Monday, 25 September 2017

Inter-caste Marriages - Journey Towards Smiling Egos

In my middle school there were a group of students who formed a club of their own. It started out with three students. They established the club for fun and exclusivity (the kewl factor) during one of the recess breaks that we had. The club literally served no purpose other than getting together during the break time and after school hours to play games together. The group was called - ' Kool Kidz Klub' (Triple K).

Very soon the popularity of Triple-K grew in our batch. They even formed their own secret language similar to the popular P-Language; yes you guessed it right - the K-language. They formed their club rules, such as dress code for each time they met after school hours in one of their houses, the kind of games they will play and the kind of games they will never play. One of them being proficient in artistic skills even drew out a logo for the club. They fixed a date for a monthly feast out of their pocket money.

The group grew as the participants increased. The cofounders were thrilled to have students from not only our batch but also a few junior as well as senior batches joining them. By the end of the second term of our sixth grade, their membership was around thirty-five people.

The most fascinating thing about the club was that the cofounders were worshipped - even by the seniors. Barring some minor changes to the rules, the club followed the same pattern of regulations as before. Anyone who failed to adhere to the rules; say refused to wear black because it is too hot outside or refused to listen to metal music, they were kicked out of the club. You were allowed to speak to the non-members of the club but if you were seen borrowing notes from them or having lunch with them, the members frowned upon you. The ego they carried with them was so high that anything rational - like what if the non-members notes would actually benefit us, did not matter. No one dared to break the rules lest they should be disregarded by the rest. Well this was middle school after all. How mature do you think a bunch of twelve year olds could be?

Let me press the flash-forward button as I skim through the innocent childhood days to the even more innocent adulthood. Dhanalakshmi and Victor were friends. Dhanalakshmi was a beautiful girl belonging to a popular club called 'Tamil Brahmin'.  She was smart, sharp and very capable of leading her life. Victor belonged to a club named 'Malayali Christians'. He was smart, sharp and very capable of leading his own life. Dhanalakshmi and Victor found their intellectual as well as emotional partners in each other. However, when they broke the news to their respective club members they were frowned upon. They were put to shame for not following the 'no-non-member' rule of the club. They tried to convince their club members emphasising on how good their partner is for them. The only reply they got "Perhaps! But he(she) is not a part of our family and will never be. Allowing this would mean there are no sufficient good men(women) in our own community for you. It would mean,  you disrespect us and strip us of our community's pride"

 Juxtaposing the two situations I cannot help but draw the similarities between my childhood and what I see happening around me in my adulthood. The reasons I have mentioned in the short anecdote with respect to why the club members refuse this kind of union is just one part of the whole picture. Given a pen and paper to the community followers you will have pages or perhaps books full of information, myths and justifications against inter-caste marriages. Amusing enough the entire prose can be summarised to 'this is how it has always been and hence this is how it should be'. What is more amusing is when without further justification your emotional and intellectual partner is rejected with the final, assertive words - 'We know better than you do. This is for your own good.' Instead, the two perfect pieces of a jigsaw puzzle is ripped apart as each are arranged to marry the partner they barely know within their respective communities and are pushed into a room to consummate their relationship with that 'perfectly chosen' stranger. Club members smile; ego satisfied.

Sometimes I wish Dhanalakshmi and Victor were in my high-school instead. At least after I quit Triple-K I had a home to go back to.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

