatever time he wanted and could sing songs aloud. There was nobody to give any objection and he could be himself. He threw his bag on the sofa, went straight to the fridge, took out a canned cold drink and switched on the A.C. He lit his cigarette and enjoyed it till the last puff in silence. He then went to freshen up…changed into his tee and bermuda, took out the stale noodles from the fridge. He heated it in the microwave and ate it with the cold drink. He finished the food in hurry, put the bowl in the sink, threw the can towards the dustbin but couldn’t aim. The remaining drink in the can spilled over the floor. He didn’t care. The maid would clean the mess the next morning.

He went to the fridge again. The door had a sticker which read ‘STAY HYDRATED’ in beautiful golden bold letters. He looked but ignored. He went for the beer he had stocked. Usually he would finish up a bottle or two but this time he couldn’t. His doctor had warned him about consuming too much alcohol. He remembered the strange hallucinations in the bus back home. He took two sips and put it back to the rack.
He went to his bed. The bed was filled with papers and books, data cables, his laptop, clothes all over the bedsheet and gritted biscuits were spread everywhere. He tutted looking at his bed. He pulled a t-shirt from the pile of clothes and dusted the bed till he was satisfied. Shiv switched the lights off, got into the bed, adjusted the pillow to a comfortable position, took out his phone and started clearing the pending mails and messages. He didn’t realise when he fell asleep.
It was midnight when suddenly his eyes opened but he couldn’t move his body. He couldn’t breathe. His chest felt heavy. He was in panic. He was frightened. He wanted to shout but his voice was not coming out. He looked above. It appeared as if a shadow of a man was peeping into his eyes. His quickly shut his eyes and tried to calm himself. Few seconds passed. He gasped as he was finally able to move. He sat on the bed thinking about the horrific experience. It was not the first time when he experienced sleep paralysis but each time it was pathetic. Shiv’s doctor had told him to sleep early, eat healthy, stay away from caffeine and excess alcohol but these things seemed in no control for Shiv. But the thing that made him more frightened was the hallucination. He had never seen a person or figure in his previous attacks. It was new. Shiv tried to get to sleep again but failed. He was too worried of another attack of sleep paralysis. Though he knew it would not harm him physically but still it was too much to handle. He slumped on the sofa in the dinning room and waited for the morning. He felt a strange weight over his body.

It was seven when he decided to get up and freshen up. He yawned all the way to the washroom. He wanted to take a day off from the office but he needed to save his holidays for his visit to his parents. He was thinking all these things when suddenly he noticed his veins on his palm engorging again. He rubbed his hand vigorously and shook his head.
“Why is it happening? Am I loosing it? These hallucinations won’t let me…” He talked to himself but stopped suddenly when he felt a tap on his shoulders from behind. He was startled and looked behind at once.

A fair and handsome young man stood behind with an anxious face. He wore a checked red shirt unbottoned over a white tee shirt and a loose brown trousers. His big spectacles seemed too old fashioned.
“Who are you? How did you come in?” Shiv asked in a strained voice.

“I came with you last night. I am Nikhil.”

“What rubbish. Don’t try to be smart mister. I am calling the police.” Shiv dashed to reach for his phone. He was really alarmed that a stranger was in his house.

“Don’t call anyone. I just need your help. Just help me once and I promise I won’t bother you again.” Nikhil almost begged.

“You mannerless brat. You enter a house without permission…no actually sneak in and have the guts to talk to me like that. I won’t spare you….just watch.”

“You can’t reach anyone now. Relax…just calm down …hear me once. I won’t harm you. I promise.”

Shiv tried dialling the emergency number but his fingers froze. He couldn’t move his thumb. His chest thumped up and down in frustration.

“Ahhhh.. what…” Shiv cried and hurled the phone to Nikhil. The phone passed through Nikhil’s body and hit the opposite wall. The screen shattered into small pieces. Shiv sat on the floor at once seeing Nikhil stand still. Shiv was calm for a moment. He felt cold.

“What…what ar..are you?” Shiv uttered.
Nikhil stepped closer to Shiv and sat down. Shiv tried to move back with each step Nikhil took. Shiv was shook to his core.
“I won’t harm you…I promise you would not see me again. I just want you to go to a place. That’s it. Please.”

“But I have to reach my office…I..”

“I just want your one hour. Nothing else. Please.”

“What do I have to do?” Shiv was too afraid to deny to what Nikhil was saying. He just wanted it to be over.

“First dress up. We will have to go to a place…you should be properly dressed” Nikhil smiled at Shiv. Shiv ran to the washroom, got a quick shower, pulled out his suit from the wardrobe and put his most expensive shoes.

“Hmm..you look good.” Nikhil complimented. Shiv didn’t know how to react to that. He was still hoping that all this was his weird imagination.

“Where do we have to go?” He asked in a shaking voice.

“Hire a cab and I’ll tell you where to go.” Nikhil replied in a calm tone.

“But I broke the phone…how will I book a cab?” Shiv shivered as he was talking.

