Archive | April 2017

She

The emotions had been building up for the past three months. Nothing was the same since she had come into his team. He stayed back in the conference rooms long after she left, just breathing in her perfume. He stole secret glances over his laptop to grab a glimpse of her. He caressed her chair with secret longing each evening after she tossed her handbag on her shoulder and walked out of the office. It was an emotion beyond his control. It was pure lust at times, and sometimes he wondered if it could even be love.

She knew. She caught him staring at her often. She could feel his deep breaths taking in her scent as she passed his seat.  She woke up each morning, excited at the thought of being in the same room as him in a few hours. That thing he was feeling, it was contagious.

Hormones went berserk in that little office every day. She teased him with her seductive clothes and heady perfume. He drew her closer to him with his power and position. It was a game they were playing without saying a word to each other, a secret game that everyone else in the office was oblivious to. Or were they?

******

She held out the box of chocolates in front of him and he picked one, hands shaking, he looked into her eyes and smiled. She looked extra beautiful that day. His throat fel dry, he couldn’t even utter the words ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. All that came out of him was a mumble.

An email popped up in his inbox. ‘Can you come to my house tonight for my birthday party’? He replied immediately. ’ Yes’. They didn’t say another word to each other for the rest of the day.

*****

There was no party.

The bedroom was where they wanted to go, and that was where they went.  Those lust filled moments  in parking lots, lifts, conference rooms and glass cabins sought nirvana in that bedroom. Three months of terror unleashed by raging pheromones and frenzied emotions were about to get closure. And continuity? They fell on the cool sheets, greedy and ready to be consumed by whatever monster it was that had taken over their senses all these days.

As he rolled over, his arm hit the nightstand and his cellphone that was carelessly placed on the edge fell down. His heart skipped a beat and he reached down to pick it up. The display had lit up, spreading a soft white glow all over the darkened room. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the screen, it was undamaged. And then his heart skipped a beat again. His wife was smiling up at him from his wallpaper.

He looked at the woman on the bed. He looked at the woman in his phone.

He picked up his clothes and walked out of the bedroom without looking back.

This too was a prompt based story. Why is it that almost every single story that I wrote back then had this kind of theme?  No, I’m not looking for that answer.

Platform

All those months of hard work were finally going to pay off.

He got off from the train into the crowded platform. It was nine o’clock in the morning. He moved the laptop bag from his right shoulder to the left.  I should have put it into a backpack, he thought to himself. He swung his right arm and rotated it to ease the pain off his shoulder, almost striking a woman hurrying past. ‘Sorry ma’am’, he muttered. The woman gave him a nasty look and rushed toward the oncoming train.

The trains came and went almost at the speed of light in that station. Where are all these people coming from and where are they going, he wondered. He had to walk a while before he found a place to rest.  He bought a cup of coffee and sat down and rested the bag against the paan stained legs of the stone bench. His phone rang.  Startled, he spilled a little coffee on his shirt. He placed the cup on the bench and fumbled into his shirt pocket to retrieve the phone.

‘Haan, tell me’, he barked , his voice tinged  with irritation, one hand rubbing the coffee stain on his shirt, trying to get it off with a handkerchief.

The voice on the other side asked him if all was ok.

‘If it is not ok, I’ll call you. Now please stop calling me’, he replied angrily and hung up.

One more train stopped, loaded and unloaded its passengers and left the station.

He looked at his watch. It was almost nine twenty now. He crushed his coffee cup and threw it on the platform aimlessly. The train was approaching. He got up and walked towards it. The crowds thronged towards the door. He quickened his pace and rushed in, grabbing the rod. The coffee stain was bugging him. He needed to get some some water at when he got off to see if he could wash it before the stain set. The train started moving and he glanced towards the bench where he had been sitting. Between the sea of legs he could see the laptop bag still leaning against the dirty stone legs of the bench.

**

He got down at the next stop. Everything had gone as planned. All he had to do was to make one phone call. A cellphone was placed inside the laptop bag. He would call that phone and it would ring. Once. Twice. Thrice.  The device would get activated.  The rest, his employers had told him, would be reported in the news.

