Thursday, November 11, 2010

Deceptive dreams

Everywhere she looked, she saw destruction. It was an ugly sight; but something else bothered her even more – how exactly had she come here?

The last thing that she remembered was falling asleep in class, she felt like she was falling into a dark, black well, and she kept falling until she hit the bottom. Then she woke up to find herself surrounded with mass destruction. Dead bodies lay unceremoniously like ragged dolls. Massive holes in the building seemed like deadpan eyes boring into hers. The ceiling looked like it would fall down any second.

She looked down at herself. Her salwaar was torn in many places, and so was her kurta. Her lower lip bled and her abdomen felt like it had just been hit by a truck. What happened, she wondered once again, trying to collect her scattered thoughts. She took a step ahead, and excruciating pain pulsed through her leg. She pulled her lips in tightly to stop the scream that was threatening to burst out from her mouth.

Trying her best to think logically and rationally, she decided to fix her leg before taking another step. She slowly pulled her bloody, torn salwaar up. There was a deep, long cut along her lower leg. It was bleeding profusely and it wouldn’t be long before she bled to death if it were to be left unattended. Shit, she quickly tore a part of her kurta and tried to tie it around her leg. The bleeding didn’t stop.

She realized she was standing amongst at least 30 dead, fully clothed corpses, which included her class teacher. Tears stung her eyes at the thought of what she was going to do, but her survival instincts had kicked in and she knew she’d have to do whatever it took to get out of here. She slowly walked towards where her teacher lay, careful not to step on anyone. Upon reaching her teacher’s corpse, she breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of her partly torn duppatta still draped across her chest.

She pulled it up and tied it tightly around her leg to maintain the pressure on the wound. After taking one last glance at her class, or the class that was, she turned around and walked out of the class.

But the sight that greeted her outside was a 5 times magnification of what she had witnessed inside. It looked like a heinous genocide. Bodies were everywhere. Not just murdered, but brutally murdered. Some had been impaled multiple times, some had their heads chopped off and some had been castrated. She instantly put a hand on her mouth in an attempt to stop herself from throwing up right there. Trying to avoid the ghastly sight before her, she quickly made her way towards the closest exit, this time not caring about stepping on the bodies.

As she made her way towards the exit gate, she felt a presence behind her. She stopped and turned around, ‘Whose there?’ After lingering on for a while, she thought she must have imagined it. Just as she turned back around, she was welcomed by a familiar face situated inches away from her.

‘Jeez’, she spat out and staggered. It was her best friend and class mate. And she was grinning.

‘Why are you grinning?’, she asked.

‘We need to get out of here’, the friend replied, calmly as though they were standing on a beach.


Before she could complete her sentence, the friend took hold of her hand and started pulling her through all the destruction, but not towards the exit gate, but somewhere else.

‘Where are you-’

Her question was left suspended in the air as the friend cut her off, ‘Sshh. Be quiet. Just come’

Even though she was her best friend, her gut told her that something wasn’t right. That she must break free and run away right now. But then the friend turned around and smiled at her, and said, ‘Trust me’. She decided to give her friend benefit of doubt.

They finally came to a stop infront of a large gate. The friend slowly pushed it and it swung outwards. She took a step ahead to look what lay inside.

The sight made her stagger and gasp in horror. The gate was an opening to a massive, deep well. Hundreds of sharp, extremely long nails were embedded in it’s surface. She looked at her friend, and saw that she had an evil smirk on her face and her eyes twinkled with sadistic satisfaction.

She shook her head and tears brimmed in her eyes once again. But before she could act on her impulses, her friend pushed her into the well. A loud scream of terror was stifled in her throat.

‘No!’, she snapped her eyes open and jerked her body up. She was breathing heavily, and her face was smeared with tears and sweat. Looking around, she realized she was sitting in her class and everything else was normal, except that people were staring at her because of her loud scream. She looked down at herself, and saw that she wasn’t hurt anywhere. Had it all been a dream?

Her best friend sat right next to her, but was one of the few who wasn’t staring at her. The friend seemed engrossed in her homework. She continued to stare at her best friend for a while. The friend sensed someone looking at her. Looking up, she smiled.

She saw the same sparkle and sensed the same dark vibe. But it had all been a dream, or had it?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Solace on a hiatus!

Heylo guys. I'm here to tell you all that Solace is on a small hiatus. I need to get creatively inspired and I'm still looking for that inspiration. The story will be updated soon enough! Till then, I plan to write another short story will be completed in 4-5 parts. I hope you all will like it as much you liked Solace.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Part 17

What do you want to do in life? You know, after college?

MBA, and then some real solid private job in an MNC

I want to do IAS.

I just want to be happy

I came back to reality as I recalled the last answer. Last year, a couple of friends and I had had a discussion about our future. Majority of them talked about how they would love to get a good job or a good business setup, or a government job and it’s securities etc etc. But one of them just said, ‘I just want to be happy’

Sounds stupid doesn’t it? But for me, right now, it seems like the most valuable lesson of my life. Where is happiness? How does one attain happiness? I turned around and looked at mom. She was fretting over a bill that had not been paid. My mom wasn’t happy.

She was living a life that wasn’t a ‘life’. She woke up each morning, did the routine house management, went to office, came back in the evening, had dinner and went to bed. There was so much to worry about, so much to think about, so much to do all at once, where was the time to be happy?

With each passing day, I felt as though I was losing her to an unknown darkness, and fear that I might not be able to get her back hit me like a ton of bricks. She seemed out of reach, out of contact. I wish I could do something to make her happy. Anything.

Last year, I was determined to choose a similar life for myself – becoming a businesswoman, running an establishment, making money. But now, that determination has started to waver.

I walked towards her and gave her a hug from behind, “Relax mom, it’s gonna be okay. The bill will be paid, okay?”

She smiled at me and said, “I know, it’s just that the due date’s passed and these guys might-”

“We do have candles”, I said sheepishly. She just stared at me for a while, shook her head and started smiling. My suggestion wasn’t practical, but the idea of a candlelight dinner with mom made me happy. And that was enough.


“I love to paint trees in my paintings. They’re just so calm..and serene..and lively at the same time..”
Nandita is still morose. I don’t know how things are at her house. We still haven’t talked about that little fight we had yesterday over Varun. It still bothered me to remember her reaction. She should have been happy.

“ is a really beautiful song. Have you heard it?”

I don’t get the deal with her parents. They’ve been going around beating the bush since the past two years, and the only thing they’ve done is make Nandita’s life worse.

“Naina? Naina?!”

I jerked back to reality, “What? What?”

“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?”, said Ayush exasperatedly.

I was at his little ‘secret’ place. The place had a certain charm about it. Last time I had spent time here, I knew that it was a place I’d want to come back to. Singing was special to me. This place was full of it. And perhaps it was because I wanted to cherish music again, when I thought of ‘calmness’, this was the only place that came to my mind.

Ayush accepted my request after a little hesitation. This was his hiding place, afterall.

“I’m sorry. I just slipped into some third world for a while. What were you saying?”

He sighed, “I asked – do you like this song?”

“Which one?”

He started to pick up an album cover from the floor to show it to me, but then dropped it and said, “Why don’t we just play it?”

I grinned, “Surprise me”

15 seconds into the song and I knew which one it was. Before I could stop myself, I yelled, “Oh I love this song!” It was ‘Maeri’ by Euphoria. I remember dancing to this song years ago when it had come out.

I didn’t realize when I started singing along. It was probably a bad performance, but I didn’t care. Ayush didn’t care. It was the zest that mattered. For a moment, I forgot all about my problems.

When the song came to and end, we were both sitting on the floor and clapping for each other.

“You know what, you sing well”, said Ayush  excitedly. I brushed it off, “It’s amateur”

“Yeah, but the talent’s there”, he pressed on. I looked at him for a moment before shrugging it off again, “Forget it. Let’s do this again. What say?”

He played the guitar once and said, “Voila!”

I grinned, “Have you heard of the song..”

It went on for hours. There was homework piled up at home, and yet I was here, spending my Sunday evening in a hidden hut. Usually I would just be running around like a wild goose desperate to get the work done, but today, the physics worksheet was the last of my worries. I thought about how lucky Ayush was to have such a haven-like place tucked away safely behind his house, that too accessible at any point of time.

School was such an obstruction to doing what you wanted. It’s ironic, since education’s essential aim to help one find their way. School pretty much beats the purpose by stopping us from doing just that.

I finally looked at my watch when another song ended, “Crap. It’s 8 in the evening. I have to get going”
Ayush looked slightly perturbed, “Oh..but you can stay for another song?”

I opened my mouth to say something when he cut me off, “C’mon, just one? We were just beginning to drown into these notes”

He was an artist alright. No one spoke like that nowadays. I sighed, “Fine. But just one, okay?”

He bowed his head, “Yes, Senorita”. I narrowed my eyes and gave him a cut-the-crap look, “Shut up”

We ended up singing another five. I don’t think I’ve ever spent this kind of time at the dhaba either. Knowing that it was getting too late, I finally decided to make a move or else I’d end up spending the whole night here, “Thanks for today. It was great”, I said, meaning every word.

He looked up packing up his guitar in it’s case, “Not a problem. Actually, I’m glad to know someone who shares my passion”

I rolled my eyes, “Yeah, and sings like a frog”

Mild laughter ensued. Would anyone believe we used fight like small kids a week back? I got up started to walk towards the door when he said, “Oh and Naina?”


