VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – IX

Shaloween locked her mobile screen, gathered herself and went on ahead to Mr. Sikdar’s chamber. She handed over the data and excused herself out. It was almost lunch time. She dropped a text to her superior and took a half day leave citing health issues and left for home.

Her head was throbbing. She quickly ate the lunch that she had packed on her way and lied down on the couch unable to get the happenings of the last few days out of her mind.

The ring of her mobile startled her. She opened her eyes only to realise that she had dozed off and it was almost evening.

Shaloween picked up her phone, read Shekhar Chandra’s message again and took the bold step of texting back.

“This is downright harassment. I have told you I am not interested in having to do anything with you outside the office. Please leave me alone. You are my officer, and I have to report to you in the office; other than that, I don’t need this from you. Please focus your sexual energy elsewhere.”

She pressed the send button and went to take a late-night stroll in her lane to clear her head. She played with the dog walking along with her and played fetch with him with wood. The dog followed her home, and she placed a bowl of milk and break in front of him in a plastic container. The dog lapped it up, and Shaloween watched him, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

The dog slept at the foot of her bed and left her around the following day till she boarded the metro to go to work. She laughed at him as he wagged his tail in goodbye and decided to adopt that dog. She named him Bhaskar.

She reached the office and headed straight for her office. At lunch, she saw Chandra eating with Mahem, Singh and Sikdar in the cafeteria as she sipped a Coke with her meal. Chandra gave her a tight-lipped, stoic expression.

She ran her palm on her hair to show she was wearing her hair in a tight bun. The message was clear, ‘She was not interested in his advances and was ready to take a stand.’

Later, as she left the cafeteria, she saw Chandra say something to the other officers, which made the trio look her way with a distasteful expression. Her heart sank as she made her way back to her office.

She knew Chandra would get back to her, but he didn’t know that she was prepared. She took a clean sheet of paper and wrote a letter to the internal complaints committee (ICC) about harassment, abuse of power and a hostile work environment. She worded the letter strongly, signed it and placed it in an envelope, placing it in her bag.

She was resolute, one more inappropriate message, one more instance of office politics or one more incident of power abuse, and she will make Chandra pay.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – V

Five years since she last held his hand, talked to him, argued with him, touched him. He was such a foodie; she learned to cook for him. They used to go for long drives on his motorcycle in the middle of the night. He loved his bike, and the bike ended up killing him.

She was with him for five years, and it has been five years without him. But the love he gave her in their short eternity was enough to last her a lifetime. Today was his birthday. She spent the day doing things he loved in his memory, but she will have to go to the office as the assessment team will expect her, and she can’t afford a leave.

She thought about Shekhar Chandra again. She went over his profile again, on FB, on Twitter, in LinkedIn. She dug deeper this time and realised he was single. Except that there was nothing more on him apart from a few reshares. He looked much younger in a couple of pics on his social media in a stylish tee, running shoes, sans his glasses, suit, and salt and pepper hair.

She picked up her darts and looked at her dartboard. She saw the ugly face of Mr Mahem and chucked one dart; it missed the target. Next, she imagined Mr Singh’s face in the dartboard, another miss. Mr Sikdar followed, and she missed his face by the width of a hair.

She sat up straighter and saw Chandra’s face in the dartboard and let it fly. It was Bull’s Eye. She punched the air, whooping in delight.

She was mulling over and over about what Shekar Chandra said to her in the lift, “YOU LIKE TO JUDGE PEOPLE, DON’T YOU?” What was about the cryptic words he said? She was sure there was a hidden message for her in there, but she couldn’t decipher it. She wasn’t judgemental as far as she knew.

She racked her brains but couldn’t tell when or who, or why she had wronged anybody. She slept for more than a couple of hours before she woke up, got ready and left for her work. But the first thing in the morning she simply distributed Anubhav’s favourite Chocobar ice cream to poor kids on the streets and ate one herself on her way to her office.

She went straight for her desk and got to work when she noticed a rose tucked away in one folder on her desk. She opened it and picked the red rose when a thorn made her finger bleed. She used a tissue to wipe the blood and was sucking her finger to stop the bleeding when she saw a note on the file.