The platform he stood on was no different from the previous one. The same thronging crowds. Husbands who had said goodbye to their wives and rushing off to work. Fathers who had dropped off their children in schools and now hurrying to offices on the other side of the city. Wives who had risen at dawn to finish off their household chores and now going to their offices to work . Laughing college students with their dreams ahead of them. Lovers who had exactly five minutes to stop and exchange glimpses between trains.

He stood there and looked at the sea of humanity before him. A sudden wave of remorse swept through his senses. Should he? Shouldn’t he? Should he?

He reached into his pocket and took out his phone. He dialed a number.

He threw the mobile phone on the tracks under the wheels of the train hurtling towards the platform and walked away.

*****

An anonymous tip off, the TV channels said when they hysterically reported how a bomb in a laptop bag was defused that morning. He would be traced soon, he knew it. But he didn’t care anymore.
Yes, done-to-death theme. Maybe there are a million stories with the exact same thing. But hey, recycling posts from years ago. Let me. 

Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet

So much homework

Image result for pillars of the earth

When I finished reading the Century Trilogy, it took me back to those school days and the 20 marks questions we had to mug up for on the ‘Causes, Course and Results’ of the World Wars. As much as a bore it was back then, the world wars never cease to fascinate me now. I enjoyed the Wikiclicking that I did after I finished those books.

The Pillars of the Earth again took me back to Sister Leema’s history classes where we had to mug up pages of Kings and their tiffs with The Papacy (Oh, how I loved the word papacy). And Charlemagne who’s name she pronounced exactly as it was written and we snobs laughed. And these lines from Ms Judy’s English classes, something that stayed with me all these years. (Yes, Wolf Hall is still in my half-read list, I know)

Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies

While the book isn’t exactly about any of these, it just made me Wikiclick through pages and pages of history from the twelfth century, learning about the hierarchy in the church, the dirty politics among the men of god and their overbearing, stifling presence over the State. Interesting how history seems to have now come full circle after all these centuries and the line between the governments and religion is slowly blurring again, but in a part of the world far, far away from England.

Little does Aleina know, that when she rejects her oaf of a suitor William Hameleigh, she has set off a chain of events that will affect the lives of thousands of people across the country, even across the continent, over the next several decades.

Tom the builder’s dream of building a cathedral someday becomes reality when he meets an idealistic monk , Prior Philip of Kingsbridge  who shares the same dream. Over the next several years, this dream cathedral will rise and fall and then rise again, fighting against all odds, battling enemies both known and unknown.

There is a saying that if there’s a devil residing in the roof of a house, there is a devil residing in each tile of a monastery. The politics between the men of God is fascinating. The very human emotions that they force themselves to control, surface over and over again, showing its ugly head in shocking ways. The book is full of strong women, be it Aliena who carries her entitled brother on her shoulders throughout her life or Ellen the ex-novice from a convent, the woman who lived in sin, the witch who’s curses come true. Or even the Regan Hameleigh, the grotesque, who is the real force behind her villainous son William.

Tom the Builder is boringly uncharacteristic and Prior Philip is frustratingly good. Father Sam in Kadal had shades of him. Jack is that hero who is a tad bit too heroic, his travels across Europe and his encounters with the exotic middle eastern  family seemed a bit too contrived. And then there are wimpy men like Richard who lives off his sister all his life while waiting for his earldom to be restored to him. Even the king is a weak man, fickle and clueless. The strongest male character was Waleran, the ambitious bishop, the man of god who thinks he can control the little universe under him like he is god himself.

Spoiler, but I would have preferred it if the book ended with the cathedral being finally built and everyone being happyhappy at last. But it had to drag on so that there could be more bloodshed and mess in an attempt to plug in another real historical character right at the very end of the book. That’s where I began to skim through the book. Mercifully, it ended in the next ten or so pages.

My biggest mistake while reading the book was to attempt to watch the series in parallel. Big, big mistake. The very first episode gave away the suspense that was created in the very first pages of the book, something that was revealed in the book only several hundreds of pages later. I attempted to watch the series again after finishing the book, but the differences between the two were too many. I preferred the version that ran in my head while reading and so I stopped.

While I actively sought out and read the two sequels after reading The Fall of Giants, I am not too keen on reading The World Without End right now. I got all the closure I needed with all the characters in this book, so I’ll give the sequel a wait. Maybe I’ll pick it up in another few months.