“Good job kicking Varun’s ass yesterday. I’d like to see that again”

The way he said it made me smile, “Sure. I’d love to”. Turning around, I waved my hand and said, “Bye Ayush”, and walked out of the door.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Part 16

I sat through the entire meeting. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t bother me. It did. I kept fiddling with my fingers while others shared, some experiences a sharp reflection of my own. Sharing this time wasn’t even a consideration, it would be difficult to find the words, leave alone saying them out loud. My head hung low during the entire meeting. Perhaps people noticed, but understood my need to conceal the overwhelming emotions. They had been there.

When the meeting got over, I finally looked up and saw everyone smiling warmly. We got up and held each other's hands firmly, this was a ritual I was aware of. Closing our eyes, we started chanting the customary AA prayer.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

I felt a soft thrust on my hand as everyone shook the held hands and chorused, ‘It works if you work it!’
Later, the senior group came down and almost instantly, the atmosphere transitioned to something very similar to a family re-union. Everyone hugged everyone, and everyone laughed with everyone. Members formed small groups and talked away about something.

I stood in one corner, looking at the scene before my eyes. Had it been a different situation and a different place, I’d have instantly deemed it to be superficial and fake, but not this place. Not a place where people could laugh so easily at their life-changing events, and at the same time, cry at the smallest of things. A smile played on my lips, I knew that this was a good place. I just didn’t know how I was going to survive it.

I noticed my mom standing in a group of four and laughing about something. I raised my hand and waved at her, trying to catch her attention. She finally noticed me and gestured me to come towards her, I slowly shook my head and mouthed, ‘It’s okay’ to her.

Someone behind me tapped on my shoulder. I turned around to see a guy smiling at me, ‘Coffee?’

I looked at him for a moment and said, ‘No thanks’

He nodded, ‘New member?’


‘I’m Yash, you?’


‘Aah, I always loved that name. Extremely symbolic, isn’t it?’, he said, grinning.

I didn’t know how to respond, so I just managed to give him a small smile and said, ‘Um, I guess?’
“Come, I’ll introduce you to my group”, and having said that, he started walking towards a small group sitting in one corner, leaving me behind to follow. I glanced around, feeling absolutely and completely fazed out. Was everyone here so bizarrely welcoming?

Sensing that it would be awkward not to follow when he had assumed that I would, I slowly walked towards them.

“Guys, this is Naina. New member”, said Yash as we joined them. And then hands were shook, introductions were exchanged, and in no time, I was being treated as just an old member as any of them. Many offered to be my sponsors, but I wasn’t ready. Not yet. Any who, we exchanged numbers.
Finally, after the ‘voluntary extended meeting: VEM’, as Yash’s group liked to call it, got over, mom and I walked out of the church and towards our car, waving and saying ‘Byes’ to everyone. As we neared the parking slot, she asked me, “So?”

I looked at her, “So?”

“So, how was it?”, she said expectedly.

I nodded, “Good. Better than last time”

She smiled, “Does that mean you’ll come next week?”

Silence followed the question for a few moments. Did I want to? I had no idea. My conscious wasn’t answering the question. But then I looked at her in the eye and nodded, “I will”


“Nandita, have some breakfast beta”, said her mom gently as she stared at Nandita roughly stuffing her books into her bag.

“Not hungry”, she mumbled, picked up her bad and started to walk towards the door. But her mom stood in her way, her expression mellow and almost apologetic, “Please Nandu, have something. You didn’t have dinner either”

Nandita took a deep breath and said, “Please mom, I’m getting late. I have to go”, and without looking up, she walked past her mother, leaving her mom on the verge of tears.

She rushed out of the gate, thankful that the tears hadn’t spilled in front of her mom. Anger, mixed with sadness overwhelmed her, and before she knew it, she was crying. But she kept walking fast, hoping that the exercise would somehow make the anger go away. Make the hurt go away. Onlookers stared at her tear-stricken as she walked towards her bus stand, but she didn’t care. She could no longer suppress her emotions behind the facade of happiness.

As the bus station faded out of sight, she stared out of the window, thinking about how messy the situation had become. After the confrontation last night, she had shut herself up in her room. Her parents, who were shell shocked at her outburst and particularly at the mention of divorce, didn’t know what to do. It was a slow night. Nandita tried to sleep, but the tears wouldn’t stop.

Now, devoid of all energy, she sighed and closed her eyes. Her head spinned, but she made no effort to open her eyes. Sometimes, being in the dark was better than being in the light.


Nandita walked in, looking as dishevelled and tired as someone who had been to hell and back. She sat down beside me and put her head down on the table. I didn’t ask what was wrong, I knew.

I put a hand on her shoulder, “You didn’t sleep?”

She shook her head without looking up. My heart broke at the sight of her. Someone who was so strong, so tough, someone who faced every problem with a smile, had been reduced to this state. Finding no words, I continued to grip her shoulder tightly, trying to convey my support through that touch.

I took a deep breath and looked up, wondering how pain always lasted longer than happiness. Just then, I noticed a few boys of my class stealing glances at Nandita and smirking at their inside joke. I knew who it was, Varun, the wannabe stud cum ass**** of the class. And his followers.

Rage washed through me. Suppressing my compulsive desire to punch his face, I suddenly got up and yelled across the class, “Hey Varun, what’s so funny? Did you just look at yourself in the mirror or did you and your kids just scare a 1st grader?”

The smirk was wiped off his face as the entire class turned to stare at him. Nandita realized what was going on, and she stood up too, “Naina, just let it go. Forget –”

But Varun cut her off, “Who the hell is talking to you, Ms. freak? Can’t you mind your own f****g business like always?”

“Yeah? Then let me tell you something, dude. You crack another joke at my friend and I’m going to break that conceited nose of yours. And trust me, I don’t care what your mommy says about it. Get it?”, I replied, now feeling the anger pulsing through my body. Nandita was now pulling my arm but I continued to stare at Varun who was too, boiling with rage. Just as he opened his mouth to reply, our class teacher walked in and broke the deathly silence that had lingered in the room before her entrance.

Nandita pulled me down to our seat and said, “What the hell were you thinking?”

“He was laughing at you!”, I replied indignantly.

“He laughs at everyone, Naina. That’s what he’s here for, you shouldn’t bother-”

“Well I’m sorry for caring”, I spat out and turned away. I heard her sigh and drop the subject for the moment. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Part 15

"Mom, Do I have to do this? I mean, can't you give me one last chance to face this on my own?" I pleaded in a desperate voice.

"No" she said. And that was it. I knew that her 'No' strictly meant 'No'. Nothing doing. She drove with a straight face, her relentless calm and subtle conviction abating my 0.00001% hope of convincing her to take us back.

With that last try failing, I sighed and leaned back in my seat. It seemed that I really had no choice. We were heading towards Defense Colony, where the AA meeting was being held in a church. I won't be sitting with mom though, there's another group called 'Alateen' which consists of only teenagers who have been subjected to alcohol abuse in their families and/or have had a drinking problem themselves.

I stared outside the car window for the rest of the ride. A sense of nervousness mixed with apprehension and fear was lingering in the pit of my stomach. Denial was definitely a better state to be in. That stupid goddamned workshop ruined it. All was pretty much well before it happened.

The ride lasted only for a few precious moments, and then we were there. I took and deep breath and stepped out. My mom reached out and firmly held my hand, knowing that I was probably turning into a pile of goo inside, but her expression hadn't changed much. She literally pulled me towards the church.

I saw a group of teens sitting on plastic chairs in a circle. They were happily chatting away about something with plastic cups of chai comfortably resting between their palms before the meeting began.

"I'm going upstairs, our meetings are held on the top floor" my mom said, her tone gentler now, "Will you be okay?"

Ofcourse I won't be okay, but I said, "Yeah. Don't worry", and managed to give her a faint smile. She let go of my hand and walked away. I took another deep breath and walked towards the group. They noticed me and one person, who seemed to be the only adult, asked, "Hi, you a new member?"

I quietly cleared my throat and said, "Um, yes"

His face broke into a smile as he said, "Come sit na, meeting shuru hone waali hai. You want some chai?"

I didn't know how to respond to such, shall I say, quick welcome. Everyone was smiling at me. Their smiles seemed welcoming, and the man's words calmed me down a bit. I walked towards a spare chair and sat down, "No thanks. I'm fine"

He clapped his hands together and said, "To meeting start karein?", everyone nodded, and he continued, "Okay. So I'm Amit and I'm going to be chairing this meeting"

"Hi Amit!", everyone said in unison.

"I want to share an incident which is perhaps the most ridiculous stunt I ever pulled in my life. I guess alcoholism drives people nuts after a point of time. Baba, as usual, raat ko late aaye. Family dysfunctional thi, to maa ne dekh kar bhi undekha kar diya ki woh pee kar aaye hain. Mujhe unki taraf itni resentment hoti thi ki kabhi kabhi mujhe unhe maarne ka man karta tha. As usual, we had khana and retired to our beds. Thankful that he didn't hit maa that night, I went to bed. Lekin us din neend nahi aayi, upar se main bada impulsive tha. Gussa control nahi hota tha. A memory of baba beating maa came to mind, and that was it. I decided to leave my house"

I didn't realize when I got so involved in his story that I could visualize all the events in my head. And somehow, my past didn't threaten to plague my mind while he was sharing.