“I am sorry for that…I was responsible but I can’t help you. We can get a regular taxi from the stand.”
Shiv and Nikhil got out and looked for a taxi. After looking for a while they finally got one. Nikhil gave directions to Shiv and Shiv conveyed to the driver. Many things were going on in Shiv’s mind. He decided to get to a doctor once he gets finished with Nikhil. He had never encountered a ghost or spirit in his life. He had only heard stories which were not very good and which always ended ugly. He prayed each moment. He questioned each second of the day.
“Tell him to stop!” Nikhil said. The degree of restlessness can be measured by his tone.
They got off the taxi. Shiv looked at Nikhil. “Now what?” He asked.

“You see the red gate there…” Nikhil pointed out to a house. “Go there and knock on the door.”

Shiv looked at the gate.”Who lives there? And what do I say to the person?” He asked.

He got no reply. He looked around. Nikhil was nowhere. Shiv moved his foot towards the house. It was a gloomy day. The overgrown plants in the neighborhood made the path darker. He reached the red gate. Slided the lock and opened it. The garden was well maintained. There roses, lilies, jasmines bloomed and the fragrance was very capturing. He gathered all his courage when he walked through the garden and finally reached the door. He sighed and lifted his hand. He finally knocked on the door. His heart was racing and he didn’t know what to anticipate. Nobody opened the door. He knocked again.
This time the door opened. An old woman stood smiling.
“I am sorry…I kept you waiting. I am too old to walk quickly.”
Shiv was relieved seeing the old woman but was more confused.

“Come in my child,” the woman invited Shiv before he could even say anything. “Nikhil sent you here?”

“How do …” Shiv was speechless. He repented entering the house.

“You stay here. I’ll just come. Please be seated.” The lady went to the other room saying this.

“Is this Nikhil’s home? Maybe the lady is his mother?” Shiv thought to himself. He noticed some photographs kept in the showcase. He went close to take a look. The photographs were black and white and stained at some places. There were many photographs. He could recognise the lady from her single portrait and was completely fascinated by her beauty. He then shifted his focus to a group photo. It seemed like a college group. This time he could spot Nikhil standing beside the lady. Both looked happy, holding each other’s hand. He looked up and saw a certificate hanging on the wall. The name was ‘Mary Joseph’.

“That’s my college degree.” The lady entered the room with a cake in his hand. Shiv was nervous.

“I am sorry …I looked into the…”

“It’s okay my child. I know you are confused…” The lady kept the cake on the table. Shiv noticed ‘Happy Birthday’ written on it but he curbed the desire to ask anything. He went closer.

The lady cut a generous piece and gave it to Shiv. “You must be hungry.”

“Nikhil…I saw him. He is a gh…”

“We were in love…” The lady interrupted. “Yes…you saw him. Is he still so handsome?”
The lady teared up saying this. Shiv didn’t say anything. He just listened.
“We were together in college. We fell in love. But he was a Hindu Brahmin and I was a Christian and that time it was a huge deal. Our parents didn’t allow us to be together. We didn’t want to upset our parents. So we decided to give them time…we hoped one day they will understand.” The lady sighed. “They didn’t.”

“Did Nikhil kill himself?” Shiv asked.

“No…he was brave…he fought for us. We fought for us. But…”

“What happened?”

“An accident. Nikhil was badly injured. My parents allowed me to meet him in the hospital one last time. He was in the bed lying helplessly but still smiling. He smiled as he promised he would wait for me. I cried as I promised I would wait for him. He died that very night.”
Shiv sat on the chair near him and continued to listen.
“It’s been thirty years. He never forgets my birthday…he makes me realise…that he’s still waiting!” She cried and smiled at the same time. The wrinkled face lit up once again as she thought of Nikhil. “What’s your name Son?”

“Shiv…Shiv Mehra.”

“Come I have something to show you…” The lady took Shiv to another room. Shiv was amazed to see some twenty-thirty cakes kept on a large round table.
“People like you who were approached by Nikhil send me these every year! Kind people like you. People who believe in love. You tell me…do you have a special someone?”

“I didn’t believe in love…” Shiv paused and looked up at her face, “But now I do!”

The lady smiled. “Tell me…did he also promise you that he’ll never bother you again?”

” Yeah..I was too frightened. I didn’t know who was he. But didn’t he ever come to meet you after his death?”

“I don’t know actually. I always feel he is with me. Maybe he doesn’t want to see me as an old woman!” Mary laughed. “People say spirits approach only those who are depressed or tired… You must be late to work. I have my orphanage to take care of. The children give me strength. They enjoy the cakes with me and turn this old lady to a small girl.”

“I couldn’t have believed your story if I hadn’t seen it. I was wrong. Love has no barrier. No age. No religion. No world.”

“You will experience it soon I guess…just don’t loose hope. Don’t stop loving. One day will come when you’ll meet a person whose one glance would knock the door to your heart!”

Shiv spent the whole day with Mary and the children in the orphanage. He played games, laughed like a child and ate the cakes without any worry. It was evening when he decided to head back home. He got on a bus from the street nearby. He soon realised it was the same bus he took that night from the office.

