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Translucent is the color of the day
Clouds with silver membranes rolling the city
into conical streams of beetle leaves
A Palm tree freezes in the wind
And another, and another, another carrying another
A palm tree freezes in my eye, its skeletal leaves
parting the drowsiness of a reduced retina
All air is rushing, hurtling, vertebrae clinking, knuckles
making rounds, whirlwind, triangles of levitating light
All air is rushing through chasms of ugly skin,
borrowed skin, departed skin, beloved skin
I pluck the sheen of dilapidated light
Burn my face in its warmth
Orange rising along the nose
An incense of a dream
A dream, old and frail, loose shards of skin
A dream building like residue
in this concave body, in the fallow shades of limbs
Flitting rapidly in the solid crust of these dangling fists
A gathering whisper,
Loud and clear, stamps on my whitened chest
Leeks of truth staining pale skin, cherry blossoms forming
A dream of the truth, of truth in her warm glowing flesh
Halos in the cheek, discs and bubbles
Of knowledge dispersing, tumbling down my arteries,
The Ganges on a free day.
How often do we get out of our pretentious worlds to all intents and purposes enjoy what we pretend to be enjoying? Scarcely ever.
“Have a nice flight”, said the airhostess handing over our boarding passes to us, with a smile that seemed plastered to her face, evidently under obligation to her job and nothing more. I smiled back so vaguely that after a moment I found myself wondering whether my minuscule smile even qualified as one. This in turn made me think of how difficult it has become these days to witness a genuine smile. A smile like that of my grandma back home, who greets everyone she meets with an ingenuous smile, simply bereft of artificiality. I wished I could smile naturally like that.
I walked ahead with my parents and brother towards our boarding gate. At about every ten metres people were busy clicking shots of themselves from a high angle, exaggerating the size of the eyes and giving the impression of a slender pointed chin, or simply put, “Selfies”, a fancy locution not many had a hint about until a few years back. Well, it’s a term that is so clichéd now that this whole description sounds funny (not funnier than the selfie itself however).
It would be after years that we’d be travelling to Himachal together. Seated in the lobby we were all busy with our own devices. My brother was busy playing FIFA on his iPad. My parents were busy on their individual phones. I, as usual, was pointlessly scrolling down Facebook. My thumb had been accustomed to opening the Facebook app on my phone, even subconsciously. There was a little boy, perhaps five years old, sitting next to me. He was looking at the picture of a tree in a magazine. With a pinch gesture he tried to zoom in the picture in the page. After a failed attempt he grabbed his Mom’s phone, clicked a picture of the page and then began to zoom in.
In the flight, I occupied the aisle. There was a young girl sitting next to me. With an expression that somebody from my grandma’s generation might compare to a fish taking water into its mouth to breathe, she clicked a selfie. After a lot of trial and error she singled out a filter and posted her picture on Instagram after which she updated her Facebook status. (Point to be noted: you are not travelling if you don’t update your Facebook status!). I put on my eye mask and went to sleep.
After collecting our luggage from the Delhi airport we started moving outside, to where a pre-booked cab would be waiting for us. On the travelator was a boy of about 15, who was live on Facebook to telecast this amazing event of walking on a travelator! Suddenly he tripped over his own bag but managed to get up and walk away. (I’m sure that must have hurt).
The next morning on our way to Dharamshala from Delhi by road, we stopped for breakfast at Sukhdev, a restaurant that is renowned for its parathas. In spite of it being huge and spacious the restaurant was swarming with people. We had to wait for a while to get a table for four. One gentleman, clicked a photo of his paratha and posted it on all possible social networking sites with captions like “Enjoying the paratha at Sukhdev”. I wonder if he actually had time to relish the taste of it amidst the hectic task of counting the likes for his posts and replying to comments. (I know I shouldn’t have peeked in, but what else can one to do while waiting for a table). After a delectable breakfast and an elaborate photo session, we resumed our journey.
I couldn’t be sure if I was dreaming of the sight I beheld after I awoke in the car, a few hours later. “Wow. Look at those mountains”, I exclaimed to my brother who was already adoring the scenery, long before I did. After a while I asked my brother to pose for a selfie in the car. In awe of the sight I kept clicking photos all along, wondering which ones I could post. “‘En route Dharamshala’, should be a good caption for my post”, I thought to myself. I was lost neither in the beauty of the place nor in the wonderful company of my family, but in my phone’s photo editor.
Our stay was arranged amidst the woods in a place that was about ten kilometres away from the small town of Dharamshala. The very reason we had chosen the place was that unlike other places this wouldn’t be thronging with people. Reaching the site we discovered that all mobile networks were scanty. To add to it, that evening my phone fell in water. I had to disassemble all its parts and leave it to dry.
The next morning all of us awoke at about four thirty, as planned the previous night. It was perhaps the first time in many years that I awoke so early. My phone did not work still, my dad’s phone was completely drained of charge and so was my mom’s phone. Helplessly we had to leave all our phones in our rooms. With our small backpacks on, we set out to tread and explore the woods.