"Raat ke 3 baje mein dilli ki sadkon pe akela ghoom raha tha. Sardi ka mausam tha, lekin mere jaisa sanki insaan karne se pehle nahi, karne ke baad sochta hai. I sat down on a foothpath and watched the cars speed by. Subah ke paanch baje tak wahaan baitha raha, lekin saade paanch baje mujhe laga ki boss, ab thand lag rahi hai aur bhook bhi, chalo ghar waapis chalte hain"

Everyone lightly laughed at that. I couldn't believe with the ease with which this man was sharing his story. No one was teary eyed, or sympathetic. To someone else, this may sound like a very painful memory, but to these people, it was that familiar, mutual feeling of utter helplessness that lead them to do something absolutely ridiculous. All of them had done something like this in their lives, and now that they're sitting here talking about it, they realize how genuinely funny it must have been.

Infact, I could vaguely recall one of my own memories when I tried to empty all my dad's beer bottles into the pot and re-fill them with apple juice. I smiled.

"So I went back, and quietly settled into my bed. My parents didn't even realize that I'd been out half the night", and with that, he completed his sharing and everyone clapped for him. If nothing else, this man had adorned each face with a genuine smile. Including mine.


"Vivek, you've become so grown up! What class are you in?" exclaimed his mami. Vivek gave her a fake smile, Yeah, that tends to happen you know, "11th"

"Arre, beta bada ho gaya" she said with a huge grin plastered on her face as she settled down in the sofa. My mom chipped in and said, "kids grow up very fast nowadays, na?"

"Totally. I mean look Alka's daughter Ritu, she's in BA first year now.....'" and so it went. It didn't take much time for Vivek to notice that he was now completely forgotten, and his presence was no longer required in the room. He quietly slipped out without being noticed as his smaller cousins kept running around the room, which was enough to buy him a moment.

He sighed and shook his head. It was always like this. His relatives would come in pairs, with 2 kids dangling from their arms. The women would sit in the sitting room and gossip, while the men would sit in the garden and talk about cricket or the latest political news. And the kids, well, they roamed around pretty much everywhere. With Vivek being the eldest, and all others being less than 9 yrs old, the bunch was nothing less than a riot.

He was about to enter his room when his dad saw him and called out, "Arre Vivek, zara yahaan aana beta"

What the.., why can't I be in peace just for a while?, He turned around and slowly walked towards the garden, knowing the exact words that would be exchanged in the upcoming conversation.

"Yes dad?" He said in a familiar monotone. Before his dad could speak, his mama, who was also sitting there, spoke up, "Arre bhai, humare saath bhi baith jaya karo. Looks like you've forgotten your mama, kyun?"

I would if I had the choice, "No mama. It's not like that. I just have too much homework today and it's all pending", he said instead.

"How much homework do you get? Aaj kal yeh school wale bhi na, baccho ko maarke chhodenge" he said, contemptuously. Vivek nodded in agreement, hoping that his assent would grant him an exit ticket.

Apparently not. His mama said, "Anyway, we'll let you go in a while. Come have a seat"

Which means half an hour gone waste, Vivek sighed and sat down. He was asked the usual few questions like 'How're your results? What's your rank? What sports do you play? etc etc', and then he was again, forgotten as his mama and dad started talking about some other topic. He listened to their discussion for a while before saying, "Um, I think I should go. Too much homework"

They nodded briefly and went back to their conversation. Vivek got up and walked back to his room, shutting the door behind. He laid down on his bed and stared the ceiling. As long as the door was shut, it would conceal him from all the drama unfolding beyond. He could never become a part of it in spite of having born and brought up in such an atmosphere.

It all radiated a feeling of 'fakeness'. Nothing seemed genuine. Did these relatives really love him? No. Did they really care for him? No. Then why pretend? Just to retain the idea of a 'One big happy family' for a little longer?

He didn't know. And he didn't care. All he knew was that this was not the place he was meant to be in. He was meant to be in a place where he would really feel loved, and genuinely happy.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Part 14

I sighed, “Mom, I swear, it didn’t bother me. I just felt a little faint in the middle –”

“Why? That’s what I’ve been asking you since ages! Why did you feel faint? Look, I know it troubled you Naina, there’s no hiding it. You’ve always swept the issue under the carpet. It’s not going to work anymore, alright? You need to start dealing with this”, said mom in one breath. Nandita had told her that I had looked pretty ill during the workshop, and that had really perturbed her.

I sighed again, “Look mom, I don’t know how to convince you, okay? But all I have to say is that I’m fine. And nothing happened in the workshop”

“Well you can’t convince me. So you might as well can stop trying. You’re coming to the meetings with me and that’s final” she said it with a finality that scared me.

“But mom-”

“No buts. You’ve avoided this for a long time Naina, you can’t find your way around the problem this time. Face it”

I stared at her strict face and saw a glimpse of fear beyond the strictness. I knew that she was extremely scared when it came to alcoholism and me, she always feared that I might end up getting addicted to alcohol too. And in spite of having discussed this many times, she knew that somewhere, I still hadn’t coped with the past.

Struggling to control my disappointment, I softly nodded, mumbled something like, “Be back in an hour” and walked out of the house. I needed some time alone, some time to think about this mess. Without thinking, I got into my car and made my way towards my favorite chai stall. That chai stall is like my sacred little place. When everything seems screwed, that stall is something I can always hang on to.


Nandita glanced at her mom, she looked tired and exhausted. She knew it wasn’t because of work, it was because she was tired of living in a dead relationship. Dead, because neither of her parents seemed willing enough to breath any life into it. Her dad didn’t look any better. He kept pinching the bridge of his nose between his eyes every now and then.

There was pin drop silence in the dining room, it almost felt like a crime to utter even a single word. Apart from the occasional sound of the cutlery clinking now and then, there was nothing to be heard. Dinner at Nandita’s place was generally a silent affair, and the silence wasn’t comfortable. It was killing.

A sudden wave of rage washed through Nandita and she put her fork down with a loud bang. Her mother looked up from her plate, startled, “What’s wrong Nandita? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Terrific. Does that make you happy?” replied Nandita in a tone dripping with sarcasm. She was fighting to control her rage.

Her mother, taken aback by her sudden outburst, sat upright in her chair and stared at Nandita for a moment, “Nandita, Is everything-”

“Shut up! Okay? Both of you, just – just cut the ‘We’re fine’ act, alright? I’m bloody sick and tired of watching you two wishing nothing more than to strangle each other, day in and day out! Am I even visible to either of you? Do I exist in your life? Or maybe feeding is what parents’ responsibilities are limited to. Right?”
Nandita had now stood up, with her arms by her side, heaving. Her fingers were tightly curled into fists and tears brimmed in her eyes. Her parents, now completely shocked at their daughter’s outburst, were finding it hard to say anything. After a moment had passed, her dad stood up from his chair and walked towards Nandita, “Beta, listen to me-”

“Dont ‘beta’ me!” she yelled and moved a step back, “You have no idea what I’ve been going through all these months. There was a time when I contemplated running away from this hell! But why would you notice? You were too busy biting each other’s heads off!”

“Nandita, you’re misunderstanding us beta, we’re fine-” started her mother, but was again cut off by Nandita.

“NOTHING’S FINE!” hollered Nandita. She had completely lost control of herself now. All the emotions that she had bottled up inside, everything that she had always wanted to say but couldn’t, was now coming out with an unstoppable force that had engulfed her completely, “No bloody thing is fine! If you think I’m blind, or stupid enough to believe that lie then I’m sorry to inform you that you’re mistaken!”

“Well what do you want from us then?” yelled Nandita’s father, now having lost his temper too.

“That’s not the way Rajeev-” started her mother, only to be interrupted by Nandita again.

“Go get a goddamned divorce if it’s so hard for you to live together!” shouted Nandita, and clapped her hands together, as if doing Namaste, “And for god’s sake, spare me this misery!”

And with that, she turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, tears running down her cheeks.


Kyun boss? Ek chai ke paise kab se bad gaye?” I asked in the typical hindi flare. These people, in spite of being strangers, seemed close. The shopkeeper, the chai wala kid, the usual hustle-bustle of crowd, the paan-wale uncle – they were all people who gave me company when I felt sad and depressed, even if they did it unknowingly. For someone like me, someone for whom the word ‘friend’ was synonymous only with Nandita, this company was like heaven.

“Kya kare madam, aate-daal ka bhaav jabse sarkar ne badaya hai, paise ki haye haye samjho roj ka chakkar hai” replied the little kid who usually served as the ‘waiter’. I smiled and said, “Bhartiya sarkar hai, paise badaane ke alaawa aur kuchh kar bhi sakti hai?”

And we all shared a good laugh about the Indian government. It had been one hour since I came here, and as per my word, I should head back home now. But mom knows better, she knows that I won’t return for another hour or so. Smiling, I took my cup of tea and walked back to my car. Unlike other customers, I liked to have tea in my car itself.

I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to wander back to the one Alateen meeting that I had attended last year. My mother was a frequent visitor of the AA and Al-Anon meetings, and she had dragged me with her one day. Sitting in that group, and listening to people share their painful memories did give some solace. To know that perhaps you’re not alone in the world, is a great feeling to have, but that one meeting also brought back harsh memories. Memories that haunt me every time I discuss anything alcoholism related. I knew that it was my drawback, because I had never faced it head on, it always threw me off my balance when I no option but to face it.