“Hey, may I sit beside you?” A sweet voice called from behind. A beautiful lady with an innocent smile stood infront of Shiv. His heart skipped a beat.
“Sh…sure.” he stammered.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Roshni ran to her room as soon as she entered the house. She opened the room, put her bag on the carpet, slided the curtains to allow the light enter the room and stared out of the window.

She noticed the mango tree in the backyard had grown taller and wider. The tree blocked most of the light entering through the window. She looked around the room. Everything was as it was when she left for college a year ago. Now that the summer vacation were on, she could sleep longer, eat home made food and hang out with her old friends. She looked out the window again. A smile covered her face as she saw the big green mangoes hanging from the tree. She loved raw mangoes.

Then suddenly she heard the caws. The crows were all over the mango tree. They continuously made sounds as if there was a fight going on. Then Roshni noticed a crow being attacked by other crows. The crow being attacked was a very small one and was a bit different. It took a while for Roshni to figure out that the little crow was not actually a crow but was a baby cuckoo. What stunned Roshni was the fact that there was a crow who was protecting the cuckoo from the attacks. Roshni had never seen this thing before. Her grandmother had told her stories about the cuckoo bird. These lazy birds don’t build their own nest. They instead lay eggs in other bird’s nest…mostly crow’s nest. Thus the crow…probably a female was not protecting the cuckoo but she was protecting her child. The crow knew that the baby was not hers but she knew she was it’s mother. Roshni kept looking at the crow and the cuckoo until they flew to a farther tree.

Roshni then walked slowly to the other wall. And gazed at the framed photo. It was her mother’s. She took out a match stick and lighted the candle kept on the shelf close to the photo. “Mom…I wish I had some memories of you…” Roshni was very young when her mom passed away. She had only heard stories of her mother from her grandmother.

“Roshni…” Called her father. Roshni at once went running to the dinning room. The table was full of all her favourite foods. Her Dad stood at the corner with a sweet smile.

“Dad…what have you done!”

“So you don’t want all this?” He frowned.

“Of course I do want all this.” Roshni uncovered all the dishes one by one, taking the delicious scents in and smiling all the time. At one such dish she uncovered the lid and held on for a moment. “Coconut prawn? Mom loved it when you made this for her…right?

“No darling…I made it because you love it and…who told you about your mother?” Roshni’s father seemed a little annoyed.

“Grandma did. You loved Mom very much didn’t you?”

“I…I don’t….why don’t you start eating. It’s getting cold.”

Roshni went closer to her dad and hugged him tightly.

“I know I’m not your…blood” Roshni cried as she tried to complete the sentence.

“Who told you that? You are my daughter and I am your father…” Her father couldn’t hold back his tears either.

“Grandma told me that mom cheated on you. You still accepted her. You accepted me and…oh dad.” Roshni gripped him even tighter.

“Stop your rubbish. You know I love your mom. I loved her with all I had. And will continue to love her till my last breath. And I love you my darling.” He kissed her on her head. “Don’t bring all this up ever… understand. Or…or I’ll never talk to you. Now please would you start eating!”

Roshni smiled and wiped her tears. “Dad?”

“Now what?”

“I think you are the best mother in this world!”

The Tumble

“You seem tensed son…What is that paper you are holding?” Viraj’s mother asked with concern. She couldn’t walk properly and crippled as she walked pass the door.

“Mom!”, Viraj stood up from his seat and held her mother, “Why are you still up? It’s already two…I told you to sleep early. Did you take your medicines?” He quickly folded the paper and put it into his pocket.

“I saw the lights were on…So…I am worried about you son!” She couldn’t hold back her tears any longer.

“Mom, come have a seat”, he made her sit on the sofa. He sat beside her and held her hand.

“You are my strength Mom and if you break down like this I ….” He reached to his pocket and took out the paper. He unfolded it and kept it on the table.

“Divorce?! Is she really doing this?”

“Mom don’t..You know this was coming,” Viraj sighed, “Please..I… Let’s get you to bed…We will talk about this in the morning… Okay?”
Viraj took his mother to her room. Made her take the pills and put her to bed. He sat beside her brushing her hairs until she was soundly asleep. He turned the lights off, took out a cigarette from his pocket, grabbed the keys and went to the terrace. He went to a corner and tried to light the cigarette. The terrace was dark. The bulb fused about a year ago but nobody in the building cared to replace it. The wind made it difficult for Viraj to light the cigarette. His fingers were not cooperating either. He had anxiety issues and his fingers trembled in stress. Finally he succeeded in the fourth try.