Don’t be sad. What’s gone’s gone. You are not alone. I am here.
Remember, I am watching you.”

She read the note; it was Anubhav’s handwriting. She had goosebumps erupt all over her skin, and she called her mother. “Mom, Mom!!!” she cried. “Avi Mom, Avi…” she said and heard a knock on her door. Shekhar Chandra was standing at her door with an odd sneer on his lips.

She hung up the call and closed the folder with the rose and the note inside it, stood up from her seat and nodded for him to come in.

She turned around and wiped her eyes on a tissue, and composed herself. She didn’t want to seem weak in front of this man. She turned around and saw him sitting in a chair opposite her.

She managed a weak, welcome smile. “Good Morning Sir,” she said.

A perfect morning to you too, Miss Shaloween Duggal. How are you this morning?” he asked, swaying in the chair, left to right to left again, while fiddling with a pen.

Very good, Sir, thank you for asking. How are you, and what brings you to my chamber?” her tone was polite but firm.

He leaned on her desk. “Today is my birthday. You can wish me if you like.” He wasn’t kidding; his tone was solemn.

She swallowed. It felt like someone had just tainted her purest memories with something sinister. The taste in her mouth went bad.

Happy Birthday, Sir,” she said with a pale smile.

Thank You”, he said, and a peon came in with a tray with two coffee mugs on it. He laid it on the table.

I hadn’t ordered coffee, Shiva,” she told the peon who looked at the man sitting in front of her.

I did,” he said, lifting one mug and offering the other one to her. He crossed his right leg over the left one elegantly.

She accepted the coffee, and he dismissed the peon. “I thought I could start my day on a lighter note”, he said, pulling out a packet of Marlboro from his pocket and holding one between his teeth.

Shaloween gave a disapproving look as he clicked his lighter. “Forgive me; I have a very habit of having a smoke with my coffee.”

Anubhav, too, had this irritating habit of having coffee with cigarettes.

What coincidences are these?

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – IV

The day started good, went to bad, then worse and ended on a fine note. Shaloween cleared her desk for the day and was leaving for home. She stepped inside the lift, and just as the double doors were smoothly sliding shut, someone jammed a foot in the door. Shaloween looked up with an offensive expression, but her features softened upon seeing Shekhar Chandra.

He stepped inside and gave her half a smile. She smiled back, and he pressed the parking button. Shekhar Chandra stood with his hands deep in his pockets and sighed. Shaloween couldn’t decide if she wanted to thank him or confront him. The silence was awkward.

She cleared her throat. “Thank you for showing faith in me back in there“, she said.

He looked at her as if he just realised he wasn’t alone and blinked. “Oh! Don’t mention it. I rarely form an opinion on someone too soon, unlike some people.” He winked as he emphasised the word ‘some.’

She gave a sheepish smile and tugged a loose hair tendril behind her ear. She didn’t realise, but she was sweating. “It was very unusual what happened today. My work is usually impeccable“, she said, trying to sound modest.

He gave her a beaming smile as he turned to her. “Look at you, eager to earn a cookie point and redeem yourself.” His tone was condescending.

Shaloween was suddenly simpering with anger. What the hell he wants? One moment he is rude, then nice, then rude again. It was getting hard for her to discern him, and that made her mad.

She carefully chose her following words, not knowing if he was a friend or a foe. “I don’t need redemption. The error wasn’t from my end. I took the heat for nothing.” She was breathing fast. “And have we met before?”, she asked, looking straight at his face.

He turned to her, and a corner of his mouth curled. “You really can’t reach a decision about me, and that’s killing you; you like to judge people, don’t you?” his voice was polite, gentlemanly, yet it was cold enough to send a shiver up her calves.

She opened her mouth in protest, but he went on. “And No, we have never met before,” he said.

Shaloween was about to ask about the text he sent her when the lift doors opened, and he stepped out, heading straight for his car, without a word or backward glance towards her.

She went home in a sour mood and kicked her shoes as soon as she was inside her house. Her head was heavy, like a watermelon balanced on her neck. She drank a gallon of water from her fridge and ordered enough food to feed a family.

