The doorbell rang. She crawled out of the warm quilt, wound
up her hair in a quick ponytail and felt the chill of the naked floor as her
feet scrambled for slippers. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she ambled towards
the door and unbolted it. Outside, in a glass vase, secured by a silk ribbon,
sat a bunch of red roses. She glanced at the date on the newspaper that lay
beside: the 14th of February. But—had he preordered them? A mélange
of emotions usurped her: confusion, suspicion, disbelief and then the one that dwarfed
Red was the scourge of her life; the crimson of the roses
was exactly the same as the color of blood that gurgled out of his mouth and
spattered on the bedroom floor on that cold, foggy night in January. Horrified but
composed, she rushed him to the car and drove frantically to the hospital, with
her hand on the horn continuously, and her feet pushing the accelerator to its
Doctors with their masks, nurses in impeccable white, the
air laden with smell of antiseptic, the gleaming floors all sped past her. Her
eyes were fixed on his ashen face and his eyes that were spilling out life
instead of conserving it. In the ICU, they strapped him to hundreds of monitors
and IVs. The Adonis of her life lay entangled in tentacles of monstrous
machines feeding on various parts of his body.
She watched stone-faced the rise and fall of monitors, her
heart pleading to God and her mouth pleading to the erudite doctors. Someone, somewhere,
just one miracle, just one blessing is all she asked for. Alas—God, man or machine
did not hark and the monitors beeped flat. Oh, the cacophony and the hustle—more
doctors, more nurses with another smorgasbord of equipment arrived. They pounded
relentlessly on his heart, applied shocks and pressures but the monitors were
still an obstinate, straight line. He coldly refused to wake from his slumber.
Her mind told her heart that he had left her without a squeeze or a hug or the
playful wink of his eye.
One glance at the red flowers peeled off the still-soft scabs
from her wounds and they started oozing warm blood again. Undammed tears gushed
out of her eyes and she shut the door tight on those flowers, buckling down on
the floor, against the door.
I wanted to asphyxiate it, so I concealed it in a distant
nook in my cerebrum where oxygen could never reach. But it did not die, not
that day, not in tens of years. It still unabashedly appears in front of my
eyes, startlingly explicit and vivid in its detail. I am letting it out today
in the hope that it becomes less abrasive once it inhales the air outside the
confines of me.
This is the story of a young girl just on the periphery of
puberty who was undergoing physical changes in her body as dictated by nature,
but was mentally still a child, hazardously turning around the bends of life
with no deceleration.That summer this 11-year girl was on a long train journey
with parents to visit her aunt. School exams were done and she was carefree, happy,
excited and animated. Sweat that ran down her hair and back could not dampen her
giggles and motile excitement at watching the green lush fields and the thatched
huts nestled in their midst.
It was a passenger train that stopped at every nondescript
station to pick up passengers. Our girl ran down the train at every platform
and then hopped back in when the train threatened to leave. That particular
station, a sea of people was boarding the train and the girl was sandwiched
between bodies compressing each other while inching forward. And from somewhere
a hand, big and rough, reached for her almost indiscernible breast. Searing
tears flooded her eyes as she managed to push forward and reach her berth.
There she sat, silent, wounded and shamed at her own body.
She abhorred her skin, her sky blue dress with its little polka dots and the
white frills that ran though the center. She blamed herself for wearing the
pretty dress, which she ached to tear away and burn at that moment. All her
ebullience evaporated as she realized that the journey of life as a woman was
not going to be easy. Sparks of revelations started illuminating her young
mind, the light of which would guide her life forever. Fawns trotting the woods
came to her mind and she wished them to be vigilant of predators and hunters.
Her teething started that summer afternoon in that sluggish train.
Little did she know that salvo of incidents later in life would sharpen those
fangs and solder the armor she could have to build around her body. A barrier, she would learn to build using her book bag or purse or elbows. She would learn
the power of herds, the safety in numbers. She would learn the finer tricks of survival
and defense in the world of disrobing stares, ribald tongues and assaulting hands.
But that savage day, through that mortifying ride, she sat
deflated and tethered to her berth, no more frolicking around—feigning exhaustion
from the summer heat. And her elbows were tirelessly crossed over her chest to
hide her womanhood even from herself.
