Monday, October 20, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014


एक चाह की चाहत की तवक़्क़ो है, संगदिल
एक राह की राहत को तरसता है दिल 
बेमंज़िल उखड़ती हैं सांसें बोझिल 
एक आह की आहट भी ना हो सकी हासिल 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Why nothing stays the same forever

Entropy keeps making everything more chaotic all the time.
Zen is a myth. Entropy wins.

Monday, October 06, 2014


All sorrows can be borne if only we found a way to put them into words and tell their stories.

But stories need listeners just as much as tellers.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


It wasn't hatred. It was just...indifference. I didn't care about you because I didn't understand you.
And I didn't have to.


You were not a bad friend. You just weren't my friend. You have to be friends with someone first to know if they are good or bad.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Kuch tumhaare, kuch hamare, kuch dard benaam sahi
Dard baantana zindagi ki fikrat hai, zindagi par ilzaam nahi

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


On top of the stage, the applause was deafening. Cameras flashed constantly and the lights were bright and blinding. Rajveer Singh, superstar, smiled charmingly as he received yet another award tonight. The smile was fake, but it was still killer as the reactions of his fans showed. None of this was unfamiliar for him. He had forgotten many years ago how to smile a genuine bright smile from the heart. Yet, somehow, tonight his mind wandered. His journey of the last ten years had been nothing short of spectacular - from the sleepy, backward village of Kuldhara to the heights of Bollywood where he ruled over billions of hearts. This was the dream, wasn't it? 

And yet, something felt empty. He was lonely, lonelier than ever tonight. It was three years tonight since his mother had passed away and that pinched, because the truth was he had lost her many years ago when he ran away from home to come to Mumbai. She had never forgiven him.  All for some unknown girl! This wasn't justice!

Rajveer found himself getting angry again. Somehow, in the last few days, his thoughts went back to that girl again and again. He didn't know where she was, how she was, and barely remembered who she was. Yet, she was the reason his mother had disowned him. How many times had he tried, going back to Kuldhara to apologize to his mother and bring her with him to Mumbai, but she had refused to even see him. Each time, he had returned from the door, unable to step into his own house. Now, since his mother had passed away, he had the keys to the house along with all other ancestral property, but he hadn't been there since. 

Rajveer struggled to remember her name - Meenawati, Mithila, Meenu, Meenakshi...something like that, he couldn't remember. Yes, he had been technically married to her, but for God sakes he was six when that happened. Six! And she was probably two. Just because their parents decided their relationship was desirable, it did not mean he could be burdened with that responsibility. It just wasn't fair! Not to mention, entirely illegal. And so, as he grew up he realized that the artificial relationship wasn't something he was going to be shackled by. His dreams and ambitions were more important. And he deserved a chance to find a life partner he loved and desired. He had done the right thing - not just for himself but for the girl too, he believed - by refusing to honor the so-called relationship. But he had not anticipated the price he would have to pay for his freedom - his mother's love and his only family. The success he worked for eventually did come to him and the peripherals of fan, fame, money and glamor followed. So many claimed to be friends, lovers and well-wishers, but none were real. The emotional void in his life had only grown bigger with time. 

A few times in those years, he had thought about talking to that girl - that so-called ex-child-wife of his - or at least finding out where she was. After all, he hadn't always hated her. She had even less of a choice in the matter than he did. He imagined that maybe she would be able to talk sense to his mom. After all, it was her welfare she placed more importance on than her own son. But he never got around to doing that. 

Somehow though, tonight the same thought returned to him. He wanted to call her, not that he knew where to call her. But even if he did, what would he say? 
And more importantly, why would she care? 
She was probably married with four children now, as women her age in Rajasthan were expected to have. He *had* spoken to her twice, but that was long in the past. The first time, he was sixteen. His mother wanted him to get his bride home as she had come of age. Rajveer had refused, saying he wanted her to finish her studies. Twelve was no age to be a  daughter-in-law. Her parents had refused though, so he had himself picked up the phone and instructed her to continue studying and study as much as she wanted. Somehow his words worked on both her and her parents. The second time was five years after that - the night before he left for Mumbai, the night he finally decided to unshackle himself from old superstitions, backward rituals and everything that stood in the way of his dreams. When he told Radha he wanted to go to Mumbai, she had foolishly asked him to take his child-bride along. He had refused to acknowledge any such relation. She vowed never to talk to him again if he did. He vowed he would never accept that child-marriage. He had picked up the phone in front of his mother and informed his child-bride of his decision himself,  as if to make a point. It was all a touch filmy, Rajveer now thought. But as he left the next day, he had sincerely believed his mother would come around and see his point. He was the pampered child she loved so much. He was all she had, right? And yet, he was wrong. That day, he had walked out and was never able to return again. All for a girl who didn't even have any objection or anything much to say in response to his decision. 


(One month later)

As the dusty road from Jaisalmer wound into Kuldhara, Rajveer could feel a duststorm inside him. Being only 120 kms away from his home during the previous week's shooting had made him restless. He yearned for the comfort of his childhood, for his mother's lap, for that feeling of being wanted - not just applauded and desired. And so he had come home, hoping that the air would still carry his mother's scent and bring him some peace.