As A Writer - Find Your Safe Spot

My Tale. My Truth. My Trauma.
As a writer wanting to spread mental health awareness, my journey has been rather funny. Only when you broach the topic on the ‘D’ word and the ‘A’ word do you realize how weak the understanding is even among your own peers. No one generally likes to hear about depression or anxiety. Nobody likes to talk about it. Most people either think that it is ‘lecture time’ or that you’re whining about your life. Lately, I have come to realize that there are a lot of people who do not intend to be rude but they just don’t get it.
One of my friends behaved exactly that way.
He said, “I don’t get it. I am a rational person. I understand that one can be sad for a while after something happens but if they remain in the dark pit for long instead of fighting to get out of it, then it is their choice. They are being a loser. I don’t get it!”
He sounded way too genuine. He is smart and usually kind. However, he said that no matter how hard he tried, (for the sake of his partner who has clinical depression) he isn’t able to connect to the core problem.
For someone like me who has, until very recently kept her trauma and mental health issues swept under the carpet, I now find it too hard to sugarcoat my words. Over the past year, my writing style has been more direct and even harsh sometimes. I can’t get through an article without my peers telling me that it is too dark and they are unable to connect to it. Some of my friends don’t even read my blog posts anymore.
They’ve said, “You are a wonderful writer, no doubts about that. But I get disturbed. So I don’t read them anymore”
This just frustrates me further. I refuse to put a floral image in place of my raw darkness just so that I don’t ‘trigger others’ or so that I don’t come across as someone that’s too aggressive and dramatic. It gets lonely when at every chance people get, they tell you that no matter how hard they try, they don’t get you.
Last night I attended a workshop that was about developing ways to express our mental health through writing. It was one of the best workshops I’ve been to this year. It began with a bunch of exercises like writing your own alien language and using that to communicate with fellow aliens, narrating your life story in 45 seconds (and then discovering which moments do we consider the key ones).
For the last exercise, we did something that I’m quite sure we’ve all done at school at some point. There were three objects in front of us. We were supposed to pick one object and narrate its life from its point of view. We could give it a name, we could make it interact with other objects in the room or we could simply look at it as a stand alone object.
Each story that came out of this exercise was beyond brilliant. One might think that each participant would have narrated their own stories through these objects (a fair assumption and possibility). Some did.
However, one thing to note is that most of us know our lives not as a story but as an emotion. I personally look at my life as a cluster of emotions orbiting around each other and around time. They are so tangible that I’ve drawn them on a sheet of paper and color-coded my emotions depending on the phase of my life.
This is what came out in the object exercise yesterday. We simply take a subset of this cluster and attach it to objects as we carve our narration. Before I knew it, bam! I’d found a new medium to express myself.
I am convinced that this isn’t any sugar coating. This is what I call my safe spot. I realized that over the past year in an attempt to get my message across to people whose ignorance frustrated me I only ended up being scarred.
I thought that the best gift I could give myself was the freedom to express. But last night I learnt that the best gift I could give myself is the freedom to say no to expressing my opinion when it gets too much for me.
To all the other writers out there, I want to say that things are bound to get intense. But, don’t let the darkness consume you to the extent that you forget to light the candles or worse, forget how to light the candles.
Find your safe spot.
Your message will eventually get through. However, the process is important. It needs to be both liberating and healing, don’t you agree?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

When Was The Last Time You Cried?

"When was the last time you cried?" The doctor asked as he shifted his eyelids from the reports to me.
Bewildered, I stared at him. It was an abdominal scan. What does that have to do with... with my cryotary system (where ever that was located)?
His sharp eyes insisted on an answer. I closed my eyes briefly to go back to the time I had last shed tears. I wasn't surprised as the voices in my head starting laughing, intersecting my thought process. What the hell is he making me do?
"5 months" I gave him a ball park.
"5 months, exact?"
"Well, maybe 8. I am not sure."
"You are not sure?"
"Doctor. I know this is a gastrointestinal issue. I have had it since I was a little girl. I have a terrible lifestyle, really. I will take the antacids you suggested and not take more of your valuable time"
He smiled, "You are polite. You have learnt well"
"Learnt well to put up a strong public face. Take my advice, Shonali - let it out. When you are alone, of course. You need not hold that poker-face up always"

I just tossed him a smile and took my leave. On my way to the bus-stop I was staring at my reports trying to figure out if there are some abnormalities indicated. The numbers looked just fine.

I jumped up the bus and took the seat in the rear side of the bus. As my usual ritual goes, I put on my earplugs, leaning towards the window and closed my eyes.

