Because Love is not always Blind



The light in her bedroom went off. Praveen continued staring at that window, as he had for the past thirty years, every night, religiously and ritually. Even though her house was a block down the street, and admittedly, his abysmal housekeeping skills ensured a layer of perennial dust on his own window, Praveen could describe each inch of the window he had longed for opening. It might seem to be a feat, given his current age, but well, staring at a window that was slightly dented towards the upward-left corner since the past thirteen years, three months and eleven days, does that to you. He stubbed his cigarette as he reached the filter, and exhaled. Another night of a struggle before he could sleep. He almost smiled at the prospect. Almost. The thin lines of his mouth, ever night, cracked towards an upward curve, but always stopped midway. You see, the brain is an organ with an absolutely cruel sense of humour. For reasons known best by itself, every moment brings its cost, and every love struck human, always has the pang of sadness weighing down every chance of happiness. It was the same memory, always. The day when he first met Meera.
He was sixteen, and had just moved to the neighbourhood. His father, a district administrator, was already at his office, and his mother, a home administrator, was readying hers. As she unloaded, unpacked and arranged the seemingly infinite number of boxes into the maze of drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, she realised that she had run out of ammunition for the afternoon luncheon with their neighbours, and that is how Praveen ended up at the supermarket at ten past eleven, on a sunny afternoon in Mid-April, in the row for household spices, searching for chillies, and lost all semblance of flavour, as nothing quite tasted the same since that day. It was an innocent tap on his shoulder, and an extended arm that a small packet on the uppermost shelf which her hands couldn’t quite reach. He grabbed it with ease, a natural height advantage that he took for granted by now, and turned. That’s the first time he saw Meera Joshi. Even today, as he sees her come back home every night at 9.45 PM, she steps out of her car, waves at him with a smile, and goes back in, yet his reaction, as though frozen in the space-time continuum remains the same. A smile plastered across his face that simply refuses to leave. He had handed her the packet and she left without a thank you, and that was it. He was in love, and he never would have guessed the curve his life had taken.
Praveen, as every night, lay in bed and thought about the same thing he had thought about ever since that night, with alarming consistency. He thought about the curves of life. About its adventure, about its uncertainibility. Strange isn’t it? What if he had decided to leave home a mere few minutes later that day? What if his mother had not run out of chillies? What if he had entered the other supermarket further down the lane? The small things of life somehow influenced you and shaped you in ways you never realise until you have reached a time when you can look back and connect the dots. For thirty years now, Praveen had spent every night waiting for Meera to come to her window, and for thirty years now, Meera had not shown. He had fallen for her slowly, and at once. He fell for her, bit by bit, and for her being her, all at once. He couldn’t quite blame her for though. He had never spoken to her. The hundred feet journey had remained so, and he never had crossed it. He loved her from afar, too scared of the consequence, to scared of her reaction. Well that’s not true. He had spoken to her once, and she hadn’t replied. He had spent his entire life waiting for that reply.
It was a bustling day in the market, years ago. Sometime back in early January. He was nudging his way through to the bookstore, and suddenly he felt his breath leave his body. It was Meera, but not her sight, but rather her elbow-in-his-rib-cage as she tried to make her way through the crowd. She looked so beautiful, he thought, the slight nervousness of being in a crowd, of being a tiny person in a crowd full of humongous human beings. Recovering, he grabbed her arm, and she turned, with a look of surprise on her face, but the emotion disappeared as she saw his face, and turned into the smile that has haunted him ever since. “ An apology wouldn’t have hurt” he said with a laugh, but it apparently fell on deaf ears as she seemingly ignored it. Praveen found in him, a confidence, which he never knew he ever had, as he pulled her closer, leant in, and whispered into her ear, “ I love you”. It was as if he dispelled his courage with those words, as if they broke him. He suddenly felt empty, and he could hear his heart pounding, and his mouth went dry. As suddenly as he had gripped her arm, he let it go, and started walking away. She stood there, to his astonishment, with a confused look on her face, but not the kind he was expecting, not the kind one faces when one is expressed with the emotion of love. He halted, turned and shouted, “ I’ll wait for your answer”, and ran. Meera stood there staring after him, not realising what had just happened.