The car stopped and Rajveer emerged. The big haveli still looked the same. Slighty worn with time, but still the same scent of home. As he reached the door, Baburam, the old servant who had literally raised him, recognized him instantly. Baburam started to say something but then stopped, only guided him inside and ran in, perhaps to get water. Maybe he wanted to apologize, Rajveer thought to himself, for all those years when he would turn him away from the doorstep. He had always repeated his mother's question, if he was willing to give up his vow against the child-marriage, and Rajveer always had the same reply. Today though, that question had finally disappeared and Rajveer was welcome in as the owner. Only it wasn't a home any longer. 

Rajveer wandered into the living room. Everything looked the same as it was ten years ago. A large portrait of his mother - the matriarch - hung on the wall and Rajveer was automatically drawn there. Her eyes still radiated with the power of her will. 

"Rajveer beta, would you be staying here? Shall I get your room readied." Baburam asked, returning with tea and snacks. Rajveer looked at him and nodded.

When he eventually got there, Rajveer was surprised looking at his room. It looked the same as he remembered, actually better. The curtains were fresh and of his favorite color. There were flowers, and a huge portrait of him hung on the wall. It was recent, as were many other pictures of his around the room, though they were all from magazines and posters. They all belonged to superstar Rajveer. For the first time that evening, he smiled a bit. Maybe his mother didn't hate him like he feared. 

"Who takes care of the haveli?" Rajveer turned and asked Baburam.

"Ummm...caretaker bitiya...she only takes care of everything. Actually, she is a doctor...she treats everyone in the village and works at the charitable hospital of your father. But your mother trusted her and she has been taking care of the upkeep here for very long." 
"Hmmm...okay. Maybe I should meet her before I leave." Rajveer thought to himself.

The next morning, Rajveer woke up early but fresh, having slept better than he had in a long time. He walked towards the balcony to get some air, when his eyes fell on the girl in the garden, supervising the gardener. Dressed in a simple yellow sari, she looked more innocent, more beautiful than anyone Rajveer had ever seen. She had a faint smile as she talked, and Rajveer couldn't decide if she was more beautiful or the garden she seemed to have maintained in this desert. Absentmindedly as he stared at her, his hand hit the vase kept on the coffee table in the balcony, breaking it. He screamed in pain as the glass broke and his hand started bleeding, but he forgot the pain as he saw her turn towards him, hearing his cry. Their eyes met and for a second Rajveer thought his heart stopped. He felt like he could taste hope and joy, but being distracted and unbalanced, he slipped, hurting himself for a second time as he fell on the other elbow, possibly spraining it.

"What happened Rajveer beta?" Baburam called making Rajveer turn back. He hurriedly came towards Rajveer with the first aid box, keeping the tea he had brought on the side. Rajveer though turned back towards the garden, wanting to see the girl one more time and saw that she had turned to run indoors too. 
"Who's that?" Rajveer asked Baburam, who was trying to remove the glass pieces while his own eyes kept darting back to the garden.
"That...uhh...that is caretaker bitiya....I told you yesterday. Now come inside. See how much blood..." Unwillingly Rajveer came inside, prodded both by Baburam and the fact that the girl had disappeared from the gardens.
"What's her name?" he asked, but didn't get a response.
"Rajveer beta, did you...I mean in the city where you live, I didn't bring your wife along from the city to show her your house?" he asked after a couple of minutes
"I am not married, Baburam kaka."
"You were married as a child...."
"Kaka! Don't remind me of that sham! I hate that wedding, that girl and everything to do with that incident! It took away my mother and everything I had! I want to forget my past!" Rajveer screamed, all his anger returning to him.
"Then why did you come back here? Isn't this your past?" Baburam replied, almost equally enraged. 
"Yeah. Yeah, I will not stay here. I am going to sell this house and everything here."


It was evening by the time he returned. After the argument with Baburam that morning, Rajveer had felt restless and wandered out. He went everywhere in the village and around he could remember from his childhood, but nothing felt soothing anymore. Even though his mind kept going back to the face of the yellow sari girl, the peace he had felt last night was gone. Something nagged in him. He felt like he had walked away from the life here years ago of his own will, and now he was no longer welcome back.

Tired, he sat on the sofa in his room, staring at the pictures of himself that reminded him of his success. Yet again, he thought of the girl, his child-wife, from the past. Was she happy, he suddenly thought? It was strange that he had never considered this question before. He had almost assumed she was somewhere, living a life of contentment that she would have always wanted. But what if that wasn't true? What impact had his one-sided decision of their mutually intertwined lives had on her? Her family was just as backward and rigid as his own, as far as he could tell. And she was a girl! Did she have to pay a price as well? Did he justice to her by abruptly calling off the relation?

The disturbing chain of thought was interrupted with a knock on the door. The girl from the morning was standing at the door with a file in her hand. Her red and golden sari was simple, and she wore no jewelery or any traditional ornament, yet she looked as beautiful as any traditional bride, Rajveer thought. He heard her anklets as she walked towards him. Her eyes said something, but Rajveer couldn't read them. He tried to search her eyes in an attempt to understand when he noticed the sindoor on her forehead. She was married! 

