Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Closure


Prashanti looks at her phone and then to the wall clock in her room. “What’s taking him so long today,” she wondered. The phone rings, gleefully she grabs her phone, winks at her roommate, Suma, and hurries up to the terrace.

“Will you come back tonight,” asks Suma teasingly.

It’s been close to a month since Prashanti fell into this new routine. She returns from work getting into overcrowded city buses, quickly eats her dinner and waits for his call. Gone are the days when she would accompany her colleagues for shopping or wait for empty buses. Tall, slender with a wheatish complexion, she is aware of the admiring stares she gets from her male colleagues. Equally, she enjoys the jealous looks she gets from her female colleague. But it is her long hair that gets her the maximum compliments. Hailing from a village in East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, she groomed herself well for a city life in the last one year.

Her parents owned a farmland. Unlike her brother, who had put a stop to his studies after school and decided to help his father in farming, Prashanti had dreams of living in the city. She spent most of her childhood in government residential schools at a nearby town. After graduating in Commerce, she stayed longer in the town to complete few certifications in computers and accounting.

Prashanti came to Hyderabad a year ago and took up a job as EA (Executive Assistant) in a private firm. She knew her English was weak; she would ask help from Suma, a convent educated, from time to time. She is a hard worker and doesn’t shy away from asking any doubts and corrects herself in case of mistakes. She had no intention of staying as an EA for long. She believed she was destined for bigger achievements in life. Her aunt, who stays in the city, got her registered with a local marriage bureau and as days passed by, her elders started getting impatient with slow response. However, things changed when she was informed by her aunt to expect a call from a potential groom in Bangalore. 

A formal 15 minutes call extended to an hour and then there was no stopping. Prashanti was completely smitten by his charisma over the phone. The boy is an F&B Manager with a resort in Bangalore. Prashanti’s photo was sent to him by the marriage agency once his elders liked her picture. Since it was festival time and peak season for Hospitality industry, the boy found it difficult to take leave and insisted on “getting-to-know” sessions over phone.

Life turned beautiful for Prashanti; she enjoyed listening to his funny customer tales. He made her laugh with his jokes; took an interest in her dreams and aspirations; appreciated her for the way she grew up and became this confident woman.

“He is nowhere closer to what you wanted. He doesn’t even earn great. Are you sure you liked him?” Suma asked, looking at his picture.
“Well, I wanted a tall guy and so much more. But it is okay. He has potential and sees me as an individual with aspirations and not merely a girl.” Prashanti replied.

The scheduled day of meeting arrived after being in touch for more than a month. The elders have been waiting for a nod, so that they can plan further.

“It’s going to be your fourth dress Prashanti and you still haven’t finalized one. I’m getting late for work.” Suma was irritated. But she knew how important it is for Prasanthi. She had no choice but to be patient.

Prashanti went to the beauty parlour the previous evening; she wanted to look her best.

“It’s been quite hectic for the past few days. You will meet a very tired man with eye bags as deep as my jeans pocket,” he quipped.

“Where did you learn to talk like this?” she asked halting in between her laugh. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

They planned to spend the entire day together. Prashanti bought movie tickets at the Prasad’s Imax for the evening show.

It was 8 pm when Suma returned from work. She wasn’t expecting anyone at home; however, she saw Prashanti sitting quietly in her room. She was still in her pink and blue salwar which she finalized after many trials.

Suma realized something went amiss but chose not to ask Prashanti at that moment.

That evening, the phone didn’t ring.

It’s been 10 days since there was hardly any conversation between the two girls. Prashanti went about her daily chores. She left home early and returned late, just in time for dinner.

Suma knew Prashanti will never discuss unless asked. She decided to wait for her for dinner. 

“Why is it so difficult to reach you? First, those long phone calls when your phone was perennially busy and now, you have become this impregnable wall. I can stay with a colleague for some days if you need some space. ”

Prashanti stared at her and then resumed her dinner.

“He didn’t turn up for the movie. He didn’t return my calls or replied to my messages. I returned home after waiting for him for two hours,” she said.

Suma sensed the calm unyielding anger in Prashanti’s voice.