I had outright refused to attend another one of those after that day. But now, I was being made to go to those meetings again. It was a good solution in the long run, and maybe I would start to enjoy them after a while, but it was the initial stage that bothered me. I didn’t want to go through that again.

As I opened my eyes, my mom’s words echoed in my mind, Let others in Naina, break your wall, and see how many others are exactly like you...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Part 13

“So how much have we done?” asked Vivek as he settled in his chair.

“Quite a bit. I made 10 slides, and need you guys to see them now” I replied while taking the pen drive out of my bag. We were at Ayush’s place this time, and his room looked like it belonged to an eccentric person. I wasn’t surprised, because Ayush’s personality agreed with the vibe his room gave off. He had painted all his walls with what he called ‘abstract art’, and had empty bottles of paint everywhere.  His computer table was the only thing that seemed to be well kept in the entire room. If this wasn’t enough, he had the quote ‘Crazy people who are productive are geniuses. Crazy people who are rich are eccentric. But crazy people who are neither productive nor rich are just crazy’ plastered on his door.

“And I came up with a concept for the chart summary” Ayush said with a quick glance at Nandita, “I spoke with Nandita the other day and she agreed with me. Just a sec”, he got up to retrieve a rolled chart paper from his art store. I guess it must be the place where he kept all his works.

He unrolled the chart and displayed it to us. I couldn’t help but stare at it, not believing that I had not agreed with this idea initially. He had painted the entire background black, and there were two fire torches in the bottom right corner, depicting ‘enlightenment’, in Ayush’s words. Two patterns that looked very much like climbers grew out from behind the torches, white in color.

“It’s..amazing”, I said softly, whilst looking at the painting. Ayush stared at me for a second, which also broke my trance.


“I thought you didn’t like this idea”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t quite picture it this way when you told me”

He grinned, “Good. Now you know when to not contradict me”, he said with an attitude that sounded bogus. I gave him a dirty look, which only made him grin more.

Before I could say anything to him, Nandita spoke up, “Naina, can we see the slideshow now?”

I curtly nodded and pursed my lips. Getting up from my chair, I made my way towards Ayush’s computer and inserted the pen drive into the input. Ayush, Nandita and Vivek gathered behind me as I double clicked on the icon.

I don’t believe in making jazzy presentations and putting in too many effects, it makes the entire presentation look very congested and rather lousy. I like to keep it simple and elegant, which is exactly what I had done with this project too. Somehow, it always worked for me.

We finished watching the presentation and discussed the minute changes. Everyone pretty much liked the way it was coming along, so we sat down and talked about our further course of action. The discussion lasted for about 10 minutes, and then we all got bored. Our conversation easily drifted towards a different topic, and the next thing we knew, we were talking about UFO’s and aliens.


It was only when Vivek’s parents called that we realized that it was 7 in the evening. He said a quick goodbye and left. Nandita, Ayush and me quickly ran through our next plan before she and I left too.
As we were walking towards my car, I noticed that there was a certain subtle sadness still lingering in Nandita’s eyes. Had I not been her friend, I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend the real emotion behind that smiley face. Deciding to break the silence, I said, “You okay?”

She blinked twice, as if being broken out of her reverie. Once she realized what I had asked, she simply continued to look ahead, knowing that I would understand what her answer was. I decided not to probe further.

When we reached my car, I dug my hands into my pocket to fish out the keys, “Shit!”

Nandita looked at me, “What?”

“I left my keys inside. Damn. Give me 2 minutes dude, I’ll just be back” I said hurriedly and started to make my way back towards Ayush’s house.

“Listen Naina, I think I’ll catch the auto. Mom has already called me thrice” she said

“Yeah but it’ll just take me 2 minutes” I replied. This always annoyed me. Parents’ over protectiveness. When will they have enough faith in their kids to simply let go? This is one department my mom ruled in. She trusted me with the freedom I had, knowing that I’d never misuse it.

“I know, but I told them that I’m on my way. Don’t worry, I’ll go, okay ?” she said with a small smile.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, don’t worry” she repeated. I finally sighed and said, “Okay Nandu. It’s your call. See you in school”
She just smiled and walked off, waving her hand to stop an auto. I looked at her for a second before turning around, hoping that she’d be okay.

As I was walking towards Ayush’s gate, I heard faint voices of music coming from the right. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to find out where the sound was coming from. Getting closer, a small room came into my view. It stood separate from the rest of the house, and was pretty much hidden from the front view. As I got nearer, I recognized the song being sung. It was ‘Dooriyan’ from Love Aaj Kal.

Without bothering to knock, I opened the door only to be surprised by this guy again. Ayush was sitting on a small bar stool, with a guitar in his hands, and was singing. I stood at the doorstep, my mouth agape. He was slowly beginning to resemble one of those magical boxes where you find a new box every time you open a box.

He didn’t notice me, so I took the liberty to look around the room. It had nothing except of a drum set, a electric guitar and a small cabinet in one corner. His pack of cigarettes was also lying on the floor, next to his stool. My eyes landed back on him, and I noticed for the first time that he was in fact, a very good singer.
I guess he noticed a presence because he abruptly stopped. He turned around and looked at me, “You? Jeez not again! You love sneaking up on me or something?”

“I left my keys inside, when I was coming back I noticed music coming from this side. So I decided to find out, hardly my fault that you like to keep your entire life a secret” I replied.

He sighed and shook his head, “Great. I’m beginning to think that you’re some CIA agent whose been sent to spy on me”

I ignored his answer and said, “So what’s your passion? Music or art?”

“Music” he said without a second’s thought, “I love art too, but music is what really makes feel alive”

I nodded, now suddenly remembering the time when I was fond of singing too. It seemed so long ago, and I still don’t know why I stopped singing. I walked inside without his permission and sat down on a spare stool, “Why did you keep this place hidden?”

“Well, for two reasons. One, it’s my escape when I’m feeling sad or depressed. Two, this privacy sort of gives a ‘sacred’ feel to my music”

I nodded again, now unconsciously smiling at the memory of myself dressed up in a saree and singing ‘Vande Mataram’ on Independence Day in school, “I used to sing too”, I said without realizing.

“Really?”, he said, surprise evident in his voice.

“Yeah, but not now. It’s been a long time”, I replied, “Anyway, now that I know, why don’t you sing something?”

“What do you wanna hear?” he asked, grinning.

“Anything that sir Mozart would like to sing”, I replied, now grinning too. He adjusted his guitar and thought for a moment before saying, “Okay. This is one of my favorite songs. Never say Never by The Fray”

Here is the link to the acoustic version of the song:

I smiled but didn’t admit that I loved this song too. That would totally screw our chalk and cheese image.


Vivek entered his house, fearing the impending confrontation with his parents. The moment he stepped inside his room, he saw his parents sitting on his bed, with his cousins running around his room. He sighed, joint family sucks.

His parents, his grandparents, his chacha-chachi, all lived under one roof. There were moments of joy and togetherness, and then there were moments of extreme frustration and suffocation. Vivek hoped every single moment of the day to reach the age of 18 quickly, so that he could move out and live on his own.

“We told you to come early. Your mama-mami will be here anytime now. We’ve been calling you since –”

“I’m sorry, ok? I lost track of time but I came as soon as you called me up” Vivek said, getting irritated. He ignored his parents and walked towards his closet to take out some ‘acceptable’ clothing for the evening. Why the hell were they coming anyway? And even if they are, why is it so important for every goddamn person to kiss their feet?

“Behave yourself Vivek. You have no right to get fired up. It’s us who’ve been waiting, while you were having the time of your life with your friends” said his mother in a loud voice. Vivek decided not to argue, he knew it was no point saying anything.

“I’m sorry, won’t happen again”, he said with his head hung low.

“It better not”, and with that, both of them got up, murmured something like “Get ready fast” and walked out of his room.

He sighed and got back to getting ready. He had lived in a joint family all his life, but he warmed up to the institution. Freedom and space were non-existent concepts, and each and every action was scrutinized with a fine microscope. He wondered what it would take to set himself free of this bond, and once again thought of his 18th birthday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Part 12

Ayush and I had gone back to the workshop after the mini break. He sneaked in without anyone noticing, but I had to face the brunt of my teacher's wrath. I kept mumbling about how I suddenly felt faint and so I went to the washroom. But Ms. Grumpy kept yelling about discipline and self control and bla bla.
I silently walked back to my seat next to Nandita who looked genuinely concerned. "Are you okay? What happened?", she asked in an anxious voice.

I nodded, "I'm fine. Just felt a little faint back then. It's fine now", I said, trying to give her a reassuring smile. She nodded, although she didn't look convinced.

I focused all my concentration on the pikachu after the break. Trying hard not to look up even once, I concentrated on detaching myself from the situation, the environment. Flashes of the past were ruthlessly pushing against my mental barriers to enter my mind, but I resisted them with all the force that I could muster. This was an old trick that had often helped me as a kid. Imagine yourself enclosed in a bubble, a bubble constructed by you to protect yourself from external enemies (Imagine the protego spell in Harry Potter) The enemies continue to push against the walls of the bubble, but you focus your energy and strength on keeping the bubble erect until they go away.

Strangely, I thought of how weird it was to see Ayush smoking. I deduced he had never told anyone about his smoking at school by the way he reacted. He never seemed the type of person who would succumb to peer pressure or mere curiosity to me. And seeing that half of my class smokes because the other half told them to, this was the foremost plausible reason that came to one's mind.