Suddenly, it felt like cold water had been splashed on his face, and Rajveer stood up. What was he thinking? And why? This was some village girl he had never met or talk to. He didn't even know her name! Why did it feel like a jolt of electricity to discover that she was married? Of course she was, she looked over 25 and this was Kuldhara, not Mumbai.

"You had asked for the papers and accounts of the haveli" she spoke, pulling Rajveer back from his thoughts to the reality, and held out the file to him.
"Umm...papers...yes..paper...thanks." Rajveer hesitated as he looked at the file she placed in front of him , suddenly unable to look in her eye. 
"Is it necessary to sell this haveli?" she asked, and Rajveer suddenly had no response. "The people here...they have been working for many years...even after Ma..I mean after Maajisaa's demise, they are very loyal...their jobs..."
"I don't want to take away anyone's jobs. If the new owner doesn't keep them, I will give them enough compensation so they don't have to work again." Slowly he was getting his composure back, and the worldly wise superstar was returning. " can keep your job here."
"My thanks, you fired me from my job a while ago..."she said, confusing Rajveer, and continued "...anyway, I just wanted to know why. I thought it was about money, but it's probably not..."
"Money doesn't matter. I just want to move on from the ties of the past. I am superstar Rajveer you know."
"Hmmm...I know." she began to leave, but Rajveer stopped her. "You...I don't remember you."
"I know" she said
"What's your name?"
"Meenakshi." she replied, and something stirred in Rajveer, but he couldn't place a finger what. 
"And you're the doctor at our hospital?" he asked
"Yes. And I also was taking care of running this household while you were away. So I managed the finances. But I have included the accounts and also signed the papers you'd need to transfer them to the next person. They're all in the file!"
"You won't be staying here....for the job I mean?" Rajveer felt a sense of desperation he couldn't understand.
" job is done. It is time for me to move away from the past as well." Meenakshi said and walked past Rajveer in the opposite direction as he looked at the papers in the file. Meenakshi R. Singh, read the signature on the first page. The file dropped. 
"Meenakshi" He said as he swiftly turned back and caught hold of her hand, locking his right elbow in hers as his hand was still bandaged. She stopped, and their gaze met.
He stepped closer, now only inches away from her face, his arm firmly interlocked with hers. She didn't resist or move away or even look away. She was comfortable, confident, standing next to him being touched by him as if she belonged there. He knew then, he really knew. 

They stood there - Rajveer and Meenakshi - for several seconds. He didn't feel any anger, any restlessness, and sense of injustice. Her eyes had no questions, no accusations. There was passion, devotion and innocence, but it was too deep for Rajveer to fully comprehend. What there was, overwhelmingly, was peace and compassion. Suddenly, Rajveer felt he had come home.
"Meenakshi Rajveer Singh!" he said. 

And then, he smiled. He really smiled.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

You Promised: Part 3

Continued from Part 2

"Splash!" His friends roared into peels of laughter as Arjun suddenly found himself drenched in colored water. 
"What the hell!" he yelled, craning his neck to look upwards, trying to figure out who was playing Holi in December. That too in icy Shimla! He turned around 360 degrees unable to spot anyone, when he caught a whiff of pink move across the terrace of the resort building to his left.
"Hey you! Stop!" he screamed in that direction, but before he could say anything else, his words were paralyzed by the sight in front of him - the most captivating face he had ever seen. His eyes met her beautiful sparkling pearls. They betrayed fear, but they were also full of mischief, and life. For several seconds, he was lost in those eyes bewildered. Suddenly, she turned and ran away, bring Arjun back to reality as the cold breeze hit his wet body with full force and he ran towards the resort. He ran towards the nearest staircase, knowing the resort as well as its owner well, given that it was right next to his pilot training academy on the outskirts of Shimla. Whoever it was on the terrace would most likely be using the main staircase that went in circles and opened to the lobby area, and he knew exactly where to intercept them. 

As soon as he heard giggles, he emerged from the spot where he had been waiting. The three girls immediately stopped laughing on seeing him there, but Arjun was only interested in one who he recognized immediately with her pink dupatta and hazel eyes.
"You! Stop!" he shouted, and she seemed to comply for a second, but then she suddenly turned back and ran in the opposite direction, leaving her friends stranded. Having no choice, Arjun ran behind her, until they were both back on the terrace, though not on the same side as the main road. 
"Wait" he screamed and Divya stopped, having nowhere else to go. She immediately resorted to Plan B and made a cute pouty face that had never failed to get her anything she had wanted.
"Uhh...uh...I am sorry..." Divya softly said, her face looking so innocent that Arjun's anger immediately melted "My friends...they made was a wasn't meant for you...please don't hit me" As she said the last few words, Divya's voice sounded like she would burst crying, shocking Arjun.
"No I am not going to hit you! Don't cry...please...I am sorry" Arjun helplessly spoke.
Divya chuckled inwardly hearing Arjun apologize to her, but continued her drama. "I...I didn't mean to...I spoiled your uniform...I will pay for cleaning it...from my pocket money...but I don't have money. I will save money and pay you 5 rupees a day, ok?"
"It is fine. You don't need to pay me. Just don't cry." Arjun looked into his pocket for his handkerchief, then realized it was wet. "Sorry my handkerchief is wet...please don't cry. It's okay. Damn it's so cold today."
"I am fine. I can get you a towel if you want so you can dry your hair before you go back to your academy."
"Okay." Arjun said and started following Divya to her room.
"I am Arjun by the way. Arjun Khanna. I am training to be a pilot at the academy."
"I know." Divya said, then added noticing Arjun's questioning look. "Guessed it from your uniform."
"Okay. What's your name?"
"Divya…You're here with your friends?"
"College study trip." Divya nodded.

