Thursday, November 18, 2010

Once upon an evening.....

“Ah, perfect! That’s all I need!” muttered Arjun under his breath, as he stepped out of the AC compartment of the Jamshedpur-Kolkata superfast express, the bitter winter night wind cutting into him, like spears tearing into his flesh. The train had suddenly jolted into a halt minutes earlier, and he found out to his dismay that the engine had developed a technical snag, which would take at least a couple of hours to fix, standing as they were in the middle of a dense jungle on the one hand, and a seemingly limitless open field on the other, almost half an hour away from the nearest station on either side.

Arjun was returning from his weekly trip to the Tata Motors factory in Jamshedpur , working as he was in a materials and supply chain project, as a freelance consultant, and he had really relished the opportunity of working with the respectable Tatas brand, as well as the project which seemed quite challenging to him. The company wanted to cut down the materials wastage as well as optimize the entire supply chain process, and one of the managers of the plant had got in touch with Arjun, as he had his reference from an earlier conference which both had attended. Arjun was based in Kolkata, married to his girlfriend of three years, Mithu, and they had a four-year old son- Aryan. Arjun and Mithu loved each other, but urban work-life and its attendant pressures had started to take a toll on their marriage- they were still the same individuals, but somehow things had started to sour. There weren’t really any major fights, none that he could remember, but there was a certain distance that had started to develop, the warmth, the spark that was once a part of their everyday lives was missing, and nowadays the only thing they talked about was their son, and matters related to him. Arjun had become a workaholic, and ironically felt at home only at work, at other times he merely went through the motions. The once exciting, fun-filled life had become a mechanical, routine affair, reduced to duties to be performed, and deliverables to be submitted.

“So, we are in for a long wait now!” his train of thoughts was broken by the middle aged man travelling with him, one of the few passengers on the train, which was surprisingly empty today, as they looked out into the dark night outside, a silence interspersed with the occasional buzzing of some unknown insect in the jungle outside. Arjun thought for some time, he had a late night dinner appointment in Kolkata with a prospective client- a deal he couldn’t afford to miss. He did a quick mental calculation, he was roughly one and half hour away from Kolkata, and waiting for two more hours would certainly mean pissing off the client, and consequent loss of business. He took only a moment to decide. “How far is the highway from here?” he asked the train attendant. “Well, it should be across the jungle, on the other side, but why? Wait, you cant be serious!” he blurted out, as he realized what Arjun was thinking. “Why not? I need to reach Kolkata by 9 p.m. I will definitely get a lift from someone on the highway.” Arjun was a daredevil in college, and was delighted he hadn’t lost touch with his old self. “But sir, the jungle isn’t safe. Plus, this is a Maoist infested area. Why take such a risk?” “Nothing doing, once I decide something, I carry it out!” saying so, Arjun picked up his laptop bag and jumped down on the tracks, skipped across them and headed towards the jungle. “What am I doing, I hope I haven’t lost my mind” he spoke to himself, as he nervously entered the jungle. He had just started to think to himself this had all the ingredients of a horror movie, and managed a smile to himself when he felt a drop of water on his shirt. Thinking it to be from some tree, he continued along the beaten path of the jungle, which he guessed would lead to the highway, since it is common for villagers to cross the jungle using a fixed path, which typically is made keeping in mind the wild animal density in and around. Another drop came down, he looked up nervously, and to his horror, realized that it had started to rain now! “Shit, this rain will make the cold unbearable” he muttered as he continued, faster, as the rain came pelting down on him, making a deafening sound as it crashed down into the jungle leaves and trees. This actually increased his danger, since he wouldn’t be able to hear any approaching footsteps, whether it be of any wild animal or a human being, as he had the Maoist danger in mind as well.

Arjun had started shivering, he realized the cold was as much a reason as fear- pure, primal fear, fear of the jungle, of the wild, of the unknown, as he quickly traversed the jungle path, occasionally running along. Crash! Came a loud sound, Arjun turned round with a start, to discover a fallen branch from a tree, he was running at full speed now, and was panting from the effort, when he discovered a light in the distance. Encouraged, he found new energy in his lungs and sped across the jungle. The light started becoming larger, and eventually saw a flicker of paved road! “Thank God!” he muttered, as he dragged his tired body out from the jungle into the wide national highway, which was glistening from all the rain. He also thanked his stars for the waterproof bag, as he realized his laptop was safe from water outside.