I want to apologize for my
burden of wrong To your ears where my penitence does belong I lingered in vain, the gray swiftly took hold Now my contrition will stifle mute and untold
It is too late now and you don’t even know me Again, you urge me to call your kids and family Little amused, little astounded you skeptically stare As I try to get your attention without stirring scare
Like a stranger, you introduce yourself and ask my name Oh, the one you gave me, I still carry the same! I keep on trying to say- I am sorry, father But you insist ceaselessly that I stay for dinner
Earlier, I failed to muster the courage and word And feared that it might feel a little too absurd Should’ve tried harder and sooner to turn myself over Instead
of forever yearning and smoldering for closure
In my humble opinion, the career garb that a person adorns for
life is governed by three elements—the time or era one grows up in, the encompassing
culture and personal strengths. I grew up in a time when science and math were
the spotlight subjects on the stage—the heroes, while language and other arts
languished in anonymity as supporting cast. A student who could not excel in math and
science was regarded as a heinous derelict. An average student stood at tines of a fork, that lead to either Engineering or Medical Science and I was no exception to the rule.
I knew I had to pick one though neither resonated in my heartbeat.
Next element that paints your destiny is the culture you
inhale. I grew up in a small town, known for its renowned engineering college
and little else. Private coaching centers for admission tests flocked the town like
rain mushrooms, all promising to churn up engineers under their tutelage. Engineering
was blended in the air like hydrogen in water, utterly inseparable. It entered
our nostrils, lodged into our lungs and then pulsated through our veins. I succumbed
to that ingredient of my breath and so did most of my friends.
It’s time to ponder about the third element-personal
strength and choice.Being academically strong can never hurt anyone. Acing all
subjects at school is an accolade, not an impediment by any imagination.
Teachers are proud of versatile students and parents earn bragging rights for
their lives. In my case, versatility and excelling in a multitude of areas
actually muddled my path. I was the only student in my school that passed with
distinction in all five subjects-English, Hindi, math, science and social
studies. Too many spices brewing inside of me masked my true essence. I was a
conundrum to myself, a rudderless ship that just drifted with the wind. In my
heart of hearts, I was smitten by English language, enthralled by the rivulets of
words, literature and poetry. I was drawn to the written word like a bee to
nectar, a moth to light. My parents could not afford books outside of the
curriculum, so I took little sips from the small pool of the school library to
quench my thirst. I pored over newspapers and devoured every word, without choking
or spitting. I read my elder sister’s English textbooks for stories—and sheer ecstasy
that brought me. But my love was ambiguous and uncharted, with no lucid path or
destination. My parents had humble means but an unwavering faith in education to
challenge and mold life to betterment. I and my siblings did not have shiny new
shoes every year but we always had the books/notebooks we needed. I knew I had to chart
out a career, muster a job which compensated well—and literature, as enticing
and soothing as it was, was not a step towards that goal. If I did not fare well
in other subjects, I would have married literature,my only suitor,but
I had other graces, so I never whispered my love to a soul and doused the flame
An Electronics Engineer, I was destined to be. Years down, I
am an IT professional with a respectable job that pays my bills and keeps me
afloat. I am grateful to Almighty for the blessings I have and I cannot ask for
more. I am still a voracious reader who can chew words in any shape or form—printed
ads, descriptions of entrees in restaurant menus, ingredients of packaged foods,
Tolstoy’s novels, Keats poetry and Dickinson's essays. But I confess,at times, even after multiple readings
of some passages and poetry at controlled, variegated paces, I fail to grasp
the finer meaning the author or poet is alluding to. I ache to understand the nuances
of Frost’s, Keats’ and Eliot’s poetry. I want to imbibe the hidden meaning
of Shakespeare’s lines.
I always wanted to study literature and poetry and I still
do. Once the business of life ebbs a little and I have hours to fill, I wish I
can take a degree/diploma course. Who knows, I might be grayest student in the
class, maybe grayer than the teacher, but I have no inhibitions about that. At
least,I have none today, as I bring my closeted ex to light.