With each puff he realized how useless and futile his living had become. His fingers trembled badly. He couldn’t grip the cigarette properly.He let himself cry finally. He met Aditi his wife in medical college. They were good friends and till the last year were a couple. They married the way they wanted…It was grand. Life was going well…The perfect family…Perfect marriage… Their practice seemed good…But then it happened. The accident. The accident that ruined the perfect life. While coming back home from the hospital, Viraj’s car came in front of a lorry. It happened in a fraction of second. The driver lost his life then and there. Viraj was critical for about a week. The accident gave Viraj the anxiety to live with but took away his chance to become a father ever. The practice eventually came down. Aditi was not able to handle the stress and their marriage was not perfect anymore. These thoughts kept coming back and forth in Viraj’s mind until the cigarette burnt his fingers.
Suddenly he heard a sound. It was definitely coming from the terrace but from the other side. He rushed to inspect. He could only see a shadow in the darkness. He got closer. It seemed someone was standing near the edge of the wall leaning down. Suddenly it appeared to Viraj that someone was trying to jump off from the roof. He wasted no time and grabbed the person with all his strength and pulled towards the center.

“Hey! Dude…What’s wrong with you?” It was a deep but annoyed voice.

“What were you trying to do? Suicide is an offense and never an option!”

“What? Seriously…What?”

“Weren’t you? Okay but…”

Both of them panted and probably were hurt.

“God! My phone and keys fell on the lintel of the window while I was looking down. I tried to reach it. That’s it.”

“Hey…I am really sorry. You live in this building?”

“Yeah…Its been about two three months I guess.”

“Umm…I am sorry mate. But it really wasn’t a good idea. It could be dangerous. You could wait till the morning. The guard will fetch it. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah I know. It wasn’t a great idea,” he paused, “would it be alright if I crash at your place…You know the keys are..”

“Sure man… Absolutely!”

Viraj took the man to his apartment. The man seemed younger than Viraj. He was dressed up in a very casual manner. The hairs all curly and a long beard.
“So this is my home. Be comfortable. Mom is in the next room so try not to be loud.”

“Hey what’s this?” He casually picked up the divorce papers.

“Hey!” Viraj snatched the paper. “We have just…You are a stranger…Behave like one!” Viraj was furious. “So what’s your name?”

“Shantanu and you are?”

“Viraj…Dr. Viraj…”

“Oh.. so doc do you have something to eat…Actually anything would do. I am starving.”

“Yeah and you are bleeding too.” Viraj pointed towards his bleeding elbow.
Viraj brought him some leftovers and first aid. Shantanu was a very talkative person and just blabbered till dawn until they both were dead sleep. Shantanu told Viraj that he was an aspiring writer. He was all alone in the city and his parents didn’t support him. Shantanu was working as an intern in an online channel after getting rejected from many firms.

When Viraj woke up the next morning Shantanu was not in the room. Viraj went to his mother’s room only to find Shantanu and his mother laughing loud and munching on the fries. Viraj was happy seeing her mother laugh. It had been a while since her mother laughed so carefree. Suddenly the door bell rang. Viraj opened the door. The watchman stood holding a phone and a bunch of keys.
“Sir, Shantanu sir?”

“Yeah I’ll give it to him. Thank you”.

“Hey you got the keys! Thank you man.” Shantanu came from behind. “Hey Doctor! Good morning.”

“Good morning Shantanu. How are you feeling?” Asked Viraj.

“Good and well fed for a change”, he chuckled. “Your mother is a sweetheart. Now I think I should leave. It was great meeting you…Thanks for having me!”

“Yeah, same here. Actually Shantanu…umm…Feel free anytime to come here. Mom would enjoy your company very much.”

“Thanks dude. Bye”.

Viraj and Shantanu gradually became good friends. The divorce finally took place. Viraj and his mother were getting over the change quite well. And Shantanu did eventually get a publisher for his first novel. The novel was a hit. Shantanu threw a success party at his apartment. He invited all his novelist friends. The company people. Some people from the apartment and Viraj.

“Hey the party was fire dude.” Viraj went up to Shantanu after the party was over. All the people had left. Shantanu requested Viraj to help with cleaning.

“Yeah. You enjoyed yourself?” Asked Shantanu clearing the empty beer bottles from the table.

“Hmm…After a very long time I should say.” Viraj sat on the sofa smiling to Shantanu.

“Hey how is your practice going? I mean..”

“Quite well actually. I mean the anxiety returns sometimes but it’s fine. I am fine.”

“Good…I am glad.”

“What now? New story? You thought any plot?” Viraj stood up to clean the balcony.

Shantanu also went to the balcony to help him.
“Yeah…Its about a writer who…” He cleared his throat, “who fell in love with a doctor!”

Viraj froze at once. He looked at Shantanu with astonishment. Shantanu went close to Viraj held him and kissed him passionately.
“Shantanu behave…I am not…” Viraj took his foot back and pushed Shantanu.

“You are not like that. I get it. I wanted to just confess my love. And I have one more thing to confess…”

“What?” Viraj asked softly.

“That night I was actually about to jump from the terrace. I was broken to the core. Nobody was ready to publish my novel…My parents were embarrassed of me and…”

“Shantanu I am sorry but I cannot.”

Viraj came close to Shantanu. He held his hand and hugged him tight.

“Hey you need not to be sorry. You saved me. You gave me a new reason to live. I cannot ask for more. I am leaving for New York tomorrow. I just wanted to let you know what I actually feel about you.”

“When will you return?”

