Dhen Chu Bhaiya


This is the tale of a little boy from the city of dreams. For some peculiar reasons, people always tend to have either one of the two extreme possible ideas of a metropolitan. They’ll either imagine a pos, rich family with a father who earns more than he can spend, a suave new-age mother who watches Gray’s Anatomy instead of the useless nonsense on Star Plus, a son who studies Marx and Pounds alcohol with equal gusto and a daughter who harps over fashion and and goes crazy at the mention of how cute the new singer of some band is. Maybe throw in a pet. This is just one of the images. The other is of utter poverty where people barely have a meal to eat, let alone have savings. The mother looks like one of the patients on Gray’s while the son has only empty beer bottles to collect and dispose for money. The only fashion the daughter knows is that of the mistress’s daughter whose mother was kind enough to donate some clothes. Every stray animal is their pet. Most people classify the populace of a city into either of these two categories. This is the story of a boy who falls into neither but somehow is a reflection of both.

I met Soham/Akash( he kept alternating between the two, so I assume one was a nick name or a name used by close friends or relatives). It was a July afternoon in Mumbai, and it was pouring cats and dogs. Like every quintessential Mumbaikar, I wasn’t travelling with an umbrella.As a rule of thumb, I always stuck to a wind cheater if I was travelling within 4 stations of my house, and an umbrella for everything else. Borivali was close to Malad(by Bombay standards) so I had continued with my boycott of the umbrella but it wasn’t a decision I was particularly enjoying. Simply put, getting drenched in the rain, even with a wind cheater on, and trying to hail a rickshaw and not get pissed with each one that not only ignored me, but zipped past like a bullet, spraying me with the dirty water on the road. Suddenly, the last rickshaw which had done the same stopped roughly hundred meters ahead of me. A little kid hopped off with a thela in his hand and started running away.He had a pink umbrella and was wearing shorts,brownish-khaki in colour and a faded gray t-shirt which had black horizontal strips. I assumed that he had travelled his path and I rushed into the rickshaw. Out of curiosity, I asked the rickshaw wala bhaiya about the boy. He replied that the kid had just got onto the rickshaw a minute back but on seeing me, had asked him to stop and had gotten off. As shocked and touched I was, luckily I had the sense to be courteous enough and call the boy back. After some cajoling, I convinced him to let me drop him till Borivali station, which lay on my way home. As the rickshaw started, I looked at the boy. He appeared to be a curious little inquisitive kid, with the oily, mushroom shaped hair that only poverty begets. But the most arresting detail lay in his eyes. His eyes were yellow. Not the the rich, golden, flashy one but rather a shade that neared a dull ochre. But the dull colour was compensated by the shine in his eye as he talked about himself, and his life. In couldn’t learn much about him from the brief conversation we had, but all I know is this. Akash is a eleven year old boy who studies in the fourth grade of the local BMC school. He was on his way to Dadar, one of the most chaotic and busiest areas in Mumbai to buymogra flowers for a religious ceremony that was to happen at his home. I asked him why was he travelling so far just for some flowers. The smile on his face didn’t budge an inch as he replied “Bhaiya wahan saste mil jayenge.” . I gazed at him, wondering as to when was the last time I travelled kilometres in a stinky second class train compartment to buy something that was easily available, just because it was cheaper. I quickly hid my creeping blush behind my handkerchief, feigning a sneeze and changed the topic back to his education. He told me he learns English at school, but while he told me this, his eyes continued to stare in the direction of my phone, which had my earphones plugged in. I asked him what he wants to do when he grows up, and he replied without hesitating, “use a computer”. Again, I was puzzled and on some further probing I was informed about how his school authorities had told him that only people who pass their 12th grade exam can use a computer. I resisted my urge to laugh and simultaneously, cry. 