Now came the next part, getting a lift from someone going towards Kolkata. The highway was strangely deserted, and vehicles seemed few and far between. A couple of cars went by, not bothering to stop at Arjun’s insistence. He was giving up hope when a third car came along. Not hoping for anything, he loosely held out his thumb, and to his surprise, the car screeched to a halt a few feet ahead of him! Thanking God again, he rushed towards the car, and peeped inside, to look at a stunning young woman in her late twenties. She was wearing a black top and blue jeans, fitted perfectly well on a well-endowed figure, and her long black hair fell smoothly on her shoulders. “Once you are done checking me out, would you mind telling me where you want to go?” the question shook him out of the trance, and feeling suitably embarrassed, he managed a smile “Kolkata”. “Well, then, hop in!”

“You do seem desperate to meet the client!” she nodded towards Arjun with a wink and a smile, he smiled back in return. “Well, yes, sort of. Business is business, you know!” “Ah yes, of course, you are the typical workaholic male, aren’t you? Sacrificing family life and love for your near and dear ones for career and money!” “Umm…its not really like that you know! It’s just the priorities you set for yourself- planning is everything!” Arjun repeated his favorite quote. She made a strange face at him “Booringgg!” This made him laugh out loud, and he suddenly realized its been a long time he had done that- laugh out loud at something. “So, tell me, don’t you plan?” he asked. “Well, I tried few times, but I failed to execute my plans, or stick to them. That’s when I decided not to plan, to live every moment, and take care of things as they happen!” she replied cheerily, with a smile and a wink.

“What do you do, miss….”, “Call me Ms. X” “Sounds suspicious” “Sure is, but it adds to the intrigue, what do you think?” Arjun was getting more and more curious about this stunning young happy-go-lucky girl, who so easily offered him a lift, and now was unwilling to even share her name. He liked systems and processes, he liked certainty and cause-effect correlation, this ambiguity about the entire situation started bothering him, Arjun started to feel a bit uneasy.

“What are you thinking?” she shot a sideways glance at him. This stunned Arjun, for there was something about this woman which seemed very familiar to him, something about the way she spoke, her sideways glance, her wink, he had seen it all before, and yet…..”I don’t feel comfortable with ambiguity, you see” “Has it always been like this?” “Not really, in fact, I was quite the opposite in college, very outgoing and used to live for every moment” “So, what happened, why this change?”

This took Arjun back to his early days as a professional, the day he was given a severe feedback by his superior of his first job. “Arjun! You really need to pull up your socks! You cant make it in this industry with this easy-going manner. Try and adapt yourself, become one of us, we don’t want an exception in our midst. This is the last chance I am giving you!” he still remembered those words. He had forced himself to change, to adapt, to become one of them, and in the process, lost touch with himself, slowly and gradually, he became a different person. A successful and unhappy person, something which had taken the spark out of his marriage as well. He had started to live for goals and deliverables, and anything which didn’t lead to any goal being achieved had no meaning for him.

“But, that’s awful! Why would you change who you are just to fit in, man! I am surprised at how you have forgotten who you actually are!” her deep eyes were locked into his for some moments, and he felt he was looking at a soul-mirror. There was a lot of other talk, but he was immersed in deep thought throughout the journey.

“Mister planner, here we are! You can take a taxi from here, this is where my road deviates from yours” that same smile and wink. Arjun offered a smile, a shake of the hand, and getting out of the car, turned back and asked “I am deeply troubled by a question- who are you?” She smiled, looked into his eyes, “I am you, Arjun! I am the Arjun that existed 10 years back, the actual Arjun, undiluted and pure. I am your mirror, and just offered you a peek at your soul, some thing which is there in the deepest recesses of your mind, that’s all I am……”


“Hello sir! Where do you want to go?” a startled Arjun looked at the taxi driver next to him. He had a vague recollection of events in the past 2 hours, but wasn’t really sure how he got to Kolkata. He felt a slight shiver in his spine, a tingling sensation.. ”Garia please” he hopped on. The taxi sped off into the Kolkata night, Arjun looked at himself in the rear-view mirror, and did something he hadn’t done for a long time- he smiled and winked……..

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Traffic Jam- A Short Story

28th July 2010, Airport Road, Bangalore, 10.00 a.m…..

“Damn! Another red signal- another 3 minutes lost! That too on a day when I am already late for office! Murphy loves me!” muttered Ashok under his breath, as his car lined up in the huge Bangalore traffic pile-up on Airport road, resembling a snake lying lazily on the ground, with its coils wrapped in a hap-hazard fashion on the ground. He was working for a telecom engineering firm, and was one of the stars for his company. Bright and energetic, he was an integral part of the R&D team which churned out products according to client specifications, as well as developed new products for the market. Ashok had joined the firm 5 years back straight from engineering college, it was the place he had always wanted to be in, and where he could fully use his engineering knowledge and had a free hand in a product development environment.