“Why? Did he die?” asked Suma.

“We met for breakfast. He was quiet, formal; kept the conversation to minimal. It was unlike him but I assumed it was due to the tiredness from the overnight journey. He excused himself saying he had unfinished business and promised to meet me at the theatre. I didn’t hear from him after that.” Prashanti’s eyes sparked with unshed tears. She continued eating.

Suma went silent.

Prashanti smiled and said, “Enjoyed the dinner today. Did you make it?”

“Yes. The cook didn’t turn up,” Suma replied.

“You know whenever mother runs out of vegetables she makes spicy scrambled eggs, rasam and rice; one of my favourites. She always seems to have a solution for everything,” Prashanti said.

“A new restaurant has come up in the neighbourhood. Shall we try it out on Sunday?” Suma asked.

“You are right; he just died the minute he chose to ignore my calls. Oh! By the way, my aunt called in the morning to inform that his parents have asked the marriage agency to continue with the search,” Prashanti said and added, “let’s try the food on Sunday and watch a movie, may be?”   

                                       ------------------

They say friendships and relationships blossom in strange ways, at unexpected places and between completely opposite people. Sometimes, a goodbye after a short association leaves a lifelong impression. We must all owe each other the dignity and respect for the time spent and the memories made.

There is a reason why we say “bye” before ending a conversation; a movie ends with “The end” or something similar; music slows down as song ends; there is a period (.) at the end of a sentence. It’s because there cannot be Spring without Autumn.  

Goodbyes are not bitter. It is the way they are said make the difference.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Man Friday

“Hope you filed your IT returns.” I got this blank mail last week with this as the subject line. I could not help smiling and replied, “Nope. Need help!!” Within few minutes I got a call from an international number with a baritone voice on the other side. I don’t remember if he asked about my well-being, the usual drill after picking up the call. All he said was, “send me your details; I’ll file it in the weekend.” Oh yeah, after that we did try to talk but as usual it ended up in an argument and calling names to each other. I’ve been sharing this love-hate weirdness for the past 5 years now.

It all began when I joined my present workplace 5 years back where I met this portly spectacled man who greeted me with a faint Bong accent (he disagrees with me) and a smile that instantly changes the contours of his face in a pleasant way. He along with other colleagues made me feel comfortable within no time and today, I owe it to them for making so many good memories. Of all the people, I enjoyed talking to him for his love for literature, art, books, music, architecture and life in general. Trust me you don’t find many with such varied interests among techies. Nothing makes me happier than an interesting and thought provoking conversation. At one such conversation, he asked me what I am doing in a software company. He still thinks I’m a misfit here and I can’t agree with him more.

I was often asked by many at work that how could I get along with him? Even I wondered. There’s nothing nice about him according to the usual conventions. He is not soft-spoken, arrogant and has zero tolerance for people with limited knowledge. Many times generic topics became personal, we argued passionately and soon the cafeteria turned into a battle field pushing others into uncomfortable silence or arbitrators at times. This led to many weeks and months working in silence and behaving as if the other person didn’t exist (our workstations were adjacent to each other). So, yeah I wondered why I put up with someone who drives me up the wall.

He knows how to keep me grounded and doesn’t hesitate calling me terrible sounding adjectives if he thought I made a mistake. He is ruthlessly honest; though his comments hurt but it’s one of his qualities I admire. Once I wanted his opinion on a sensitive mail. His feedback was, “humility is definitely not your virtue and whoever is going to receive that mail will not recover from the humiliation for a long time.”  He was quite upset with me for writing such a mail but it served my purpose.  He moved on 2 years back, got busy with his new job and since then we hardly met, spoke occasionally. But he was the first one I called when I was getting the agreement done for my house. He guided me to reach my lawyer’s destination while attending the meeting in the car. He read and re-read the documents before he allowed me sign on the dotted lines, he helped me buy electric fixtures for my house just before hours he was scheduled to fly to the US. He pushed one of his meetings so that he can drop me home when I wasn’t well, he never allowed me take a cab late in the night and dropped me home even though his house was on the opposite side of the city.