Before I could ask him anything else, his destination had arrived. He promptly took out an old ten rupee note, and before I could refuse it, thrust it in my hand and leapt off the rickshaw, and ran away shouting something which sounded like a common cuss word. Astonished, I turned to the rickshaw wala and began moaning about how kids these days don’t have respect for elders( forgive me, I had recently turned 18 so I believed myself eligible to do this). The uncle turned and replied, “Nahin Nahin beta woh toh dhanyavaad keh kengaya” . It took me a minute to figure out that the kid, who was perhaps the most admirable child I have ever seen, was just shouting “Then Chu Bhaiya”. The rain poured on, and the city moved on. But that expression of gratitude is still stuck in my head, and probably shall be, forever…

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Smiley Ke Peeche Kya Hai?



I felt my breath knocked out of me. I gasped for some form of sensation as my heart began pumping at a thousand beats a minute. A little voice inside me asked me “Dude, why the panic attack?”. “She just walked in, that’s why you fool!” I snapped back as I saw her walking towards my table. Medium heighted, lithe figured and absolutely gorgeous, she always caused this reaction in me. I tried looking away, but I couldn’t as my eyes met her soft blue ones. Damn, she was beautiful. I somehow gathered myself, smiled weakly and tapped at my watch, not that I minded waiting though.

“Yes Shivam, sorry na the traffic was a bit too much!” she said, in her sweet little voice, both soothing and for the first time ever, hurting as well. She sat down across the table and said “plus this heat is killing me man! It’s so annoying”. I couldn’t help but laugh precariously as she shot a smothering look at me, but I couldn’t help but inspire the reaction as her child like voice matched the predicament I was in. It had been two weeks since I asked her out and she had shot me down. The worst part was that it was not a simple no, but a rather confusing message which tore at my inner fibres one by one. My eyes simmered as I got drawn into that memory.

Two weeks earlier

I don’t know what it is that I feel about you.Call it love, call it infatuation but your face always makes my heart skip a beat 
Shivani, will you be my girlfriend?
I could feel my heart pounding as I pressed “Send”. I quickly threw my phone on his bed and recoiled. What the hell just happened? I knew I would have to admit it to her someday, but in my mind it always was when I was down on one knee with a rose in my hand while she blushed a rosy red. “Balls to that!” I thought as he dismissed my thoughts, focussing on the more pressing issue at hand. Why did I have to screw things up?
It still was a wonder to me, as the gradual slope of my feelings had never let me see the mess I was creating. It started a year ago, when I was fighting a battle against his parents, peers and society. Trapped in an education stream which just trained me to be an engineer and be a shadow of a man, I wanted to be free and follow my heart. Having no one to turn to, I turned to the first person I found, Shivani. For almost no reason, by each passing day, my heart yearned to talk to her, bit by bit, turning into the feeling I felt today. Ironically, the very heart for whom I fought, betrayed me and led me down the path up to this moment, where my insides felt like molten lead, awaiting the gentle sound of an incoming message.
My phone beeped softly and I panicked.  As my hand reflexively reached for my Blackberry, I paused. My chest thumped as my heart went into overdrive. What if she said no? What if she said yes? Curiosity overpowered my fear as I opened the message and read it
I don’t know .I’m sorry but I just don’t feel the same way. I love you Shivam, you should know that. I don’t show it at all. You’re a good friend but… L
I placed my phone down. My hands trembled as I did this. I couldn’t think. Not even a reaction. I simply sat and stared.
Present day