Today morning was a chaos at home- Radhika, his wife of two years, had her cousin sister come over at their place, along with her family of her hen-pecked husband, and hen-pecking kids, and their normally calm and quiet house was resembling a madhouse, what with the brattish kids screaming and dancing around right from early morning, Ashok having woken up to their piercing shrieks and mournful wails, interspersed with each other rhythmically! The entire morning, set meticulously to every minute of the clock, had gone awry, and Ashok somehow managed to squeeze out of the house half an hour late, Radhika having decided to take the day off from her bank HR role.

Ashok was cursing his luck and those stuck around him in the jam, when a black Santro pulled up in the minutest of gaps alongside him, narrowly escaping scraping his car. He shot an irritated glance sideways, and was about to deliver an obscenity to the rogue driver, when his eyes fell on the driver- and he couldn’t speak another word- it was Sonia!

3rd June 2001, SVCE, Bangalore, 9.00 a.m.

“All fuchha boys stand on the left, with one hand in the air, another holding your ears, and girls, stand on the right, one hand holding your ear, another on your mouth! Good, now girls, blow kisses to the boys, and each boy will catch one kiss from the air, and tell which girl’s kiss he caught. If he is wrong, which we seniors will decide, the boy has to run around the ground in his undies! Now start!”

And thus started the strange spectacle of a group of first year engineering girls blowing kisses to the boys, who started catching them as if catching flies from the air. After the acrobatics ended, the fun started with the seniors singling out the boys, and taking their turns at ragging them. “Hey you! Yes you, with the spectacles, come here!” A shy, gangling boy hesitantly stepped forward, afraid to make eye contact with the seniors. “You look like you have stolen something! You pathetic creature! Come here and undress!” The boy was by now close to tears, and hearing this, they came streaming down his face. “Why don’t you leave him alone! Can’t you see he is crying? What kind of behavior is this? Or do you want to impress the girls by this stupidity?” Everybody turned their heads to see where that came from, and found a petite girl, with ponytailed hair, a pretty face and defiant eyes, seething in anger, standing among the first year girls group. “And who are you, Rani Lakshmi Bai?” bellowed the senior guy. “Who I am is none of your business, but if you don’t want me to go and complain to the hostel warden right now about this, let him go!” This did the trick, all the seniors were afraid of the strict warden, who only last year had expelled two from their senior batch owing to complaints of ragging. They let the boy go, but the others had to stay back for some more treatment. He looked up at the girl, with a shy smile on his lips, and their eyes met, for the first time. “Thank you” he murmured, and she replied with a sweet smile, and thus they met- Ashok Shaw and Sonia Fernandes, first year telecom engineering students at the prestigious SVCE.

5th June 2001, SVCE, Bangalore, 9.30 a.m.

First class of the first semester, and that too Quants, Ashok was thrilled to bits, this was what he had chose engineering for- he adored mathematics, and wanted to be a telecom engineer and use his mathematical acumen in developing more and more improved products. He rushed to class, only to find to his dismay it had already started! “Sorry sir” he mumbled to the teacher who gave him a stern look, and told him to come in and sit down. He looked around, all seats were taken except one- the one next to Sonia. He quickly moved over and took the seat, smiling nervously at her. “Hi” she flashed her smile at him. The class started. This was the first time in his life he was sitting next to a girl, studying that he had in an all-boys’ school. He was feeling a bit uncomfortable, and started shifting in his seat nervously. “Are you feeling okay?” she whispered over to him, leaning across, making him catch a wisp of her sweet fruity perfume. “Ah, yes, fine”, the perfume, the smile, the girl next to him, were taking his mind away from the exciting quants problem being solved on the board. “Steady Ashok, you have come here to study!” he told himself, and sternly looked ahead towards the board, making an expression that made Sonia giggle out loud. “Who is that?” shouted the professor, “Is that you, young lady? Please leave my class right now!” Sonia looked at Ashok, sadness in her eyes, and got up slowly. “Um, wait, sir, it was me who was talking to her” blurted out Ashok. “What am I doing? Have I gone mad?” But it was too late, both were sent out of the class.

“Sorry Ashok, it was my fault. But why did you have to say that to sir?” Sonia looked at him. “Anyways, now that we’re out, and we have almost an hour to go, lets go to the canteen and have some coffee and pakoras. What say?” Ashok was hesitant, “Oh come on” she pulled his hand along with her, making him feel extremely awkward, but something inside him pushed him along with the girl. That day, they chatted for two hours, missing the next class in the process, but Ashok’s guilt was overtaken by his desire to be with this bubbly girl, who was in every way his polar opposite.

