first rain

It was a dull Monday for everyone on the bus. Some were dozing off on the long commute to work. A few had their earphones plugged in, disconnected from the world.

Except these two. They giggled like teenagers, a refreshing contrast to their dark-toned, formal work clothes. The first showers of the year were upon the city, long overdue. The heat wave was coming to an end, thankfully.

The conductor chatted away with the driver. This was their usual group of commuters – familiar faces on a mundane Monday morning.

These two sat towards the front of the bus. Two months ago, they’d unexpectedly struck a conversation on this same commute. Since then, every morning, five days a week, each would look forward to meeting the other. He boarded the bus 4 stops before she did, and saved her a seat next to him.The next one hour was spent in regular hushed conversations, often marked by comfortable silences.

They settled into a routine, a sort of friendship that marked the start of every day.

The rain was rather noisy – unrelenting against the helpless windows.

The bus stopped next near the sea face – one of Bombay’s popularly scenic spots. He instinctively grabbed her hand.

“Let’s bunk work today. Look at the rain! It’s the first of the year!!!”

She laughed and dismissed his innocent excitement. “Yeah right! Bunk work to go sit at the sea face and get wet?”

He nodded “Yes!” not sensing her sarcasm. Her sarcasm was often lost on him. Which she found rather endearing.

Observing the seriousness on his face, she realized he did mean what he said. A series of thoughts flooded her head.

Heck, she’d never bunked lectures during college. She was one of the straight ones! But this time, it was different. How he made her feel was different. And the risk was worth taking. After all, it was just a Monday. And it was just office; it did not define her life. She could call in sick and they’d certainly survive!

His voice broke into the voices in her head. “Either we get off at the next stop or we go to work – decide fast!”

“Okay” she found herself saying in a confident voice, tinged with anticipation. She was being rebellious and it gave her a slight thrill! He grinned. “Well, I never expected an okay from you.”

She smiled to herself.

“What’s up with that smile? It feels like you want to say something but aren’t saying it…” he said.

“Oh, I didn’t realize I was smiling aloud” she said cheekily. He laughed. She made him laugh a lot. And somehow, these little moments of laughter made the rest of his day beautiful.

It was time. Their stop was here.

He removed his tie, folding it neatly into his bag. He rolled up his sleeves, ready for an unpredictable & adventurous Monday!

As they moved to the front of the bus, she realized: “Oh no! I don’t have an umbrella.” Slight panic was setting in.

He reached into his backpack with a smile: “I’ve got one. We’ll be OK.”

The bus slowed down. The rain had lessened for now. It was high tide. Monstrous waves were lashing against the walls. A vendor was selling chai and cigarettes.

They alighted. Giggling, they scrambled under the umbrella they had to share, their fingers gingerly interlocking – as though it was the most natural thing in the world at that moment.

The bus began pulling away.

Caroline

A throbbing headache and a steaming cup of adrak chai (meant to relieve the former) were the highlights of my Tuesday evening. At 8 pm, I sat at my favorite chai place, waiting for my usual order of Vegetable Maggie. My little diary sat open in front of me. I took a sip of my tea, picked up the pen and wrote: August 2017. This was basically my deadline for quitting the project that is responsible for my headache in the first place.

I was having one of those days – when the brain stops functioning post lunch. And working on an important project only becomes more challenging…

All the other tables were occupied by groups of 2 to 4 people – friends, office goers catching up on a post-work bite, couples. I sat at my usual, the only two seater table in the small space.

The door opened and a young girl walked in. A quick glance up at her and I sensed she was “new”. Her office ID card looked new and was still around her neck. Her laptop backpack seemed to have survived the wear and tear that is normally found on an office goer’s bags from commutes. Her office clothes were perfectly formal – not a sleeve folded, not a button opened at the neck. And then, there was her face. A complete refreshing look that was free (or yet to be tarnished) by the weariness that every city dweller usually has! She was fresh-faced and hopeful – a rare sighting in the maximum city.

