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...