While waiting for the food, she made some calls. She scolded her brother, Mohit, for not reverting to her, shouted at her maid for not coming for two days, yelled at the Zomato delivery guy for not finding her address and lastly cried out in humiliation and anger.

When the food arrived, she ate ravenously. She ordered much more than she could ever eat and kept it in the fridge for the next day. Night, she lay in her bed and jumped from OTT to OTT to find something suitable to watch. She settled on Arya and forgot her troubles, losing herself in Arya’s troubles.

After crying for Arya when she watched Tej die, she closed the TV and knew sleep would not be coming tonight. She was too listless to sleep. She opened the book she was reading these days, titled ‘Fountainhead‘ by Ayn Rand. She pulled out a picture from the book she used as a bookmark and looked at it for a long minute.

Anubhav smiled at her from the picture. She ran her fingers on the photo, longing for him to hold her hand, just like he used to, pulling her close to him and hugging her tight despite her trying to get away. How many times in one lifetime are you blessed with such unconditional love, she wondered.

MERCI BEAUCOUP MON AMIE!

Dearest Shruti,

Hi. Won’t ask you about your well-being and the quintessential things people ask in a letter; we have smartphones for that. But I would say things that are difficult to speak on the call, but they are simpler to write.

We are school friends and are still going strong, despite the miles spread out between us, you are closer to my heart than most people living near me. I am writing today to thank you for being my friend.

We don’t call each other for months on end, but your welfare and well-being are always on my mind. I know the same goes for you. We belong to the era when we didn’t need FB or Insta or WhatsApp to stay in touch. We used to visit each other.

You have stood by me through my thick and thin. You were always so easy to like, love, be around and me, just the opposite. You are still an outgoing, extrovert, people’s person. I am still the same shy, introvert, loner person. We were poles apart; I think that is what pulled us together like a magnet.

I still remember your dog, Fuzzy. And your wacko but awesome dance at your birthday party. You always kept me close, making me a part of your world. I was so thrilled to have you as my friend that a couple of girls from our school asked me if I had a crush on you.

It sounded indignant at that point of time, but today, I can say, if not crush, at least I had always admired, adored and loved you so much.  Maybe I wanted to be like you, lighting up the entire room with your energy and vibrant aura, pulling everyone in the current of my cyclone, making them a part of your joyride.

You made those years special with your pranks and practical jokes, sassy humour, and bold words. I still laugh at the lizard prank you pulled on me. The week you spent at my place was one of the very best times of my life.

You are a gifted and talented person. Your art always represents the wild child in you. You are such an enigma. Multi-tasking and doing several things at one time. I look up to you, your brushes add colour to every life you touch.

The most beautiful thing about our bond is our mothers. Mine loves you and yours loves me. Your family has always been my extended family, and I miss it all. Whenever I see something bold, colourful and out of the box, I think of you. You are the beautiful mess that gives an order to my chaotic soul.

But the thing I cherish most is your faith in me. You never lost faith in me. Thank you so much, my friend, for always believing in me. Thank you for carrying me in your heart and making me feel special, even it was two days late. :))

Thank You, Sweetheart!

Your Friend,
Saakshi

P.S.: Coffee never tastes the same without you.

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME

I heard the calm sea even before I tasted it. Yes, I relished the moist, dense, salted air with mouthfuls of breaths. And there was that smell, that raw, seaweed aroma that brought with it another kind of scent; a scent too familiar, too nostalgic—the fragrance of my fathers’ heady cologne.

I opened my eyes; a seven-year-old me was holding my father’s hand, the ankles of his trousers rolled up to his calves as he held my hand while I pulled him towards the sea. I laughed as the waves rolled under my feet, and the soft sand slipped, squishing between my toes, creating an illusion of the moving Earth.

Papa laughed along and picked me in his arms, taking me back to the resort, where the Flamingos strolled around the lagoon. I look at him and sulk, making a pout he adored.

You have been gone so long, why didn’t you call. I have been waiting.” I complained as he put me down by the lagoon, pointing to a pair of pink flamingos that made me squeal with delight.

Papa, will we come here again?” I asked him as I tried to near one of the pink, exquisite birds.