She ordered some food to be parceled and continued standing at the billing counter. The wait looked like it would be a long one. After a few minutes, our eyes met. Grumpy ol me and smiling her. Somehow, at the same time, we both looked at the empty chair opposite me.

I signaled to her “Would you like to sit down while you wait?”

“Yes please! Thanks…” she looked relieved. We smiled. I smiled too – a genuine from-the-heart warm smile! It actually felt good.

We got talking (it’s odd sitting opposite a stranger, in such close proximity… you run out of places to focus on apart from the person’s face!).

Turns out my instinct was right – she was 2 days old at the company whose ID tag she still had around her neck. She was new to Bombay, and was settling in a women’s hostel near to her office.

“Do you get food at the hostel? Is it good?” I began interrogating. It was rather refreshing to talk to a complete stranger, nice and unassuming. In fact, talking to her reminded me of my first weeks in Chennai. Questions about her hostel, her travel, her knowledge about the city, whether she had local friends or colleagues who would help her when needed… they seemed to stir up nostalgia. And boy, did that feel good! It took me back to a time when I felt like a survivor – like I was in the face of challenge after challenge, all alone, but never giving up. It reminded me of my worth (something that many employers/companies these days tend to overlook). It reminded me that I was a fighter, that I have been thrown out of my comfort zone a bazillion times, and I bounced back always.

It also made me realize that here was a sweet, pleasant, soft-spoken young woman, fresh out of B school, perhaps with dreams in her eyes, serious about her new job and career, and waiting to make a life for herself.

It filled me with hope. It filled me with a small prayer for her, for her to not get jaded too soon – with job, with life, with friends, with relationships, with family or with Bombay. I hoped sincerely she would have the courage and the wisdom to take any experience that would come her way.

This city (hell, any new city) can be tough. But it also makes for an excited beginning.

Before we knew it, we were exchanging notes about the city. Her parcel arrived and she got up. For a second, I thought I should exchange numbers, but the introvert in me suddenly decided to wake up *rolls eyes at self*.

As though she read my face, she said, “I’m sure we’ll bump into each other at this place. I really like it!” I replied, “Yes, definitely. And next time, we can have dinner together!” She smiled in agreement and stood up.

Picking up her heavy bag, she extended her hand to me. “I’m Caroline.”

 


 

Here’s a small example of how the smaller things in life are sweeter. We are so often consumed by our selfish thoughts & our own universe, we overlook the smaller moments that could be.

If I had been consumed by my self-pity or need to be grumpy, I would have never looked up or bothered to offer her a seat while she waited. Believe it or not, the rest of my night (journey back home) was very pleasant. Because my mind had relaxed itself, my body was no longer in a fight or flight stance, and I had actually done something different from my usual routine.

Just once in a while, try it. No matter how crazy a day you’re having or how bad things are in life, try striking a conversation with a stranger. The bus driver. The lady next to you in the train. The vegetable vendor. The auto driver.  The peon in your office. The cleaner in your street.

You never know who help turn your frown upside down 🙂

Half-smile

Recently I learned to start writing with “Writing Prompts” – a great way to start writing every day, either for practice or for creative expression​. Here’s a first humble attempt at it! 

Prompt: Eye contact – Write about two people seeing each other for the first time.

————————————

She craned her neck as she stood tiptoe. The chaos around her only intensified. How did Tara, her best friend, manage to convince her to come to this event? She hated crowds, and now she was lost. Lost and alone — well not literally, seeing as she was being jostled by enthusiastic strangers around her. The music was loud, people were half drunk, and she was annoyed.

Tara had been by her side a few minutes ago, until she decided to go hunting for food and beer for the both of them. Since then, they couldn’t find their way back to each other.

She kept glancing at her cell phone in her hand, but there was no way they would be able to hear each other over the deafening music. Trying hard to balance on her already weary feet, she took one last look around the sea of happy faces. That’s when she saw that first flash of cobalt blue.