Divya was thankful to find none of her roommates in her room, and quickly brought a towel for Arjun. She secretly drooled watching him dry his face and hair, but kept her sorry face on all the time. Finally, Arjun thanked her and left, and she gave her the most penetrating smiles he had ever seen as she walked him out. Arjun walked out feeling strangely happy even if a little surprised at how he had gone in with the intention of punishing her and had spent all his time apologizing and thanking Divya. His friends were no longer where he had left them, and he searched his pockets for his phone to call them and find their whereabouts when he realized he had left the phone in Divya's room. 

"Out with 100 rupees, each of you. I told you Divya never loses a bet."
"Yeah, yeah don't gloat." Trishna conceded, pulling out two 50 rupee notes from her purse. "Here you go. But seriously, this time you outdid yourself. Not only did you aim perfectly at your hero, you actually managed to get him to your room! At least give us the steamy details!"
"How I wish something steamy happened Trishu darling!" Divya dramatically exclaimed holding her heart. "I was trying to save myself from his anger so had to keep an innocent good girl face all the time."
"Don't lie! I saw how he was grinning on his way out! Don't tell me you didn't kiss him! Especially when both of you were dripping wet in here!" The girls giggled at the wordplay on wet.
"I swear Trish...if I had kissed him I would be the happiest girl on earth. But I had to make do with just secretly drooling at him. Hero didn't even make the ittiest bittiest of moves!"

"So you should have told me. I would do anything to make you happy, Miss Divya!" Arjun's voice at the door startled all three of them, as they turned to find Divya's wet hero leaning by the door, smirking.

Arjun's lips broke into a smile at the memory of the day he had first met his Divya. It was memories like those that had been keeping him alive, he reflected as he glanced in the rear view mirror at the same - even if a lot more pensive - Divya sitting on the back seat of the taxi with their two children. He tried to look for the same mischief, the same sparkle in her eyes that he remembered. The taxi took a sharp turned and his attention was drawn outside. He didn't know these roads. This wasn't the way to their house. Soon, the taxi stopped and they all stepped out. The kids immediately ran towards their home, and Arjun scanned the neighborhood as Divya paid.

"Come" Divya softly said and began to walk inside. Arjun waited a couple of seconds before he followed, realizing that he had been expecting Divya to hold his hand and drag him inside excitedly like she always used to do. But this wasn't the same Divya who was 10000 volts of electricity 24 hours a day, was she?

Divya opened the door and let them inside. Almost immediately, Ria yelled "I am going to Pragya's place!"
"Go after lunch Ria. You haven't eaten"
"I am not hungry" Ria said as she picked up her backpack and ran out, past Arjun who was still standing at the doorway. 

"This girl..."Divya muttered, then noticed Arjun still standing outside, staring at the house. She followed his gaze to his portrait on the wall, and immediately walked to it to remove the garland on it. Somehow, she hadn't had the courage to do that last night, because she didn't really believe what she had heard on the phone was true. Perhaps she didn't even believe now, but she could no longer think that it was a prank girl. Her husband, whose death and disappearance she had lived every moment of the last seven years, was standing right in front of her. "Sorry..."she muttered. 
"Why don't you sit here? I will quickly make something to eat" Divya turned to walk towards the kitchen when Arjun stopped her by holding her hand. That grip sparked off a million memories making Divya slightly shudder.

"Wait. I am not hungry. Sit here with me. We need to talk."
Divya nodded. "Hmm. Just that Rohan would be hungry and will start getting cranky. Can I just quickly make something for him?" She asked, almost tentatively.

Arjun nodded. "Yeah. I am not going anywhere." He said with a faint smile, but something about Divya's face made him realize she didn't quite believe it. For the next half hour, Arjun observed Divya quietly as she cooked in her tiny kitchen, then fed Rohan sitting in her lap, his eyes glued on the television at all times. He tried to remember how she was feeding Ria when she was young, but struggled to remember. He only remembered her playing with Ria, almost competing with her sometimes for toys and attention. She would feed her when she was hungry, but mostly bathing and taking care of her was done by Radha or Arjun whenever he was home. 

Ten minutes later, she came to him with his lunch. He gestured her to sit as he grabbed the plate and kept it on the table.
"How are you, Divya?"
"We are ok. You?"
"Much better now. Don't you want to know where I was all these years?"
"I am afraid of asking." She said, and Arjun saw tears welling up in her eyes. He held her hand in a gesture of support.
"I am sorry Divya. But I am here now. I am back. You are not alone. " He said and Divya nodded, not letting her gaze meet his.
"I...I need to tell you something." Divya said, with a tentative shiver in her voice. Arjun gulped, and waited for Divya to speak, afraid at the same time of what it was going to be. Seven years was a long time, especially when you had been dead these seven years. 
"Ma..." she said, now sobbing "Ma is no more. She..." Divya struggled for words, while Arjun's own eyes welled up with tears. His mother! And he wasn't even there with here!