He nodded with enthusiasm and kissed me, “Every year if you like it so much here.” he said. I needed nothing more. I looked around for my mother, who was approaching me with a camera in her hand. She tried to take a few pictures with the flamingos and me in the same frame.

I clapped, and just then I slipped into the lagoon, sinking lower and lower into the depths of the water. I struggled to breathe, flapped my arms to get to the surface but was drowning fast, and when I thought this is the end, a hand grabbed my shirt and pulled me out.

I woke up from my dream struggling for breath, covered in sweat as I looked around madly for my father. He was not there; he was nowhere, but in my thoughts, in my memories and my heart.

I went to Fishermans Cove, a resort in Mahabalipuram with my parents as a kid. On the same trip, I drowned in a swimming pool, and my father pulled me out. I had seen flamingos for the first time in my life there and had believed we would visit it again and again. I know I won’t go there ever again, and flamingos will always bring back a slight smile to my face.

The days I miss my father too much, he comes to visit me in my dreams. I guess the only lesson here is that those who die never really leave us behind. A part of them lives inside us, forever.

 

MEMORY GAME – III

Dr. Rajan didn’t allow her to speak anymore and when she was a bit stable, he drove her home himself.

After sometime, at home, Neha was lying on her bed, in her bedroom pretending to be asleep. Her family surrounded her, asking Rajan about her health, her well being and yet she was pretending to be asleep. She was not ready to say she was fine, not yet.

Rajan reassured his concerned family and ushered everybody out, to let Neha rest a while. They filed out one by one, her Grand Mother-in-Law, Mother-in-Law, Father-in-Law and Sister-in-Law who carried her 18-month-old nephew, Neeraj with her.

Rajan was the only one left behind, he kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear, “Sleep, I have important surgery scheduled, I will be back soon.” with these words he left the room after closing the lights and shutting her door.

A couple of minutes later, when Neha was sure she was alone, and no one was coming back, she opened her eyes and sat up in her bed, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her palms. She had a severe headache; she hoped to pass out again; the waking reality was too harsh to face.

Denial was always her best friend. She used it as a shield when her family died in the Mumbai riots of 1992, but she was saved by the police along with her 5 year old brother and put into an orphanage. The 7 year old Neha told herself they were just lost; her family will come back and find her. It will be a lovely reunion. She loved fairytales, and this was only a Hansel and Gretel kind of event. They would be back home soon enough.

She used denial again when three years later, her brother was never found one evening in a game of Hide and Seek with other kids at the orphanage. She kept looking for him under the beds, in the closets, on the terrace but he was never found again. She convinced herself he was like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up and one day he would come to Neverland.

Again denial came to her rescue when she was molested by a man in the park where she went for a stroll at the tender age of 15. She told herself she was sleeping like Aurora, and someday she would wake up, and all this will turn out to be a nightmare.

At this point, her psyche was fragile and flexible at the same time. She needed direction, motivation, a soothing presence and like heaven-sent Shraddha Ji entered her life. Neha was supposed to spend one hour with the lady twice a week. Initially, she was closed and cocooned, never talking much but with the kind and comfortable demeanour of Shraddha, Neha started to speak to her. Tell her about her pain, her expectations, her shattered past and aimless future. Shraddha knew the girl had been through a lot and with her calming voice and affectionate warmth, she mentored Neha into a stronger version of herself. She encouraged her to be more social and less secluded, to make friends, to get a college degree and make an independent life for herself.

Neha finally accepted that no fairytales are happening for her. She turned eighteen and got admission in a college on her merit. With little help and recommendation from Shraddha Ji, she took up residence in a girls hostel and a small job as the library assistant that earned her enough to pay for her hostel, food and some basic needs. She was studying hard and getting facilitated with scholarships and had stopped hoping for any fairytales, deciding to be her own knight in shining armour and make a good life for herself.

But the fairytale did happen when she least expected it. Sourabh came into her life like Prince Charming and swept her off her feet. She fell for him head over heels, and he turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her.