“Shivam?” she waved her hands in front of me to bring me out of my thoughts as I blushed and mumbled an apology. In retrospective, whenever I think about that moment, oddly enough I am reminded of the idiosyncrasy between movies and real life. In a movie,a heartbreak generally makes a hero lose control of himself, or he just lies in bed the whole day or anything that may just seem him to be a dead man breathing oxygen. Au contraire, in my case, all I felt was chilly wind blowing that night. All I heard was the chirping of the crickets at night and all I saw, was the screen of my phone, lying on my bed. No song serenaded my sorrow nor did a bunch of violinists console me. All I could do, and all I actually did was sleep. Although sleep, being the nefarious bitch she is, evaded me as I wondered, like all rejects in life do, about my fallacies.
“Gupta, you zone out once more and I’ll really slap you!” Shivani shrieked. “Let’s cut the chase and talk about what we or rather I wanted to, shall we?” I snapped back, albeit for no reason. We had agreed to meet only for a sole purpose. To sort out our friendship. Yes, I hated being rejected by her. I hated not being her boyfriend. I hated being just another friend. But damn, I missed her as a friend as well. I had ruined a really special bond and we both had realised we had to fix it. You always hear the proverbial “Never be friends with your ex” or “It’s tough to be friends with your ex”. But no one had ever invented a rule for the ask-her-out-and-get-rejected friend. All we had was the good ol’ “Don’t fall for your best friend’s ex” and being the idiot I was, I had broken this rule as well

13 days ago

I sat in the shower, the water running down my hair and into my eyes, blurring my already blurred vision but I was lost in my own thoughts. Last night, was my first heartbreak. These were moments I had heard of, but never experienced. I started thinking harder. A tiny voice inside him spoke “ You know she still has feelings for Aaryan. Even if she might have gotten close to you post their break up, the point remains that you are his best friend and well, you can’t expect to just have no emotions after a 4 year long relationship.” Simultaneously, another thought scratched my neurons. Aaryan was dating Divita. Both Divita and Aaryan knew about his feelings and surprisingly Aaryan had just smiled and said “Go ahead bro.” Divita, on the other hand wasn’t sure. Although she didn’t say it, Divita felt a bit uncomfortable with the whole group dynamic. Shivam loved her for the amazing person she was but ever since she started dating Aaryan, Shivani hated her. The dipping temperature of the water brought me back to my senses as I quickly walked out of the shower after wiping off the water, and dubiously, the weird situation I was in.
I dressed and checked my phone, surprised to find a BBM from Divita already awaiting my attention. I thought back to the time I had bonded with her. Divita was a fun girl and a really amazing friend. I don’t know why and how and where, but somehow, we clicked. There’s this beautiful thing that I read somewhere about deep friendships. “Friendships don’t have a reason, nor do they have a cause or a result. They just happen and exist. Immaterialist. Undemanding. Loving and most importantly, forever.”  Divita was special. She knew it and so did we. The problem was entanglement. To tell you simply, Divita was dating my best friend, to whom I had introduced her. Shivani was great friends with her until Divita started dating Aaryan. This always made me feel odd. I have no other word for it. What was I doing in the middle of this? The story always was and always shall be of a trio. Two girls, one guy. That’s how it has always been. That’s how it always be.One on of my friends,half drunk on vodka once told me, “Bro!Have you ever heard of a love square?No na? It’s always a love triangle or a couple,never four.”Anyway,ignoring the dubious yet well thought over theory my mind invented, I decided I would not open Divita’s message.I simply was not ready for venting my heart out.Plus I knew that if I talk to her or Aryaan or Sneha or Sameer or any other close friend,I would have a breakdown.I forced my thumb to scroll past Divita and opened the “Recent Updates” tab.It informed me that Preeti had a new dog whom she could eat up(ironically followed by a ❤ smiley) and Rameez was screwed for his Chemistry exam which he announced on Twitter,complete with a #facepalm .But it was the third notification my eyes zeroed on. "Shivani Rai changed her display picture".It was nothing elaborate, a nice little picture from college.But she changed her display picture once,and my heart broke a thousand times over.

Present Day

I stared into her eyes as these memories rushed past me in a whirl. She was looking as pretty as always and yet oddly,the brain rush this moment inspired was not quite what it always was.”Look Shivam, I’ll cut straight to the chase.I,ummmm,I don’t want to hurt you but the truth is that I don’t know what I feel.I simply don’t feel anything.I don’t want to be in this state,but somehow I am. It’s awful that I’m doing this to you and I’m sorry for it but I…” She stopped mid-sentence as she saw me stare into her deep eyes.She let me.I sighed and exhaled.I knew that this day would be tough.Knew it every moment since these 13 days.