 

He couldn’t believe he’d nearly turned down the chance to come for this gig. It was absolutely enjoyable, and God knew how much he needed this break! His friends were scattered around – some checking out the food stalls, others lying back on the warm grass sipping cool beers. People were high, not just on beer and other stuff, but on music. This was one of those crowds – united by their love for music.

Bored of sitting, he stood up, brushed off the back of his khakis, and scanned the crowd. A mop of disheveled curly hair slowed down his gaze. She looked frantic, so totally out of place in this crowd. He smiled, half amused and half curious. He watched as she frantically typed away on her cell phone, and then looked up straight at him, as though sensing his gaze.

 

“Call me when you see this” she typed and pressed Send. Instinctively, she looked up and right at the blue t-shirt she’d seen earlier. He stood a few rows in front of her, his sunglasses hooked over the neck of his T-shirt, his gaze intent. As someone who was always terrible at making eye contact with anyone, she couldn’t seem to look away. Her irritation over Tara began to fade away with his half-smile. 

Taking a deep breath, she returned the half-smile.

————————————

short musing #1

it’s a silly thing, this love. it makes you want to be alone so you can miss her. it drives you mad to not be around her, the flailing arms, the unwitting charm, the awkward pauses in between.

no wonder this world is just a confused bunch of lovesick or brokenhearted fools.

One way street

 

I’d found the one I could be not normal with. Together, we are weird.

I’d found the one I could space out with. Together, we enjoy the silences.

I’d found the one I could love Bollywood with. Together, we are filmi.

I’d found the one I felt calm with. Together, we are balanced.

I’d found the one I read in bed with. Together, we are nerds.

I’d found the one I could sleep in with on Sunday mornings. Together, we are lazy.

I’d found the one I could be myself with. Together, we are content.

 

Turns out I wasn’t the one.

guilty

Their fingers grazed just barely. She swallowed and placed her hand on her lap. She was good at avoiding gazes. His was intently trying to catch hers.

They had both reached forward to increase the volume of the car stereo. Coincidentally, it was one of their favorite songs. A famous Bollywood song on love that was not meant to be in this lifetime. The lyrics were beautiful, like broken glass. There was something imperfect about it. She could hear him hum to the tune.

At any other time, she would have guffawed at the corniness of this moment. She would have brought out her sarcastic guns on whoever narrated such a moment, because she was rather unromantic. Or so she believed.

Except, it felt just right in this car. Everyone and everything seemed to dissolve in the background. Nothing was real, except for the air they were breathing. And the song that was playing.

Men never had such an effect on her. But this one somehow did.

In a matter of a long weekend with the sun, sea and sand, she felt feelings she’d always read or heard about. And made fun of, eventually. She enjoyed ridiculing emotions she didn’t understand, just yet.

She hated her guts for feeling like this. So she bit her lip, to keep from humming the song.

Her friend was fast asleep in the back seat of the car he drove. She had been assigned the job of keeping the driver awake and alert, as the three of them drove back to the city on a rather early Monday morning, when the night creatures were still chirping and the only lights on the highway belonged to their car.

They welcomed the most beautiful sunrise as they drove down the naked highway. Everyone has their moments. Well, this one was going down in her books as her moment.

Hours later, the ride came restlessly to an end. Her friend woke up, disgruntled, to decently bid her goodbye. As he halted the car near her apartment, his phone rang. She hated looking into people’s phone screens when it rang or beeped, but somehow this time she stole an unwitting glance. She froze. He answered it, feeling equally uneasy. He supplied important updates to his wife and quickly hung up. He didn’t have anything more to say.

She got down quickly, passing over a goodbye hug to her friend in the backseat. An awkward handshake with him and she winced at the unfamiliar tumble her stomach chose to take. She refused to meet his gaze, as much as he yearned to meet hers.

As she entered her building, she decided to not look back – not today, not ever.

She entered a dark apartment and crumbled into a heap of unknown feelings.