When was the last time I cried?

Is it really that big a deal? I have people all around me putting up a mask. That's as normal as it gets. Isn't it?

A while later the bus jerk stopped as I opened my eyes to watch the two new occupants of the bus walk in. They tapped their cards against the machine and took their seats around me, adjacent to each other. One of them was a girl around my age, looking outside the window, lost in her own world. The other was an European male with a heavy backpack and 'South-east Asia travel map' in his hand. I watched the solo traveler flip through the pages as he kept an eye on the number of stops that went by.

He reminded me of one the exchange students in my school days. That kid was not just smart and talented, he was the most humble people I had met it my life. I remember a certain kind of smartness in his eyes that was indeed very attractive; not in a desirable way but in a way that would make you want to warm up to him. He was my only friend back then.

Ah! There's a good start. Remember the childhood where you had literally no one who wanted to sit with you in class because you were always the "new girl" in the school? Think about that. That should make you tear up. Oh, oh, there comes my laughing inner-voice again!

I think my amusement reflected on my face without my knowledge. The solo traveler turned to face me and responded to my smile with a quick, happy nod.

I am not a cold person. I have had a "fancy" childhood, which according to my therapists I am still recuperating from. I just like to be in denial (that's what they call it). It is simpler that way. Though mind you, if I see the same things that happened to me, happen to anyone else, I would be enraged and would fight their battle as though they were mine. However, when it comes to my own past battles, laughter seemed to be the only natural response.

Listening to music was clearly not helping. I pulled out my earphones intending to stuff them back in my bag, which is when I heard the first sniff.

It came from the lost girl sitting across our solo traveler. He did not seem to be bothered with it. Maybe, she has been crying for a while and he had immunized himself to it. I realized that I was watching her more intently than I should be. She stole a quick side-ward glance at me, teary eyed, and then stiffened herself in an awkward manner.

'Look away, you idiot!' I told myself.

So this is what the doc. wanted me to do? I do NOT want to look like her.

It was funny how one part of me was judging her while the other part of me what sympathizing (empathizing) with her. I used to be a cry-er as a teenager - something no one would believe if they met me now. The name given to me in all my schools was "Shonali Shah, the cry-baby". It ranged from 'cry-baby' to 'delicate darling'. My high-school hockey coach often used the phrase Shona na Rona (Shona Don't Cry). Is it true that what we become as an adult is the reflection of what we get subjected to in our childhood? The Bullied becomes the Bully?

Her crying subsided to heavy sobs as she continued to type frantically on her phone. Maybe she is breaking up with someone. Silly people. Why do they even get into a relationship when they know that nine out of ten end up this way?

Or maybe, she is fighting with her parent. I remembered the last time I was sitting in a bus fuming with anger after having had a fight with my grand father. I had decided to leave home for good. I was eighteen then. It seemed like the right thing to do.
'Ah come on! You'll get over it' I silently communicated the message to her through my eyes. Her eyes were still fixed on to her phone.

If there is one thing I have understood from my personal experiences, it is that you are your own person. If you are expecting someone to pull you out of your crisis situation - you are either too stupid or begging for attention. You can lean on someone's shoulder of course, but never completely surrender your destiny in the hands of a person who is not yourself. As the fundamental lesson taught to me was 'survival of the fittest' - I walked around KNOWING that I am shatter-poof, no matter what the Universe throws at me. It was not arrogance. It was years and years of practice.

Getting vexed with the atmosphere around me I decided to dig in for my earphones again. I had just four more stops to go. I decided to focus my attention on the hockey game I was going to have with my pals that evening.

As I unzipped my bag, I saw the solo traveler reach out for his backpack. He dug his arm into it and pulled out a roll of tissues. Without saying a word, he bent forward and just with his gentle eyes cajoled her to take it.

She nodded. She tried a smile. She took it.
He nodded back. Pulled away his hand. Zipped up his backpack.

In the midst of the unsettling silence, fell my first tear in months.