Praveen sighed as the memory of something that changed his life over two decades ago, flashed with clarity quite peculiar to beloved memories. He had held his word. He waited for her response, and still was waiting. He had never tried to ask her again, or approach her again. Love, was not something, in his ideal, that could be forced. He never understood the idea of making people fall in love with someone. How could it be love if it needed external stimuli? He never believed in love that made “sense” because in his books, it never did. He stepped out of his apartment and went down to the mailbox. It was an odd ritual this, the absurd checking of his mail everyday after his nightly smile and wave of heart-breaking love. But, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something down there, waiting for him. He went about the ritual daily, and he was disappointed daily, but he still did it, daily. Funny, how the most absurd of things are the things you can’t explain, and the things you can’t explain, are the ones that pull the strings of your four chambered monster.
No mail again. This time he smiled completely, more out of self-pity, and went back to his home and jumped into bed, and lay there thinking, and dreaming, and eventually drifting off to sleep, but at every moment, loving the word that ran through his blood. Meera.
The next day
Meera Joshi had passed away in the quiet of the night, which was strange. She had passed away in her sleep, a cardiac arrest, sudden, quiet, and deadly. Meera had no family, and had been living alone since the death of her father fifteen years ago. The usual crowd had gathered, neighbours, and friends, and of course, the relatives Meera never knew existed, except for her Aunt who lived a couple of miles away, and was reminded of her love for Meera every year only on Diwali. Praveen ran to her house the moment he overheard the milkman gossip about it to Mrs.Dey, the old widow who was the only other occupant on the floor, with the other apartment, 113, being vacant ever since Praveen could remember. Praveen couldn’t place his emotions. He had loved this woman from afar for thirty years, and suddenly she was gone. Dead. Praveen fell to his knees when he saw her body, covered with a white cloth, and cotton stuffed in her nose. He had loved her, and “why” was not a question he could answer, or even thought about really. She was his drug, his addiction, his habit, his life. It was the strangest thing, giving someone a place on a pedestal in your life, when your interaction with the person had never crossed the puny limit of ten words, and of course, the million of thoughts that raced through his mind when he saw her every night.
Musing mentally, Praveen quietly stood up and strode over to a corner. He didn’t want to talk to people, or couldn’t rather. No one should see his tears, for he didn’t know how to explain them. He slightly turned away his face, and the tears continued coming. He couldn’t particularly place a finger on his emotions. If logic had taught him anything, all that happened was that he lost a daily waving partner. He tried to stop the tears. He really did. He wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, tried crunching his face, tried thinking about happy thoughts, but all of it failed, especially the last one. Each happy memory reminded him that he couldn’t share it with her, and now, he never will.
“Excuse me?”, a voice interrupted him, and he turned to see Ravalli, Meera’s friend, he assumed of course, as he had often seen them together. “I’m sorry, but are you a relative of Meera’s?”, she asked with what sounded, suspicion and inquisitiveness in her voice. Snivelling, Praveen replied, “ No, I am Praveen. I live in an apartment in the building across the road. You can see it from this window. We were friends”. The disjointed sentences were quite unlike Praveen, but the past tense in his last statement pushed him over the edge again, and in that moment, one could swear that every teardrop was a waterfall.