All My Yesterdays

 

My dearest Shiva,

I saw the pictures on Facebook yesterday. The baby has your eyes.

Remember that cold December day when we sat on our rock and spoke about how our babies would be? You said that you wanted our babies to have my eyes and your hair, my nose and your forehead. Remember how mad I got when you said that you wanted them to have my heart and your brain? That day, that last day that you and I spoke for hours, living out the rest of our lives in our imagination. The day we then decided what needs to be done. That day is still so fresh in my memory.

When I close my eyes and think of that day, I can feel the cold mist enveloping us and the smell of the tea bushes around us as we sat there. I can still feel the warmth of your hand in mine, the smell of your leather jacket and your musky aftershave. I can still hear the sound of your beating heart, the one that said my name. And then I feel the warm tears flowing down my cheeks and a lone teardrop rolls down and falls into my chest. That is when I get back to reality. The memories are from yesterday, but the tears are from today. Everyday.

It is such a wonder, how I am able to cry even now. I thought that all my tears would have dried up that last day. We watched the sunset across the mountains and then we broke ourselves away from the fantasy world we were living in. You took me back home, openly this time. There was no need to be surreptitious because tomorrow we would announce to our families that we were no longer a couple. We would no longer the stubborn pair who chose love and refused to consider family honor. We would go back into the good books of our respective families and once the initial buzz died down, we would agree to marry someone our families chose, someone of the same religion, caste, sub caste. Someone whose horoscope matched perfectly. Someone who would not bring the curse of dishonor to the generations to come.

 

Maybe it was the right thing we did, but Shiva, you know, nowadays men marry men and women marry women! Society has changed so much. When I read such stories, I feel such a sad clutch in my heart.  Maybe, I think, maybe we could have held on a little longer. Maybe we could have been a little more stubborn. Maybe we could have fought a bit harder.  But then, maybe it would have just caused more pain.

 

My father threatened to kill himself and my sister because she would never get a proper husband if I brought such shame to the family, he said. Shame. That’s what they called our love. Shame. And your family was no different, worse, if I may say so now. They used such harsh words about me, Shiva. I heard what they called me. Anandi told me everything after you left India. She told me about what actually happened in your house that made you want us to break up. I understand. I don’t think I would have been able to spend a single moment with your family after they used such words. How could your father have used such horrible words about me when he hadn’t even met me? I did not seduce you, Shiva. I was not after your family money. Of course, I know you knew that, but why didn’t you fight harder for me? I wish, I wish you had.

 

But anyway, all water under the bridge now.

 

Yes, I would have been the millstone around your neck. How smoothly everything happened after we broke up. It was like I was the biggest obstacle in your life, holding you back from reaching the great heights you reached today. All you had to do was to marry the girl your parents chose. Maybe there is something in those horoscopes that they gave so much importance to. She was the perfect match for you. With me, you would have had to take up the teaching job in St. Antony’s school to make ends meet. We would have had to fight society, the stigma, our families and difficult finances every single day had we gone ahead and got married against their wishes. I’m sure your father, the influential person he was, would have sabotaged every chance we got, just to make a point.

 

But today, look where you are. Harvard. A professor at Harvard. Not in our wildest dreams would we have imagined that back then, would we? We would have been content with a small life in our small town. But look where she took you. The woman you married was your key to the First World. It is not that easy to go to the US these days, so many formalities, so many questions at the embassy. My nephew had to come back to India because they refused to extend his visa. But for you, it was smooth sailing. Because I wasn’t there blocking the path? Probably. My love, our love, didn’t stand like a mountain you had to scale before you reached your future.  I read somewhere that you are even likely to win a Nobel Prize someday. Imagine. How my heart swells up with pride when I read such things about you. Of course, I saw the star in you way back then.

I have to confess, for a long time even after you left, I held on to the hope that by some twist of fate we would get back together. When Anandi told me that your wife was pregnant, I had the most evil thought. I can finally say it now and get the burden off my mind. I had the most evil thought that she should die in childbirth and you would write to me, telling me that you were now free from the family pressure and you are ready to marry me. Of course, God never answers evil prayers. There is not a day that passes when I don’t beg him for forgiveness for that evil thought I had.