The lost girl went back to her phone. The solo traveler went back to his travel book.

Isn't it strange? After all, it was the 'Act of Kindness' that made me cry! 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Mental Health Guide- How to Choose Your Person!

Educating a person about your mental health issue is like teaching a child to spell the word 'Onomatopoeia'. At first it looks nothing like it sounds - hence you ask them to unlearn the rules of the language they have learnt before. You teach them the concept of silent letters. You teach them how the word is ironic to its simple meaning. The child then spends the first half of his/her life hating the word and wishing that it was spelt somewhat easier. 

In short, it is difficult. The process of explaining to someone what your mental health is doing to you, why it IS an issue in the first place and why it is working you up to the point of exhaustion. More specifically, why you need help either in the form of understanding or mere words of support from them. Sometimes a gesture would do. A gentle gesture to assure you that though you are alone in this journey, you are being encouraged to go on with this race. That your journey is being respected. 
It is hard to explain why you are what you are. 

Your journey is precious. You need all the strength and energy you have got in you to channelize it entirely into the battle in hand and HENCE, it is important that you choose your people. Because even one person's - "So? Big deal" can make you feel like you have been pushed to the starting point, especially if that person was someone you thought you could trust. You do not deserve that.  

Based on the experience of some of my close friends and my own, I have categorized people into two broad categories which then branch out to two more under each.

 The first among the main categories is ignorant. It might be frustrating at first, but you need to remind yourself that it is NOT THEIR FAULT. Refrain from subjecting them to what you have been subjected to - the Superiority of knowing more than them.

Passive ignorance is when a person is not aware of the things you go through predominantly because they have not walked a journey similar to yours. However, they are WILLING to listen and understand. These are the people who listen to respond and not react or give solutions. These are the people you hold on to. They might not be able to actively help but rest assured they will never fail you. 

Active ignorance, on the other hand are the ones who realize they are ignorant about your issues but also choose to remain ignorant about it. There can be variety of reasons why - inability to process so much information, too worked up with their own troubles and trying to find their way out of it, do not want their peace to be disrupted (though they sympathize with you). They might trigger strong negative emotions in you at first. Until you finally realize that they are fighting their own battles too- it might be nothing to do with their mental health and perhaps far less in magnitude than yours but it IS their personal battle. Do not make that judgement (you never know) and hold on to that rejection to be heard. When you fall, they WILL be there. They just cannot be your person. And that's okay!! 

Now we enter the interesting category of people - the arrogant folks. The perfectionists. The 'ME' and 'ONLY ME'. Lack of emotional maturity. Sometimes hard to notice the difference but they TOO are divided in two sub-categories.

The passive ones live ONLY BECAUSE of that lack of emotional maturity. They are meticulous in the way they think and work through their problems and believe 'all problems have a solution without any exception'. If there is no solution, FIND ONE otherwise you are not strong enough. The reason why I call them passive is because they do not know they are being arrogant. They have a unidimentional vision who have not seen much in their life. They were the part of the cool gang in their high-school, had a bunch of friends who have supported them all through, made their way out of their insecurities using their problem-solving things (which is great by the way). But only because they were able to. The nature of problems were such that they could weave their way out of it with nothing but reasoning. They CARE. They want to help. However, their inability to curb that arrogance down often end up in them starting their sentences with - "If I were you ..." Well now, that's the point. You are not me and heaven knows whether you would have even survived this far if you had to walk my path. For people belonging to this category - forgive them. Acknowledge that their intent is to help you (though it feels like each time they do they end up in blowing their own trumpet). They are not just strong enough. Remind yourself you have your people. It helps! 

