Promise

She stood in front on the mirror, gazing at her reflection. As she straightened her cap, she smiled. It wasn’t coy or shy. It was a happy and determined smile. This was the first step towards her goal. She knew it will be a long road and a difficult one at that, but she knew with all her heart that this was what she wanted.

She veered behind as there was a tap on her shoulder. Her mother stood in front of her, beaming with pride and holding a uniform. There was a glint of sorrow in her eyes. The uniform had belonged to a strapping young man. A patriot, a team leader and a loving father. His only advice to her had been, help others and make me proud.He had died fighting the jihadis or whatever fancy word is now used for terrorists. He had died saving civilians, in Kashmir. She had been all but 13 when his body came home wrapped in tricolour.

It was on that day while lighting his pyre and crying inconsolably, she had promised her dead father that she would don the uniform one day. She would guard the borders to protect scores of other children and their happy families from mindless violence in the name of religion or politics. Today she had fulfilled her promise to her father.

Courage

She had just settled down in her seat. She felt everyone passing by, size her up. She involuntarily clutched her purse and pulled it a little closer, and pretended to tidy up her wrinkled cotton sari and read the book she was carrying, however, the words didn’t make sense to her. She was terrified.

There was a certain amount of chaos around her, but she was oblivious to it. Even as the fear made her heart pound she gazed around in wonder. The brightly lit surroundings, various shops, the glass walls, the people, everything felt surreal. She loitered around awkwardly, clutching her purse and walked towards the glass walls. Just then, a plane touched down and she almost squealed in fright.

There was an announcement for boarding and she suddenly sensed her fear melt away. This was the moment.She walked towards the boarding gate with a sense of anticipation and excitement. Nothing else mattered now, she couldn’t let her fear, pull her back. She was about to get in a plane for the first time in her life, to meet someone very special. It was her new-born grand daughter.

Honor

She touched his calm face. It was still childlike. She had always been proud of her son, a boy who was simple, sensitive and well educated. Father of the brides will make a beeline for your son, her relatives had teased her and she had just smiled.

Today, dressed in full wedding attire he was in front of her with the girl of his dreams, but there was no happiness around. The stony silence wrenched her heart in pain and a deluge of tears flowed down her cheeks.

Her only child had been sacrificed in the name of honor.

 

The Bumblers….Blundering their way to success

BumblersSeema looked into the mirror for one last time “Well that’s as much corporate as I ever will be!” Just as she picked up her cell to call Amrita, she walked into the room and yelled, “Oh my gosh! Are we supposed to dress all prim and proper? I look like I am going for casual tea in front of you! I will have to go and change again,” wailed Amrita. “You mean we are not supposed to dress corporate? What will the reporter think? She might think I am a snob!” Seema declared almost at the same time as Amrita wailed. They both stood still for a second before bursting into laughter.  “Oh! God, I am already feeling sorry for the reporter. She is going to go crazy. I hope she is fun or this will be the worst interview ever”, said Seema between her giggles.

They both looked in the mirror for one last time before heading to the coffee shop where they planned to meet the reporter. They were going to be featured in one of the most popular creative magazines in India. It was a big day for them. Just as they entered the coffee shop, a girl in her early twenties waved back at them. They smiled at her and made way towards her. As they sat down, the girl said “Hi! I am Sheena and I will be covering the interview today. My photographer is running late but he will join us before we finish the interview and that’s when we will click some pictures for the article and cover page.” Both Seema and Amrita looked at each other and burst out laughing again. Looking at the amused looks of Sheena they quickly composed themselves and said, “We just remembered something.” “What was it, let’s start from there. I don’t want this to be a formal interview, let’s talk and we will see where we head.”