“Oh! You’re that Praveen!” she exclaimed, and started off with a rant he never thought he would hear. Meera had loved him, since Ravalli could remember, and that would be a long time, as they had been friends for decades now. She didn’t know if he remembered, but Meera had never forgotten that moment in the supermarket, when they were fourteen, no sixteen, no seventeen, Ravalli said she couldn’t remember, but sometime in the past, he had handed her a packet at a supermarket, and their fingers had touched. Meera had never forgotten it. She had always thought he never reciprocated, and had always lived with the ache that only a love-struck heart knows. She always wondered why he didn’t reply to her letters. She wrote him one every year, on 17th January, a day she told Ravalli, she would never forget. The first time he spoke to her, and it always hurt her that she didn’t reply. How could she? She had waited for his reply for years, but never asked anyone to take it up with him. She believed that love couldn’t be forced, it never could be love if people came together just because it made “sense”. Each sentence broke Praveen into pieces. He wailed, and for the first time, he thanked God for the setting, because a mourning was where that wailing belonged. Love in itself is somehow, the easiest yet the most difficult thing we do, and somehow, a little bit of heart was all that was needed to bring the two of them together, and yet ironically, that is the only thing they lacked. He couldn’t stand to be in that room anymore, the air somehow was getting heavier than lead for him. Heaving slightly, he stumbled to the door, when something flashed in his mind, and he turned to Ravalli and asked, “these letters…are you sure she wrote them? I never received any”. For a moment, he wanted Ravalli to tell him that it was nothing but a lie, and that Meera never loved him, for it is better to have loved and never had the love you longed for, than to have loved and not have had it for the lack of heart to walk up and claim the very same. Praveen prayed silently, but perhaps God is cruel, or maybe she is a playful tease, or maybe she just doesn’t exist, and a human’s prayers are nothing but cries bouncing off the chasms of the universe, for Ravalli replied, “Yes! She definitely did. She would herself go and drop it off into your mailbox. 113 right?”
Praveen ran back. His brain was frozen, and he wanted to do nothing but find a hammer and break open the mailbox for that wretched apartment. Perhaps it was luck, or sheer coincidence that he found the handyman near the gate of the building, who when told that the postman had unfortunately slipped his salary cheque into the mailbox of the abandoned apartment, immediately agreed to help, crumbling about the postman’s inefficiency, something about this being the fourth such instance this month. Poor postman, another innocent injured in the world’s oldest sport, wooing. The mailbox appeared to be full and bursting, and behold! There they were, about 25 envelopes, each ageing in its own way, but the same rounded handwriting adorning the address on each, the black ink almost mocking Praveen. The handyman quietly walked away, for in all his life, if he had learnt something, it was that if a man sobs like a new-born baby on seeing a letter, he is best left alone.
He read every letter. He wept for the two hours it took him, and some more. At 21, she told him that she had fallen for him, at 27 she told him that her office timings have changed, and she’ll get home an hour early, but she’ll still wait for him to come to the window with his cigarette, at 9:44 PM sharp, so that she could wave to him before walking back home. At 33, she told him she admired him for his schedule and his discipline, that she had never met a man who stuck his guns, and everyday, for years together, would appear at the same place, at the same time, for the same act. At 40, she told him that she did not like being alone, and she kept wondering why he didn’t reply. Maybe if he could tell her that he did not love her, maybe that’ll stop her. She retracted that at 41, saying that even if he did not love her, she would always love him. At 46, the last one she wrote him, she looked back at her love for him, and said she didn’t understand why she loved him, they barely knew each other, she wished she could talk to him, but she couldn’t. All she knew was that she loved him.
Praveen’s tears didn’t stop the entire night. He let them flow, for he had no idea how to let thirty years of emotions out. It was dawn when the last of his tears dried on his cheeks, and he decided that a fresh breath of air wouldn’t hurt. He walked down the street, ambling in his pyjamas; hair all messed up, as he saw Ravalli outside Meera’s building. His lack of courage to approach people had deprived him of a lifetime of happiness; he wasn’t going to let that happen again. He walked up to her and asked her, with the bluntness of dull hammer, and strangely, with the sharpness of a knife, “ Why didn’t she ever say anything? Why didn’t she ever speak to me? Why?” Ravalli, turned to him with a surprised look on her face, which somehow even bordered disgust and in the flattest of tones replied, “ only if the mute spoke, and the deaf heard, the world would have been a different place wouldn’t it?”. Strange are the ways of the world aren’t they? Two lovers, never united. One, for his heart never let his tongue speak, and the other, her tongue couldn’t even her heart wanted to.