Arjun choked on tears as Divya slowly told him how his mother has passed away a couple of years ago. The pain of losing her was amplified by not being there for her in her last moments. After some time, Divya went inside to bring him some water while Arjun walked up to the window and stared at nothing, battling with the turmoil inside him. Had the grief of his death hastened his mother's demise? God, how much pain had he caused to those he loved the most, Arjun thought helplessly as tears fell through his eyes. Why, he questioned his destiny, not for the first time in the last seven years.

Much later, Divya walked in to her room with a glass of milk for Arjun. The kids had eaten and gone to bed. They had avoided Arjun and understanding the situation - especially Arjun's pain over the news of Radha's death, she hadn't pushed them to meet or talk to Arjun. A lot had changed today. They all needed a night to let the changes sink in so they could start the adjusting process tomorrow. As for Arjun, he had been quiet and anguished ever since she told him about Radha. He loved his mother, she knew. She had been the only one who had supported their marriage and accepted Divya, especially as her own parents had disowned her. In all these years, she had been more of a mother to Divya than Padmini ever was. And yet, her loss was even harder to live with for Arjun than it was for Divya.

Arjun was standing by the bed, taking off his T-shirt, his back to the door. Divya's feet stopped automatically as her eyes fell on the marks on Arjun's back. It had been years  - but really, it felt like centuries - since she had seen him without his shirt on. She recognized the skin, but not the bloody lashes and cuts all over his back, a clear proof of the torture he had endured. Divya gasped as the pain from Arjun wounds shot through her. What had he lived through, all these years?

Arjun turned back, hearing Divya's gasp. Even through the tears that clouded her vision, she could clearly see more marks on his chest as well. She kept the glass on the side as she walked towards Arjun, then lightly touched the wounds on his chest. He flinched, but it was Divya who was really in pain at that time. Their eyes met, and Divya's heart broke sensing the deep terror that Arjun had lived through. She wanted to ask a million questions, but instead just hugged him, wordlessly. 

"I am sorry, Arjun" Divya said, a while later, sitting on the bed while Arjun lay in her lap with his hair in her fingers.  
"It's my fate." Arjun sighed, then closed his eyes. "I haven't slept in a long time Divya"

"Sleep. I am here." Divya said but she knew her words weren't enough to kill the demons within her husband and soothe him to sleep.

**to be continued...elsewhere***

Friday, June 20, 2014

You Promised... | Part 2

Continued from Part 1

The Homecoming

She stood, numbed, at the viewing deck. Planes made a racquet as they took off and landed but there was an eerie silence in her head ever since she had heard that voice on the phone. It had been almost sixteen hours since, but for Divya, time had hit a sudden, screeching break and rolled back several years to the day she had last heard that voice and to the day she was told she wouldn't hear it any more. Her world had collapsed. By the time she regained consciousness, she had stumbled into another existence that revolved entirely around her infant daughter and a newborn son. It was an existence she simply had no choice quitting out of, irrespective of how little she wanted to live, and thus all remnants of her past life were buried in some deep dark corners.
Until last evening.
Until that phone call. 
"It's me...your Arjun", he said. "I'm coming home..."

Divya's thoughts were disturbed as she felt a tug on her dupatta. Arjun, her seven year old son who had never met his father, was trying to get her attention.
"Mumma, mumma...are you crying?" Rohan asked, looking scared.
Divya's hands inadvertently went to her face. She wasn't crying. She hadn't shed a tear since last night. Maybe she didn't have any left. Not even tears of joy?

But she had grown quiet. Perhaps that was the reason why her son felt she was crying. She looked at Ria, her nine year old daughter, sitting on the chair at the back staring at her doll. She hadn't really explained a lot to her kids yet. How could she, when she hadn't explained it to herself yet? She had told them their Daddy was coming home, and they were going to go bring him back, but nothing else. They hadn't asked, either, perhaps sensing her silence. All of them had just come quietly this morning to the Air Force base, where they were told their father, Lt. Cdr. Arjun Khurana, was going to return home. 
Beyond that, none of them knew what to expect. 

Divya picked Rohan up in her arms, kissed him and walked back to take a seat next to her daughter so she could engulf both her children in her arms. They were incomplete, but they didn't have to be alone. And then her eyes saw him on the runway, walking down the plane that had just landed, looking exactly the way he did the last time she had seen him. 

"Who was that, Arjun?" Divya asked as Arjun returned to the bedroom after attending a long phone call.
"The base. I need to leave."
"What? When?"
"But're on leave. And you promised..."
"I know Divya. I am sorry. But they need me."
"We need you too Arjun. Me and Ria. And our child. You promised me I wouldn't be alone this time. When Ria was born, you were gone. You promised me it wouldn't happen again. And Ma isn't here either."
"I am sorry..."
"No Arjun. You can't go. Don't go, please. For my sake? For our sake?"
"Divya, I love you. And our children. You know I do. But Air Force comes first. My country comes first. They need me."
"And us? We need you too..."
"I will be back very soon Divya. I promise..."
"I hate you Arjun Khurana"
"I love you biwi" Arjun had said and left the room to pack, leaving Divya's response unformed in her throat. Three hours later, she watched as Lt. Cdr. Arjun Khurana, her husband and the love of her life, hugged her one last time and stepped out of the apartment. 