13 days ago

The urge to not crave in lasted exactly 2 hours,42 minutes and 13 seconds as I warily gave up and opened Divita’s message. “Morning Lawyer ji :D” it read,to my dual emotions of relief and tiny pangs of sadness.I ended up doing what I feared I’ would do.Pouring my heart out. The end of the conversation though,was harrowing and made me thank my stars for having such amazing friends who could talk sense into me.Just before I was about to have lunch, Aaryan messaged me, “Theek hai yaar, you’ll get better stuff man!” Now here’s the thing among guys. We generally tend to avoid a strong display of emotion even if you’re close as hell. It’s not as rigid as a taboo but not as much as a convention to be broken. The best way to put it is that we don’t engage in such talks ever, and that’s why, a guy ALWAYS needs a girl best friend. Shivani had played that role ever since what I now refer to as “The Plunge”. Namita, my friend from childhood, too was one. Ruchi too was always there to hear me out since I bonded with her in eighth grade. However, Divita too had slowly become one of my closest confidant and I had reached a stage where everything from the suit I would wear to the next day’s conference to the proof reading of my next article, everything had to go throw her filter as well. Anyway, I smiled as I read the message, albeit I’ll admit, not a happy one, but rather, the sad one. The one which makes you wonder why would God ever grant a human being the ability to express such great sorrow and sadness via an instrument to rejoice in happiness. Yes, that one.
Almost simultaneously, Divita sent me this message – “You asked me how to confirm if it’s love? It’s simple. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and exhale, while opening your eyes. Now read this poem

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!”

If she is the one you imagined when you read after each line, you’re truly in love my friend!”

Present day

With Divita’s words in mind, I began speaking. The words, however, though flowing through my mouth, although in no way false, lacked a sincerity. Grudgingly I let myself go. “Shivani, you have no idea how tough or how embarrassing or how stupid or how pathetic my situation is. I’m an average guy who just while discovering his life falls in love with his best friend’s ex girlfriend of four years who still has feelings for him. You have absolutely no clue about my place and you never will be able to even estimate the pain that I felt. I really don’t know if I can pull off being just friends because I have some feelings for you which just don’t go away. You may not date me; you may not talk to me but at the end of the day the truth of the matter remains that my qutiuya dil makes me love you more, and more and more. Every second, every minute, every hour and every day of my life.” I do not remember what I said after this rant. However this I remember vividly. I mentally could see Shivani descending a staircase as a beam of moonlight lit across her face and reddened the red blush of her soft cheek. She truly Walked in Beauty in my thoughts. I remember thinking how there might have been a day when I would have been the one at the receiving end of her adoration and her eyes would search the room to find mine, only to be delightfully lit up on meeting mine. I imagined that us dancing together, to some slow smooth waltz, her hand on my shoulder and my hand around her waist. We would do nothing but look into each other’s eyes as we glide across the dance floor. The imaginary her smiled at imaginary me’s cheesy dream and her smile widened when she realised how it was a scenario the Bollywood addict in me loved. Slamming shut these thoughts with great difficulty, I got up from my chair and noticed her face filled with genuine confusion and perhaps the light was playing a trick on my eyes, a tiny sliver of sadness. I tried my level best to hide the tear that slid out of my eye and walked out. Out of the booth, the restaurant, our friendship and regretfully, her life.