 

Why didn’t you keep in touch back then, Shiva? Why didn’t you write to me as you promised? If only we had this email and Facebook back then, would you have kept in touch? But what would we have written to each other? Just sent each other letters filled with regret to make our lives more miserable?  Maybe you did the right thing, to make the clean cut, to break away.

Was it difficult for you? Did you cry into your pillow every night? Did the world go dark for you? Did you have nightmares of running through a maze, a black, smoky maze and finding yourself up against cold mossy walls? Did you wake up screaming my name?

I broke, Shiva. I broke in to little pieces after you left. I know, Anandi didn’t tell you all this. I begged her not to. I feared that my collapse would have hurt you more than it hurt me. But today, I want to ask you, what was your life like after you left? After you left me? Was it easy for you to move on? Please tell me that it wasn’t easy. Please tell me how painful it was for you to live with another woman after all those hopes and dreams of yours were centered around me. I was your everything, Shiva. You were my everything. But do you love her now? I’m sure you do.  But do you love her as much as you loved me? No, don’t answer that.

It wasn’t just a breakdown I had after you left. I went insane. I sat staring at the wall, seeing your face everywhere, calling your name, talking to you. They pumped me with pills, trying to erase your memory from my mind. They took me to bearded men who fanned peacock feathers in my face and tied threads around my wrist.  It was horrible, Shiva. Horrible. But of course, there was nothing more horrible than the thought of a life without you. It took me a long time to learn that that was what my future was now. To accept reality. I was forced to accept it, accept the fact that you had gone. Gone from my life forever. And then when they thought that I was cured (cured? They cured me of you? Like it is even possible) they married me off to a man my father’s age to get me out of the way.

Well, you know how it is, life had to happen. But mercifully, that life lasted less than a year for me. He died. I cannot tell you about those days because I have absolutely no memory of them. He is just a blur somewhere in the back of my mind, just like how my life was during those few months. However hard I try, I am not able to remember that part of my life. Repressed memories. Is that what they call it these days?

*****

I lived with Zohara until last year. You remember my sister Zohara, don’t you? Your sister Anandi’s classmate, the one who used to act as postman for us, passing my letters to Anandi and yours back to me.  She died last September. She was my last link to you in this world. We used to sit up late nights and talk about those good old days. Now I have no one with whom I can talk to about you.

It was the logical step to be moved to this old age home. Zohara’s son Imtiaz refused to let me go at first. He loved me even more than his mother. But I made him. An old aunt is not something you burden your only nephew with. This home is a nice place. There are people I can talk to, books I can read, movies I can watch. Of course, there is no one here with whom I can talk about you. But maybe if I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have learnt to use this Facebook thing. Imtiaz bought me this laptop and set up this account for me. The first thing I searched for was your name, and there you were, looking all handsome and distinguished. A thousand butterflies fluttered in my heart the day I saw you on Facebook. I was that shy 20 year old again, falling in love all over again.  Imagine, feeling that same emotion after all these decades. Forty five years is it? Seems like yesterday.

******

The baby has your eyes, Shiva. Your grandchild looks exactly like you. Send me more pictures of your life. I want to know what has happened to you all these forty five years. I know, a lot has happened in your life, unlike mine. Send them quickly, Shiva. I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s’ a couple of months ago. It isn’t bad right now, but you know how it is. It will get worse. Soon. I want to soak up every bit of you that there is left before I fade away.

I can live with the disease, I know I can. They have people to look after me here when things go the way they are bound to. They are paid to.  I will have people who would feed me, bathe me and keep me alive. I’ll be alive, Shiva. Just the way I’ve been alive all these years without you, with you.   But you know what I dread the most?  The day I die. No, not the day I die because my heart has stopped beating or my brain has shut down. The day I die when this disease erases your memory from my mind. The day you are erased from my life. That is the day I dread.

Let me say it Shiva, let me say it to you one last time before you leave me again.

I love you.

 

Always,

 

Zeenath

 

(I know. It does seem to have shades of movies. Not a conscious inspiration, but yes, maybe.  It was something that I wrote long ago for some writing prompt based thingy. I went through my old posts from somewhere and dug this out. Oh, my resolution is to start writing more and I’m warming up by recycling old posts. The new financial year does count as a new year, right?)