"I promise I'd be back" he had whispered in her ear as he kissed her on his way out. She hadn't responded to the kiss.

Divya looked up and saw the man from her memory standing six feet in front of her - the same husband, the same love of her life.

Their eyes met and Divya stopped breathing. Slowly, she stood up. A million thoughts popped in her brain - was it really him? did he lose weight? were his eyes always this brown? - but she couldn't think any of her thoughts. She just walked until she reached him, then touched his face with her hand, trying to feel if this was really real. Suddenly, streams of tears came from nowhere and flooded down her cheeks. Perhaps it was the touch or perhaps the hint of a smile on Arjun's anguished face, but suddenly in that moment, Divya was 23 again. The girl who had eloped to marry her one true love at 20 against the wishes of her parents. The girl who was a crazy prankster who'd tricked a boy into falling in love with her so hard, he had painted the clouds to declare his love for her. The girl who had no worry in life and played with her two year old daughter like she was two years old herself. 

Suddenly she was just Arjun's Divya, yet again.

She felt Arjun's hand on her cheek, wiping off her tears even though more continued to fall, and then some more started shining in Arjun's eyes. She touched his hand, and he pulled her in an embrace that threatened to erase the years. Hesitantly, she hugged him back, unsure whether this was a dream. 

"I promised I would come back, biwi. I am back." Arjun said, tightening the embrace. Divya's response stayed unformed in her throat.

A minute or so later, Arjun pulled apart, his attention now on the two children who had been standing next to their chairs, holding each other's hands. Divya turned, and saw the hesitation in their eyes. She grabbed Arjun's hand and took him closer to their children. 
"Rohan, Ria, you won't meet Daddy?" she softly said. Ria looked away. Rohan looked questioningly at Divya and then at Arjun, not knowing what to do. 

"Hi" Arjun said.
"Are you really my Daddy?" Rohan asked.
"Yes" Arjun answered and kneeled down to bring himself at his son's eye level.
"Do you know how to fly a plane?"
"Did you really paint the clouds red with my mommy's name when you were doing training to become..umm..a pilot?" 
A smile broke on Arjun's face on hearing Rohan's words. He looked up at Divya who slowly blinked her eyes, then back at Rohan. "Yes"
"Okay. Mommy, I think he's ok. Can I be friends with him?" Rohan asked looking at Divya, who nodded in response. "Hi, I am Rohan Khurana." Rohan said, turning his attention back to Arjun and held his hand out which Arjun grabbed. 
"Thank you, son" Arjun said and extended his arms to hug his son, but Rohan ran behind Divya and hid himself. He had promised Divya earlier in the day that he would make friends with his father if he liked him, and he never broke a promise to his mom, but he didn't really know his father yet. 

Understanding, Arjun looked towards Ria who was still standing away, facing the other side. 
"Ria" Divya called, trying to help Arjun but Ria just turned around with a frown on her face.
"Can we go now mom? I already missed school. Now I have to do class work and home work." Ria said, keeping her gaze away from Arjun. 
"We're going. But first don't you want to say hi to daddy."
"Hi" Ria said, then turned and started walking outside. Divya looked at Arjun apologetically, then followed Ria lest she went too far outside the building, taking Rohan with her. Silently, Arjun followed her two steps behind. 

He had beat death to come back, but now it was time to confront the life he had left behind.

Monday, June 16, 2014

You promised... | Part 1


Ma! Ma!" The screams at the door broke Divya's trance. The noise of the footsteps in the living room was evidence that her two little angels - Ria and Rohan - had returned home. "Right on time" she exclaimed as she looked at the clock on the wall that read 2:15 pm and stood up. She loved Saturdays, it was the one day of the week she was at home to receive her children as they rushed in. The rest of the week, she was at work Arjun, slaving away at the job that provided for her family now. She missed her kids, but she didn't really have an option. Still, she constantly worried for them until she got back home at 7, especially in the last two years ever since her mother-in-law had passed away. Now, the kids stayed with someone in the neighborhood who ran a very basic after-school daycare. It wasn't great but it was all she could afford, and at least her children were safe and well-fed there. Today, however, was the best day of the week. Today, in just a few seconds, Ria and Rohan would run in and hug their mother, then rattle non-stop about their day and then demand to be changed and fed hot food by her hands. Even though they had all of their other meals together, the five missed lunches every week made Saturday afternoons special for this little family. Divya wiped her tears, put on her brightest smile, and looked one last time at the photo on her wall that signified the most important part of their family that they had lost. "Miss you Arjun" Divya muttered and walked outside, mobbed by her two gangsters. 