 

They were both guilty

Of thoughts unsaid

Of moments unfelt

Of nothing more or less

Table no. 5

“An Americano for Table 5. ASAP” the waiter called out to the boy behind the counter, at The Quaint Café.

It was a trend for every café to call itself quaint. To make itself alluring enough to attract more customers. Truth be told, this was a regular café, with regular café items. Not-so-fresh pastries (which customers were joyfully oblivious to), teas that all tasted the same, baked bread items purchased from the fifty-year-old bakery round the corner and sold for twice its price. It was priced rather modestly, thus enjoying a larger customer base, especially college students and working professionals.

The manager returned from his usual smoke break. You could find him more on these breaks, and less in the café doing what he’s paid to do.

“Any regulars today?” he asked the server, who was second in command. This meant that he was the only one in charge, what with the manager absent most of the time. The server looked around “Umm, only Table 5.”

The manager looked toward Table 5 and smirked. “Oh, him again? And he’s alone? He always comes with his wife. Last week I saw them here, she was pregnant I guess”

“No Sir, his wife went to the restroom.” He scurried away. It was his second day on this job, at the café, and he was already hassled by the manager’s lack of responsibility. The entire load fell on him, and he was struggling to keep all the tables happy.

The manager nodded and sent the server off to prepare the cheque for Table 2. His phone began buzzing. It was his best friend. They had to plan the upcoming Diwali party. He stepped out of the café again, to take this call.

The conversation at Table 5 went from strained to rather ugly, within a span of 20 minutes. Trying to control their tone of voice and to avoid getting attention from nearby tables, the couple argued incessantly, both of them refusing to let go. She was attractive, dressed in smart formal clothes, clearly having come directly from work. He was strong-headed, intense; there was something almost primal about him. He was not good-looking in the conventional sense, but he commanded (fearful) respect and attention wherever he went. Not to mention, he seemed highly egoistic. She seemed to be equally headstrong, not backing down even as their voices became raised.

A few customers in the café started looking in their direction. One to get embarrassed rather easily, he shushed her and straightened his tie. He was getting aggravated of late. The things she would talk. Such bullshit! She was trying to be the one taking decisions. As though their relationship worked that way. What was she thinking? Who was instigating her to stand up to him?

But he also knew the more fiery their fights got, the more fun making up was!

The door opened and the manager returned, from his rather fruitful and long discussion with his friend. As was his habit, he signaled to the server who came quickly to his side. “Status update?”

“Well, just two tables left to be cleared. Table 5 called for the cheque, finally!” Encouraged by his boss’s approving nod, he continued rambling: “That man and his wife have been fighting non-stop since they got here. At the start, they were holding hands and being all lovey-dovey, much to the embarrassment of that old women’s group on Table 7. And then suddenly, this crazy, loud talk. It’s really awkward, I tell you.”

The manager looked surprised. They were his regulars since the café had opened 5 months ago. He had not once watched them argue or fight. Strange.

He looked in the direction of Table 5, watching the couple stand up to leave.

Turning to the waiter, he quietly said. “That’s not his wife.”

It was time for another smoke break.


Will the fair slim lady please stand up?

“She’s so pretty – so fair and so slim, just like Aishwarya Rai” said a distant relative about another one’s daughter.

“She’s a bit dark, no? But otherwise, quite cute. She might get fairer as she grows up” said another woman about her neighbor’s 1-week-old newborn daughter.

Yes, that’s the obsession with fairness. And I’m sure I’ve just touched the surface. Having grown up in a mostly sheltered and open-minded household, I have not been privy to the real injustices that so many individuals across the world are unfortunate to battle every day, only because of the color of their skin.

Not everyone is fixated with shades of skin color, but traditionally in most parts of India, you will find this belief still pertinent. I’m hoping obviously with our generation, people have learned to look beyond one’s skin color or physique.

Your color does not define you. Your actions and words do.