“Well, we first met at a gym. The Vogue Gym! Our plump and petite figures need constant attention you see! ” said Amrita sheepishly “Yeah! It was funny, we were cycling next to each other and we had the same trainer. He was pretty hard on us and I was like ‘Dude! It’s not like I need to come on a Vogue cover! You can relax,’ said Seema. That’s when Amrita quipped ‘Yeah! We are just trying to avoid The Medical Post when they run a cover story on Obesity.’ “Both of us started laughing hysterically while the trainer looked dumbfounded and amused at the same time.” “After the gym session, we bitched about exercising and this whole hype about being slim and fit while polishing off some ice-cream. We bonded over food and non- exercising” said a smiling Amrita.

They remembered how they became inseparable in the coming months. “The funny part was we were never interested in exercising, but we always managed to find humor or end up in hilarious situations at the gym!” said Seema. “Actually it was not just the gym if we were together, we either ended up in funny situations or we did sight something funny!” quipped Amrita.

Sheena asked, “Was that the inspiration for your venture?” She was enjoying the conversation with the duo.   “Kind of… trailed off Amrita’s voice.” She wasn’t sure where to start when Seema took over. “We met up for coffee one day and had managed to confuse the waiter with our order. While we were having a hearty laugh at ourselves, somewhere in between those exasperated looks of the waiter and the confused looks of other café goers I sketched it on my sketchpad.  I doodled a bit as a hobby.” “I showed the sketch to Amrita and we laughed some more. None of us thought anything about it then. Later, once Amrita came visiting and we were cribbing about our current jobs at my place. She chanced upon my sketchbook. Most of the sketches were of the hilarious situations that we had been. She burst out laughing and said “Yeh toh Seema aur Amrita ke 101 kisse hai” Just for kicks we added one sketch on Facebook and soon enough it got good likes. But it was missing something, that’s when I added a few more sketches with witty one –liner’s from Amrita and lo and behold, it became viral instantly!” “This whole thing was very exciting for us and we started doing it seriously.  We created a page and started adding these sketches. We even asked people if they had been in some funny situations and we started creating sketches and one-liners based on that. Slowly and steadily we had a dedicated fan following for our page. By now we were totally bored of our current jobs and decided to see if we could make something of this viral publicity. That’s when we both quit the job and started thinking seriously about taking this forward.

How was everyone’s reaction to this decision? Enquired Sheena, fully engrossed in their story. “Our parents went bonkers! They just couldn’t understand what could be boring about a well-paying software job. But we knew we just had to do this. We decided to take a year’s break to concentrate on this.” Seema added, “Next step came about naming this project. We just had a page named sketches from Seema and Amrita. It was never officially named. One evening we were sitting in my room and listening to music while pouring over the sketches and thinking of what this can be when ‘We are the Champions ‘started playing on the laptop. Amrita instantly replied ‘I know what we should name our project – We are the Bumblers!” Amrita added excitedly “It was true that we always ended up in funny situations. We were bumblers and I wanted it to be considered with some amount of respect. I mean, isn’t it because of people like us that your life gets its daily dose of humor?”

We were a bit apprehensive when we changed the name and started identifying our sketches and page as a brand. We weren’t sure how people will take it. It was a gamble that we decided to take. Sheena just added, “And what a rewarding gamble it has been!” The photographer came up to Sheena and she decided to take a break and click some pictures.

The magazine came out the next week with the headline – The Genius who made Bumblers Cool! Seema’s father picked up a copy and read the article. It said… The phenomenal success of the Facebook page ‘We are the Bumblers’ translated into various designer accessories and other knick-knacks. Custom made gifts with these sketches and one-liners became a rage and the brand “We are the Bumblers” is now popular all over India.  They will soon be coming out with an illustrated edition of ‘We are the Bumblers’ book which is believed to break some records. Her father’s eyes glistened with tears. His little blundering girl was a respected businesswoman.  He could not contain his happiness and pride.