Two years later

I sat by the ledge of the promenade on Marine Drive, few of the only places on Earth where I truly feel solitude in happiness. I stared deep into the horizon as I saw the sunset. The orange-yellowish hue of the sun descended into the ocean, like a deep ball of fire being reunited with its maker, only to be swallowed up.  The sun would rise again tomorrow and I was sure, that the innocent little moon would be careless enough to fall in love with the ocean, only to be crushed with rejection when morning would arrive. Somehow, I felt that I had a soft corner for the moon. Always existed, yet I could never put a finger on it. I pulled out my iPod and plugged in my earphones as a track came on
“Tujhe Bhula Diya, oho
Tujhe Bhula Diya, oho
Phir kyun teri yaadon ne,
Mujhe rula diya,oho
Mujhe rula diyaa…”
I guess you never ever get over anyone you ever had strong feelings for.  You may forget almost virtually everything about your school life, but you do remember your first crush, the one whom you secretly glanced at and worked up your chemistry with when the chemistry teacher would look away. You may forget the endless conversations you have over BBM or Whatsapp, but you will always remember that moment when you meet and talk and declare your feelings for the other. The rains slowly started to pour, and despite all my attempts to be the hip-Bollywood guy, I simply could not bear to let myself get wet and soaked. I pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt as a tear rolled down my cheek, lost among the thousands of other droplets of the rain. It never was easy to forget someone you love and it gets harder when you’re served with those unwanted reminders. I look back now and think about those long chats I always had with her, ending each one of them with a hug smiley or a kiss smiley. But, Smiley ke peeche kya hai , that was neither known to me or her. I have accepted the fact that love is not always a battle you win, or a battle you lose. With a sad smile dancing on my face, I confidently say that I have moved past her. But I would be a liar to deny, if on a cold, winter night, when I sit by the window and stare into the sky, my heart sometimes lets out an involuntary plea of love, hoping and wishing that somehow, she would be there, just there, beside me. Forever and ever.

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The Heartless Heart

He stared. He stared hard. Those mystic blue eyes shown through the photograph as if she actually wanted him to look at her. He sat by the window with an open mouth. Not by shock, but by being astounded. Tearing his eyes away from her angelic face, he looked out of the window, straight into the night. In his dreams, this moment would be complimented by some deeply romantic and slightly sensual music with lovey-dovey lyrics as he stared into the stars, tracing out her name with his fingers, in an outlandish attempt to reach something far away. But in the mediocre reality of today, all he heard when he stared into a black, starless sky was the barking of the stray hounds and the religious tune which was now every other car’s reverse warning tone. Still, one thing remained. His heart pounded just the way he imagined it would.
How had he reached this place? At 17 this poor chap was supposed to be ruing over how girls don’t dress provocatively enough and then after a sad nod, return to his textbook. Instead he was sitting by a window like a love struck idiot. He pondered deeply over his life and believe you me, with genuine concern. You see, Rahul had always been one of those “good, sorted” people. Academically sound with a flair for his talents, he was a friendly guy with a regular life. He had a level head, but a delicate heart was what formed his Achilles’ heel. Planning and scheduling was his forte, and somehow, he had forgotten to consider his heart in his life plan. Or maybe he had, like an over smart MBA graduate from a fancy college, allotted a future time for his romantic pursuits. But, since when has the human heart considered the brain’s advice? Everyone knows that the heart is heartless itself.
He shifted uncomfortably as he considered doing what anyone might have done- “asking her out”. He squirmed as different scenarios jogged his mind faster than the square root of energy divided by mass. The fear of rejection, ostracized reactions by parents, the inevitable break-up, the emotional impact, all of it struck him in one go. Just as he was about to cringe in prospective fear, a thought flashed through his mind. Sitting by the beach, watching the sunset with her, with her small delicate fingers in his long but delicate ones. The smile on their faces and her awe, love and a bit of annoyance struck laugh as he showed her the sunset twice just because of his textbook. Her eyes would light up when he spoke of…
“RAHUL! Dinner’s ready, put the plates on the table, Ridhima will serve the food and I’ll make the rotis!”
His mother’s voice broke his chain of thoughts. He smiled, although the fake one with a tinge of sadness as he acknowledged the odd thoughts he just experienced. He quickly exited from the “View Display Picture” menu of his Blackberry and started towards the dining table. As he headed out of the room, his eyes were reflected in the mirror. To a bystander, they were the eyes of a geek, a social nobody, a love struck idiot who had no chance with any girl, let alone the girl of his dreams. But all I saw was conflict, grief and joy. All I saw was a seventeen year old boy, in a state, he didn’t deserve to be.


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