The active ones are the ones whose only intention is to tell you how awesome they are and how weak you are - "Oh grow up..." , "What now? Depressed again?" 
I am not going to waste my time in writing about them. Word of caution: if you spot them, chin up. Look in their eyes and give them your best smile. Not a happy one. The proud one. (Though a little too dramatic, I sometimes repeat the lines of Sia's 'Titanium' in my head when these people are around me. It helps to keep their germs away from my soul)
Next time you are acquainting yourself with someone new and you want to get close to them, immediately try and put them into one of the four categories. It helps to choose your people this way to minimize damage. You might be wrong at first so it is indeed about trial and error. You start with little details about yourself - just a peak into your darkness. If you think they are strong enough to handle that, you get your cue. Sometimes, people have a way of surprising you. Someone very special to me, recently made their way from passive arrogance to passive ignorance and eventually out of the recipient space to become my person! It's beautiful to watch that happen :)

In conclusion, this is certainly a hard battle that you fight. In the process of looking for support do not attach a part of your soul in too many people's hearts. When they break it, it will be too hard for you to assimilate the pieces back together. One thing you can try to make yourself feel strong is the 'Superman Stand'. My obsession with Grey's Anatomy has helped me pick up a few good examples. Before performing a complex, life-changing surgery on a fellow doctor, we see the chief neurosurgeon place her hands on her waist, chest and shoulders broad and head held high. The theory she mentions states that standing in this pose for a few minutes strengthens you to a large extent, helping you go on with your battle when there is no one else to hold on to. I have tried it - it works remarkably! 

Keep in mind, there will always be a child who despite all efforts wouldn't be able to spell Onomatopoeia. Some others who won't care to learn it in the first place. That's their problem, not yours.

Be proud. March on. You are nearly there! 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Regular Week in the Life of (name of the person you are thinking of while reading this)


Dear Diary,

Today was my first day at hockey practice. My school hockey team is so good that I want to be a part of it and be one of the most popular girls in high school and get so much recognition and my papa will be proud of me. It will be awesome. I will also lose weight. That's what papa says anyway. All my high school people will look up to me and I will be school team captain and it will make me happy. I can be happy.
First day, coach made me run so much. I am fat. I can't run so much. I almost wanted to give up but I am tired of papa calling me fat so I will keep running till I grow thin and till I become the school team captain. I will be awesome.


Dear Diary,

I am awesome. I am so awesome that even awesome thinks I am awesome. I still have not learnt how to handle the stick properly but my defence was so cool. I stopped the leading player of our team from scoring TWICE! My coach said I was a porridgie or something. Porridgie in hockey. He said I can go a long long long long way. I am so happy. Papa was right. I am happy.  <3 :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)


Dear Diary,

I still don't know how to handle the stick. Which is okay because it is only my third day. But coach said very good to me only three times today. Yesterday he said very good five times. Maybe coach is disappointed in me a little. But he did not want to tell me anything or scold me because I am sensitive. He yells at everyone else. He is scary coach Shah. He is really scary and the other girls are really scared of him. But he did not yell at me. I am scared. I should play better. 


Dear Diary,

I am scared. Today I dropped the hockey stick when trying to defend the leading player. I know I know I am not supposed to be scared. I know I am supposed to learn. This is a new sport. This is new. I can't be perfect in a day. I know I can get better if only I could CALM DOWN. I told papa about it. I don't know why I have to tell him everything. He was disappointed. He said I should be calm and concentrate more. Papa was disappointed. My coach gave me the look. The look Annie ma'am gave me in math class 4 years back when I got a 96 in final exam. The 'oh you stupid girl' look. I know the look. I know. I hope he does not give up on me. I hope I get better. I am scared. 


Dear Diary,

Something awful and something awesome happened today. I dropped the stick again. This time the leading scorer pointed a finger at me and started laughing. I started crying. Can you believe it? I STARTED CRYING! I AM SO WEAK!
My coach nodded his head from side to side. It reminded me of how my english teacher did it that time I could not spell 'Onomatopoea'. No, 'Onomotopeoa' . No, wait. Wow!! I got humiliated in front of the whole class and I still don't remember the spelling. WOW! BRILLIANT! BRILLIANT YOU ARE. THIS IS WHAT YOU DESERVE YOU STUPID GIRL. WAIT I KNOW THE SOLUTION. WHY DON'T YOU JUST CRY?? THAT WOULD SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS :) :) :) :) :) <3 <3 <3 :* :* :*

Anyway. I need to give you the awesome news. My coach wants to try me for the team. He said I would be a good goalie. He said I am good but don't let myself believe it. But I just think it is only because I cried like an idiot. He had to stop me somehow so he pleased the little 14 year old baby. But well. I at least hope I make it. 