The next two months saw their friendship deepening, and gradually they became the best of friends. They started hanging out together everywhere, all of Ashok’s boundaries were simply washed away by this sweet talkative girl. He started enjoying things he never thought he would enjoy, he began to live, laugh and run, he began to enjoy every moment of life!

21st April 2002, SVCE, Bangalore, 4 p.m.

“What are you looking at?” asked Sonia, with a smile adorning her sweet face. “Uhh, nothing, think there’s something on your face”, mumbled Ashok, as they sat on the steep rockface near to their college, on the highway. “Oh really? What is it?” she asked, mock concern in her voice. “You know, Sonia, there is something I have been wanting to tell you for some time”, “Ok, what is it Ash?” only she used this name for him, and it made him feel special. “Umm, well, nothing, leave it”, “Oh come on Ash, I know when you want to say something important, stop tweedling your thumbs and say it”. “Ok Ashok, here you go” he thought to himself, took a deep breath, looked at Sonia’s deep eyes, and as usual, got lost in them! “Ah Sonia, eh, umm, would you, I mean, would you like to, umm, would you like to….”, “Yes, Ash, I would love to be your girlfriend!” she shouted out, holding his hand, they looked at each other, with the sun setting behind them, it seemed the entire world had come to a standstill, they had forgotten who they were, where they were, everything around them had ceased to exist. Their lips met, and for the first time in both their lives, they kissed.

They went back to their hostel hand-in-hand, not to their respective rooms, but to Sonia’s room, which was empty as her roommate was away for a week. That night, they made love, two young adults discovering their sexuality and their bodies, how they reacted to each other’s touch and that night, they lost their virginity. It was the best night of their lives, and they went to sleep in each other’s arms, looking out of the window at the moon, her head on his chest.


The next few years were the best in their lives. They literally stayed with each other every minute of their lives, they ate out of the same plate, sat together, studied and exchanged notes, went for long bike rides and walks with each other. The world had become beautiful, seasons brought with them different colours, rain drops falling on the thirsty soil created music, there were dreams in their eyes, love in their hearts and music in their souls. Life was complete.

3rd February 2005, S.V.C.E. Placement Office, 3 p.m.

“Hey Sonia, I have got through Telecom Solutions, my dream company!” “Oh Ash, I’m so happy for you!” she gave him a bear hug. “Where will you be placed, Ash?” “Bangalore” A glum look came over her face. “Ash, I have got through IT Horizons, location will be Delhi”. “What? Sonia, how can you do this to me? Cant you give this up and try some other company for Bangalore?” “Ash, just like you have got through your dream company, so have I, I didn’t know they were going to give me Delhi as the location” “So what, Sonia? Come on, we love each other. Why should we live away from each other? Plus..” he hesitated. “Plus what, Ash?” “Plus, I was going to ask you to marry me, Sonia” he blurted out. “What! Are you out of your mind Ash? We have not yet started earning! And why does everything need to end in marriage? Why ruin this perfect relationship?” Ashok looked at her incredulously. “Ruin? What better culmination can there be to this than marriage?” “Oh come on Ash, grow up. We aren’t kids anymore, and anyways I never had the intention of marrying you. I don’t believe in marriages, Ash. I have seen that of my parents fail, I don’t intend to go through all that!” and she stormed out of the room, leaving him shocked. He couldn’t believe what had just happened, his entire future life, which he had planned so meticulously with Sonia in it, had just shattered around him. He slowly left the room, forgetting the joy of having got through his dream company.

He left S.V.C.E. next evening, for his hometown Bhilai, from where he left for Bangalore a month later to join his dream job, minus of course a large portion of the dream that was once Sonia. He never heard from her again.


Three years later, his parents, after undertaking an extensive matrimonial search, finally zeroed in on Radhika, the beautiful, homely daughter of one of their family friends, and they got married after two months of courtship.

28th July 2010, Airport Road, Bangalore, 10.05 a.m…..

“Move, you idiot, and stop day-dreaming!” shouted out the cab driver from behind. Ashok realized he and Sonia were looking at each other for the last few minutes, and his entire past life was playing out before his eyes, on flashback. He steadied himself, started the car, shot a smile and a nod at her, which she returned duly, and looked at the road ahead. The lights had turned green, and it was time to move on………

Friday, May 28, 2010

C’est la vie- A short story

“Can a day get any worse?” wondered Priya, sitting in her recently purchased air-conditioned Maruti SX4, one of the thousands of cars standing still on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road, which as usual was totally clogged with office-returning traffic, being 8 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. Of course, she had gotten used to this horrible traffic by now, and had given up even feeling sorry, and she continued with her usual routine- changing the FM channels randomly and eventually, gave up as there was nothing interesting on any of them.