A Treasure of Deeds

blog ill 1 busblog ill 1 busblog ill 1 busblog ill 4 busYusuf was a bus conductor. He wasn’t highly educated, nor was he extremely pious. He was a simple guy who loved his family. He was hardworking and a simple person. A typical day for him meant getting up early, completing his religious prayers, helping his wife with some chores, and depending on his duty shifts either dropping or picking the children from school. He was a private man. He lived in a ‘basti’ in Mumbai, and harbored dreams that his children should be well educated and get good jobs. He had friends from all religions and he never considered his two daughters any less than a boy.

Yusuf didn’t read many religious books nor did he consider himself a scholar of Quran, but believed Allah blessed people who worked hard and helped others and lived by this ethos. So at times he would buy a ticket for a rag picker who looked too tired to walk home or calm down a crying school girl when she realized she forgot the bus money at home. He did such small gestures as and when possible. He called them ‘Neki ka khazana’.

One day Yusuf was on the night duty. It was their last run before the bus would be driven into the bus depot and the driver and Yusuf could go home. As it was a night run and the route on which their bus plied was majorly empty and lonely they did not expect many passengers. The few passengers that had gotten into the bus at the start of the journey got down. The driver said “Now if we don’t get any more passengers we might be at the depot in the next half an hour” Yusuf agreed and was happy as it was a holiday next day and he had promised his daughters to take them to Chowpaty.

As the driver and Yusuf chit chatted about the plans next day, they saw the lights of a car blinking away at a distance. The driver slowed the bus as they reached near the car and they saw a young girl peering over the open bonnet. Yusuf asked the driver to stop and asked the girl “Kya hua madam? Gaadi shuru nahi ho rahi aapki?” (What’s the matter? Did your car break down?) She looked up and nodded and said “My vehicle broke down and I am waiting for an auto or a cab to come by” Yusuf informed her that this part of the road was usually empty at nights and she might not find an auto or cab. He asked her to get in the bus and they could drop her till the depot which was in the heart of the city, from where getting a cab or rickshaw would be easier. She looked uneasily at the empty bus, but realized she had no other alternative. She got into the bus cautiously. Yusuf realized her uneasiness and said casually, she should inform someone at home about her problem and the fact that she is boarding a bus. He even offered their depot address and phone number for her relatives to contact.

She felt reassured by his thoughtfulness and smile. She settled down and the bus started down the lonely strench. Just as they crossed a party lawn two young men got into the bus. They seemed to be a little drunk. As they got into the bus, they eyed the girl sitting at the back. They smiled at each other and started making way towards the seat where she was sitting. Yusuf and the driver knew these men could mean trouble. Yusuf quickly got in the way and said “Pehle ticket nikalo phir baitane jao” (First take the tickets and then go) As the men fumbled with their wallets, he addressed the girl “Beti tum bhi aake ticket le lo” (You too come here and buy the ticket) The girl realized that Yusuf was asking her to sit at the front of the bus near the driver and open door. She quietly made her way past the men and sat in front. He then told the men to go sit at the back. As they protested and started acting rude, Yusuf and driver stole a quick look and he simply said “The smell of the liquor makes the driver vomit and we don’t want an ill driver on this empty road!”

As the driver drove the bus in full speed, Yusuf said a quick prayer and stood between the boys and the girl. The rest of the journey was uneventful and they reached the depot in the next 20 minutes. As all got down, the girl saw someone who had come to pick her up. She thanked the driver and Yusuf and quickly made her way to the waiting car.