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The Day Coffee Wasn’t Bought

Credits- dreamatico.com/data_images/coffee/coffee-3.jpg

Standing on a balcony is never a boring endeavour. I stood, in what people say is my usual pose while having coffee, with both my elbows on the ledge, the left hand propping up my head while being balled into a fist, and the fingers of my right, curled around a cup, leaning against the wall of the cemented barrier between me and the sky. I always enjoyed these moments. Regardless of the world’s reprehensible mood swings of inflicting insufferable weather, this was an act, which never lost its charm. Today, particularly, was a warm, cosy day on the verge of turning gloomy. I always found the beauty of nature in change. Think about it. That moment when evening perks into the night or when the night finally makes way for the day. Dusk and Dawn. Twilight. The beginning of a rain shower on a sunny day or the emergence of the sun after one. The view from my balcony was not worthy of inspiration though. It looked out towards the parking lot of an apartment building that opened onto a closed street, and even on the most exciting of days; failed to evoke an inspiration in Hemmingway’s soul. Don’t get me wrong; it was a quaint, nice view, but nothing worth the ink it would consume on paper. The best thing about it probably would be the view of the open sky, which never fascinated me. Isn’t it the same old sky everywhere? Sure, the clouds and their patterns are different, but essentially it is the same, isn’t it?
The smoke rings curled up, and disappeared, as things always did. I smiled as I saw the source. A couple was standing in the middle of the garden slightly to the left of the building, making something that would barely pass as a bonfire. They waved, and I waved back, and immediately forgot about it. I returned to my musings, and sipped my coffee. Perhaps it is the aroma, or the caffeine itself rather than the aroma of exotic Java Chip coffee, that made me notice her. A girl, barely 14 years past her first word, was walking across the dull, parking lot. I was immediately bewildered, and I couldn’t place the source for it. In an instant, my mind made way for my brain, and the rowdy game of analysis began. The brain is an insane computing machine. I do not necessarily mean that in a good way. At its whims, it can process thousands of different information pieces in less than a second, and at times, it struggles to comprehend even a singular piece of data.  For now, it was struggling to trace my bewilderment. Was it the girl? No, a girl walking across the parking lot is hardly bewildering. Her age? Definitely not, given that my brain already knew that the apartments in this street were mostly residential apartments meant for families or married couples. Accounting for a total of 822 apartments and an average of 3 people in each, a healthy figure of around 2500 is reached, and it is hardly a shocking occurrence to see a girl in her early mid-teens in a group as diverse as 2500 people. Suddenly, it hit me. The bewilderment presented itself not because of anything off about the girl, or the location, or the environment of the occurrence, but rather myself. I was bewildered by the fact that I had noticed the young girl.
Curious, I observed the girl. She continued walking across the parking lot, when suddenly, she stopped. She quickly slipped a hand inside her jeans pocket and fiddled for a bit, before extracting her mobile phone. If I had to guess, she received a call, as she proceeded to go stand by a car, slightly leaning on it, while she answered the call. Clearly, she knew the person, as her immediate answer and slight smile on her face betrayed, and she clearly wasn’t expecting to hear what she heard as she suddenly fell to her knees. The suddenness of the act was debateable as from where I stood, and from the observation I made keenly, I detected a hint of wobbling in her knees as the call progressed which progressed into a literal knock from an invisible hand, not the one Adam Smith spoke of, though both had the same effect viz. knocking out the very props that kept something up, albeit in a correcting manner. As the economy corrected itself, she answered while on her knees, crying. Again, it was perspective that mattered, as for an average passer-by, it could have easily been the pain of hard yet soft knee caps bumping on the cemented road, but only an observer who had insights into the moments leading up to the incident, or even had seen the girl in the moments preceding it, could swear that the first tear drop hit the ground before the girl’s knees did.
The teardrops never stopped, as the girl’s voice cracked, for she was wailing, and in a moment, her persona had changed. No longer was she an average person walking down the road, with an air of careful dressing up, slight cheerfulness and purposefulness. No, she had suddenly become one with the wild climate, as her hair turned slightly frizzy and her face betrayed the darker spots. Maybe it was the light playing its games, I would never know, for that very moment, her tears disappeared into the sudden outburst of rain. The moment was rich with clichés and ironies as the girl sat on the cemented ground, on her knees, one hand holding the phone to her ear, trembling all this while, as the other ventured through her hair, grasping at nothing, venting for a frustration that was still born. The wailing of the heavens brought her to her senses, as a strong wind buffeted against her face, and the rain splashed against her. She quickly pulled the hood of her jacket over her head, and made a dash towards the entrance of the apartment building, but all this while, one of her hand remained on the phone, and the phone on the ear, as if glued together by the conversation she was having. She disappeared into the lobby, and that was the last I ever saw of her.