Dear Diary,

I am AWESOME. I did so well. I got into the team. I stopped FIVE GOALS. My coach is right I AM a porridgy. He said I need to let lose. I need to stop being hard on myself. I get nervous easily. I have the ability to learn but I get so anxious that I can't control my thoughts on the field. I need to let myself absorb the skills and not run behind getting it right from the first time itself. 
This reminded me of the first time I bit myself really hard. When I missed a goal in basketball and Karan made fun of me - GIRLS CAN'T PLAY. WHY DO YOU PLAY WITH BOYS? 
I went back home and bit my arms so hard you know??? For being so weak. For not being able to run. I HATE Basketball. YUCK! I feel so silly now. Why was I so hard on me? For that stupid boy. For that stupid game. Now I am a goalie!!!

I am so so so so happy today. I am not a bad girl. No, I am not. I am good. I am very good. Some friends say I am getting proudy. I know they are just J. I am good good good girl.


Dear Diary,

I don't know what is going on. I really don't. I swear I am trying really hard. I am. I am. I am. I swear I am. I cried again today. I swear I don't want to be sensitive. I don't want to get so much attention. I am not doing it for attention. 
Today was first day of school team practice. The tournament is in one month. Today we ran so much. While running the team lead said to me - you fatty! what are you doing? This is not a beach. Run faster. 
She called me fatty. Like my papa does. It hurt because I could not stand up for myself. What do I say? "Don't call me fatty?" But I AM fat. 
My coach saw that she called me fat. He did not say to her anything. He did nothing. Maybe the world is like that. Bad things happen and no one does anything. Only you have to do something. You have to help you. But I cannot. I am scared. I am a big fool. How can I defend me when I know I am a big fool?
The whistle blew. I did not stop even one goal. Instead, the puck landed near my feet and I don't know what I did, I could not handle the stick and instead of passing to my team I hit the goal and scored for the other team. I really don't know what happened. My coach yelled. The lead scorer laughed. I cried. I don't know what happened. I don't. I came back home and bit my arm again. I felt better, I feel calmer. But I am just sad. I don't know what sad is. But I feel sad.
I don't think I deserve to be in this team. I wish it was an individual sport. I will bring down the whole team along with me. I don't think I deserve to do anything. 
I told papa about it. He just said I was not strong enough. I should stop getting depressed for everything. 
I don't want to be depressed. I want to be strong. I want to be recognised. I want to be awesome. 
I don't know why I really don't.
But I am turning bad again. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Laundry Room