"Ma! Tell us Daddy's pilot training story again!" Rohan asked over lunch, wanting to hear the story yet another time even though he knew every word. He had never met his father, but it seemed as if he was always looking for him in his tales. 
" already know that story. Let's watch TV." Ria butted in before Divya could respond. 
"No! I want Daddy's story." 
"But I want to watch Frozen." 
"You are stupid." 
"You are stupid!" 
"You are dumb like your frozen princess" 
"You are an idiot" 
"Ria...Rohan...both of you...behave. Rohan, say sorry to didi. Ria, you too." Divya interrupted the fight. 
"Sorry didi" Rohan reluctantly said. He was stubborn, but did everything Divya said. He never wanted to disappoint his mother and liked being her favorite. 
Ria, however, was still quiet and furious. 
"Ria, your turn" Divya pushed. 
"But he started it." 
"But you are elder no. You should be responsible. Come on, Rohan already apologized." 
"But he always does this ma. He always wants to listen to Daddy's stories even though they make you cry every time." Ria blurted. 

Divya was stunned. Perhaps her nine year old daughter not as young as she thought she was. Perhaps her silent tears were less silent than she believed. 

"Ria that is not..." Divya started to say, but Ria got up and ran to her room instead. Divya composed herself for a few minutes and then followed her there. 
"Ria...princess..."she softly spoke as she entered the room. Ria was sitting on her bed, softly sobbing. 
"Hey, baby...what happened..." Divya kneeled next to her as she noticed her tears. Ria hugged Divya tight. 
"I am sorry ma..." 
"'s ok baby. Stop crying. You're my brave bacha. Tell me...look at me...first stop look at me" Divya spoke gently, wiping Ria's tears "Tell me bacha..." 
"I am sorry ma. I shouldn't have..." 
"It's okay baby."Divya hugged her and gently patted her back. 
"I have seen you cry at the night after you tell Daddy's stories. I don't like to see you cry. I hate Daddy." 

Divya looked at her daughter's innocent eyes and saw the genuine concern reflected in them. 

"Hey, Daddy loved you the most, you know. Why do you hate Daddy?" 
"Then why did he leave us? Why did he have to go away? And why does he still make you cry?" 
"He doesn't want us to cry. He loves us. He loves all of us. It's me who is bad and who still cries. I probably hurt you and your Daddy by crying. I am sorry Ria." 
"No ma. You're not bad. You're the best." 
" Ria is the best. And bravest. You'd teach me to be brave too, won't you?" Divya tried to smile, but Ria's words had penetrated her heart. She had sensed it for a while that Ria had begun resenting Arjun. In fact, over the years, the more Rohan's obsession about his father grew, the more resentful Ria had become. And for the first time today, Divya felt that maybe she was the reason.

Maybe her grief and her longing for her dead husband was hurting her children more than she knew. Maybe, seven years was too long a time for her to still be missing Arjun so much she cried to sleep every night. But could she really stop when that moment when she had first received the news of Arjun's plane crashing during an insurgent operation was till so raw, so alive for her. She was pregnant with Rohan at the time, and the news had led her to collapse. They had to perform an emergency C-section and Rohan was all of 29 weeks when born - almost a miracle baby to have survived at that time. Seven years had passed since, exactly to the date. Radha, who had been her only support all these years, had said after the first year to not do anything special on this day to remind them all of Arjun. We still have to be alive, she would say and ask Divya to move on, even though Divya knew her own suppressed grief over losing her son was eating her inside. 

Gradually, she lost her health to her grief and only found peace when she passed away a couple of years back, leaving Divya all alone to raise her children. But she knew she constantly fell short of her children's needs and their circumstances had forced them to grow up sooner than she would have liked them to. As hard as she tried, she couldn't be their mother and father at the same time. She knew Rohan sorely felt Arjun's absence, but today after talking with Ria, she realized both her children missed their father acutely. Maybe her mother was right, maybe she should have remarried for the sake of her children. But how could she, when in her heart Arjun was still alive? How could she be someone else's wife when she had only ever belonged to and could ever belong to one person? 

Why did he have to go away - Divya silently repeated Ria's question. Even though she was just a kid, her anger resonated in Divya's heart. Seven years later, she was still mad at Arjun for leaving. For breaking his promise. Every single time. 

"Didi" Rohan's cute voice at the door broke the comfortable embrace of mother and daughter. 

"Sorry didi" He said as he entered the room, holding his ears. Divya couldn't help but break into a smile looking at his cute face. She also noticed how hard Ria was trying to control her smile and maintain a sullen face for Rohan. He fought all the time with his elder sister, but also loved her like crazy. Only last week he had beaten up some guy in Ria's class at school who stole her lunch. Thankfully Ria had whisked him away before her classmate could retaliate. They both protected each other - and their mother - from the world, but she really needed to step in to protect the two crazies from each other. 

"Let it go...let it go...let it go..." Rohan started drawling Ria's favorite Frozen song in his baritone, at which Ria erupted laughing. 

"You can't sing kiddo. Don't spoil the song." 
"I am not kiddo. I will be seven tomorrow on my birthday. And see, I am almost as tall as you now." 
"No, you're not. You're dumb, kiddo." 
"Yeah, oye, who called my little prince kiddo? He's a big boy, can't you see Ria." Divya said, settling Rohan in her lap. 
"Yeah, that's why he is sitting in Mommy's lap. Little kiddo." 
"That's it. If I am so little, let's see if you can catch me." Rohan jumped off Divya's lap, grabbed Ria's favorite doll lying on the bed and ran out of the room. Soon, Ria was following him and the ruckus was back all over the house. 