In no time we were amidst the tall trees. The phantom silence was stunning. There was no movement initially except the breaking of twigs beneath our feet. I could feel the purity in the air. The different scents that drifted across the woods were a treat to my olfactory receptors. From the gaps between lofty trees a faint light of the rising sun revealed the various hues of brown in the woods. Mingled with the soil, grass and twigs beneath, rocks added their greys to the ground. And then to break the silence, at first light was a tremendous outburst of chirping birds.
After the quietude was interrupted by the birds, we began to speak too. I rediscovered that my dad is well equipped with humour and precision comic timing. With his endless supply of wonderful stories and our own additions to it, the four of us were thoroughly entertained as we walked along. My mom unravelled her poetic side, amid which I too tried my hand at some impromptu poetry, though mine sounded more like a nursery rhyme than a poem! “How far can you throw this stone?”, my brother asked picking up a pebble from the ground. And we began challenging each other on who could throw pebbles farther. The sounds of our laughter and pebbles hitting the tree stems resonated across the woods. Could I ever have captured this whole feeling on my phone? Never, but surely I could etch it to memory, which I effortlessly did.
As we walked further my eyes travelled to the edge of the woods, which now seemed to be a silhouette against a backdrop of the mighty snow-capped Himalayas. The woods ended and we could now clearly see the sun peeking out of the majestic, white mountains, touching the pristine sky. We walked further down along a meadow, to reach a stream of clear gushing water on the banks of which sat rocks, beautifully carved by nature. I let my fingers run over the chilly flowing water. And there was a broad smile on my face, a genuine one this time. I did not have to wonder if my smile qualified as one, unlike I had wondered at the airport. We were a million worlds away from the concrete jungles and high-tech lifestyles. I was thankful that none of us carried our phones along. There was nothing that could shackle us against being at one with our own selves.
In a world where selfies have become more important than being our own selves, where our Facebook statuses have become more relevant than the state of our minds, where we are so indulged in Snapchat that we forget to chat with people around us, where we have time to Tweet but no time to listen to the twitter of birds, where our true smiles are miles away from us, can we ever experience true contentment? It would only do us good to sometimes lift up our heads from our glaring smartphone screens and feel the world around us.
Who can avoid the inevitable ? I would invite him
with cordiality to give him sumptuous food to
feast on in an artistic way . I shall give him a cozy
throne to sit on ! A floral shower to give him a warm
welcome ! Whatever awkward he might appear to
look at , my mortal eyes would praise his beauty
delineating with the fancy of a poet ! Whatever pain
might I have felt , I would not allow my smiling face
to deform a bit! I would sing a song eulogizing his
countenance with the ebullient vivacity of throbbing
life ! My kith and kin , near and dear ones would
welcome him with a chorus psalm adoring him with
the garland moist with the dew of life’ s eternal
exuberance elegant ! My funeral procession
would spray elation with joyful ,non- lachrymal
moaning , mourning without sobbing and tears !
He will bow down his morose face in shame and tears
What’s that thing.
that close to impossible harmony.
that makes us sing.
the yearning for someone.
to look at us.
with the burning intensity.
who has seen us for the first time.
and the softness of someone.
who has seen our whole soul.
and the utter restlessness.
when they don’t.
what is it.
It was way past early morning and the sun peeped through the window. As the bright yellow rays kissed her cheeks, she rubbed her eyes lazily, opened her mouth wide to give out a musical yawn and stretched her body. She lay on her bed for five more minutes, cozily tucked in the white linens, before crawling out in her pink shorts and camisole. The wall clock showed 30 minutes past 10, and the hustle bustle in the house confirmed, a sin had been committed by a young lady by waking up at this hour.
The kitchen had turned into a multi-cuisine restaurant. The females of the house were the celebrated chefs, busily moving the spatula in their much awaited north and south Indian recipes. The pungent aroma of spices emanating from the dishes caused a few sneezes here and there. This was not just any weekend. Today was special and the house was preparing itself for the arrival of special guests.
“Niharika, is this the time to wake up?” screamed her mother.
“I wonder what this girl will do after marriage. Her mother–in-law is going to curse me: What values have you given to your daughter?” Mrs Agarwal indulged in a tirade of soliloquy, while Niharika gave a long yawn, hugged her and paid no heed as usual. The warm hug cooled down the mother’s temper; a successful technique well-rehearsed by her beloved daughter, in all these years.
“Go get dressed before they arrive”, said her mother, moving her fingers gently through her daughter’s uncombed, early morning tresses.
“Wear the new salwaar kameez, I got for you the other day. It is an important day for you. You should look your best self”.
“But Mom, you know I don’t wear traditional attire. I’ll be more comfortable in jeans.” She said raising her eyebrows.
“Your father will not like it. You know him. These are his strict orders”, her calm voice became a pitch higher.
“Why do we always have to obey dad? It’s not that he’s right all the time.” She said, vainly attempting a cute expression and a wink, to ease her mother’s anxiety.
Her aunts chuckled, accustomed to her usual melodrama, while briskly moving the spatula in the gravy.
“No further arguments Niharika. It’s not good to be a rebel always and question everything. It has been decided. Now you better get dressed”.