All this couldn’t, however, take her mind off the events of the day. It had started like any other typical office day, the same events that had characterized her life for the past 5 years playing out as if on a recording machine playing a film on infinite loop. Getting up at 7 in the morning, taking a quick look at Akash who was still sleeping soundly- his job as a writer allowed him that liberty, much to Priya’s envy- getting ready for office, trying to wake him up which of course he ignored and kept on sleeping, quickly having her regular breakfast of corn flakes and milk, taking a quick glance at the papers, and rushing off to work, attired in her most impressive black suit. After all, today was a special day, when Priya Singh, the youngest vice president in the investment bank she was in for last 5 years, was to give a presentation to a top-notch institutional client for an upcoming merger deal. It was the sort of opportunity Priya had in her dreams ever since she had passed out of her premier B-school. Always the ambitious girl, she had her sights set on the plum I-bank jobs on campus, studied hard for it and being the topper as well as having an excellent profile, she had charmed her way through her interview, and had bagged the most prestigious & high-paying job on campus. She was the type of girl guys fell for in a flash- tall, slim and extremely attractive, she was naturally the target of quite a few advances and proposals, however she always handled herself with dignity and demonstrated a certain coldness which eventually used to lead the guys to give up.

Priya had prepared her slides with great attention and care, going through each point multiple number of times, and having all her bases covered as to the queries that might come her way. Having stayed up at office till late nights for last 2 weeks, working on the presentation, she was quietly confident of getting the deal through. “Hi Priya! Good Morning” greeted her boss, who had developed quite a liking for this ambitious and aggressive girl, and depended on her for most of his targets. He knew this was a big day, and if they could crack this deal, this would take care of his targets for the quarter and beyond, by a margin. What he liked most about Priya was her extremely high focus on her work and ability to put work before family, which many women often grapple with. But Priya was sure in her mind what she wanted, and had this single-minded dedication towards that.

The clients had arrived 45 minutes late, owing to a flight delay and subsequent heavy traffic, and were in a foul mood. However this didn’t deter Priya, as she was confident of her abilities. She quickly welcomed them, made them feel at ease and started off with the PPT. However, she sensed something was wrong today. The clients seemed to be in an aggressive mood, and started to shoot down her points. At one point one of them made a derogatory remark about her and the accuracy of the market data she was presenting, she felt a flash of anger but maintained her cool, knowing the importance of this deal. She saw her boss from the corner of her eye, his features getting sterner by the minute. However he didn’t intervene. The PPT was going haywire, and some among the clients had stopped listening. Priya felt tears welling up in her eyes, but she kept on at it. Eventually the CFO of the client stood up, “I am extremely disappointed at you bringing us down from Mumbai, and then presenting this shit. A waste of time!” And all of them got up, and left the room. Priya was shattered, feeling her entire world crumbling around her. Everything that she had worked for had come to naught. Her boss got up, looked at her angrily and shouted “You have let me down! You have just undone all your good work over the last few years. You are worthless!” and stormed out of the meeting room. Priya felt numb, not being able to comprehend what was happening, how everything had come apart in the last half an hour. Slowly she closed her laptop, picked it up and left the room.

She was jolted back to the present by the incessant horns bellowing around her, she couldn’t see ahead, seemed a little blurry- then she realized she was crying silently in the car. The signal had changed, and cars lurched ahead around her, forcing her to move ahead, towards her apartment in the swanky new residential colony that they had purchased last year.

“Oh welcome, maam”, Akash, her husband of four years, was sarcastic as usual. “Looks like you had a long day at office, suddenly remembered you even have a home and husband? Wonderful!” Normally Priya used to respond to all these jibes with a few of her own, but today she was too tired, both physically and mentally to even respond. Well, these days they barely acknowledged each other’s existence- things had fallen apart so much in the last 2 years. Priya still remembers the day she had met Akash- a shy, young man lost in his own train of thoughts. She was hunting for the latest crime fiction bestseller at Crosswords, mumbling the name to herself when someone called out to her from behind her shoulder “Its in the third rack to the right”, she turned around and came face-to-face with a shy, awkward looking guy holding a book in his hands. “It’s a great book, especially love the part when the wife confesses murdering her husband, oh shit, sorry!” Priya calmly put the book back, turned around and looked at him in anger, they kept looking at each other for ten seconds, then both burst out laughing. “Coffee?” asked Priya, “Sure”, and thus started the 6-month romance that culminated in an unusual marriage- that between an ambitious successful investment banker and a struggling writer. Her parents had warned her against it, saying she was thinking with her heart, but would soon realize they weren’t the right match. She had ignored them, going ahead and marrying Akash.