I unconsciously shrugged and decided that it was none of my business. Taking a glimpse at my watch, I realized that there were 20 more minutes to go. I noticed Nandita looking at me out of the corner of my eye. She had the expression that said 'I-know-there-is-something-fishy', she probably must have noticed my funny behavior and visible attempts at dissociating myself from the workshop. This was something Nandita was an expert at - reading faces. She should be a detective.

I avoided her gaze and went back to drawing. Those 20 minutes were passing so slowly that I could almost imagine myself being dragged towards the guillotine, very, very slowly.

I almost jumped when the bell rang. I let out a sigh of relief and quickly got up. The enemies vanished and I finally let my guard loose, allowing the bubble to slowly evaporate. Before I could pack my things, Nandita snatched my notepad from my hand and flipped through the pages.

"You made 8 pikachus during the workshop?" she asked incredulously.

I never realized I had made that many, "Um, well, yeah?", I replied with a sheepish expression on my face.
She kept staring at me and crossed her arms across her chest, "What's wrong Naina? Did this workshop bother you?"

I was beginning to get annoyed. I didn't want to talk about this anymore, all I wanted was to get out of this room and inhale some fresh air, "Look, nothing's wrong. Can we go now? I'm thirsty", and I collected the remaining of my things and walked out without waiting for her response.
She sighed and followed me, sensing she didn't have much of a choice.


We're sitting in our usual chuski treat stall, now having forgotten the incident in the conference room. Atleast I had.

"So what did you want to say?", I asked

She sighed and leaned forward, "I want to run away from my house"

I hadn't heard her correctly, "What ?"

Suddenly, tears brimmed in her eyes and before she could she help it, they were freely running down her cheeks. I quickly got up and sat next to her, placing my hand over hers. I realized that something was seriously wrong, because Nandita seldom broke down like this. "What's wrong Nandu?" I asked softly.
"My parents are each other's enemies Naina. There is never a single day that passes without both of them yelling at each other”, she said in a deeply pained voice.

I knew that Nandita’s parents didn’t get along well. But the rift between them had become deeper only the last year, when Nandita’s mom’s brother died in a car accident. Nandita’s dad was driving the car, and her mama (mother’s brother) was with him. They were going to some relative’s place. Her dad had lost control of the car and it crashed into a truck. Her dad survived, but her mama didn’t. Her mom didn’t say it, but she always blamed her husband for her brother’s death. It caused so much resentment that it had become difficult for them to live under one roof.

Nandita never showed it, but she was inwardly sad for the whole year. During the winter vacations, she had also slipped into depression, and it took a month of therapy to get her back to normal. She always pretended to be this happy-go-lucky girl, when she was fighting huge battles inside.

I slowly rubbed her back as she hid her face in her palms and leaned down. After a few minutes had passed, I said, “Running away is never an option Nandu. I know it seems like the easy way out, but it’s not what you want. I know it”

She slowly straightened up and wiped her tears, “What do I do then Naina? I can’t live like this. I don’t want to live like this”

I stared at her for a few moments, contemplating how to put it in words, and then said, “Nandu, I think when a relationship doesn’t work, then the two people should simply let go of it”

She turned and looked at me, “Divorce?”

I simply kept staring at her, knowing that my answer was obvious. She lowered her gaze and returned back to staring ahead, “I don’t know Naina. I don’t know”

I just continued to hold her hand. I knew it was not that easy. It was never that easy.


Ayush entered his house, thinking about how his secret was no longer a secret. Naina knows about it, he thought. But he also knew that Naina wasn’t the type of person who would spread gossip. He didn’t know her too well, but he did know that she was beyond that stage.

“Heya Bro, what’s up?”, came a cheerful voice from behind him. Ayush recognized the voice and smiled. It was his sister, Nimmi. He turned around to see his sister smiling at him.

“What are you doing here, Ms. busy-bee ?”, asked Ayush. She rolled her eyes and said, “Can I get a hug first ?”

Ayush shook his head and engulfed her in a hug. She was in her second year of engineering. A typical study-maniac, she was always one of the toppers in school and in her first year. She wore rectangular glasses, which further instilled the fact that she was a geek. After completing her schooling, she decided that she would live in the campus hostel itself. Independence was one of the two reasons that she had moved out, the other one was her mom’s death.

“So how did you get time huh? Boyfriend se peecha chhuda kar aayi ho?”, said Ayush in a teasing voice.

“Shut up. Can’t I miss you?”, she said with her arms crossed across her chest, “Aur mera koi boyfriend nahi hai abhi”

Abhi?”, said Ayush with one eyebrow raised.

“Argh go to hell”, she spat out and sinked into a nearby chair. Ayush grinned and sat across her, “How’s engineering treating you ?”

She frowned, “Bad. We don’t have enough time to eat and sleep. Engineering is badass dude”

“Yeah, who asked you to take up engineering ? Certainly not me”, replied Ayush

She stuck out her tongue and gave him a look that said ‘Screw you’. They talked for a while about general things like school and college. Ayush loved his sister, they had had some great times when they were both small kids. But after their mom died, things changed.

Nimmi moved out and neither of them ever faced their grief. They never talked about it as two kids who had just lost their mother. There was never any conversation. She hardly visited them after that. She did come on festivals and other important occasions, but rarely on a random day. Because of the disconnected bridge of communication, Ayush never told her about his smoking. They still teased each other, laughed with each other and talked about insignificant things, but there was no emotional connection.

As Ayush looked at his sister, he wondered how things would have been different if they had just talked. But they hadn’t. And she was never the sister he had needed, and he was never the brother she had needed.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Part 11

Ayush paced his room. His dad wasn’t back yet and that was making him feel uneasy. He wasn’t picking up his phone either. It was 12:30 in the night and there was no sign of him.

Ayush loved his dad, after his mom died, his dad was his only family. Yes, he had an extended family but he hardly met them. But after his mom’s death, his dad seemed to have slipped into perennial workaholism. He was always late, skipped his meals alot of times, and was slowly edging towards becoming a depressive. Although they had fun despite all these problems, there were times when both of them just couldn’t cope.

Ayush and his dad, neither of them had actually overcome the grief. They had just found a temporary escape. They  had both become extremely protective of each other, and panicked when even the slightest of things went wrong. Like now.

Ayush tried his number again. No answer.

“Damn it!”, he spat out. Running a hand through his hair, he opened his drawer and fished out his pack of cigarettes. He had been trying to get rid of his addiction to smoking for a while. But it never really helped, specially in moments like this, when there was no coping mechanism. His hands shivered as he struggled to choose between the temptation and his conscious. After a few minutes, he simply gave up and balanced the cigarette in his mouth. Screw it, he thought and lit it with a matchstick.


The D day is here. We’re finally sitting in the conference room, waiting for the workshop to begin. My palms have been sweaty for the past 4 hours. 3 days of pondering and introspection, and I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to deal with it. I have a notebook and a pen with me, to note down the important things. Although I know I’m not going to jot down anything.

I look around. Nandita is sitting next to me. She doesn’t know what I’m going through at this moment, but I’m still glad to have her here. It’s like having an assurance by your side.

She suddenly looked at me and said, “I need to talk to you”

I shrugged and said, “Shoot”

“Err, not here. It’s um, personal. After the workshop? Chuski treat?”

I smiled and said, “Sure dude”

The workshop coordinator entered, along with some of our teachers, and we all were made to get up. I rolled my eyes as everyone chanted, “Good morning sir”

I could practically imagine our principal holding a gun to our foreheads and threatening us to wish the guy he paid to babble bullshit in front of us. It sort of gives the impression that the school is really concerned about our emotional and mental well-being.

I gulped as I took my seat again. “Alcoholism is slow poison” was written on every banner that hung in the room. The coordinator took his position on the podium and gave us a smile.

“Good morning, everyone. As you all know, we’ve all gathered here to discuss alcoholism amongst teenagers. I’m sure it’s no secret to you that kids of your age are thoughtlessly indulging in alcoholism, absolutely unaware of the consequences. Now, here we’re going to show you all a small presentation depicting the problems that come along with such a disease”, he spoke in fluid English.

The initial few minutes were fine. He mainly talked about how bad it was for teenagers to mindlessly get attracted towards alcoholism as a solution to all their problem. Then he blamed peer pressure for being one of the strongest factors. He talked about how teens end up loosing everything they value just because of this addiction.

I silently kept my head down and focused on drawing pikachu on my notepad. Although I was aware of what he was saying, I tried not to process his words. I tried to detach myself from their meaning so all that was really left was hollow words. The pikachu looked pretty cute. I wish I had yellow colour with me. Instead, I resorted to pencil shading.

“As you can see in this slide, childhood trauma plays an important role in shaping the child’s personality. If a kid has seen alcoholism in his/her family, or has lived with alcoholic parents, then it is sure to leave a deep impact upon the child’s mind. Children are too young and immature to deal with such problems, so they adopt the only coping method – denial, and over the period of time – dissociation..”

The moment he mentioned alcoholic parents, it seemed as though all the tight strings of defense that I had so carefully strung, snapped into two in just a moment. My hands went numb and the incomplete Pikachu became hazy. The coordinator continued, and I wanted him to stop, but he didn’t. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and the temperature seemed to drop by a million degrees.