In India, everyone wants to be fair. The pasty ladies on the fairness cream commercial tell you to make that your lifelong goal! If you don’t, that boy you like will reject you for a fairer girl. Or you will fail that exam you worked so hard for. Or come winter, and your skin will start looking like dehydrated fruit.

Unfortunately, the majority target audience for these fairness products tends to be ignorant, believing wholeheartedly that “being fair equals being worthy.”

Take it from a person whose had white (not fair, but white) skin all her life (yours truly). It’s not been as much of a fun ride, as these commercials tell you it is! While plenty articles have covered the serious and far-reaching consequences of the fight for fairness, I can supplement this post with some lighter, spirited points of contention.

  • You are Rudolph without the Christmas cheer. That angry red pimple will give you away so much so that Martians can spot you from afar. I have been in a relationship with acne through most of my teenage and adult life so you can take this from me: It is terrible to have fair complexion. Sometimes, I’m “pizza face”; at other times, just blotchy and pink. Those make-up ads they show, with your blemishes/dark spots/scars disappearing under a layer of foundation or powder, are complete BS. And almost half my income drains off in friendly visits to the neighborhood dermatologist.
  • Oh wait, you’re white, with black stripes. When you skip a waxing/threading session, you’re in BIG trouble. The lady sitting across you from the train will be able to spot those stray hairs that forgot to get plucked or waxed (don’t cringe; I’m serious). It’s tough being Indian, and more so South Indian, because hair is always APLENTY. You never run out of it. Seriously. My darker skinned friends can get away with not going for timely hair removal sessions. Aah, I’ve stared at their arms and legs maniacally, hoping to find some evidence of hair and yell “Eureka.” (Yes, even I’m surprised they’re still friends with me.) So remember this, if you’re a Shade No. 10 on the fairness card, no matter what hair removal technique you use or with what frequency, you will eventually start resembling our ancestral Neanderthal friends. Wax. Scream. Repeat.
  • You look like Icarus. He’s the one who flew really close to the sun. People will churn out advice – “don’t forget your sunscreen.” So I don’t. I apply rather generously on my face if I’m ever on a beach-y holiday or trip. But guess what, I still return with a bloody painful sunburn. We don’t tan. No, never. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to tan like they show in the movies, but the sun is not my best friend. A red nose and even redder cheeks do not make for the best “I just got back from a vacation” look.
  • You could pass off as Edward and Bella’s bestie from Vampire Town. Enough said.
  • You can never be invisible. Never. I prefer blending in the background. Like, really camouflaging. I don’t want to stand out in a crowd of people I simply don’t know. And don’t care to know. The second glances (to see if I’m really this white), the double takes – oh the unblinking stares from strangers. I can feel my palms getting sweaty already…

But you got the gist…

If you think having a skin color you don’t like is your biggest problem, pause and think for one second what people with skin disorders may be going through every single day? The world doesn’t let them forget about it.

It’s high time we realize that skin color is superficial; it does not define your abilities or aspirations. Pass on good energy as much as you can. Be kind. Stay healthy. Do things you love. Stop running after everything you don’t have. The rest will fall into place.

To conclude, I’ll narrate a personal episode. My parents had come to visit me when I was in Chennai a few years ago. I took some time off of work and we decided to do the usual touristy things, since I had not explored the state myself. We went to one of these heritage sites, where you need a ticket for entry. It’s a government maintained site, and the fee as always is nominal – usually 5 or 10 rupees. As we rightly presumed, the board said Rs. 10 per adult. We approached the counter with 30 rupees, asking for 3 tickets, only to be told by the man to hand over Rs. 100. Just before I could ask him “Why,” he saw the puzzled expression on my face and gesticulated wildly to the board that said Rs. 10 (Indians) and Rs. 80 (Foreigners). I was shocked, amused, and confused all at once. We did have a good laugh then, but it really got me thinking.

Bottom line: Fair is not lovely.

P.S: If you’d like to know more about the awesome Dark is Beautiful campaign, go see: http://darkisbeautiful.blogspot.in/