The first year was a dream, their lives had been full of romance and love, those long nights of chatting together, those love-filled glances, that magic touch, the laughing for no reason- it was the marriage they had wanted. However, problems started to arise soon after that, and it had come exactly as her parents had predicted. Akash started getting insecure about her being more successful, she was the one who used to pay all the bills, for the dinners and movies out, and his male ego started taking a beating. He had thought his love for her would not let anything else come into their lives, but slowly the insecurity grew in him, spearing him like an arrow. He started throwing temper tantrums, behaving roughly with Priya. She tried to overcome it through her love, but eventually started losing the love and respect she had for Akash. Meanwhile she had started climbing the ladder in her organization, and had to spend more and more time in the office, leading Akash to suspect her having an affair with her boss. This had made her extremely angry, and she had silently chosen to cut Akash out of her life, rising as she was towards the top and her corporate dreams getting fulfilled.

That evening Akash was more rough than usual, “Hey do you really want me to believe that you work all this time in office?” he shouted. “What do you mean” she yelled back. “I mean I was checking your mobile last night, and saw your boss’s SMS late night”.

“How dare you check my mobile? What I do in my office is none of your business!”

“Oh yes, it is! I am still your husband, legally at least!” “Oh really, you have lost that right long ago, you know!”

“You know something, I have realized today, I have made the biggest mistake of my life marrying you!” yelled Akash, “And another thing, you will never be happy, and neither will you make anyone happy around you, because the entire point of your existence is only for yourself and your ambitions! Your life is pointless Priya!”

The words echoed in her ear long after they were said, it just added on to her pain from the day’s events. Is he right, after all? I have stopped loving my husband, stopped feeling, laughing, I even decided not to have a child ever for that would lead to a break in my career. And all that, has come crashing down today, made pointless by the presentation failure. She suddenly had a feeling she did not ever have- the world stopped around her. Everything was an empty vacant space around her.

It was then that she made the decision. She slowly got out of her apartment, closing the door behind her, and climbed the stairs towards the roof. Once there, she went over to the edge, peered down, Gurgaon was a blinding stream of lights from the 20th floor rooftop. She felt the wind crashing into her face. She had stopped thinking, stopped feeling. Slowly, she inched forward, and suddenly her feet gave way. She was falling, towards the ground, however, she felt like she was flying, she felt light, had not felt this light for a long time……..

“Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts! We are about to land in Goa!” the sharp announcement on the PA system of the flight awoke Priya with a start, that’s when she realized she was dreaming, covered in sweat even inside the flight. She was looking forward to this vacation with Akash for a long time, as they had finally decided to work on their marriage, with Akash getting his first book published. She looked at him, sleeping soundly as usual he was, seated next to her. She leaned over, kissed him softly on the cheek, held his arm tightly, resting her head on it, and for the first time in a long time, she smiled…………………..

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Change Management & Allied Stuff....

They say marriage changes lives- for better or for worse- well, that depends on which side of the fence you are on! That also depends, to an extent, on your definition of better or worse. However, as I near the completion of 3 months into my marriage adventure (yes, that’s what I call it, replete as it is with twists and turns that seem Hitchcockian at times!), and I look back on the last few months, all I can say is- another chapter is being written in the book of life that we keep reading all the time. And as far as the better or worse bit is concerned, the jury is still out on that one!

Management jargon that we read in our courses and keep throwing with distressing regularity at our workplace to appear uber-cool, have a funny way of finding its way back into our lives! One such all-encompassing jargon is change management. Of course, when you take off your suave management hat and think of it simply (as we all know, management fundae often complicate simple matters), we do it all the time! I mean, managing change, and how you do it, is often the primary indicator how our lives are being led. Marriage, my dear friends (this is for those who are yet to climb the poison ivy!), is all about the same- change management! How you deal with the unfamiliar notion of sharing your life, to often the minutest detail, with someone else, how you think of two parties while making a decision that used to seem a no-brainer earlier, how you adjust to a myriad range of emotions swirling about like a turbulent whirlpool with you at the centre, often will go to determine how your life shapes up. However, all said and done, to all the marriage naysayers (the number of whom is growing by the way!), based on a three month experience window- I would say, its always better to have someone to share your ups and downs with, rather than trying to deal with it all on your own!