It has been 4 years since I went back. 4 surprisingly long years since I saw home. That was always the last thought I had before I fell asleep. Always. Every day, for the past 4 years. Something had always come up. Work, travel, engagements, something. It was an unfortunate thing, but just like all other things human, and all other things unfortunate, couldn’t be helped. It just had to be dealt with. It was an odd feeling, the longing to be back home. It gnaws at your insides, but soon morphs into an itch that just stays. The year was 2004, and mobile phones had just gained immense traction. Only last week, I purchased one and had performed my weekly ritual. Every Friday, as soon as the sunset, I would walk out of the apartment and approach the nearest calling booth. 326 steps was the distance I remember, because I remember each step, each pace, with each beat of my heart. The mechanical art of dialling the number which magically connected me to someone thousands of miles away, was dull, yet I suppose, when the ends matter more than the means, the means gain a charm themselves. The conversation was never anything special, a casual conversation with my parents, just as the one you have at the end of the day, when you get back home. The only difference was that our day lasted seven days, and of course, the distance factored in, but the love, the magic, remained the same.
Sundays were always hard for me. Waking up alone, in a place that is not your own, neither in terms of belongingness nor in terms of how much at home you felt, nor in terms of the familiarity that hung in the air, nor the awkward silence when you woke up in a room with shut windows. One would expect to find peace and tranquillity in silence, but I found chaos. Mad, pathetic chaos. The mind is a strange tool in that regard. A perfectly normal, silent moment can be the worst situation your mind can be in. Over the eons, the greatest minds of the human civilization have postulated that mankind seeks order from chaos. The implied underlying statement is that chaos exists, and has to be cleared. It has to be fought, it has to be tamed, it has to be handled, it has to be undermined, it has to be won over, it has to be defeated, it has to be lost to. But all in all, it exists, and therefore is. Therefore, I was slightly taken aback, albeit in a good way, when I woke up on 7th November 2004, not to the chaos of thoughts and everything hence, but rather the order of silence. A smile adorned my face as I woke up and splashed some warm water on my face, and looked at myself in the mirror, and the image of my ghost stared back. I was past the point when my haggard look shocked me. But for some reason, it made me realise how people are. Each human being is different, and reacts to different actions in different ways. We are a culmination of each moment of our life, and ergo, since it is impossible for two humans to have exactly the same moments for the entire life, each human is different. Yet, for a reason that I never understood, we seek to establish uniformity. We want people to be the same. It is a constant battle actually. Everyone should be dressed in the same fashion, according to what is the latest fashion trend, yet the latest fashion trend has to be different. We want everyone to behave in a set manner, governed by rules of the society and etiquettes and categories, yet each one is encouraged to be individualistic. The very idea is self-contradictory in itself, yet our world loves to engage perpetually in this insane chase.
I walked over to my kitchen, to make my usual cup of coffee. Yes, I was a coffee person, and it was what started my morning. I opened the cupboard and saw an empty jar, and for the second time in two days, I realised I have run out of coffee. Determined to not ruin my Sunday ritual, I decided to quickly head down the road and purchase my drug. A quick look outside the window, and the slight cool breeze made me grab my jacket from the back of my chair as I quickly dashed down the stairs. As I exited the building, I saw a couple standing at the back of their car, unloading groceries from the trunk on to the floor of the parking lot. They noticed me and waved, and I waved back, and immediately forgot about it. Today was a good day. Sunny, slight breeze, actually the perfect amount. Cold enough to warrant a jacket, yet warm enough to not zip the jacket up. I hummed a song as I walked, feeling the sun getting heavier on my head as I started perspiring. Abruptly, I stopped as my phone rang. It was my mother. The smile on my face grew wider, as I slowly leaned by a red car, with just the slightest apprehension at the unexpected call. The cold, broken hearted voice which came through could not have been my mother’s as no mother can ever say her son’s name, and make him feel dead. Yet that voice did. My name is barely two syllables, but those two were enough to break me. I asked her what’s wrong, and all she could do was cry. The sound wrecks you. It always does. I felt my legs begin to lose the strength to stand as she spoke. I couldn’t process a lot, but I understood what she said, and with each moment, my face drained away the red liquid, which keeps us alive. Sudden cardiac arrest is what they called it. He was barely 55. He calmly finished his tea, she told me, and suddenly his left hand clutched his chest and he fell on the bed. In my head, he fell with a grace that I had associated with him in the 23 years of my existence. In reality, he had lost all sense of grace or etiquette or any other human social construct. Hell, he lost his motor skills, and drool pooled over next to his face, as the odour of urine arose, mixed with something else that my mother couldn’t discern. It took 3 more years, and another encounter with death to gauge the quaint, horrifying scent of death. Without me realising it, my legs had given up, and I was on the ground, on my knees. The rough concrete scuffed through the jeans and hurt my flesh, but the tears in my eyes were not a result of exterior pain. I am an atheist, yet my creator was dead today, simply snatched away from me, without as much as a farewell. A sudden splash of water on my back made me turn and I realised the sprinklers had been switched on in the park, and I was on my knees, in a drizzle meant to invigorate life, yet life is what I felt leaving my body.
I don’t know how long I was there. The phone had long slipped my hand and fell on the concrete ground, exposed to the elements. A decade later, or perhaps, a second later, I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. I tried again, and was successful, albeit a bit shaky on my feet. I craned my neck and looked towards the sun. The blinding light of the sun directly in my eye was disorienting, but as I saw the building directly beneath the sun, I swear I saw a girl, barely 14 years past her first word, nod at me, with a cup in her hand and a sad smile on her face. I nodded back and headed my way. Needless to say, coffee wasn’t bought that day.