As I rubbed my forehead with my thumb and forefinger, I felt a hand upon my shoulder. With all the energy I could muster, I turned around and saw that it was Nandita. She had a concerned expression on her face. I quickly mumbled, “I-I think I’m n-not feeling too well, I’ll just be back”

And with that, I got up and ran out of the conference room without waiting for her response. I dashed towards the first place that came to my mind – the washroom. Literally banging the door open, I ran inside and turned on the tap with full force.

I splashed water on my face multiple times to get rid of the nervousness. Taking deep breaths, I turned off the tap and stared at my reflection. I looked as though I had just been to hell and back.

“F**k!”, I swore loudly. A sudden urge to slam my fist into the washroom mirror overcame me, but instead, I kicked into the wall, hard. I did hurt my toe, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was a few moments before my breathing returned to normal and my blood stopped flooding my brain. I quietly slid down the washroom door and put my face into my hands.

I just realized that I had ran out of the room without informing my teachers. Now I’m in deep shit. They’re going to give me a good piece of their mind later. I definitely cannot go back now, not until the break happens and all the students come out. I’ll go back with Nandita later.

As I was about to walk out of the washroom, I noticed someone walking across the football ground through the little window in the loo. I thought only the 11th and 12th class was supposed to come today, and they’re already inside. My curiosity got the better of me and I walked out of the loo towards the ground. As I got nearer, I realized that it was Ayush.

He slowly took a long drag at his cigarette as I reached him.

“You smoke?”, I asked, making him jump slightly. He turned around and looked at me, “You?” and then quickly threw the cigarette on the ground and crushed it with his foot.

“You didn’t really have to do that, you know. It’s okay with me. I mean, I won’t tell anyone”, I said, a little amused at his reaction. Frankly, I was a little surprised to know that he smoked, but then, looks can be deceptive. Plus I’m pretty sure half our class either smokes or drinks. I can suddenly picture my classmates inwardly laughing at the coordinator, thinking that they were going to drink that night anyway.

He shrugged and said, “Should have told me before”, and with that he picked out another cigarette from his packet and lit it with a lighter. I gave him a ‘yeah whatever’ look.

“You think authorities won’t get suspicious if they find your cigarette buds lying around on the ground?”, I asked him. We had started walking, without realizing it.

“Well, our football coach smokes. I don’t know if you know it, but I’ve seen him smoking on this ground alot of times. He never gets caught. The cleaners probably brush it away without looking”, he replied.
I nodded. It made sense. We walked in silence for a while before he asked, “Why aern’t you inside?”

“I could ask the same question”

He chuckled and said, “I got bored, so I kind of sneaked out. Will go back after the break”

“Well same here”, I said, “I,um, didn’t find it too interesting”

“Yeah, it’s pretty worthless. Our class will go and drink anyway. We’ve had numerous workshops on smoking too, but frankly, it’s all bullshit. Didn’t stop me”, he said, conviction mixed with distaste evident in his voice.

I nodded, “I know. Just paid drama”, I paused before continuing, “So, can I ask you how you started smoking?”

He just shrugged. I got the message. He didn’t want to talk about it. We resorted to walking in silence instead.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Part 10

I’m sitting in my room, still staring at the pamphlet. Broken shards of memories slashed through my mind, arising and then dying, all in a split second. I slowly closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.
People call me brave, but I know that somewhere I’m not. Had I been brave, I would have been capable of facing my past. But I’m not. I’ve always been an expert at sweeping the issues under the carpet, but frankly, I don’t know what to do when the same issues wriggle out through the other end of the carpet, and slam squarely into my face.

I broke out of my reverie as my phone rang. It’s dad, and seriously, I couldn’t have been happier.

“Hi, what’s up?”, I said, as cheerfully as possible.

“Nothing much, just on my way to Delhi”, he asked in his usual, funky voice.

I suddenly sat up in my chair. Did he just say that he was on his way to Delhi?, “How come?”, I asked excitedly.

“Have to reach Noida by 7 pm, so I thought we could have lunch together”

I almost jumped. Dad and I hadn’t met for a long time, and I didn’t realize how much I missed him until now, “Cool! Will you be here by 3?”

“Yup. I’ll be there by 3”, he replied

“Okay! See ya”

I had partially forgotten about the workshop as I disconnected the line. Or maybe I just didn’t want to think about it right now, like I said, I’m an expert at sweeping things under the carpet.

Dad and I are sitting in Pizza hut, our classic hub for lunch outings. We always hog the pizza like hungry maniacs, and never seem to eat so much in a desi restaurant. He seems to have found a new fascination with long hair, and is now carrying a pony (Remember SRK’s pony?) He thinks it looks cool on him.
“So, why’re you going to Noida?”, I asked as I took a huge bite of my pizza.

He shrugged, “Some quality issue. Actually, all they want to do is see my face and be relieved about the fact that I’m alive. My factory is alive and all the other shit”

I nodded slowly, “I see. Business really is all about making your presence known, isn’t it? I mean, who said your ‘social capability’ doesn’t matter in the corporate world?”

He nodded, “That, and other things. Definitely not education and useless degrees”

We both chuckled. My parents have never brainwashed me into believing that ‘school’ and ‘marks’ are as important as breathing. Both of them know that it really doesn’t matter how well you did in school or college, what really matters is your capacity to handle shit. Because that’s truly what’s life’s all about.

“How’s mom doing?”, he asked after we stopped laughing.

“Good”, I replied, and gave him a brief update on the status. In spite of everything, my parents didn’t end things on a bad note. My mom being the kind of person she is, didn’t really ask for alimony, but just asked my dad to give as much as it was possible for him.

During the lunch, I was briefly tempted to tell Dad about the workshop on alcoholism, but then stopped. I realized how that subject is still sensitive, for all of us. Plus I didn’t want to screw the little time I had with him, so I decided to swallow my urge. We talked about everything and nothing, I told him about the maths project, and how Nandita was trying to hook me up with Ayush. He really started laughing at that, not at the idea of Nandita trying to hook me up with someone, but rather the idea of me having a boyfriend.

“Um, you and a boyfriend?”, He said between laughs, “Right. Pigs can fly too”

“Ha Ha Ha. Very funny dad”, I replied in a fake ‘pissed-off’ tone. But somewhere he was right. I was just not girlfriend material.

He told me about his work, our dog (My dad has one) and generally about everything. We debated about whether Avatar was a good film or not (we always end up debating about something), and just when the debate was heating up, we realized that we were literally yelling and burst out laughing.

After lunch, I hugged him before he left for Noida and I made my way towards home, feeling happy. I always have a good time with dad, with him, time seems to fly. We had once gone to Bangalore together and I remember all the khoofiyapanti we did there. It was like being on an excursion trip with my best friend. Moments like these, they make me happy. But they also make me sad when they’re over.

“Okay, so this is what we can do. We can burn the edges of the poster so that it looks like those old, burnt scrolls. I think it looks really good”, said Nandita.

“Hmm, I guess your right”, replied Ayush, thoughtfully.

Nandita and Ayush were discussing the project over the phone. Nandita was the kind of person who would die to share her idea when it struck her, regardless of the time. And hence, at 11 pm at night, she called Ayush to share an idea about the poster that occurred to her a while ago. Luckily for her, Ayush was an insomniac too.

“Yeah, and you can shade it with a little brown and yellow color, if you can picture the blend. You know, the ‘authentic’ kinda look”, she said.

“I think we should paint the background black, to give it a ‘darkness' shade, you know? and then I was planning to draw two fire torches at the bottom, to depict ‘enlightenment’. It’s kind of symbolic”

“I think I can imagine that. I like it, we should do it”, said Nandita

“Really? So far everyone seems to have rejected it. Both Vivek and Naina hate it. Particularly Naina. Jeez, if there is something known as ‘Chalk and cheese’ award, then we should really get it”

Nandita chuckled, “Yeah, she’s a little different. It’ll take time but you’ll get used to her. Anyway, I like your idea. We’ll battle it out with Vivek and Naina. Don’t worry”, she replied

“Yeah, sounds good. So we’re meeting on Sunday?”


“Okay, see you tomorrow in school then. Bye”

Just as Nandita disconnected the line, she heard the noise of glass being shattered from the kitchen. Startled, she ran outside her room and to the kitchen, only to see her mom glaring at her dad, and her dad returning her deathly stare. She sighed and shook her head. When are they going to stop bickering every single day?

As if tuned in to this habit, she quietly turned around and walked back to her room. She could hear faint voices. I lost him because of you!

It was always the same.

No, please don’t fight, please don’t fight, chanted a little girl as tears rolled down her cheeks. She stood in one corner of the house, staring at her parents screaming at each other, unaware of what they were really saying. It just went on, she wanted it to stop, she wanted someone to bring to a stop...

I snapped my eyes open to absolute darkness. I was taking deep breaths, trying to recover from the dream. Jumping out of bed, I quickly ran and turned on the light. I have this inexplicable fear of the dark, I feel lost and helpless when there’s no light. It had been a long time since I had one of those nightmares, but this workshop had started to act as a trigger. It had kicked into the well settled sand once again.

I had never shared with anyone, not even myself, that my parents were alcoholics in the past. I don’t want to attend this workshop.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

To all my readers..