While on the topic of adventure, I cant but not mention the great Indian circus going on- the tamasha that goes by the name of IPL! Each and every character involved in this drama appears straight out of a theater group- the megalomaniac owner (Modi), the suave-looking-but-naivete-personified minister (Twitteroor), the customary romantic angle (Pushkar)- all contributing to raising the TRPs of the sensation-loving Indian media, and capturing public consciousness as well. In fact in this age of any publicity is good publicity, one wonders whether the entire episode was stage –managed behind the scenes in order to whip up some eyeballs! Of course, all this is being helped by the comical commentary expert team comprising of the hyper-excitable Danny Morrison, the completely crazy Sidhu, the shouting-at-the-top-of-his-lungs Ravi Shastri, the screechy Sivaramakrishnan, and a lot more jokers. Of course, one does miss Mandira Bedi, but then, you can’t have everything you want in life!

And while ridiculous events like the IPL & Shoania (Shoaib-Sania) episode are busy making headlines, the reprehensible massacre of the CRPF personnel has got the expected treatment- one day of headlines, two days of analysis and off it goes into the sidelines, to make way for more “worthy” news items! Of course, it doesn’t mask the criticality of the current scenario- having a trigger-happy irresponsible neighbour is bad enough, now having to deal with a group of men who have been bred out of systemic apathy and ignorance of successive governments just adds to the woes of our already-stretched, underpaid and ignored security forces. The fact is, viewing the Naxal/Maoist issue through a single lens might not be a long-term solution, for as with any other militant group (I would call this outfit by no other name), the resentment of a large vulnerable populace is being exploited by a small group of men for their selfish interests. Something the government should have noted long back, but they didn’t, which is what has led to the current situation. Unfortunately, time has run out for a soft approach, and the only way out currently would be an intensive operation aimed at obliterating this menace. However given our traditional soft approach to security issues and the prevailing democratic set-up, whether the government will be able to carry this out is anybody’s guess.

Of course, even in depressing times, there is always Navjot Sidhu to fall back upon, and just to quote one of his gems to finish this off: “There is always light at the end of a tunnel, but the light may be that of a speeding train”! Ahem!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Holy Matrimony!!

“We cordially invite you to be a part of our marriage ceremony and share our happiness”- reads most of the marriage invites- those colourful, sometimes tacky-looking, invitation cards that are such a part of our custom. The families of the bride and groom invite all and sundry to be a part of the holy matrimony their children are about to be a part of, and which builds up to the mega event grandiosely called the Big Fat Indian Wedding!

As I sit alone in my rented apartment this Saturday evening and spend my last weekend as a bachelor, there are multiple thoughts streaming through my mind, in multiple directions, like dry leaves being blown around in an autumn afternoon by the breeze. I cannot still fully comprehend the fact that I am getting married, that I am going to share my life with someone else. I had left home 9 years back, and lived all these years as a true-blue bachelor, you know, things like, coming home when you please, eating out wherever (including the most unhygienic places) and whenever you want to, watching the crappiest movies in town and guffawing through them, spending money on the flimsiest of causes and excuses, but most importantly, not having to answer to anyone on anything! Now that all that is going to change, I can’t but feel a tinge of regret and a wisp of nostalgia, all the fleeting images of the last 9 years rushing back to me.

But experienced (I mean, married) people often say it’s a mix of both- the sharing of your life with someone else can be exasperating and uplifting at the same time, it can make you fight with your spouse over small things as well as give a whole new meaning to every day of your life. Well, I choose to believe them (not that I have an option!), but I guess it’s a quantum leap for me (or, for that matter, anybody who has been living as a bachelor outside his home for a long time)- from not sharing your room with anyone to sharing your entire life with someone! Guess this is a part of the change management situations that confront us in life every now and then.

The entire experience is once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully!). It all started with seeing my parents giving advertisements in the papers, me opening a profile on Bharat Matrimony, to going to meet girls to check (and be checked!) if they are the right match for me and my family, all in the matter of one hour! After the second interview (both-sided), I had developed a fixed set of questions, and in a fixed order, and the interview often resembled two wary boxers circling each other, waiting for the next blow from the opponent, and trying to duck under it and coming out with a reply of your own. It’s a difficult thing, and I’m sure those of you who have gone through arranged marriages would vouch for this, I mean, how can you really know who is right for you and vice versa, in a matter of an hour? Of course, after we got tired and selected each other more to get out of this infinite loop than anything else, came the courtship- short demure conversations slowly metamorphosing into endless talkathons, and understanding the person behind the face, a couple of meetings, and finally, the stamp of approval! The deal had been signed, and the project was underway! Of course, the final culmination of it all, the final act is still to be played out, but we are almost there….