“Uhh! My tactics are not working anymore. I’ll have to think of more convincing ways”. She thought to herself, stomped her feet and left the kitchen.
“Wow Didi! You are looking gorgeous. Like some 1960’s heroine“, teased her younger brothers.
“Get the hell out of my room, both of you. Now!” She ordered with the privileged authority of an older sister.
Niharika blushed as she looked in the mirror.
“Not bad!” She teased herself, smiling at her reflection.
Tables were laid with silk linens and new cutlery. Curtains were drawn and the house was lit with ceiling lights and chandeliers. The marble floor shone like a freshly cleaned mirror. Expensive show pieces and flower vases replaced the usual ones. The book case in the living room was replete with the hardbound books of renowned authors; their pages crisp and smelled of fresh print. The house was immaculately cleaned and decorated; everything in its perfect place.
As the black Mercedes screeched to a halt in the porch, the entire house turned into a military ground. Elders were commanded to attention position and the children were rushed to their rooms. Niharika peeped out of her bedroom window, trying to get a glimpse of the boy. Beads of perspiration ran down her forehead as she sat there as a plastic doll adorned in her glittering new attire. She kept fidgeting with her dupatta, turning her head in all the directions and stretching her eyes to take in whatever those black pearls could afford. All the twisting and turning was in vain as she got a glimpse of everyone from the family except the Boy.
“Relax Niharika. You are going to meet him in sometime now”, she consoled herself.
“Namaste, please come in”.
“Thank you. You have a beautiful house!”
“Ah! It’s nothing. You are embarrassing us.” Sophisticated adult laughter filled the room.
As the guests got comfortable and were served the first helping of the day’s delicacies, their eyes frantically searched for their future bride.
“Where’s Niharika? Please call her. I am dying to meet our little princess.” Jignesh’s mother squeaked, flashing her white teeth drenched in the Rosugulla’s sweetness.
Niharika’s heart skipped a beat, as the melodious call of her mother rang in her ears. Now was the time! “This day is going to decide my fate.”
She folded her hands and chanted her prayers like she always did before her examinations.
All eyes rested upon her as she climbed down the flight of stairs, brilliantly managing her nervousness and high heels.
“Namaste beta. Come sit with me.”
“You are looking pretty”
“Thank you aunty.”
“These cookies are very tasty. Did you make them?”
“No Aunty. This is mummy’s specialty. She baked these.”
Jignesh’s mother gave a meek smile while relishing the cookie in her mouth.
“Please try the cake, Mrs Shah. Niharika baked it yesterday. She’s very good at baking cakes.” Niharika’s mother intervened, enumerating the merits of her daughter.
“This is delicious.” Mrs Shah gently kissed Niharika’s forehead, giving a satisfied smile.
The men continued talks on business and politics. Occasional smiles greeted Niharika, as she humbly reciprocated and surveyed the room. Her future mother in law sat beside her. On the other couch was Jignesh’s father who was busy chatting with her dad, sitting across her. On the third couch sitting quietly, was Jignesh’s sister. Niharika’s eyes were now fixed on the restroom door, wondering if Jignesh was in there.
Her mother and aunt did frequent rounds of the kitchen and continued refilling their guest’s plates and empty stomachs.
“It would have been good if Jignesh was also here.” Niharika’s mother spoke reading her daughter’s thoughts.
“You know Mrs. Aggarwal, how it is. He is in London and burdened with work. He wanted to come but his leaves did not get sanctioned.” Jignesh’s mother clarified, taking a sip of the masala tea.
“He did not come! I spent hours dressing up for this boy and he’s nowhere! Didn’t he wish to see me, to talk to me?” Niharika thought to herself, as her instant rage gave way to disappointment and her rosy cheeks lost colour
“Our son is very obedient and holds us in utmost regard. He told me, Papa whatever you people decide I am happy with it. Even though he lives in London, he is very rooted. I can forget to pray someday but he visits the temple daily.”
“I have talked to Jignesh over phone and skype on a few occasions. I agree sir, he is well behaved and sensible .” Niharika’s father bolstered his guest’s opinion.
Niharika suppressed her anger, and commanded her tongue not to utter a word. But her thoughts went as their freewill. “Sensible and obedient! What is wrong with these people? He didn’t even show up to meet the girl he’s about to get married to! How does that make him sensible?”
“We have brought Jagriti along. She is close to her brother and knows his tastes. She is also the same age as Niharika. We are looking for a groom for her as well.” Jignesh’s mother chuckled.
“Beta, why don’t you and Jagriti talk to each other? You will be more comfortable in her company than mine, I suppose.” Jignesh’s mother insisted as she faked a smile.
Jagriti smiled at Niharika and initiated her first non-verbal communication. She shifted a few inches to make room for her new companion. Niharika forced a smile and did as directed. Her short lived anger gave way to a sigh of relief as she sat next to someone her age. They sat at a safe distance from elders to make their talks as private as possible.
“Do you always dress up in traditional attire?” Jagriti threw her first question at Niharika.