“I am not sure. It could be a month or a year or more than a year.” He sighed. “I think you should leave Viraj. Its late…I haven’t packed yet.”

“Yeah right…Bye..” Viraj took his coat and headed towards the door.

“Viraj…” Shantanu called from behind. Viraj looked back. “Good luck dude”.

“Good luck to you too.” Viraj smiled. “And don’t tumble off any terrace or roof top!”

“Yeah, your advice my command Doctor!” Shantanu chuckled. “And…I’ll be fine …Don’t worry.”

The Pain.

‘Sir, your name?’

‘John…John Thomas.’

‘What year Sir?’

‘2018.’

‘Thank you Sir, you may proceed.’

John walked past the entrance with a heavy heart but a smile on his face. The place was beautifully maintained by the keepers. The lush green bushes, the smell of the seasonal flowers, the chirp of the birds, the cool breeze…Everything was peaceful. He walked through the cobble stone road to reach the grave. He held the flowers he brought in his hand and smiled at the grave.
He remembered how 8 years ago he decided to end his life. John was going through a very difficult time at that point. His job was at stake, his savings were down with the crashing stock market and his love of life was being married to someone else. He only had his father with him who was mostly ill. The other support he had was his 2 year old dog, Pom.

He remembered the night when he took all his pills which were prescribed for his depression. He remembered losing himself with each passing second. He remembered the faint visuals and the faint barks. He remembered waking up the next day in the hospital bed. His father sitting beside his bed and crying.
‘What have you done my son!’

‘Father…I was…’

‘Pom saved you….And saved me.’

The neighbours had heard Pom barking aggressively. They had rushed John to the nearest hospital.

‘You don’t know John…I could not have lived without you. You cannot imagine the pain. The most unfortunate thing for a parent is to live with the fact that their child is no more! Thank God you are alright!’

He remembered how his father kissed his forehead and prayed for his long life. John’s father died that very year due to the chronic illness.
But still John was glad that his father was able to witness his prosperity. That year John had started his own startup which was a huge success.
He now wept as he looked at the stone on the grave.

‘I now know father…The pain you were talking about…You were right! Its unbearable but still I have to bear it everyday till I die.’
He kept the flowers on the grave and left wiping his tears.
The stone read…
‘ POM (2008-2018).
Boy.. You’ll always remain in my heart.
Love Dad.’

Fifteen years of pure joy.

‘It’s just a dog!’, some people would say.
‘He is my brother…Tuffy Chakrabarty.’ I would shout at them.

It has been almost three months now that he has left…left forever. He left us on 2nd Nov 2018.
I know I could not hold him back forever but I know that I would hold the memories till my last day. It’s really difficult to believe that I cannot touch him or feed him or pet him. It’s sometimes difficult to breathe. You feel so heavy that you have to sigh. The pain around your throat when someone’s around and you want to cry out loud but you can’t. It is indeed difficult.
‘That’s why I don’t have a pet…it’s painful when they leave…’ people say.
I agree it’s painful but the pain is far less then the joy I would say. I know I am crying writing this piece. But somewhere deep down I have kept safe the happy moments our family had with Tuffy. Tuffy was around two months old when we adopted him from the streets. Sunita Masi who used to work in our house brought him to us. It was 12 Nov 2003. I was in fifth grade and my elder sister in seventh. I remember when I first saw him ticks were running all across his face. Tuffy was so fat that time that we called him ‘fatty’ but then dad pointed that what if he looses the weight. Dad named him Tuffy after dad’s favourite bowler from New Zealand. Thus was named my fifteen years of pure joy.
Now you must be wondering that this seems fun. Well sometimes it wasn’t. We never wanted Tuffy to be in chains. He was Indian Street dog and they don’t want to be chained but his naughtiness complelled us to do so. He would enter our neighbours house and eat their food. He once ate and defaecated in a neighbour’s house and need I say how furious the person was. Eventually when he learnt what’s wrong we let him roam without the chains. He would run around the colony, fight with other dogs, play with some of them and when was tired would scratch our door to get in. We would vaccinate him time to time, bathe him frequently (which he didn’t like at all) and sometimes even dress his wounds. Tuffy liked fighting I guess.
During those mating months he would be gone for four- five days. I would be worried thinking what if he doesn’t come back home…what if something happened to him…I would cry for him so much and every time he would come back on the sixth day proving my all ‘what- ifs’ wrong. When we brought Tuffy there was no internet or cell phones and thus we knew very little about how to do anything. Tuffy ate human food (which is in many ways may be harmful for dogs) and when we came to know that our food is not safe for him and tried to give him boiled unseasoned food but he didn’t touch it. He always demanded what we had.
My boy was not so brave but naughty enough to hunt sparrows and rabbits. Pom his friend would join his naughtiness and often both of them would land in trouble. Tuffy would tear currency notes, run away with shoes, chew furniture and destroy cloths.
In his later years he was as energetic as a pup. He never stopped to pick up fights. My dad had a transferrable job and so we had to move to different places. Tuffy moved with us to all those places. He loved to travel…he loved to explore new places or I should say mark new places…and most of all he loved to make new enemies.
People often ask whether I would get another pet since Tuffy is gone. Tuffy was more like my baby. I fed him, I bathed him, I cried when he cried. In his last few days he was unable to stand properly. I would support him and make him walk. He wanted to walk badly but he himself could’nt. It broke my heart each time he fell. It broke my heart each time he cried to pick him up. He eventually gave up food. As adviced by the doctor we ran some blood tests and the results were extremely painful. His kidneys were not working. I called up his doctor in trembling voice about the reports. We discussed about the last resort which was dialysis. But the prognosis was poor and Tuffy was too weak to take up the hastle of long queues and painful procedures. We continued the fluids for few days. Then one evening when I was all alone in the house watching television and petting Tuffy I thought of auscultating his chest. I took out my stethoscope and heart his heart sound and breathing sounds. They were perfectly fine. I kept the stethoscope aside and continued brushing his fur with my fingers. After a minute or so Tuffy had a convulsion and suddenly everything was so silent. I palpated his heart and could feel the beats slowly disappear. All I could feel was my heart pumping hard. I still don’t know what I was feeling. He was gone and I knew that but I just kept crying and calling his name. He didn’t respond.
I often feel empty and often find myself crying. I sometimes want him so bad, I want to pet him…Touch him…Feel him. Its hard indeed after he left. Would I get another pet? Yes I might. My boy has a special place in my heart. He was my baby. None can ever take his place but Tuffy taught me many things. While growing with him I understood what trust, friendship and love is. And these are not just terms… they need to be felt and made…These words need a chance! And if I could give that love to someone again…Make someone trust in me again ….Make a lifetime friendship again, then why not.! Yes it will break my heart again…Yes I would be left empty again but what about the life I would give that someone. Tuffy enjoyed his life to the fullest. He visited places, ate good food, made new friends (and enemies) and made others happy. Why would I not give another soul the chance to be happy? I sure need sometime to recollect my broken pieces now and till I am not fully ready for the responsibility, I do need to wait.
So go ahead. If you are in a place to give a soul a happy life don’t let the chance go away. And I ensure you that the love and happiness you get in return in insane. Do your research…Know your responsibilities…Know your limitations and get ready for the journey.