Our interests are different; we enjoy completely different kind of food, hardly socialize, and watch completely different genres of movies. I can’t think of at least one similarity. It took a lot of time for us to agree to disagree and stop proving a point.

I’m not sure when will we meet or talk again but, I’m sure he’ll not ask any reason when I ask him to come over at an ungodly hour during an emergency. I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful people who continue to be a part of my life though I talk to them once in a blue moon. Man Friday is one of them.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Letters from your Soul - a book review


It took me 4 months to read ‘Letters from your Soul’, not because it is bulky but because I lived few chapters of the book. From moving in to my own house to losing a dear one, the book has covered it all. For me, ‘Letters from your Soul’, is a monologue that is meant to be read to an audience, understand it and absorb it. But here the audience is none other than the reader himself/herself.

"What died with you, were my expectations...my future conversations with you.
But what didn't die is my love for you...your wisdom, and the things I learned being around you...my lessons will be more treasured now...
What didn't die, is my gratitude, for having you in my life..."

When I was grieving the loss of a true guardian angel to my family, these lines brought me comfort and left me misty-eyed. It is not possible to fill the void left by those departed however; they can be kept alive in our memories by cherishing the days spent with them, by being grateful for feeling their love and for inspiring us to realize our dreams.

'Letters from your Soul' deals with the complexities of life in extremely simple manner. The emotions, states of mind, habits, social structures such as marriage, society are personified so that the reader can relate to them. Freedom is depicted as bird so is jealousy. Society is presented as human, so are fear and death. It is a book that has to be read loud as if you are thinking loud; as if you are facing your own monsters, existence of which you refuse.

"May be love needed to be first, and the changes we wanted second...
Why did it take me a lifetime to see that where there is love, miracles follow...
Why did it take me a lifetime to see that I just needed to love...
Each day that I wished your were different is the day I lost..."

Love is a feeling, a state of being, which some of us have felt it and some want to feel it. We use this term so easily and often get it confused with so many other feelings. But yet it is mystical, alluring and unfathomable. The subtlety of the expressions enhances their beauty yet they bring out emphatically, the hard fact that defeats the very spirit of love with the last line, "Each day that I wished you were different is the day I lost..."

"House did not become yours just because you made lot of money...but because it also wanted to be yours.
This place is as alive as your are...
Area of a house is not measured in square feet...
It is measured in disappearing distances, between its dwellers..."

These lines brought me the long awaited smile that comes only with contentment, as fruition of hard work, as an answer to umpteen questions and as a sound sleep after a long day. I hung on to each line as I was able to relate to everything that was said.

The writing structure and technique of 'Letters from your Soul' does not follow the established norms, which is its uniqueness. As the title suggests, it is your inner voice that speaks to you which does not understand the framework nuances of syntax. It is free flowing and only concerns with striking a chord with you. The thoughts in the book are meant to sink, make you question, hate them yet they simmer in conscious until it becomes relevant to you and you realize that it is nothing but the truth. As a reader, do not expect to understand and relate to everything that is said. Probably, you may not agree with most of it but they sure leave you thinking. Somebody who is going through testing times and figuring out the answer to "why me", may not find a comforting answer unless it is approached with a free and unbiased mind. 

'Letters from your Soul' is a celebration of human spirit, freedom from the shackles of self-imposed beliefs and societal norms. Use this as a guidebook to free your entangled mind, heart and soul. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Magnificent ruins