“No Yaar! I am usually in casuals. Today I was forced to wear this.” Niharika gave a sullen look.
“Ah! I get it.”
“And what about you? You were forced too?”
“No. I wear traditional attire when out in the society.”
The conversation was getting serious. Nothing like Niharika had imagined. She wanted to break the ice but all her attempts at smiling, making weird expressions and occasional pokes were going in vain.
“So, what kind of clothes do you wear at home?” Jagriti inquired like the HR of a Multinational.
“Well, it depends upon the weather. In summers I wear shorts and in winters I prefer full length warm lowers”.
“Oh! God what kind of conversation am I having? How is this even relevant? Is she really my age or is she going to be my mother-in-law and just wearing a façade? Can’t she have a normal girly talk with me! What’s wrong with her?” Niharika thought to herself while playing with her duppatta and frantically tapping her left foot on the ground.
“Are you all right?” Jagriti inquired, seeing her in a restless state.
“Yes I am fine. I was wondering, do you like to travel?”
“Yes my whole family does. I have been to almost all the states in India. We usually travel by our car. It’s safe that way”
“Wonderful! I once did the longest train journey from Delhi to Mumbai. It was my first solo trip and was so much fun!” Niharika’s smile filled her face. “Finally! Some normal discussion”, she thought.
“Solo trip! Your parents allowed that?”
Jagriti’s question was followed by an awkward silence and the two girls concentrated on munching the cookies.
“Let me brief you about our culture.” Jagriti straightened herself after taking a long sip of tea. For a brief moment she resembled the old school teacher giving out moral science lectures to kindergartners.
Niharika followed suit and gave her complete attention, trying to appear as serious as possible.
“Our family is traditional. We value our culture and hold it in high esteem.”
Niharika nodded as Jagriti continued.
“As for clothes, girls do not believe in showing off their skin so shorts are out of question.”
Niharika gulped as she imagined herself clad in clothes from head to toe on a hot summer day.
“After marriage, girls are expected to wear traditional clothes when out in the society. That looks decent, you see. Marriage changes a lot of things.”
Niharika’s smile was fading from her face, as the reality of being a married woman dawned upon her.
“Don’t worry! It’s not that you will be restricted. Girls are independent in my family. I know how to drive a car and my parents let me drive even the most expensive ones.” Jagriti’s eyes sparkled at the thought and her long lost smile appeared on her face again.
“Poor girl! What kind of life she is living. She must feel suffocated at her home” Niharika’s tender heart empathized with the damsel in distress, and she spoke out loud, “I feel sorry for you. I can understand it must be difficult to live with so many restrictions.”
Jagriti was stunned! For a minute she remained silent and carefully chose her next words in her defense, “I said, I am allowed to drive my own car. Ours is a modern family. Unlike my cousins, who are driven by chauffeurs or by the men of the family.”
Niharika’s eyes widened and she was totally at a loss of words. She felt it was polite and in the best of her interest to let Jagriti give further details of her family set up, without any interruptions. Niharika grew restless, shifting her position and occasionally pressing her belly.
“What happened? Are you alright? You seem disturbed” Jagriti inquired observing her odd stance.
“I’m fine. It’s just the period pains.
You know how it gets! It’s my second day today.” Niharika winced in pain.
“You what?” Jagriti was stunned
“Are you sure you baked this cake yesterday?”Jagriti stopped in the middle of gorging the cake in her hand.
“So you entered the kitchen?” Jagriti voiced her contemplation.
“Yes! I did. That’s where the oven is kept and all the baking material.
Why are you asking this? Is there something wrong? The cake isn’t good?” Niharika was growing anxious now.
“No, there’s nothing wrong with the cake. It’s delicious.”
“But there’s one thing I am worried about. I should have told you this before.”
“Yes, please go on.” Niharika tried to calm her anxious nerves as Jagriti continued.
“I was telling you about our culture… So there’s this thing.
During those days, girls in our family do not enter the kitchen. It’s considered inappropriate.”
“You mean during menstruation?”
“Yes I mean during those days. The girl gets a separate bed and the rest of the furniture.”
“You mean she is ostracized? But what is her fault?”
“No she is not ostracized. We have normal conversations and the days go as routine.”
“Don’t you feel embarrassed and weird about this? It’s like telling the whole family about something which is private to a girl.”
“What is there to be embarrassed about? Besides this tradition has its own perks. The girl does not have to cook or do any of the household chores. She gets complete rest. She even gets to eat tasty food brought specially for her from the outside.”
Niharika gathered the courage to ask one last question which was haunting her.
“Does Jignesh know about this? Does he approve of it?”
“Yes he knows about this. This has been our culture for ages and everyone follows it. No one questions, not even Jignesh Bhai.”
Niharika turned pale and her whole body felt numb. Either it was the physical weakness at the moment or something else, but she felt she was about to faint. She gulped a full glass of water kept beside her and kept silent for some time. All the words and the humdrum in the room fell on deaf ears. She did not want to be there, at that place, at that time. She imagined herself watching some movie. This cannot be her life. This cannot happen to her. What did she just listen? What is wrong with these people? Which world are they from?