And please adopt…Don’t shop!

Miles Apart.

Hey…So how was your day?’ Payal smiled as she held the phone tightly to her right ear. Her excitement could be measured by her tone.

‘Good. Yours?’ replied Randeep in an incredibly dull tone from the other side of the phone.

‘Great but I missed you so much! The best thing today was the girl I met..I…’

‘Payal…Baby can we talk later?’ Randeep interrupted Payal, ‘The head has come.’

‘Yeah sure…’ Payal’s excitement dissolved at once and now her tone matched that of Randeep’s, ‘ I’ll call you later’. Payal kept the phone on the dining table, finished the noodles she was eating, washed the dishes and went to her study. Her study was a small room with thousands of books and even more number of spiders and webs. The room was not at all well lit and had a layer of dust on the floor. But Payal never bothered to work in that space or else never bothered to clean the space. There were a bunch of papers lying on the study table. Payal sighed. She put on her spectacles and started counting the papers.
‘Sixty five? ‘, she uttered to herself, ‘But there are Sixty seven students in the class right? Payal count again!’ she counted them once again and this time seemed satisfied with the result.
Payal was a girl in her early thirty’s. She was a teacher by profession and was married to Randeep since the last five years. Payal and Randeep met in a matrimony portal. Randeep’s parents liked Payal a lot. Though before the marriage they never actually met each other in person they talked quite a lot on phone. Still after their marriage while Randeep worked out of the country and only came to his home once in a year, most of their ‘precious’ moments happened over the phone. Randeep worked for a hospital as a psychiatrist and was most of the time stressed due to the work load. Payal on the other hand was in love with teaching. She thought it as a way to express herself to people, though the people being ten years old but still this was her only way to be happy.
Payal while assessing the answer scripts suddenly looked at the wall clock. It was 1o’clock. It was already the next day. Payal wrapped the bundles, kept them at the corner of the table, she absentmindedly as other days forgot to switch the lights off and went to her bedroom. When she entered the room , the first thing she saw was the wedding picture. The wedding photo of Randeep and her wedding, framed in a beautiful wooden antique work. She purposely hung the picture in that wall so as to see it first when she enter the room, so as to feel that she is not alone, so as to never feel upset that she still after five years of marriage lives alone. She wanted to feel the warmth, she wanted to be loved, she wanted Randeep badly. The days were passing with a very little difference each day. She would write in her diary every day about her monotonous life but that day was different.
She took her diary kept under her pillow and started writing.