My 4-year long wait came to an end on a warm April evening with the first glimpse of magnificent ruins of Hampi on the banks of Tungabhadra. The ruins looked mystic in their poignant beauty in the fading sun. The resounding quietness of the place made even the chirping birds, flowing river and gliding breeze noisy.  And for me, time simply ceased.
As one approaches Hampi, the terrain transforms into interesting contrasts of rocks and lush greenery.  It’s hard to ignore the precariously placed heavy boulders while traversing through the mountain rocks. I decided to stay in Virupapura Gadde, a small village on river Tungabhadra across Hampi town. The boat ride to reach Hampi every day gave me an opportunity to connect with locals, though briefly.  
Unlike other historical cities and towns where monuments and buildings are generally tucked away to one corner, the whole of Hampi town looks like a piece of art. The way intricately carved mandaps, pillars, unfinished statues are strewn around the place, it makes one believe that stone carving was a favourite pastime those days. The grandeur of temples and bazaars, finesse of work, intelligent town planning speak of a bygone era marked by pomp and prosperity, good living standards and unprecedented achievements in the fields of art and culture. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling philosophical about the fact that even a shining star meets its end. Once a bustling city has now reduced to mere ruins. Walking through the deserted streets, the eeriness was overwhelming as if everyone left the town in a hurry.
There’s something for everyone in Hampi. It gives an insight into the engineering techniques used in building magnificent structures 500 to 700 years ago. One can also get a sneak-peek into the art and culture and administrative guidelines followed by one of the most successful dynasties in southern India. And finally, it’s THE place to go if one is seeking tranquillity, some time to introspect and lose oneself in the serenity.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chitra, my friend


Some people walk into your life and leave their footprints on your heart. For me, it was Chitra. I didn’t think much of her when I met her in Net Savant, a web-hosting company in Vizag. It was her first day in office and so was mine. The calm doe-eyed girl used to transform into a gregarious and vivacious girl during lunch hours. She giggled, laughed and never missed a chance to take a dig at somebody in amicable way.    
She was proud of her younger siblings and fondly talked about them on our way back home. It was difficult not to like somebody like her who was full of life and saw the brighter side in the gloomiest of situations. Once when someone from our group sulked about the insensitivity of the boss, she said, “Not everyone can be fun-loving like us. Just be happy that this place brought all of us together otherwise, how else we would have met?”

After spending little over a month at Net Savant, I moved back to Hyderabad to work on an assignment with a software company. I kept in touch with her and others as much as possible but as I got dragged into a fairly new field of work, the frequency of calls decreased until one day when I was told that Chitra was unwell. Both her kidneys failed. Concerned, when I called, the chirpy girl sounded just normal. She teased me that I was more worried than her.  
Chitra: Can you plan a trip to Vizag soon?
I: Yes but promise me that you’ll take care of yourself?
Chitra: I have so many things to tell you, Sudha. I didn’t think you would leave Net Savant so soon.
I promised her that I would come as soon as possible but then it took me few months. Her brother informed that Chitra was in hospital and I could meet her there. I knew that she was getting her dialysis done regularly, so I wasn’t surprised. I started getting uneasy when I got to know at the hospital reception that she was in ICU and I can meet her there.

I saw my friend, emaciated, looked like a grown-up child clutched in a web of tubes. Clad in a white gown her body was tormented by violent spasms.  I was dazed, frozen; nothing made any sense to me. A nurse walked up to me and said casually that she didn’t have much time left.  I watched my friend slipping away into nothingness. Everything looked like a crude joke. 

I met her mother and brother outside ICU who were waiting for me. Her mom grabbed me and asked if her son was fine; if her son was coming back home? Chitra was the son to her mother and brother to her siblings. While her father washed hands off his responsibilities and left them to fend for themselves, she stepped into his shoes. When girls in their 20s’ spend time in beauty parlours, theatres, shopping malls and with love of their lives, Chitra worked in night shifts in a hotel as receptionist, accountant and other such jobs to run the house. In my 2 years association with her, I never heard her complaining about her father or life in general. When times are not favourable, how many of us wouldn’t think, “why me?”, “life’s no fair”? And blabber about our sorry state to a close friend or family. She never believed in eliciting sympathy or empathy from others.