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 Red Drop

It’s not every day that Lord Jeffery Archer himself issues you a challenge. I recently was at the book launch of “Best Kept Secret“, his third book for the Clifton Chronicles. While interacting with us, he posed us a challenge which was posed to him by Reader’s Digest years ago.

“WRITE A SHORT STORY WITH A BEGINNING,MIDDLE AND END IN EXACTLY 100 WORDS.NOT 99,NOT 101,EXACTLY 100”

I took up the challenge and came up with this story. It’s titled “The Red Drop”
Gina kneeled before her Lord and stared into his son’s eyes. Brushing a strand of hair behind her ear, she pondered over the words of her prayer. She never wanted to complain, but today her God left her no choice.

Was it really his mandate to not love a man who believed another God? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps love really wasn’t the universal language angels spoke.

A sudden rustling stole her attention as she turned to see nothing. Unsettled, she turned towards the cross again and was startled. A red drop flowed down his right eye as he silently spoke.


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Catharsis

This is a guest post by Rafaa Dalvi who blogs at www.rafaadalvi.blogspot.in and tweets at @TheWittyKid
PS:It’s a short story!

Silence.

Pitch black darkness.

Except for a circle of blinding light in the middle of the room. And at the centre of illumination a man, chained to a platform, with electrodes all over his body.

He is naked. Stripped off all clothes.