What is it actually, I still don’t know. Whether we really complete each other, how it will feel like to wake up next to someone, to come home to someone, to know there is someone who you cant take for granted (like we do with our parents), and that whether the knowledge that I will not be coming home to roommates but my lifemate will make me want to reach home earlier than usual. But one thing is for sure, everything I know is about to change (for better, hopefully!), and as they say, end of one journey always indicates the beginning of another,……….

-An apprehensive soon to-be bachelor

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Decade That Was

A decade- the term itself sounds heavy and laden with possibilities. And so it has been, the last decade- the 2000’s- and as we stand today on the threshold of the old decade giving way to the new, one can’t help looking back at the decade gone by, and stop and think of the significance of the same.

It seems only yesterday that we were celebrating the arrival of the 2000’s, which was heralded with the y2k (anyone remember that?), which for many of our generation, was the first introduction to technology (quite an irony, isn’t it?). Of course, that bubble burst, like many others did during this decade, but there is no questioning the fact that this decade has probably seen more changes in the lives of people, in the perceptions that we held about life and society and indeed, in society itself than the last many decades put together.

It was during the beginning of this decade, that most of our generation were given wings to fly- we stepped out of our protected home environments into the big, bad world outside, left our cities, states and in some cases, countries and had the first taste of independent living. Some of it was good, some bad, we made mistakes and we learnt, we interacted with new people, learnt about new cultures and many of our long-held ideas and perceptions were fundamentally challenged. In a way, for us, this decade has been the defining one of our lives, it has given us an identity of our own, it has shaped our personalities, and made us who we are (of course, much of it is work in progress, but the process has started). We have gone to graduation college, undergone ragging, failed exams, bunked classes, fallen (and risen to fall again!!) in love, fought with our parents and friends and teachers, decided on our careers only to change track later, but overall, it has been a learning curve (quite a steep one at times!), one which has helped us in knowing who we really are, and for that reason alone, this decade assumes larger significance.

Looking beyond ourselves, this decade has been riddled with events that have shaken us, and often led us to lament the state of affairs in the world around us. A decade that started with 9/11, followed by America’s failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in turn contributed to the rise of terrorism in a form much more deadlier and more sinister than we had ever known, so much that it has now become (unfortunately) a part of our daily existence worldwide. A decade that saw the burst of the dotcom bubble, as well as a global recession of the scale last seen 70 years ago, and amidst all this the rise of India as an economic superpower and a global player in major political decision making, even as malnutrition, poverty and rural health remain some of the most challenging issues we continue to face. A decade where telecommunication has reached our villages faster than primary health care and education, it has been one of tremendous ironies existing side-by-side with major achievements in various fields.

It has been a good decade for Indian sports, which has been long coming for a race fundamentally averse to sports and exercise, we have managed to win an Olympic gold medal after a long time, chess, tennis, badminton and boxing have been disciplines where Indians have shown their mettle, and of course, this has been the decade when our cricket team has transformed itself from being a bunch of talented individuals to a feared unit worldwide, a process started by Sourav Ganguly, continued by Dravid and Kumble and given fruition by Dhoni. Indeed, this decade has made us a better sporting nation, even if only by a small margin.

Politically, this decade has been one of numerous upheavals and change of guards, with regional parties acquiring a lot of prominence and consequently bargaining power. But most significantly, a new lot of young leaders have entered the fray, giving rise to the hope that some of the current muck in the system can be cleaned up with time, for without youth participation, no process is complete.

This decade has also seen the rise of a new breed of urban, well-educated professional, one who has moved beyond merely running after wealth, status and possessions, to the next level of questioning the meaning of his existence, and consequently, we are seeing a lot of young professionals giving up lucrative corporate careers and venturing into the social sector. This probably indicates the societal change that has come about in this decade. This has indeed been a decade of experimentation, be it in business, movies, politics or any other field, and this trend is likely to continue into the next decade.

Of course, for our generation, this decade has been one when many of us have bitten the poison fruit of marriage, or are going to in near future, thus changing our lives forever, for better or for worse, only time will tell!

Finally, as we stand on the cusp of a new decade, it is time to take stock, of ourselves as well as the society and the world at large. There are many evils existing, shameful episodes like the Ruchika rape case which anger us to no end, but as with any other major milestone, it is always best to look ahead with hope and optimism and dreams. The next decade is going to define what we would be doing with our lives, and more broadly, with our society and country, and thus is equally, if not more significant as the one going to end. And so I end with the immortal lines by Robert Frost:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
  But I have promises to keep,
  And miles to go before I sleep,
  And miles to go before I sleep”

Happy new decade to everyone, and peace and joy to the world!