And inside Divya's heart.
"You promised you'd be there by my side, you promised you'd be the world's greatest Dad for Rohan, you promised I won't be alone again, then why did you break your promise to me Arjun. Why didn't you love us more than your job? Why did you go away? " 


"Pop" burst yet another balloon that Rohan was trying to blow into. Ria, Rohan and Divya were busy putting up decorations around the house for Rohan's birthday party in a few hours. 
"You blew another balloon. See ma, I told you, he keeps blowing air until the balloon pops. He has already wasted six. Ask him to stop ma." 
"It's my birthday." Rohan grinned. 
"Yes, it is, sweetheart. Sorry Ria, it's his birthday." Divya grinned back. 
"But I am in charge of the decoration! See I made everything so pretty. He is spoiling the party ma!" Ria protested. 
"It's my party. I don't want your help." 
"Rohan, don't be mean. Ria is doing all this for your friends only. You should thank her." 
"But I want to play with balloons." 
"Ok, why don't you take these two and play inside. Me and Ria will finish the decorations. Then I have to finish the icing on your cake too." 

Rohan went inside, but returned in ten minutes. 
"Ma, I forgot something. Here's your gift" 
"My gift? But it's your birthday." 
"But you're my mom. So gift for you." 

Divya took the card in Rohan's hand on which Rohan had drawn Divya, a big Rohan and a tiny Ria holding Divya's hands. For the first time, Rohan hadn't drawn Arjun - only a photo of him on the wall. Happy Rohan Birthday, the card read. 

"Haww...this is me? So small?" Ria yelled, peeking over Divya's shoulder to see the card. 
"Yep" Rohan grinned. 
"I will kill you." 
"Not today. Today is my birthday." He continued to shamelessly show his teeth while Ria fumed. 
"Very smart Rohan. Thank you, this is beautiful. But why is Daddy not in this card?" 
"Daddy makes you cry, so I put him on the back. I don't want Daddy mom. I will not even ask for his stories any more. Then you will not cry no? You're the world's best ma. I only want you. I hate Daddy." 

Divya's eyes welled up hearing Rohan, but she held back her tears. What was she doing to her children, lost in her grief? No more tears, she promised herself. 

"I will never cry, I promise. But never say we hate Daddy ok? We love him, and he loves us. He is watching us all the time, and he wants us to be happy. Promise me, both of you, you'd never say bad things about daddy." 

Ria looked away, but Rohan nodded in agreement. "I promise" 

Before Divya could respond, Vikram's voice at the door distracted them all. "Wow this looks fabulous!" 

"Hi Vikram uncle!" Ria beamed. "Hi Ria..." 

"Vikram uncle!!!" Rohan yelled and ran towards Vikram, who in turn took a couple of steps in and gathered Rohan in his arms. Vikram used to be Arjun's best friend in college, and Divya's senior. Just before their wedding though, he had gone to US for post-graduation. He only returned after Arjun's demise and it was only after that that Divya got to know Vikram, even though she had heard many of his stories from Arjun. Now, he lived close-by and tried to help Divya out every way he could, including getting her current job. 
"Happy birthday champ" 
"Thank you. Where's my gift?" 
"Gift...umm...I forgot..." 
Rohan made a sulking face "Okay..." 
"Oh, but what is this in my pocket?" 
"Yeyy...give me" Rohan jumped at the packet and climbed down to sit and unwrap it. 
"Wow...look game...this is so cool...right?" 
"Yeah, but did you thank Vikram uncle?" 
"Oh sorry" Rohan leapt up and gave a huge hug to Vikram "Thank you. I love you." 
"Love you too champ. Now go play" 

Rohan ran inside with his video game while Ria focussed her attention on the balloons. 

"Hi Divya" 
"Hi Vikram. You again bought a toy for Rohan?" 
"Oh come on. It's his birthday. Stop being strict for at least one day." 
" came early." 
"Yeah I thought you'd need help to set up before the party. So here I am, at your service, madame. What are my instructions?" 

Divya smiled as Vikram bowed. "Nothing. You help Ria here. I will go finalise the cake." 
"Yes ma'am" 

"Divya" Vikram called as Divya was about to enter the kitchen. 
"You look beautiful today!" 
Divya shrugged away the compliment and continued to walk inside. 

An hour later, everything was set. Rohan and Ria had changed and both were busy watching cartoons sitting with Vikram on the couch, waiting for their friends to arrive. Divya checked the cake in the fridge one last time, when the phone rang. 

Usually, Rohan would rush to pick up the phone, esp. the landline, but noticing him engrossed in his Chhota Bheem cartoons, Divya walked to her bedroom to answer the call. 

"Hello" she said, half her attention still in the living room to keep an eye if any kids had come yet. 
"Hello" came a familiar voice. Too familiar. The voice was soft and shaky, yet triggered a wave within Divya, pulling back her attention. 
"D..Divya?" said the voice. Her name. This voice. Seven years. This couldn't be... 
"Arj.." Divya's voice choked, unable to complete any thought that was running through her head right now. She was imagining things, wasn't she? But still she had to ask. She had to know. 
"Yes, it's me, biwi. It's your Arjun"