“I cannot do this.” She mumbled to herself.
“Did you say something?”
“I liked the family. Jignesh is coming to India in December. Niharika can also meet him then.”
“Yes, the family seemed nice. Jignesh’s mother is also fond of Niharika. And she had a long conversation with Jagriti, I think they both will gel well.” Mrs Aggarwal’s eyes sparkled at the thought of their daughter getting married soon.
“The family is reputed and stable. Jignesh is already an MBA, earning good and well settled in London. Even if they decide to come back to India, Jignesh will have an established family business to take over. There cannot be a better match than this for our daughter,” Mr Aggarwal contemplated.
That night was the longest night in Niharika’s life. As she lay on her bed and retrospected on the day’s events, she grew anxious thinking about the big change her life was about to go through.
“How can I marry in this family? Will we ever be able to understand each other? We are so different! But then this whole world is so diverse and we all are still living together. Nikhil and I are so different, even though he is my brother and we fight so much, yet I am happy living with him. Then why am I scared to get married in this family? Is it the change that I am scared of or is it something else? I know I have to get married one day and my life is going to change. I am also prepared in my mind for that, so what is it that I am looking for? I have this feeling in my gut that something does not seem right but what exactly is it? I have to discuss with mom and dad tomorrow. Maybe they will help me sort it out.”
Niharika tossed in her bed as she kept thinking all night and waited eagerly for the sunrise. All that she wanted at the moment was to vent out everything in front of her parents, perhaps the only ones in this world with the answers to her questions.
“Good morning Papa”
“Good morning sweetheart. How is my daughter doing today?”
“Not very well. I have been thinking a lot about what happened yesterday and I am a bit confused.”
“What is the confusion? I thought you liked them? You had a long conversation with Jagriti.”
“Yes daddy. That is what I am worried about. They seem traditional and conservative to me.”
“What is wrong with following one’s traditions? Even we are traditional. Studying in a convent does not make you western.” Mr Agarwal’s cheerful demeanor now turned serious.
“Besides, marriage brings a lot of changes. Girls have to learn how to adjust. Even I adjusted. I did not even get a chance to meet your dad or his family before marriage. And look at us now, how happy we are with each other. You will also have a happy married life with Jignesh.” Mrs Agarwal spoke while serving breakfast at the table.
“But mom why do we have to adjust? Why can’t we be accepted for who we are? Nikhil and I are so different and we fight a lot yet I love him the way he is. I will never want to change him.” Niharika shouted, now almost in tears.
“Nikhil is your brother and we are your parents. It’s different with in-laws.” Mrs Agarwal retorted, now losing her patience.
“In that case I don’t want to get married. I am happy living with you all.” Niharika hugged her mother tight, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I am a good person mom and I am not doing anything bad, then why do they have to change me completely, even the way I dress? I love myself like this and I like the way I live. If I were wrong you would never let me be the way I am today, Would you?” Niharika tightened her grip around her mother’s waist and sobbed.
“My princess, this is our culture. I know it will be difficult for you in the beginning but I also know you are a strong girl. You will be able to adjust and win their hearts.”
“Why do they make it difficult for me? Nobody asks Jignesh to change or to adjust.”
“He too will have to adjust with your temperament once you both start living together.” Niharika’s dad retorted. “He too will have to change a lot of things.”
“Like what? Will he change the way he dresses or will he not enter the kitchen after having sex with me?” Niharika shouted in anger wiping off her tears.
“Enough of this nonsense, Niharika! Have you forgotten your manners? You are talking all crap” Mr Agarwal screamed at the top of his lungs.
The commotion alerted the entire family and everyone gathered in the living room.
“If it is about sex then it’s a hushed matter. But if I have menses, the whole family will know about it. I am not OK with it Dad. I am not OK with the encroachment of my privacy.”
Niharika gathered the courage to speak on topics never discussed in the family and she finally understood what kept her awake all night. Her words were followed by complete silence and the family was shocked at what had just been spoken.
“I want to marry someone who accepts me for who I am, the way I am. I want to marry in a family that accepts and celebrates diversity and not try to make me a reflection of theirs.” Niharika spoke her final words and broke the silence.
All eyes were wide open and all mouths were shut as Niharika marched towards her room. Her face was a mixture of tears, resentment and a newly found courage.
For hours together she lay on her bed, resting her head on her wet pillow. She had to make a decision and now there was no confusion.
Our unit has arrested some terrorists today. To grab them, our soldiers had to fight hard. We were all celebrating our victory. All the soldiers, officers, and other members of the unit were drinking, eating and were sharing their experiences of various incidents that happen in such battles. One of our officers asked about the inspiration that led each one of us to army. Everyone began to tell their stories, and my heart began to beat faster. I didn’t know what story should I tell, actually, I was scared of my reality. I am Ahana, a Kashmiri girl, brought up by my mother singly. Since my birth I have seen my mother struggle a lot to survive in this state, and I hate this. No, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to say that Kashmir is hateful, it is lovely, but surviving in this state, that too near the borders of POK is difficult. We never had a permanent house. Whenever there was emergency, we were forced to leave our houses and move to safer places. All through my childhood I have gone through this shuffling many times. My mother was a lecturer in the only girls college we had in our village. She valued education a lot and as a consequence I was benefited with the best means of education from my primary classes itself. I don’t know who my father was. Whenever I asked her, she just said that he died before my birth. She even never told me anything about my relatives from my father’s side. I always sensed a discomfort in her voice when I tried to talk about him.