‘Simmi … That’s the name of the girl I met today. We shared the cab to work. She said she worked in the office opposite the hospital. There was something so charismatic about her! The elegance, the look on her face, the smile…She was so nice and the way she talked! I could talk to her for hours. After so long I felt that I actually connected to someone. Someone I could talk my heart out. Someone as lost as I am. But there was someone as annoying! Aggh…The driver. He kept looking back through the mirror. He kept staring at Simmi like a stalker. Except for the ride nothing interesting happened today. I hope I get Simmi again someday and if I do……’

The most unusual thing happened. Payal fell asleep while writing. She fell asleep without her sleeping pills. She fell asleep without setting the alarm. The next morning when she woke up the diary was still in her hand and the pen lied on the ground. She looked at the clock. It was exactly six in the morning. This was the first time in the five years that she woke up felling fresh and charged up. She felt as if she had completed her sleep which was incomplete for a very long time.
The first thing Payal would do after waking up was check her phone for any messages from Randeep. And everyday she would be upset seeing the inbox empty. Payal still managed to stay in a good mood after doing her morning yoga while listening to the morning radio show. She would get ready for the school. She had a good collection of bright coloured salwar suits from which she would choose her outfit after her bath. She would apply the vermilion in a hefty amount on her partitioned scalp and put a small bindi in the centre of her brow gap. The bindi would be in a matching colour with tag of the salwar. After packing her lunch and books, she would book a cab in share to her school.

That day she followed the same routine. When the cab arrived she was a bit surprised to see Simmi again sitting in the car.
‘Hey! Good morning!’ Payal greeted Simmi.

‘What! It’s you again. Good morning! Get in.’ Simmi was equally amazed.
The ride started and so did their talks.

‘How is your child?’ Payal asked. Simmi told about her four year old daughter the other day.

‘She is good…A little upset when mummy leaves for office.’ Simmi smiled at Payal. ‘What about you? Aren’t you planning to have a child? Five years is a long time. With age the complications of having a child would increase.’

Payal sighed, ‘Yeah I know but…Actually my husband…’

‘He is working abroad…You told me. Why don’t you go there then? I mean you can work there too, right?’

‘I am too afraid to go there.’

‘Why? Its just another country… Moreover you would be with your husband. You two would get chance to spent time together.’

‘Thats what I am afraid of…Spending time with him, knowing him. We have been married for five years now but we still haven’t talked much. When he is there he is so absorbed in his work and when he comes to visit me once or twice in a year, we usually spend time with his parents and seldom get any quality time.’

‘So basically you two are still strangers to each other?’

‘Sort of’ Payal shrugged. Payal noticed that this driver was also staring at Simmi like anything.

‘Sir…What are you staring at?’ Payal shouted at the driver.

‘I am sorry madam..’ the driver apologized.

‘You should ignore them,’ Simmi tried to pacify Payal. ‘So you don’t love your husband?’

‘I do but I am not sure he loves me or not…Sometimes it feels as if he agreed to marry me for his parents satisfaction’.

‘So you are afraid that if you found out that he doesn’t love you…You…’

‘I will be shattered. I am not ready for this. My parents separated when I was very small. I heard that they loved each other before marriage but I fail to understand what changed after marriage so I decided to go with an arranged marriage but here I am thinking…What if my marriage fails?’

‘But if you don’t try to get it sorted, your marriage will definitely fail. You..’
‘Enough of me!’ Payal interrupted Simmi, ‘Tell me about your marriage. You seem happy with your life!’

Simmi laughed to it, ‘The grass appears greener the other side. We have your school look!’

‘Oh! I again lost track of time talking to you. Hey! Can I have your number? I love sharing with you. We might not get lucky in cabs another time.’
They exchanged their numbers and Payal then went to her school. Payal as usual called Randeep after reaching the staff room.

‘Randeep …I have reached school. Have you had your breakfast?’ Payal asked while she took out the answer scripts from her bag.
‘Not yet…I will have it from the canteen. Did you sleep well yesterday? How are the new pills working?’
‘Actually I…’ Payal stopped for a moment, ‘Yeah the pills are great. When will you come home Randeep? I want to…’

‘Payal we have had this talk hundred times now…You know how important my work is! I am almost…’

‘I am getting late for the class. I am sorry to bother you ‘. Payal hang up the phone with frustration.

Payal went home early that day. She didn’t feel good. The way home she thought about her parents over and over again. She felt as if her fear was taking the shape of reality. Her marriage was failing. She went home, took the bottle filled with pills, opened the cap and poured all the tablets into a glass of water kept at the dining table. She looked at the pills. She looked at the pills settling one above the other. She saw the pills dissolving slowly and slowly with time. She took the glass and placed it near her lips. She was about to sip it but suddenly her hands seized to move. Her grip was loosening and she felt the glass slipping from her hand. The glass fell on the ground with pieces of glass scattered all over the floor. She sat on the floor for a while and then she suddenly stood up to reach her bag. Her fingers trembled as she searched for her phone. The tears were blurring her vision but she didn’t bother to remove them. She called Randeep who was the only person on her speed dial. It rang for seven-eight times but was not answered. Then she tried to call Simmi. The phone was unreachable. Payal tried to call them again and again hoping she could talk to someone or anyone. She finally fell on the ground unconscious.