Hey guys, first of all I want to thank everyone who took interest in my story and left comments. It means alot to me, perhaps I cannot explain it in words, but it really does :)

My final exams have started (unfortunately) so I might not be able to update as regularly as I used to. Each part might take some time, but I really am trying to take some time out and write the next part. Exams get over on the 12th, so I’ll update regularly from then on. In the meanwhile, you all can read my main blog because that’s where I pretty much rant about everything.

I hope you don’t mind the delay and please keep following Solace! :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Part 9

Nandita and Vivek are still laughing. The urge to shout 'STFU' is stronger than ever. Something gave me the impression that Ayush had the same feeling, because he suddenly said, "Err, guys, do you both value your ass?"

Nandita and Vivek struggled to stop laughing as Vivek said between short laughs, "What do you mean?"

Ayush gave them a smirk and said, "Because if you both don't stop laughing now, I am going to kick your ass"

He said with such sarcastic calmness that I couldn't help but grin. But instead of calming down, they doubled over in laughter and rolled on the floor with their hands on their stomach.


We're now sitting in Nandita's sitting room, sipping our coke. We finally decided to include International mathematicians because Vivek seemed to agree with Ayush after a while, and I lost majority. So it was no point arguing.

But I must admit that the project is progressing at a terrific speed. We managed to decide what we're going to include in the presentation in one week, isn't that unbelievably fast? And despite that, we're sitting here and sipping our coke like it's our last ever day on Earth.

I quickly glanced at my watch, "Shit", I said without realizing, "I should go..need to reach home before six to turn the pump on"

I quickly got up, quickly sipped what remained of my coke and started putting on my floaters. Vivek and Ayush were looking at me with baffled expressions. "What pump?", asked Vivek.

"Paani ka pump. Water comes at exactly 6 in the morning and in the evening. Can't miss turning the damn pump on, will have to survive without water for 12 hours otherwise. Plus the water management people in Saket suck big time", I said

"You live in Saket too?” said Ayush

I looked up at Ayush, clearly surprised to know that he lived in Saket, "Yup. H Block, what about you?"

He grinned and said, "No way, I live in J block. That's like a 5 minute walk from H block"
"Well, the world's a small place", I said while smiling. What I didn't know was that Nandita was observing the scene with a hawk's eye. And then she dropped her bomb.

"Hey Ayush, how're you going back home?” she asked suddenly.

He shrugged, "Dunno. Probably an auto"

"Naina can drop you. She drives", she said brightly, emphasizing on 'She drives' as though it made all the difference in the world.

He raised his eyebrows, "You drive?”

I looked at Nandita and then at him, "Err, Yes"

"Without a license?"

"A jaali license", I replied. A grin played on his lips as he said, "Now that's what I call exciting"

I gave Nandita a deathly stare while she continued to show her teeth, "Okay let's go. I need to get home in time", I said as I withdrew my gaze from Nandita's face. We said our goodbyes to Vivek and Nandita, who decided to research a bit more now that we had decided what to include, and started walking towards my second-hand Alto that was parked just next to her house.

I inserted the key into the ignition as Ayush put the seat belt on. Pressing down on the accelerator, I brought the car into motion and we hit the road.

We rode pretty much in silence, with me concentrating on the road ahead and Ayush playing around with the radio channels. His fingers were constantly on the buttons of my stereo, and I feared that he might screw the already fragile gadget. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally stopped changing channels and I let out an involuntary sigh of relief. My stereo had been saved.

Red FM 93.50 was playing one of the songs that I loathed. But to no one's surprise, Ayush seemed to be in love with that song. 'Twist' Remix. Frikkin' annoying.

Let's start some Ronauk Shounak
Let's have some party now
Let's have some Raala Rappaa

Let's have some dhol dhamaka
Let's call the dholi now
Let's have some matti tappa

We spoke up simultaneously, "I love this song", "I hate this song"

But instead of arguing, we both burst into laughter. It seemed almost surreal that we didn't agree on anything. I couldn't help but wonder as to why Nandita could even think that I could hook up with Ayush. We were as different as chalk and cheese.

He seemed to read my thoughts because he spoke up, "Why are we even in the same group? All we ever do is bicker"

"You have a point. Must blame Nandita for that. She asked you to join our group", I said while shaking my head.

"Yeah, but you know, any group is better than Surbhi's group. Damn. The only thing that the girl does is fawn over Twilight", he said.

"Hmm, I can imagine why you'd want to be away from her", I replied

He gave me a dubious stare before saying in a tentative voice, "Do you like Twilight too?"

"What? No way! I hate Twilight. It sucks", I replied quickly. He sighed with relief and said, "Thank God. I really didn't want to run into another Twitard"

"Looks like you've had a bad experience with them", I said.

"You have no idea. My sister is the biggest Twilight fan. She literally worships that Edward guy", he exclaimed in a frustrated voice.

"Uh-oh. Sorry about the tragedy, I hope she gets well soon", I said with a subtle grin plastered on my face. He gave me a 'Very-funny' expression and I laughed out loud, unable to withhold myself any longer.

"Twilight is just garbage. I can't believe people actually think that it has any literary value, or worse, that it can replace Harry Potter", I said in a 'matter-of-fact' tone. He sighed and said, "Yeah, courtesy Twitards, the future of literature is doomed. Harry Potter is epic. Twilight is just Meyer's wet dream"

And we continued to bad-mouth Twilight and praise Harry Potter throughout the rest of the ride. I can never get enough of bitching about Twilight, and it seemed to me that Ayush had alot of pent up frustration towards Twilight and Twitards, because he vented with a hatred that perhaps ran deeper than mine. We came up with various names for Edward like, "Fairy", "Disco ball", "Mosquito" and "Gay vampire". The last one was a bit of an insult to the homosexual community, but we didn't pay much attention to it since it just went with the flow.

I dropped him off at his house, reversed the car and drove towards home.

We were having a class teacher's period, again. Ms. Grumpy was yet to come into the class room, and I was busy completing my chemistry homework. After a few minutes, Ms. Grumpy walked in and Ayush had to nudge my elbow to make me get up. We all wished her 'good morning' and sat down again.

Ms. Grumpy picked up a pamphlet from her table and said, "I have an announcement to make. There is a, um, workshop on 'Alcoholism amongst teenagers' being conducted in school this Saturday. It is mandatory for class 11th and 12th to attend it"

I froze when I heard 'Alcoholism'. My body became momentarily still and I was vaguely aware of Ms. Grumpy saying something like, "Varun will now distribute pamphlets about the workshop...”

I stared at the trees across the classroom. I didn't notice when Varun slipped the pamphlet into my hands. Without even having to think, I knew that I didn't want to attend this workshop. But it was compulsory.

Someone was calling out my name. I could hear hear the voice coming to my ears in thick waves, but my gaze continued to linger on the swaying trees. Suddenly, Ayush snapped his fingers in front of my eyes. I jerked back to reality and blinked multiple times.

"Earth to Naina ? Where are you lost?", asked Ayush. I stared at him for a while, and then said hastily, "I'm fine. Fine"

"You sure ?"

"Yeah. I'm fine", I repeated, knowing that I wasn't 'fine'. I looked at the pamphlet, which had the words "Alcohol is slow poison" printed in bold. How am I ever going to get through this?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Part 8

"And so I said no to them. Theek hai yaar, tumhe kaam nahi karwana toh humaare paas bhi faaltu time nahi hai. It's supposed to be a goddamned business deal, and they're behaving like we're trying to buy aloo-pyaaz here. First they asked us to cut down the price of the project by almost 40 %, and now they don't want to give us any advance payment. Tell you what, they can go to hell", Mom fumed as she paced the room.

"Did the right thing. The last thing we want them to know is that we're desperate. If you let a shark smell blood, then you're doomed", I replied.

She was talking about a client who had approached us last week. They wanted comprehensive GIS software made which would be used in the mining Industry, to locate the prospective ores etc. Mom told me that even though we could do it, it was a pretty complicated project. After calculating the approximate price of the contract, we sent them a financial and technical proposal, clearly stating that we would require some amount of advance to get the project started. Although they liked the technical part, they felt that the quoted price was too high. We re-evaluated and cut down the price by 40 %, and sent it back to them. After taking their sweet time to 'consider' the proposal, they replied after 2 weeks stating that they wouldn't be able to give us any advance.

Tension was already running high with the already low funds, expenses were being incurred, outstanding salaries continued to pile up, and the receivable payments were nowhere in sight. And yet, we could not show that we were desperate for money. Because this very mistake had cost us a lot of money (that could have been saved) in the past. Vulnerability. Desperation. Need. Want. These emotions (if expressed) can only cause you damage in the corporate world. Infact, any emotion can cause you damage in the corporate world. Because boss, there is no room for emotions in business. Only money.

Mom stopped pacing and sat down on the bed. When was the last time I had seen her smiling? Maybe last month. This month has been a ride through hell for her. I hugged her and she hugged me back. We sat like that for a while before she said, "How's school?”

I let go of her and said, "That's not important. What's important is that you need to be fed, bathed and tucked into bed. School can be discussed later"

She gave me a 'I'm-your-mom-you're-not-my-mom' look. But I had seen it too many times to react. Infact, it only strengthened my 'Shut-up-and-listen-to-your-daughter' attitude at times. I dragged her to the dining table and made her sit down. The least I can do is make sure she eats well. Trying to be cool, I wore the big chef's hat and tied the apron around my waist.