In her fifties, she began to forget many things. Doctors said she had Alzheimer’s disease. A neurodegenerative disorder, which steadily vanishes your memory. She even forgot me many times. But I had no complaints. I knew when she was fine she had done a lot for me. She always asked me to join Indian army as a medical officer. She was very happy when I cleared entrance for medical studies. But I was afraid of this thought, the bombardments I had seen in our village every now and then scared me. One day, when I reached home after my college, I heard a male voice coming from my mother’s room. I hurriedly moved towards the voice. A man with a beard and a massive body, was sitting near my mom. I hadn’t seen him ever in my life. He was uncomfortable when I arrived there. I said nothing but moved out. Restlessness grew inside me to know who he was. He looked scary. I went in the kitchen to eat something. When I was busy cooking, I felt a human presence around. I turned back. He was standing there. He was gazing at me consistently. I was scared. “Your mom doesn’t remember me anymore.” he said. “She doesn’t remember many people. Moreover, I don’t think she had seen you ever.” I said rudely. He laughed at me sarcastically. “She is not in a good health now. She won’t be able to take care of you anymore.” He said. “I can take care of myself….And even hers.” I said dominatingly. My eyes met his. He didn’t like me raising my voice. I began to cook again. After a pause of few minutes, he spoke again, “Do you know who your father is?” My tongue glued and I looked at him shockingly. Now I really wanted to know who he was. I didn’t say anything. “Do you know your mother betrayed him?” He continued.
Anger grew within me. This was unacceptable. I can’t hear anything against my mom. But before I could speak anything, he spoke again. “You should not live here anymore. I have come here to take you along with me.” He declared as if he owned me. “Shut up will you?” I shouted. “Who the hell are you? How can you speak against my mom like this?” My voice raised high. “My father died long back. And my mother can never betray anyone.” I said firmly. “Is this the story your mother has told you?” He said with his eyes red. “You have a whole family in Lahore Ahana. And your father is alive.” He said in one breath. I felt as if my whole world had changed with this statement in fractions of a second. This could not be the truth. My mother couldn’t lie to me. Although, she was no more in a condition to tell me her history, but, I trusted her. I didn’t need her clarifications. But whatever this man was saying aroused my hidden restlessness of many years to know about my father and his family. “Who are you?” This was all I could speak. “Aadil Khan. Have you heard this name before?” He asked with his eyes holding mine. “No” I said. “I am your father Ahana” he revealed his identity immediately. What!! My heart stopped to beat. I stared at him with eyes wide open. I couldn’t breathe….I couldn’t speak….I stood as a statue…. He stepped towards me. He placed his hand over my shoulder and pushed me to make me sit. He held my hand and begun to narrate the history. “My child…..I have longed to meet you since years…. I was in love with your mother ..we met in a college fest and eventually I married her twenty six years ago. We had a lovely life until your mother came to know that I work for the freedom of Kashmir. I follow Islam…and your mother follows it too….still…she never understood that our brothers and sisters are tortured in this country….I work for their freedom…isn’t it a noble work?… “…..she called me a terrorist….she betrayed me….she informed Indian army about me and my people….how could a wife do this with her husband….? I somehow found out about all this and succeeded to run away to Pakistan. I knew she was pregnant then. I wanted to live a life with my child. But I knew she won’t let me…..if she found out my existence she would have again trapped me and either sent me to jail or the army people would have killed me.” I heard all this and every word drilled my soul inside. My father is a terrorist. This thought was killing me. I started hating myself being a part of him. I have blood of a terrorist inside me. Tears flooded out with this thought. Respect for my mom appreciated multiple times. On one hand I hated myself to be his part but on the other I was proud to be my mother’s daughter. “I want to live with you now. Your mother’s disease is because of what she had done with her husband…..she deserves this….but you don’t….come with me….live rest of your life with your family….grandparents….in Lahore….” He spoke again….his eyes pleading me.
I had nothing to say, but I stood up and removed his hand from my shoulders. I don’t know what made me to slap him hard…..yes….. I slapped my father….and I had no regret….”Get out”….I shouted…. He stood up…..he was shocked by my response. “I am my mother’s daughter….and an upcoming officer of the Indian army” I declared with my head high. Even I was shocked at this statement, but somewhere inside I had made up my mind to fulfill my mother’s desire of me being a medical officer in Indian army. He stared at me shockingly. He didn’t say anything after this. He just moved out and away from my life forever. I rushed in my mom’s room and burrowed my face in her lap. I cried for hours then. I promised my mom to join Indian army. I will purify my blood with the national service…. I said to myself. I looked up at my mom’s face. She was lost in herself. She didn’t recognise him…and I was happy with this.