The next day when she woke up she found the phone held with a tight grip in her hand. Her hands had some minor scratches due to the pieces of glass. When she checked her phone she saw 23 missed calls from Randeep. She looked at the time. She was amazed to see that she again woke up at 6. She wanted to call Randeep back but she didn’t. She didn’t know what to say or how to explain all the things she felt. She feared Randeep would not understand her.
She got a hold of herself and convinced herself to go to work. She wore a gorgeous salwar suit with matching gold jewelry. So wanted to feel good about herself with those glittery things. She skipped her breakfast intentionally and booked the cab.
Simmi was again sitting inside the cab smiling at Payal.
‘How is this happening?’ Payal got inside the car and tried to put on a smile on her face.
‘Hey…I tried to call you yesterday but it couldn’t connect.’

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with my network..You are not the first to tell me this. You seem stressed…Is every thing alright?’
Payal sighed and looked outside. She knew she needed help but wasn’t sure if she should tell Simmi everything. ‘Yesterday I …I fell…On the ground…’

‘Oh you have scratches too! Are you okay now?’.
‘I guess…So you didn’t tell me about your husband yesterday…How is he?’

‘I have a baby Payal but not a husband.’ Simmi smiled at Payal. She smiled as her eyes became moist. She tried to hide her pain with the smile.

‘What are you saying? Simmi you can tell me anything you want. I am listening.’ Payal forgot all her suffering for a while.

‘We were in love Payal…We were happy together…But not married yet. Then one day I came to know that I was pregnant.’

‘Did he not want the baby?’

‘He doesn’t know it yet.’

‘Why didn’t you tell him? I am with you Simmi. What happened? Did he do something wrong to you ‘

‘When I got to know that I was pregnant I wanted him to marry me. I had no other option. I didn’t want to abort the child nor did I want to pressurize him…He too wanted to marry me but…But his parents were rigidly against the marriage.’

‘Did he not ….’

‘He fought for us Payal but I backed out. I never wanted to separate him from his parents. I went away and gave birth to my daughter. When my daughter was born I heard from a common friend that he had got married and this time the girl was chosen by his parents.’

‘So he still doesn’t know about your daughter. She’s five now. What’s his name Simmi? Maybe I could…’ Payal looked at the front mirror of the cab the driver was staring at her with astonishment. Then she looked at the road. The car was about to hit a truck. Payal shouted at the driver to look in front and hugged Simmi as tight as she could.
Simmi whispered to Payal’s ear, ‘His name is Randeep.’ Payal felt a thrust and fell unconscious.

Payal woke up at the hospital. The first person she saw after waking up was Randeep. He was sitting next to her bed with his hands placed on her head.
‘Where’s Simmi? Is she okay?’ Payal asked with a trembling voice. She had bandage over her head and right hand.
‘Simmi? Is she someone from your school?’. Randeep asked holding Payal’s hand to calm her down.

‘She was with me when the accident happened. How is she?’
‘But I was told that you were alone except for the driver. The driver survived but still is under critical care.’
‘No Randeep. I shared the cab with Simmi. You know her Randeep!’

‘Calm down Payal. I saw your booking history. You booked the cab and it wasn’t on share. The company showed me the details. They are investigating into the matter.’

‘You loved Simmi very much… Didn’t you Randeep?’ Payal sobbed as she talked to her husband.

Randeep was taken aback. He didn’t know what to say for a moment.

‘Who told you about Simmi?’, Randeep asked impatiently.

‘Simmi herself said me that how deeply you two were in love with each other. You are a father Randeep. You have a lovely daughter. She is five now. Her number is saved in my phone… Please call her and talk to her!’

‘Your phone was destroyed in the accident…Why didn’t she tell me…’, Randeep looked at Payal. He knew how much pain Payal was feeling. He hid his past for five long years. He could not believe that he had a child. He wanted to meet Simmi and his daughter but he felt terrible that he took Payal for granted all these years.

‘She told that you two had a common friend. She knew about our marriage. I want to know if she is okay. Please call your friends Randeep.’

Randeep went out of the cabin and called all the common friends he had with Simmi. None could tell about her whereabouts except for one. He listened to his friends quietly and then went inside the cabin again.
‘Did you get anything? Randeep! Tell me…Why you seem so upset?’ Payal tried to sit straight with all the strength she had.
‘She named our daughter Preet and kept her with her aunt.’

‘Randeep please marry Simmi. I would love to step aside. I know you never loved me and you only loved Simmi. Randeep…Say something…’

Randeep came close to Payal and sat on his knees,’Simmi died a month ago…Payal..She is dead!’ Randeep kept his head on Payal’s lap and cried like a child. ‘She had a car accident and was bedridden for a month. She wanted to meet you and wanted you to own the child but before my friends could find me…She left! I was so obsessed in my work that I didn’t care to check on my friends or call them back when they called. I even ignored you…Payal I am so sorry.’

‘Randeep…I want to be the mother of your child…Please get her to me. Simmi was in immense pain and insecurity even after her death. I have seen her, talked to her ,felt her. She loved you so much!’

Randeep held Payal’s hand tight and took her into her arms.
‘I love you…Payal.’