"Hi! Do you happen to have change for 2 dollars?"
Her eyes were sharp. Chin held up, hair tied back and a very courteous smile across her face. The 2 dollar note remained clenched tightly between her fingers as she extended her bare hand towards me. The strong yet sweet smell of the laundry room suddenly seemed to come from her. She stood there next to the coin machine that had a sticky-note on it - 'EMPTY'
It took me three whole seconds to absorb the interaction before I could respond to her.
"Nope!" my voice came out way calmer than I had expected it to. "But I happen to have a 1 dollar coin if that's what you are looking for."
"Oh! That would be great. You can keep the two."
"That won't be necessary." I reached out to my wallet lying in my laundry bag. "Here you go"
"I insist!" she said assertively with her face broadening as she smiled. I watched a strand of her hair interceding the visual connection between us. I nodded and we quickly made the transaction, my fingers barely daring to touch hers.
"Thank you!" her face lit up. "I looked under the doormat at first actually. You always have some naive person drop them there. But no luck today!" She waited for no response, as though she was just speaking to herself. She immediately picked up her laundry basket and moved to one of the machines humming a famous regional song in my mother tongue.
I smiled and stayed there for a few more minutes pretending to check on my clothes until her voice was drowned by the unison roar of the washing machines.
As I walked out, I let out a heavy breath. "What the hell was that?" I asked myself. I pulled my laundry bag towards the elevator and made my way to my room.
It took days to get the laundry girl off my head. 'Laundry girl', that's a funny identity to give someone. What else do I call her?  'The girl with the white basket?" Nah. 'Laundry girl' it is. Why am I thinking of a name anyway? This is insane.
So that was about it. That's what you would expect now, won't you? Quick infatuation that dies out in a week or so. That's what I expected. However, within a week I found myself walking to the laundry room for no reason at all. The strong fragrance tickled my throat as my mind swayed back and forth. I smiled foolishly as I walked out of the doors. Well, at least I got it out of my system.
It was Sunday the 15th, two weeks after my mind slipped. I got out of the elevator when I heard a voice from behind- "Hey laundry boy!!!" There were gazillion violins playing in my head when I made a dramatic turn. "Remember me?"
Remember you? I have not been able to get you out of my head since that evening. I have been beating myself up for not having sustained a conversation with you. Above all, the smell of detergent makes me smile! And you ask me whether I remember you?
"Erm... I guess... wait, the second floor laundry room, was it?" Way to go lover boy.
She smiled rather excitedly. "YES!"
Then there was silence which I found too hard to break. Her eyes widened and I felt like she was trying to read me.
"Nice to meet you. I am late for class though" The violins died out. I was sure I would be going back to my room to bang my head against the wall for that. 
She continued to smile as my social awkwardness made me walk away from the scene.
"Hey laundry boy!"
I stopped and reciprocated the smile.
"You owe me a dollar!"
"Oh!" I reached out for my wallet.
"But you know what? Never mind. Maybe some other time."
She laughed as she walked away. Before I could even get my thoughts together in one place she merged with the group of students leaving the hostel. I paced up and down the hallway for sometime waiting for my heart rate to slow down without realising that it was just getting worse. 
That night I looked outside my window; my room over-looking the entire University Campus. The brief episode of that evening kept playing in my head along with the visual display of every single thing I could have possibly said or done. I threw my fist towards my side table and accidentally knocked my coin box. There were dollar coins rolling on the floor upto the most inaccessible corners of my room. With my pent up frustration I started picking them up one by one, trying hard to keep my calm. All of a sudden something struck my usually sedated brain. I quickly ran down to the laundry room. The coin machine had no sticky-note this time, until I placed mine. Feeling mildly proud of my action I was expecting to have a good night's sleep. Well, one should not be surprised to learn that it backfired. The whole night I remained awake second-guessing my deed that now seemed pretty silly.
First thing in the morning I found myself floating towards the laundry room. I reached the coin machine and I knew that very moment that this smile on my face is going to remain for a long while.
Hey laundry girl,
      If you need your one dollar coin, you know where to find it.
Your naive laundry boy
I walked towards the door mat and pulled it up. The coin was missing. Instead there was a note; a note I knew is going to be the starting point of several such moments.

Dear naive laundry boy,
   If you ever want to learn how to flirt, here's my number-()
Your laundry girl.

PS- This was a good move! First level cleared :)