“Dr. Ahana, what is your story?” An officer asked me loudly and dragged me out of my thoughts. “My mom….she wanted me to be here….she is no more…and I just feel close to her when I serve my nation.” I said. I wanted to say that I am here out of the regret that I am a terrorist’s daughter….but that won’t be fair…. I was a daughter of a lady who had seeded love for my country within me…and who sacrificed her happiness for the country….she wiped away the name of her husband from her life…because he was a terrorist….when he was nothing to her….how could he be anything to me? My head raised high as I thought of my mom……… I missed her.
Seventy years ago, our forefathers won us independence. Every year, we celebrate Independence Day. But after all the years, have we achieved what the ‘Father of our Nation’ described as the ‘India of my Dreams’? Have we truly attained freedom as Rabindranath Tagore described?
Looking into that, we see that India is still groping in the darkness. What we achieved seventy years ago was only political freedom. We freed ourselves from British, only to chain ourselves by our own customs. Seventy years after achieving independence, we have achieved, practically, nothing.
We can say that we have achieved something – big industries, new vehicles, technologies etc. But what we actually see in India, that the wealthy and already progressed are further progressing. The village folks and the uneducated are still going backwards. No one cares what happens to them – not even the government. Surrounded by wild superstitions and blind faith, they still live like early man used to live.
In the India of my dreams, everyone can progress. The uneducated adults are also educated with their children. The Government builds houses with good facilities for them so that they can also have a good life. They come out of their wild beliefs and help in the progress of the nation. Mahatma Gandhi said, “India lives in its villages”. Villages of India are in a very pitiable condition today. So, lets make the real India Happy. I see in my dreams that the rich help the poor by giving them money for the education of their children, etc.
In my dreams, I see an India which grant rights to its citizens – mark my words – ‘citizens’ – instead of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, etc. Job and education reservations should be fully based on, not caste and tribe, but on the economic status of families. Instead of just Above Poverty Line and Below Poverty Line, there should be different sections. Today, people just Above Poverty Line suffer just like the Below Poverty Line. Because they are Above Poverty Line, the Government does not grant them any concessions and they struggle to make both ends meet. If we could make three or four sections in classifying according to economic status, we can provide justice to all.
I dream of an India where religion does not divide the people and everyone thinks rationally. Religion should be kept outside during political, economic and scientific discussions and the discussion should be wholly about ‘human beings’.
I dream of an India where politicians and ministers are not corrupt and all of them strive to make the people who elect them, happy in all ways. The judges should impartial and give just judgments.
I dream of an India where law is firm and equally applicable to all. Those who are corrupt should be punished and no one should even think of corruption. I dream of my nation to be a place where women and girls are treated with utmost respect and they are not subjected to patriarchal norms. They should not be raped if they wear short dresses or walk around at night. The rapist should be hanged and no one should think of a girl in such a way. Students especially boys should be taught, that girl is a fellow human being to be respected and not a commodity.
I dream of an India, where mental patients are not criticized and thrown out of their family and society and they are taken good care of. Mental patients should be given highest standard of treatment, free of cost and the Government should make sure that these people are not subjected to ‘Swamis’ and ‘Musaliyaars’ who say that “some spirit has entered into this person”. Such people should be punished for misleading the people.
I dream of a clean and green India where the citizens do not simply blame the Government for each and everything but do their part well, and Government also does its part well.
We shall overcome one day” – Yes we may overcome all these difficulties and become a great nation some day, but we must all strive hard to make that ‘some day’ happen in near future. Let us all our best, to give our freedom fighters and martyrs the best Independence Day gift.
Sameera S Prakash is a IX standard student of St Thomas Residential School, Mukkolakkal, Thiruvananthapuram
We condemn the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s denial of giving censor exemption for three documentaries from showing in International Documentary & Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) on 16th June at Thiruvananthapuram. It is unfortunate, unwanted as well as an expression of cultural intolerance only. In this period of bans such a move from MIB is neither unexpected nor surprising but it is shocking to know that the Ministry is not even bothered to give a proper, valid and reasonable explanation for not giving censor exemption for these films. These three documentaries will have politically disagreeing content for Ministry but banning them is nothing but a cowardly act. Banning is a kind of murder. Banning an artistic performance is exposing the baselessness of counter arguments that establishments have. Last year, too, the MIB denied permission for two documentaries and till now gave no reason for doing so.
All three documentaries are about those incidents that can disturb the rightwing Hinduthwa. “March March March” is about JNU student movement of last year directed by Kathu Luckose who is a student there. The film is portraying the eventual development of the movement through different events and interviews. The second one is “The Unbearable Being of Lightness” directed by P N Ramachandra. It is about Rohit Vimula of HCU. “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar” directed by N C Fazil and Shawn Sebastian tries to draw how art takes the form of resistance in a conflict-ridden society. The Ministry is giving a vague explanation that these documentaries will trigger communal intolerance. Last year Ministry denied permission for Jayan Cherian’s “Ka Bodyscpes” and Majid Majidi’s “Muhammed” without citing any reason. The ban advocacy in art field of this government is reaching new heights through this act.