The next morning, Yusuf saw a number of calls from the bus depot. He called back and was informed to reach the depot in half an hour. He got worried and hurriedly got ready to reach the depot.  As he reached the depot, he saw his friend the driver from earlier night pacing around impatiently. As he saw Yusuf he said “Even you have been called on a holiday! What do you think is the reason? Hope our holiday is not cancelled.” Just as they were discussing the possible reason for such urgent summons, they saw the girl from the earlier night smiling and coming towards them. “Hello my name is Aalia. I am a reporter with Peoples Voice newspaper. I would like to take your interview.” Now they were totally baffled. Yusuf asked “Madamji hamara interview kyu?” (Why take our interview?) Aalia said “We are so used to reading about unruly drivers, rapist cab drivers, rude conductors that drivers and conductors are seen with a preconceived notion of being repugnant or atleast impolite. You changed my attitude yesterday and now I want the world to know my story and see you all in the same light” I just want to know what made you do what you did yesterday. Yusuf and the driver just smiled and said “Madamji we did not do anything great. We have children, wives and sisters. It’s just something any decent man would have done” Yusuf added “My daughters too go on their own to school or tuitons. I can’t be with them always, but I believe if I help someone with my deeds Allah ensures that there is someone to look out for my daughters as well! Neki ka khazana kabhi zaaya nahi hota.”

Illustrations by – Smitha Patwardhan

Love means…

Chavvi had it all. She was smart, intelligent, beautiful, hardworking and determined. Being intelligent had ensured that her school and college life was breeze. After school, like all students scoring above 90% she had opted for Science stream. She didn’t hate it, so she told herself that it was the perfect choice and went on to be among the few toppers in her college. Again when it came to choosing what next, she went with what her peers were choosing. She decided Medicine was not her thing and hence she opted for the next best thing – Engineering in Computer Science. She finished it with above average scores and then joined an IT company.

Like every girl, she had her girl gang that was with her right from school days and they shared gossip, crushes and dreams. Dreams of a perfect tomorrow with their prince charming.  Meeting up for coffee and long walks had been a thing with her girl gang since high school and that tradition continued even as they started working in different fields.

It was time for their weekly meet-up and Chavvi was super excited. She had to share this with her friends. She raced up to her bike and wore her helmet. As she reached the coffee shop she saw two of her friends were already there. She waved at them and quickened her step. Just as they sat, the last of the member joined in.  They all were aware of Chavvi’s excitement. Anu, one of the friends said “Out with it, I can’t handle the suspense.” Chavvi quipped “You know Sameer, from office? He proposed to me yesterday and I said Yes! My parents are fine with it and Sameer said he will talk to his parents this weekend”, she gushed. Everything was moving so quickly, she could hardly believe her luck. “Sameer might have to go onsite for long term, by year end and I want to get married before that. I can’t think of staying apart for so long.” After the initial shock, the usual rounds of congratulations and gossip and giggles continued.

Sameer came from a conservative family while Chavvi came from a more modern background. Her mother had been a working woman and she encouraged and instilled qualities of independence and great self esteem in both her daughters. So Chavvi knew she might have to make a few changes to her lifestyle to adjust in her new family and she was fine with it. The “girl meets the family” day came and Chavvi was a tad bit nervous. She smoothed some imaginary creases from her well pressed peach salwar-suit and looked into the mirror. Her long black hair was neatly pleated. She looked beautiful as always. She looked into her watch and was just picking her keys when she heard Sameer outside. He had come to pick her up. She loved these small chivalrous ways.

She went to his house and met his family. They all loved her and she too was instantly comfortable in their company.  Chavvi realized that though the family had traditional way of living, they weren’t orthodox and nor were they narrow minded. She enjoyed their company. By the end of the evening everybody were talking on the lines of making it official and having both the families meet each other. Chavvi couldn’t contain her happiness. Her life really was perfect.

As her courtship days progressed Chavvi suddenly became aware of Sameer’s possessive attitude. It seemed harmless at first, but later it felt as if he was keeping tabs on where she was every hour. She was expected to dress differently, the once loved look of a formal skirt and top was suddenly ‘too much’ When argued the prompt reply was, she supposedly looked better in Salwar Suits and as it is post wedding she would be expected to wear just that. Chavvi who was known for her quick decisions, started hesitating before taking one. She was suddenly explaining herself more and more. Whatever she did never seemed enough or right. Her friends and family was beginning to notice the change.