Chitra never returned home. Even though her life didn’t come to a full circle, it was worth more than those who live long wasted life. She will always be an inspiration to her siblings and friends, and a priceless memory to her mother. It’s been 5 years since my friend’s gone but there’s not a single day when I don’t think of her especially in testing times. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The day WTC was attacked


While driving back from work yesterday I was listening to “I’ll remember you” by Amy Grant, a tribute to WTC victims. It brought back the memories of that crazy night when I was still a sub-editor, trainee at The New Indian Express (TNIE) in Hyderabad.
I was 4 months into my training and still learning to get over the uneasy feeling every time I entered the Desk (editing section). Generally I was put in the peak shift between 3 pm and 9 pm. Even though the shift used to start on a relaxed pitch but by 6 pm it used to pick up momentum and by 8 pm it used to reach a crescendo when everything around you cease to exist. Before leaving for work, it became a habit for me to say a silent prayer that the evening should pass without any event.
On Sept 11, 2001, the evening seemed to be usual and I was able to finish Page 9 after few last minute changes. Page 9 is the second most important page after Page 1, where usually either news items related to Page 1 or Page 1 “continuation stories” are carried. Relieved, hungry and tired, I was ready to call it a day. Around 9.20 pm, my edition in-charge walks in after a quick meeting with Resident Editor and announces, “World Trade Centre is attacked and we’ll have to re-do the edition.” We all rushed to the TV and watched with disbelief as the terror unfolded.   
We threw our bags and started rummaging for the latest stories as news started pouring in from the news agencies all over the world. For a second it felt like the shift had just started. Discussions begun around new page layout, bigger pictures, victim stories, eye-witness stories, nation’s and state’s reaction. Generally, stories are selected by a senior and a trainee’s job is to edit and place it on the page. But looking at the urgency and shortage of time, I was asked to shortlist few stories by going through the ever increasing number of stories that started to flood in. This was one of those times when there’s no time for your copies to be reviewed and you cannot afford to make a mistake. Otherwise also, this is one profession where there is no scope of correcting a mistake. You are in no control once newspapers hit the streets. The last 4 months taught me the style and feel of TNIE. For some reason, I perform better whenever I’m pushed to the wall. This was one of those days. The next 2 hours felt like few seconds. It was 11.45 pm when I finally emerged out of the office but the night was far from getting over. As I strolled out on the empty street to get some fresh air, I heard the TV blaring out the live telecast of WTC crumbling from every household.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beginning of an affair...


"Have you ever been to Goa"

"No"
"Oh! then you haven't experienced anything."
Finally it was time to put all those questions to rest. Jo and I decided to meet in Goa in the second week of October, just before the beginning of the tourist rush. I woke up when my bus entered Karwar. The dawn was yet to break; the sidewalk and everything that met my eyes seemed to have bathed in the silvery moonlit night. I wasn't sure what woke me up; whether it was the continuous banter of my co-passengers or the warm moon rays that teased me through the window pane.
The initial excitement was replaced by disappointment with unnecessary delay. I decided to take the bike ride to Baga from Panjim. The salty sweetness of the fresh catch, friendly smiles, and colourful houses infused with Portuguese and modern architecture was enough to lift my spirits. A clean 1-BHK apartment at Gypsee's Cove and a visibly excited Jo were waiting for me. The next 3 days in Goa was like a beautiful dream. The delicious food, awesome weather, friendly locals, carefree visitors, neat but narrow roads, and a dash of history infused with modern lifestyle.
I did not spend much time on beaches, night clubs or on the poker tables - the reasons why people flock to Goa. I roamed around in the streets, interacted with the locals at restaurants, juice shops and those numerous shops that sold souvenirs. I didn't feel like a stranger from the very first minute I landed in Goa. No, it has nothing to do with the place but the people - the locals. They mind their own business; the locals are neither in awe or feel intruded by you. They maintain a neutral stance towards the hordes of people that flow in and out of Goa. You are completely on your own, and this feeling is so liberating. May be that's why everyone feels at home here. The invisible shackles of certain 'obligations' are broken. I remember telling Jo that I could ACTUALLY live here. What's the reason that makes Goa so different from all other tourist destinations? You are made to feel like a visitor/outsider in most of the places no matter how long you live or how well you know their language or culture.
What makes Goanese unique? Is it the Portuguese that made Goa their home till late 60's? Is it the cultural upheaval though marred with a dark history but eventually evolved as a balanced culture imbibing the best of East and West? There may be more than one reason but I know for sure that I have fallen in love with Goa and thus, begins a long affair with it.