He has ‘The Fringe’ haircut.

The silence is shattered by the steps of heavy boots as a figure steps into the light from out of the shadows. Dressed in a black cloak, he leans forward and smiles at the prisoner.

“Good evening. You can call me The Shadow. And you are looking at your downfall.”

The prisoner looks up and can see anger and hate in his eyes of his captor.

Holding up a newspaper The Shadow reads:

If you are sick and tired of watching Justin Bieber all over the place, then beware you are suffering from Bieber Fever.
So get set to learn music form the Justin Bieber School of Music, wear your love for him by buying dresses from his clothing line, get a recording deal under his music label, spend quality time with your close ones at his chain of restaurants and pit your talent against others in his reality shows.
“Justin Bieber as a brand is a ‘cute and talented’ person and wants to work hard and continue to do so,” Bieber said.
His fashion label, designed along the lines of his songs, kicks off with T-shirts that will hit the local stores soon.
Bieber will also starting his own line of salons whose branches will be opened in all the major countries.

The Shadow stares straight into the eyes of his captive.

“So Bieber, why don’t you start by telling me about this Bieber Fever— this huge conspiracy to corrupt the youth of the world? You think I don’t know that when a man or a woman buys a Bieber Tshirt, they actually sell away their souls to you? You think I am unaware that you are trying to start a new cult? That these so-called Schools of Music are nothing but devious churches whose only job is to preach that there is only one true saviour— the ‘cute and talented’ Justin Bieber? What were you going to call your followers? Your Biebs?

The prisoner tries to turn his face away as The Shadow’s words and spit hits him square in the eye.

The Shadow gives a humourless and cruel laugh.

“I am sick and I am tired of you, Bieber. Turn on the TV and it’s you. Go to any part of the world and I can hear your music blaring. I see ladies wearing revealing “One Less Lonely Girl” tops and all the rowdy low lives flirting with them singing ”Love Me”.”

Bieber smirks.

“You are a disease, Bieber. And you need to be eradicated.”

Bieber knows that The Shadow has stripped him naked and shorn him off his dignity. He realizes that his manhood (seriously?) is being silently mocked.

The smell of fear invades the room.

Bieber remains silent.

The Shadow whispers “I don’t think you understand what sort of trouble you are in, Bieber. Trust me, when I say I will send 440 volts of electricity through your “Eenie Meenie” if you continue to remain silent.”

Bieber finally breaks his silence.

“You have made a big mistake and now you will suffer for it. You have chained my hands, my legs and wired my entire body. You have even wired up my “Eenie Meenie”. However, you forgot one simple thing.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Everything has been planned meticulously by me. You are looking at your downfall.”

“No, you are. You forgot to gag me.”

Before The Shadow can react, the prisoner unleashes a blood-curdling “Baaaaaabbbbbbbbbyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy“. The Shadow is flung away. Glass and wood splinter fly all over. Tongues of blue electricity leap outwards. The prisoner sings “Ohhhhhhh Baaabbbbbyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” drowning out the metallic voice in the background:

“Level 5 security breach. Facility lockdown. Quarantine process activated. Biohazard uncontained and dangerous.”

The Shadow clutches his ears in pain. His ear drums have been blasted to pieces. Blood trickles down his body.

As he drifts away into the darkness, the last thing he sees is the naked figure of ‘The Fringe’ haircut Bieber flying into freedom.

Epilogue:

The Shadow awakes. A golden gate lies ahead. A light blue cloudless sky all around. A gentle breeze. And he feels peace.
An old kind man comes upto him and says:
“My son, welcome to heaven. Peace be with you.”
The man has ‘The Fringe’ haircut. And his white gown says “Never Say Never”.