Around the same time, her friend Anu was planning to start her own venture. She was a fashion designer and was planning to start an online store. She approached Chavvi to help in designing the website and becoming a partner in running the business. “Chavvi I have always loved your style. You have a creative flair in you and I want you to tap it for this venture. I want you as a partner not just as a friend helping me design my site. I will teach you the technicalities but I want you to be a part of my dream. Think about it.” Chavvi was super excited when she heard about it. “I will discuss it with Sameer, she quickly replied. She was surprised at her own answer, but kept quite.” As soon as Anu left, Chavvi called Sameer “Anu has a great idea for her online store. She wants me to help build the site and be a partner. Isn’t that great?” She quipped. She was so excited about it that she could hardly contain her happiness. Sameer just listened and finally said “I don’t think it’s a great idea for you. First of all you work in such a good company, why do you want to waste time building a site? Secondly I am sure Anu has no money to pay you for the site and hence she is asking you to be a partner. Third you are a computer engineer not a fashion designer, why get into all this and waste time. Rather I think you should leave the job once my onsite project is confirmed. After that till wedding you can enjoy and then travel with me.”

Chavvi was stunned to listen to this. “Why should I leave the job. I had informed the manager earlier and he was confident of finding me an onsite assignment along with you. If that does not work out I can always look for a job there or maybe start with Anu and then manage things from there. I am sure Anu and me can work it out.” She said. “Are you crazy? You are too naïve. I never liked Anu and I am sure she is just trying to extract work from you. Why do you even have to work?  Stay at home, learn some good cooking from my mom and we will have a great time.”

By now Chavvi was too dumbfounded to speak. She just managed to say “I will call you later and hung up”. When she did not come for dinner, her mother came to her room and found her lying in her bed listlessly staring at the ceiling fan. “Chavvi is everything alright?” her mother asked. Chavvi sat up and hugged her mother. She did not know where to start, but she knew she had to tell her mother. She told her about her conversation with Sameer. “I don’t understand! That’s not the guy I fell in love with. I realized that I was changing but I thought it was a part of being in a relationship” Her mother put her arm around Chavvi to comfort her. “Chavvi I will not comment on what Sameer should and should not do, but there are a few things that concern me and I need to tell you about it. Since you have been in this relationship I have lost my confident, determined and go-getter Chavvi and in her place have seen a new confused, doubtful and always hesitant Chavvi evolve. That is not my daughter. I did not raise her to be that. I did not say anything as I was not sure if this change was self inflicted or due to external circumstances. A relation should not alter your personality, your trust in self and life. I believe that every relation in our life should be enriching. It should add something to our personality and give us a new dimension, and vise-versa, only then does it mean that both the individuals involved give equal respect to each other’s thoughts and wishes. Respect for the partner has to be the most important quality in any relation. If a relation is changing you against your wishes then it is necessary to take a step back and think hard.”

Suddenly everything was clear. Chavvi hugged her mother and said “Yes mother I forgot my worth while trying to please others. I will never ever do that again.” She had her dinner and slept well in many months. The next morning as she got ready for office and stepped out of the house, she found a new confidence. She reached office, met Sammer and said “I don’t think our relationship will work. I love you, I really do, but I love myself more. I want a guy who completes me and you don’t match up to that.” So saying, she walked off with a smile on her face and a confidence to be herself.

Photo Credit - http://sootzy.deviantart.com/art/Love-169384761

Photo Credit – http://sootzy.deviantart.com/art/Love-169384761

Love you Dad!

to dad-with love

She tossed in her bed while she waited for the night to pass. It just seemed endless. She had an early morning flight to catch, her body was begging her to rest a while, yet her mind seemed to be unrelenting. Just a few hours ago she had been window shopping at a mall and planning on treating herself; now all she could think of was him. She had never felt so helpless before. If only she could hug him tight one last time and tell him that she loved him. Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought about him. She stuffed her face in the pillow and let out a sob as she said “I love you Dad. Please just be there.”