It was in 2015 Home Ministry banned Leslee Udwin’s ‘India’s Daughter’ by citing reasons such as ‘victim’s parents will be upset”, “film would affect tourism” etc. We saw the ‘mob’ banning of ‘Mathorubagan’ by Perumal Murugan. Remember, ban anything that the “rulers” do not like is exactly what fascism (more than dictatorship) about. Tolerance towards anti-establishment artistic performances is one way of scaling the heights of democracy one nation has.
These three documentaries are tributes to those youngsters who joined hands in order to question the orthodoxy and false as well as fake national honour. They never scared about lathi-charges and water cannons. They are spirited with idea of freedom and strengthened with unity. Your administrative dictations will not pour that revolutionary fire. Instead of becoming the inmates of dustbins (of history), rise to the maturity of tolerance and comradeship. In the contemporary world, it is spaces like film festivals exposes the scale of democracy that society enjoys. It is better to not approach them with your cultural intolerance.
We condemn the beef divide created by the right wing Hindutwa in India. In a society where a large number of people are struggling to have decent food at least once in a day, banning (directly or indirectly) a commonly available food is exposing the mask of this ruling government of India. Instead of dictating about the kinds of food that people can take, the government is expected to ensure minimum nutritional food required for people. Common man does not have an expensive menu card in their kitchen. They do not have the luxury of choosing from many dishes as like as privileged ones like you. Instead of dictating their food habits, let them eat whatever available to them. More than fifteen crores of people India do not have access to minimum food according to official records; not nutritional diets but not even any food.
We are not talking about SUPERPOWER INDIA but about real India. When the Prime Minister of India along with other ‘Elites’ proud about launching of G-SAT 19 with indigenously developed GSLV Mk III, that same day around 7000 people died due to hunger in our nation itself. Beef ban in such a nation due to religious reasons is nothing but communal act. Equally absurd is the claim that ‘cow is a Hindu animal’. It is shocking to know that animals, birds and others have religion. Treating cow as holy animal by Hindus is not the same as treating cow as Hindu. Cow is cow only. It is an animal. Those who want to worship it, but imposing that on others is barbarian.
Pehlu Khan, Mohd Akhlaque,……. we have a long list of victims of this hate campaign. We cannot forget the political background where beef festivals organized in university campuses. That does not mean that we stand for killing animals in a barbarian manner. We stand for animal rights as equally as human rights. Non-vegetarianism is not against animal rights. Beef is as like as mutton, chicken, pork or fish. Cow is neither a protected nor an extinct animal here. Imposing non-beef diet is the tool to end diversified Hindu tradition in order to create a new mono-cultured religio-political structure called Hindutwa. Hindutwa deny all alternative readings of Hindu tradition and claims that it is the true voice of it. All opportunistic and power hungry monks, heads of monasteries, community leaders, NGO, private enterprenuers and others will join the league. Any criticism and questions will be replied in a language of exaggeration, illogical and aggressive.
Religious sentiments of one community (whether majority or minority) imposed on others is nothing but communalism and when state is authorizing it become fascism. In a country where majority are non-vegetarian and among them a sizable number is eating beef, claiming vegetarianism (and hindutwa) as national tradition is absurd, if not stupidity, only. Fascism cannot go with secularism and democracy hence invalidating both is becoming fascists’ main agenda. Only that community which equally treats religious freedom, religious criticism, religious reforms and dissent, can keep fascism away. Fascism divides, discriminates, insults and marginalize the weak irrespective of their caste, gender, language, land or ethnicity.
Sandhya SN & JT Jayasingh
Chief Editors, Indian Ruminations
When I was invited to write this Foreword, I was reminded of the observations of Thomas Gray (1716 – 1771) on the authenticity of true poetry. He asked, is it from the head? Or is it from the heart? No, he stated. ‘Genuine poetry is conceived and composed in the soul.’
This extraordinary anthology of poetical works by Dr. Sigma Sathish takes the reader into the very fabric of what it is to be a woman. All thoughts of nationality, creed and education fall away, and we are left with the bare essentials of feminine existence – innocence, hope, love, intimacy, betrayal, sadness, pain, and ultimate loss. Some of the verses are lyrical and hark back to an idealistic past where all seems eternally perfect. Others are raw, challenging and desperately modern. We meet a rich cast of characters – a triumphant but doomed Cleopatra, a psychopath in the world of calculations, a confident woman walking through the silent path of life’s reality, and another knitting a million nameless dreams. We are confronted by questions of miserly minds, motherless daughters, the destruction wrought by mutual passion, triumph blended with defeat, and the monument of love constructed from desire. And we are stripped bare by uncompromising truth and naked honesty.
These poems are like chameleons. You read, and you think you have absorbed what the poet has to say. But, turn around, face another way, and dwell, briefly, on your own thoughts. Then, return to the page and read again. It is of a different hue, the voice is altered, changes reveal themselves and we, in turn, are changed.
Here is a window on the soul of womanhood. Here is wisdom. Here is respectful reflection. Here is knowing.