"Presenting...The craptastic chef - Nainaaaaaaa Sharma Aggrawal!", I exclaimed in an exaggerated voice. To make things even more filmy, I turned on the radio and tuned into the channel that usually played old songs at this time. I turned up the volume and an old hindi song burst through the speakers.

Hey Jai Jai Shiv Shankar Kaanta Lage Na Kankar
Ke Pyala Tere Naam Ka Piya

Ho O O Gir Jaoongi Main Mar Jaoongi
Jo Tune Mujhe Thaam Na Liya
O Sau Rabadi

I started dancing around the kitchen like a maniac. While the food was being warmed up in the microwave, I was trying out various silly antics infront of mom to lighten her mood. As the song came to an end, her face was adorned with a smile. And I knew that everything was going to be okay.


"So where do we start from?” I asked. We, Nandita, Vivek, Ayush and me, were at Nandita's place. We had decided to meet outside school to get the project started because all of us knew that school was the last place to get anything 'done'.

"Hmm I did a little research and came up with this. Wikipedia was, obviously, a great help. But there is information from other sources aswell", Vivek said while handing the file to me. He continued, "As of now, we need to decide as to how many mathematicians we're going to include. I say we include only Indian mathematicians. It sort of gives the impression that we're trying to highlight India's greatness. What say?"

And then Ayush and I said something at the same time. I said, "I agree", and he said, "I disagree"

I looked at him in a 'what-the-hell' kind of way and said, "Why not ? He has a point. Besides, the world owes alot to India for it's contribution to mathematics. I think we should focus on India"

He sighed and said, "Yeah okay, India's great, but millions of presentations solely based on Indian scientists, mathematicians, astrologers etc etc have already been made in the past. I think we should increase our scope by including mathematicians from all over the world. I mean, when was the last time someone included an african mathematician?"

Nandita chipped in and said, "He's right. It's the age of globalization anyway", and before she could even complete her sentence, she realized what she had just said had no connection to the discussion, whatsoever.

"Yeah, right. What has globalization got to do with any of this ?", replied Vivek. I looked at him and said, "Yup. I don't see the connection"

Ayush spoke up, again, "As a matter of fact, I do. Everything in today's world, right from the food we eat to the airplanes we travel in, have some or the other international shade. The number of multi-cuisine restaurants in Delhi is equivalent to the number of Punjabi dhabas. Our clothes are being mixed and matched every season to cover every country's apparel. Hindi Cinema is opening up to hollywood and vice versa. Multinational companies are trading with India. Our cars are german, clothers are french, gadgets are chinese etc"

"Yeah Ayush, we know what globalization is", I interrupted as Vivek and I chuckled.

He didn't seem to pay attention to the interruption as he continued, "So my point is - what's wrong in acknowledging International mathematicians ?"

"Well the point is that amidst the blitz to cope up with 'globalization', I think we've forgotten India's indivisual development along the way. I think blending our culture with other cultures is a wonderful thing, but what's going wrong is that in the process, we've started demeaning our own culture. Given our background as slaves, it is in our genes to always uphold the western culture higher than our own. Right from cricket to english, both our given more importance than hockey and hindi", I said, now completely in my 'nerd' persona.

And in no time, the project was completely forgotten. Ayush and I were now absorbed in a heated argument about 'US sucks or not', with me taking the 'It sucks' stand, and him taking the 'It doesn't' stand. How we went from Globalization to this topic is unknown, but it seemed to happen spontaneously without either of us realizing it. Nandita and Vivek were reduced to being the audience witness to this verbal war. In the middle, they kept saying "I agree", and that's about it. Vivek was with me and Nandita was with Ayush. It seemed like one of those episodes of "Seedhi Baat" that aired on Aaj Tak.

Our debate was brought to a halt when Nandita's mom knocked on the door and said, "You guys need to keep it low. I can't even hear what my friend is saying over the phone"

Vivek and Nandita burst into laughter and Ayush and I stared at eachother sheepishly. Finally, we both seemed to agree on one thing - If Vivek and Nandita didn't stop laughing now, we would pounce on them and sew their lips permanently.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Part 7

Ayush nodded and walked towards us. I had a hint as to why Nandita had done this on purpose. She was trying to bring Ayush and me closer. Damn, what's her problem ? I love her, I really do, but sometimes she can get way too intrusive.

"Okay, so now we have all the groups ?", our maths teacher said. The class nodded in consent and the teacher wrote down everyone's name. I was still looking daggers at Nandita for doing this. Great, now we're stuck as a group for a month and a half. Brilliant. I can already imagine myself strangling Nandita to death.

My thought process was broken by our teacher's voice, "Okay, so I want you all to discuss and tell me the topic of your project. You can choose any topic from either your maths book, or any other theme related to the field of mathematics. You all have to prepare a powerpoint presentation and a chart depicting the summary of your project. The powerpoint should have a minimum of 30 slides"

The entire class groaned. 30 slides is really no joke, and considering the number of ppt's we've made this year, none of us wanted another one to be added to the list. Our group sat down together and started discussing. We all agreed on one thing - The topic should be simple and easy. No complication.

"I think we should take up 'Historical mathematicians', that's the easiest of the lot", I said as soon as we sat down.

"Yeah and boring as hell", said Ayush, "We'll want to dump this theme halfway through. There's no fun there"

"Fun is not on our priority list Ayush. We need to get this stupid thing done as soon as possible. And I'm not interested in killing my head for 1 and a half months over this useless project", I replied in a slightly annoyed tone.

"Yeah ? Then why are you even doing it?", he was beginning to get irritated too.

"What's the alternative ?", I replied, now completely irked at his 'I-wanna-be-a-good-student' attitude.

"Calm down guys. Relax", chipped in Vivek, "Jeez. We've not even started doing anything, and you guys are fighting already"

I sighed and mumbled, "Whatever". Ayush kept quiet too. Nandita's gaze flickered over both of us for a while before she said, "Okay. Let's do this. Let's write down our choices on small chits and jumble them up. We'll pick out a chit and whatever topic comes out, we'll take it. Okay ?"

We all nodded in consent as Nandita fished out her notebook from her bag. She tore a paper and then tore it again in smaller pieces. We all wrote down our choices, and since I was miffed already, I chose to be adamant and wrote down 'Historical Mathematicians' in bold with my permanent marker. Nandita gave me a 'Stop-being-kiddish' look, but I didn't pay much heed to her.

All the chits were then jumbled up properly. Nandita extended her hand and picked out one. She paused before saying it aloud, "Um, Historical Mathematicians"

"Ha!", I exclaimed before I could stop myself. A grin played on my lips as I gave Ayush a victorious look. I was being extremely childish, and I didn't know why, but it felt good to know that my topic had been chosen. Ayush's shoulders slumped. I wasn't done, I really wanted to rub this in his face, "Fair enough Ayush. It's not like my suggestion was given extra preference, right ?"

He glared at me and said, "Fine. Let's do it"

I arched an eyebrow and nodded, "Finally"

We informed the teacher about our topic and decided to start working on it from the next week onwards. Since I was the well known powerpoint maestro, it was decided that I would be the one handling the presentation. Ayush was good at calligraphy and art, so he decided to take up the chart work. Nandita and Vivek offered to do all the research work.

As the last class got over, Nandita and I decided to go for a little chuski treat (A small stall was right next to our school) before heading home. I needed to talk to her about certain things. We sat down on the small wooden stools next to the stall. Few minutes passed before I said, "Mom's a little worried. There's, uh, a little financial problem going on"

She looked at me and said, "Hmm, I guessed. You seem a little off since the last few days"

"Yeah, everything's just not falling into place. I don't know what to do", I replied in a softer voice. Nandita simply leaned forward and took hold of my hand. She nodded empathetically at me. It wasn't the first time I was sharing the fact that our financial condition was rocky with her. And somehow, she always understood. It was something I was extremely grateful about.

I took a deep breath and said, "Dad called. He just discovered his new passion - Online poker", and our faces broke into a smile at that. My dad was not just my dad, he was also my buddy. We were really more like friends. He wasn't the 'I-wanna-protect-my-daughter' type father, he was the 'Find-your-own-way' kind of dad. Infact, once when I was a kid, I fell down while skating and hurt myself pretty badly. He just stood outside the ring, giving me a sheepish grin. I had to ultimately stand up on my own. After the practice, he had said to me, "See, that's why you're different. You don't need your dad to stand up on your feet. You can do it on your own"

"Uncle's always been quite the fun guy", said Nandita. I nodded, "Yup. Can I say something really nasty ?"

She shrugged. I smiled and said, "Divorced parents are the best parents in the world"

"Uh, Tell me about it. My parents keep bickering all the time. For no reason. You're right, you know", she replied while making a face. I laughed at her expression and shook my head.

"What ?", she asked with a blank expression. "Nothing", I said and got up, "Let's go. It's getting late"

She nodded and got up. We were about to leave when I suddenly stopped and turned around. She jumped slightly and staggered, "Shit. Naina. Are you nuts ?"

"And what the hell was the whole morning drama about ?", I slipped into my angry demeanor and barked at her. She still had the blank expression on her face, "What drama ?"

"Don't act innocent. Why did you ask only Ayush to join our group ?"

Then it seemed to hit her. Her face relaxed in realization for a moment, "Oh that", and the next moment she had a nonchalant expression on her face, "Nothing. I want you to be his girlfriend that's all", and with that, she walked past me, leaving me with my mouth agape.

I quickly regained my self-control and started walking. I'm going to kill her.