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Telephone

She was six.
Her mother worked at an office, the name of which she could never remember.
Her father worked at a Bank. He was a banker. That's all she knew.
Her day started with her mother waking her up for school. She combed her hair into two, tight braids and dropped her to the gate of their house, to her bus. She watched her father as he peeped over his morning newspaper with a subtle smile on his face and over-pronounced affection in his eyes as she got onto the bus.
Both of them wave. She waves. The bus leaves.
That's her morning.
After six hours of Primary school - grade one, she was back home. The bus dropped her to the gate around 2 PM. At this time, there was no one at the gate, except her watchman. The old man opened the gate for her (someday soon she would be tall enough to reach it herself).  He smiled at her each time, half amused by her soiled clothes for she played in the streets with the puppies every day after school; her hair half-done, her cheeks red, her eyes shining bright.
Khaana Kha liya, beti? he asked her each day, without fail. She nodded affirmatively and flung open the front door to a dark hallway. She then closed the door behind her and entered the world where time would stand still.
She would watch the television for hours, for there was no one to tell her that it is not good for her eyes. She would somersault on her bed with her shoes on; something her friends would never dare to do lest their parents should find out.
She would have candy bars from her over stocked refrigerator as and when she wished. Well, who is there to stop her?
She was the little Princess of the house. Until the phone rang.
Don't ask her why, for she might never be able to tell. Is it the pitch of the ring screaming through the empty silence of her house or is it the voice of the grown-up on the other side? She could never tell.
However, each time that phone rang, her heart would stop beating and then within seconds accelerate to a speed just too proportionate to the sudden rise in volume in the air. She suddenly got aware of the darkness she had been in all this while. She suddenly got aware of her being the only one in the house - the fact she was actually enjoying until then. She was no longer alone, she was lonely. Sometimes she waited for the ring to stop, hoping they would not call again. However seldom did that happen. Within seconds of the ring stopping, heartbeat seeking its normal pace, the air is filled once again with that particular grown-up's second attempt. This time she picked up, the little brave heart.
"Hello?" She needed to sound strong or else the grown-up would want to know whether she is okay. That was never a good topic to venture into, she knew by experience.
"Hello beta! How are you?"
This one's simple. "Fine." Then she remembered what she was taught in school; "And you?"
"Arre we are also very fine, beta!"
After this the conversation was usually straight-forward. "How is mumma?" "How is daddy?" "When will they come home?" "How was school today?"She had her answers prepared for all of these and if answered correctly, they will not bother her anymore. The grown-up ended the conversation with a few sweet words and hung up the phone. She can then go back to her happy world. Eating candies, watching TV, jumping on the bed, hoping that she won't be interrupted anymore for the day until her parents return at night. 
The worst kind of grown-ups were those, who when she picked up the phone shouted enthusiastically,
"Hello beta! GUESS WHO?"
Her palm began to sweat each time she was asked that question. 'I don't know' was never a good answer since it was always followed by a disappointed 'you don't even remember me?' tone. She cleared her throat. She used a lot of 'erm'. She remained silent for what felt like an eternity till the grown-up gave up and revealed their identity. Then came the second dangerous question- "Do you remember me now?"
"Yes!!" She was smart, the little princess. She knew that was the only answer to the question. After this, she only had to answer the regular ones- "How is mumma? How is daddy? How is school?". No need to be scared of these.
Such was her fear of the Telephone.
Weekends were fine because her parents did all the calling. She did not get to hear the ring much.
If there was any call, it was most probably a bad news- someone's had a heart-attack, someone's getting a divorce (or threatening to) or someone's dead. The call is followed by the girl's mother hanging her head low and her father comforting her or vice-versa.
The Telephone was the carrier of heart-aches, she deduced. Nothing good can ever come out of answering the call...any call. Why have it in the house in the first place and spoil your smooth running life? She often wondered.
Her worst nightmare began when her parents installed a parallel connection on the first floor of her house. She no longer knew which one to run for. She knew that picking either one up would serve the purpose but at the time the phones ring in chaotic unison, her brain shut and she found herself running around the hallway for the first few weeks. It was traumatic, it really was.
She still remembers the first time she confronted the Telephone. The first time she knew that she was over her fear. Enough is enough.
She was fast asleep after her long afternoon chase behind the street puppy. The phone rang and woke her up from her deep slumber. She jumped off her bed, this time with no hesitation whatsoever. Picked up the one in her parent's room- "Hello????"
"Beta! You remember me??"
"NO. BYE."
Phone slammed down. Door shut. Back to slumber. 
She tasted accomplishment.
The Telephone never bothered her after that.

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