Her father, Girish was a simple man. An average Indian middle class father. Like most of them he worked all his life in a big company as a small officer. He was never ambitious for himself. His family was his world and his children were his crowning glory. Their smallest achievement made his heart swell with pride and their slightest pain bothered him beyond words. He wasn’t brilliant, he wasn’t ambitious nor did he have any riches to boast about, but the one thing he did provide was love and time for his family. He was content and happy around his family.

She was his elder daughter and she had never known how he felt about himself. For her he was always the loving father and a caring husband. A man of few words, he had always been hero. She brushed a tear as she rechecked the watch and willed herself to make a hot cup of tea. She rushed to the airport as she couldn’t just sit at her house. She was early, but she finished her security check and waited in the sparsely populated waiting area. Just as she settled down in the waiting area with another cup of tea, her mind slipped back to her last real meeting with him.

It was six months ago. She had landed a good job in a big city. Her father was brimming with pride. He was also worried sick about her staying alone in a big city. He had checked and rechecked the hotel in terms of safety, locality and proximity to some long lost relative. He had even managed to find a contact in the company that she was hired, just to be sure that the company was good and was employee friendly. She teased him “Dad you call me your son and you are worried like I am some tiny fragile thing. Chill dad, I will be fine!” He just smiled and said, “You will understand someday.”  She had asked him to come with her, just for a few days so that he would stop worrying, but he just nodded and never said anything.

Their relationship was never too emotive or communicative. They didn’t need words. Just his presence was enough to make her feel strong and secure. A gaze, a hug, a quiver in the voice or just sitting next to each other was enough for them to sense the matter. She remembered how he took her for ice-cream when she was upset that she lost a match.  The time when she had cried while he sat next to her when she had her first break-up and how the soft-spoken father had turned into a raging volcano when he realized the reason for her sadness was a guy who eve-teased her. He always told her that he was proud of her no matter what. So when he just hugged her as he was loading her suitcases in the cab she knew that was his way of saying “Goodbye and take care”. That was her last encounter with him. Even after she settled in the new rented place, he called her regularly but didn’t know what to say. All he asked was “How are you doing? And are you happy?” After that the phone usually went to mom.

And now suddenly her world was changing. She felt as if her strength was slipping away. Just then, the flight announcement was made and she slowly moved towards the gate. The waiting area was now brimming with people but she felt lonely. She settled in her seat. Finally she was home bound. She said a small prayer and wished she could talk to him.

The last 12 hours had been a blur. She had received a call in the evening from her mother informing that dad was admitted in the hospital. He fell unconscious. She had been worried sick, but her mother was composed and was confident that it was nothing. After a few hours of calls running back and forth it was clear that something was terribly wrong.  She booked the first available flight to her hometown and rushed home to pack. By now her mother had been crying, the doctors said it was Dengue and because of his diabetic condition things had gotten worse. In one of her calls while she was trying to console her mother, her mom said, “Do you know, he wasn’t his usual self yesterday. He wasn’t effervescent or funny yesterday. He said he had been a failure in his life as he had nothing to show and his family could not boast about his achievements. There was nothing for anyone to be proud of, he said.” And that’s when it hit her. She had never said to her Dad that he means the world to her. She had never told him that she was proud to have him as her father, because he always believed in her. He let her follow her dreams and never once questioned her choices. He stood by her when she failed and swelled with pride at her smallest achievement. He never let her doubt her abilities whatever others might say and yet he was battling self doubt.  She promised herself she would never take this relation for granted.She just wanted one chance to tell him.

As she reached the hospital it was early morning. She raced up the stairs of the hospital. Now all she could think of was to meet him and tell him that he was never a failure. She wanted to tell him how important he was for him and there were no words to describe his place in her life. As she made her way to the reception, she saw her mother. She rushed to her, half hoping that things would have improved, and they could all go home together, but as she reached closer her mother just broke down in her arms. Her sister was sobbing quietly in a corner. Her world came crashing down. Her father was no more.