Image

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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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Life,Shife Tey Cornetto Khana

As I walk down the street, I see numerous eyes boring towards me, in an almost hate inciting manner. Men, with unkempt matted hair and bloodshot eyes, women with a slight sneer and noses flared in the not cute way. Even little children seemed to hate me, as they looked at me with the looks reserved for the uncle who takes away your ball when you break his window. I quickened my pace and kept walking, with admittedly a creepy little feeling right at the back of my neck, ignoring the sudden cold I felt. Damn! This bad phase was getting to me. Just yesterday I had a mock paper for an entrance exam I will be taking with lakhs of other students sometime next year. I still couldn’t remember my result and not suppress the feeling to throw up. Like all those moments, I start seeing flashes. The whirring of the fan as I read “Saransh Sharma, All India Rank 68”. The not-good enough look on my parents’ face, the slightly pale but reminiscent of the original white color tiles of the floor as my professor hurled his sarcastic comments, everything.

As I reached the odd looking shop and smiled at Jagran Chacha, he appeared to be in a bright mood. Here’s why it was fishy. Jagran Chacha was infamous for his grouchy expressions as he read the Dainik Jagran editorials perennially. He last smiled during the monsoons of 2010 when apparently his village had been nominated for a development award. I plonked three moldy 10 rupee notes on his table and wordlessly picked up my Ice-cream. That’s one thing I loved as a regular customer! Every afternoon at 1.30 my double chocolate Cornetto awaited me at Chacha’s shop. The small talk with Chotu and Chacha, was admittedly not the day’s highlight, but yes, it did figure into my daily dose of indulgence. Ironically, I decided to forgo today the one thing that I needed the most, an off chit-chat.

As I stood outside the shop and took a bite, I wondered about my precarious decisions and the mess that I know called life. One of my friends had once postulated “If you’re sorted right now, it just means God’s planning some mischief, Satan-style”. Strange isn’t it? Life suddenly changes paths without a warning, everything loses order or sense and you descend into chaos. That’s what was happening to me. I had potently decided that I needed to take some bold steps to curb my problems. Giving up on the supposed vices of teenage life was a priority. My sister already laid claim to my cell phone, and social networks were to be closed at the click of a button. Sorting and planning were my buzz words for the day as I miserably started off with the waffle of the cone. I don’t know why, but ice-cream, especially a Cornetto always brings me to my senses. Once I actually sat down to find the reason behind it. I even tried to interpret some deep meaning behind the melting of the soft chocolate flavored disk and I reached a sensible conclusion which read “If it’s hot, it’ll melt you dummy!” So I let it be.

Biting into the bottom half of the cone, I saw an uncanny scene. Right across the road, a small little boy, perhaps the age of three or four, the rags made him look older though, was walking. An insignificant empty can sat right in the middle of his path. The boy stopped in his tracks, and with eyes full of snide yet innocent curiosity, began examining it. He prodded it with small squishy fingers, stared at the nearly gone label and measured its size. Perhaps it was a religious thing or maybe an odd fixation, but he wasn’t going on further, as if the can was stopping him. Seemingly seeing no alternative, he did what most of us do to feel good; he started crying. He cried et he wailed, but the can didn’t move. How was the young child to know that like most people today, metallic cans too didn’t have hearts that melt at the sight of someone else’s anguish. Just as I bit into the best yet unfortunately the last bit of the cone, I saw the child wipe his snotty nose of his rag like clothes and angrily stand up. If I had not known better, I would have thought it to be the angry young man look of Bollywood. He raised his leg, and in perfect arc, swung it with force towards the can and kicked it straight across the road where it rolled over to God knows where. With a smile, the kid walked on.

I hastily wiped my spectacles to remove the oily, sweat smudge. As I put them back on, everything seemed to change. The bloodshot eyes stare seemed to be more of a stranger’s courteous acknowledgement than hate. The woman’s flared nose as she bargained with Jagran Chacha over something seemed cute again and Chacha’s grouchy expression was back. The kids were giggling at me and my slightly displaced look. As I exited the shop, the afternoon seemed brighter and so did my mood. I wondered why I was thinking so oddly. Maybe, it was the spectacle’s smudge or perhaps the ice-cream. I’ll never know, but the best part is, I don’t want to know.


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