He was the college alumni and had come for a guest lecture on the subject of History. She loved the way he touched some untapped topics and went to him after the class with some doubts. He had invited her for a cup of coffee with him in the college canteen, and she came to know more about his personal History than her subject. He was 27 years old and was assistant to a known historian who couldn’t come for the lecture and sent him instead.

That first meeting turned into many sessions that turned into dates, and eventually, they became inseparable. She poured her heart and soul to him, he shared everything about himself, and they didn’t hesitate to accept they were deeply in love and committed to each other for the rest of their lives.

She called him Rishi instead of Sourabh with fond love. He loved her with all his heart and accepted her painful past with the same willingness as Prince Charming received Cinderella. Here was her fairytale at last. Her hero had arrived.

Sourabh decided to get married as soon as she finished college. He spoke to his mother who denied to accept an orphan girl with no background as her daughter-in-law. The mother-son duo had a fallout and Sourabh decided to marry Neha against the wishes of his mother.

Neha, on the other hand, feared he might leave her and decided to end her life if that happened. He reprimanded her severely for having such thoughts and to assure her he decided to marry her in the court of law. The date was chosen, Sourabh chose to bring a colleague/friend, Shubham as witness and Neha picked Shraddha Ji as her witness who was not only her closest friend but also her mentor.

On D-Day, Neha wore a red saree gifted by her Rishi and added his favourite jasmine flowers to her hair along with some red glass bangles in her Henna decorated hands. She sat in the waiting area of the marriage lawyer’s office along with her witness, waiting for Sourabh impatiently, fidgeting with the thin gold ring in her palm, one she bought for him with her savings. One by one other couple went in and came out wearing that beautiful, glowing smile of a newlywed couples on their faces. Neha kept looking at her watch, but Sourabh never came, their names were called, and he was not there.

Neha’s heart sank. She was not ready to believe that her Rishi would ditch her. It was closing time when Sourabh’s friend Shubham came running to her. She looked around him; Sourabh was not with him; she felt weak in her knees and mouth went dry.

Shubham looked haggard and cried as he broke the news to Neha, “Neha!!!” Sourabh….” he couldn’t go on, and Neha knew her fairytale has ended, “Sourabh died in a car crash while he was coming to pick me.” These words hit Neha like a physical blow, and the Earth slipped from under her feet. There was no Happily Ever Afters in her life.

She fell on the floor in a heap, like a puppet with strings cut and fainted. She had a nervous breakdown. Her mind couldn’t take the pain, and she passed out. Something rolled away from her open palm, and Shubham picked it up. It was a golden ring, one she was going to slip on her Rishi’s finger when they exchanged vows.

BE A LITTLE FRENCH

Hey Guys! How are you all? Long time no see. Well, my bad, apologies. So how are you all fairing through this Corona outbreak? I know, I know, it’s tough. Nah, don’t worry, this article is not another tedious and tiresome read about the pandemic. This about a small passion some of us share. The passion for discovering and learning new words.

So how many of you already know the meaning of ‘Deja Vu?’ Alright, many of you already know it, for those who don’t, let me tell you. Deja Vu is a feeling you get when you feel you have already done something before or been to a place before when you haven’t. I get it a lot; it’s pleasant and unnerving at the same time.

But now let me introduce you to something akin yet different. I bet not many of you have heard of the word ‘Jamais vu’.

It is a French word and is an antonym of Deja Vu. It’s the feeling or experience that a person knows or recognizes a situation, but that it still seems very unfamiliar or unknown. A typical example of Jamais vu is when a person momentarily does not remember a word, person, or place that they already know. I have sometimes even forgotten my address while trying to give to delivery boys.

Now, there is one more word from the same family, let me introduce you to the third member too. It is called ‘Presque Vu’. It is the tip of the tongue phenomenon, in which you know that you know something, but can’t quite recall it. It happens so often with movie name and songs.

Let me tell you the etymology of these French words.
‘Vu’ is French and means ‘Seen’, as in deja vu, ‘Deja’ means already seen ‘Before’. In ‘jamais vu’, ‘Jamais’, also French, means ‘Never’, so never seen (before). ‘Presque’ is French for ‘Almost‘, so almost like I’ve seen this before, but not yet, it’s coming…

So, have fun with these words and be a li’l French.