An Ode to Prem….

The oldest memory I have of you is searching your handbag, when you returned from office. You would always save us any sweets or chocolates you got from office or colleagues. Or a packet of butter biscuits or dosa you and appa used to get on your way back, which we used to sit around and eat and you would recount what happened in the office that day. Today I am once again unearthing the handbag of your memories, for all the sweets and goodies.


The day I held your hand for the last time in the hospital, funnily the only thing I could think was what would you have told me if you saw me, “you are seeing me for the last time, why are you dressed like a rag picker, atleast go wear my blue shawl. There are so many earrings of mine, go wear one of them”, or you would have given clear instructions on how we need to conduct ourselves the next few days after you were dead. Cliché as it sounds, I miss that. I miss informing you what we are planning to do for your funeral or your last rites. I miss having the argument of what to cook or what to wear on these days. I miss you asking me after you getting dressed “how do I look?, take my picture”

I do not want to be morbid. In your good times, you did not bring us up to mope over failures, deaths and illnesses. Like the time I flunked in hindi in my third grade, I remember you laughing and telling me I am so weak in hindi. We actually went through the answers and made fun of all the miss-spellings and grammatical errors that were there. In the next exam I got 90s in hindi and the teacher could not believe that you had taught me and within a span of a month I could ace it. It was like this all through out my life. Just when I would think I need to give up, you would always have a way to talk around it. I would be angry at you for not understanding my feelings, but you always ensured the end results were good for me on a long run. Although for a petulant person like me your approach to life seemed materialistic, you were instinctively always right. You were always right about people and their intentions (more right than my peevish mind can admit).

Remember the time in my college days you guessed that that the librarian and me were flirting. You never said ‘don’t flirt’. All you said was ‘that boy is your choice?! I thought you would do better’. I pretended to ignore your comment, but unconsciously your opinion mattered so much, that the poor librarian boy did not understand what went wrong, when I totally ignored him from then on. Everytime, when I had to leap into anything, the first thought would always be what you would say about it and trust me without that filter I had the fullest ability to have gone hopelessly haywire.


The grit to look good and stand tall, and not waste time crying to the world to solve your problems is a philosophy which I again frowned upon sometimes, but unconsciously imbibed in so much that it takes effort for me to pretend to look sad when the world expects me to be sad. The worst day of my life was on your last day in the hospital, with tubes down your throat and nose and remembering how you despised hospitals and insensitive procedures they do, even if they are not sure of the results. When you opened your eyes for the last time, you seemed to say, “its ok”, as if you knew it was only for a short time. It is this reasssurance from you that gave me the strength to go through all the events there after. Every person around you mattered to you, you took care of everything, everyone. Many may judge you as insensitive and brash, but actually you cared too much. You felt too much, and you expressed it the only way you knew how.

I am alone at home today, with lot of things to do about your funeral. I instinctively get up to check if there is rice for you when you woke up. There seems to be a void, that I know can never be filled. You may never realize this (or even believe me), but you came across as having such a strong confidence in everything you do. Growing up and seeing you through our tough times is what taught me to be strong and to not let things that life throws at me tear me down. You were so intelligent and worldly wise. I am well read today because of you. Thank you for teaching me many life skills and lessons, such as how to achieve work-life balance, penchant for reading, public speaking and most importantly, how to be self-reliant.

Many say I got your looks, but there is more than that I got from you. To be able to joke at self, to be able to stand the ground in the worst of situations, to raise children to have their own minds and most importantly to be able to see through people at their best and worst. Our ideologies are different but the way we stand strong to execute them is the same. We have had our issues and differences. I still do, in thinking that we could have fought your ill-health if you had not given up. It is these differences I cherish, because we did not cave into each other’s notion of life, but were able to live together with them

I believe, mourning is just an extended self-pity. I will live life remembering the good and the not so good times of our lives as these are the things that has made me what I am today. What we have once enjoyed can never leave us.

Where ever you are, you are showering us with blessings and still ensuring we do the right things (even if it is from your perspective). This is an end of an era, I am going to miss having both parents whose world revolved around us!

Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation. – Rumi

Providence of Love – Part 2

Prithvi woke up with a start. He stood straight, feeling fully awake, yet wobbly and foggy, like he had woken up from a hypnotic sleep.

“How long was I asleep?” he thought to himself. He looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings, he had woken up to. It seemed like an ICU he had seen in movies, only smaller. He was in a room full of medical gadgets and the people around him seemed to be talking all at once. He stared at the buzzing noise around him for a long time to understand what was happening.

A nurse hurried in with a bag of blood. She replaced the empty one that hung over the bed of a man covered in tubes. There was a tube down the man’s throat, an oxygen mask around his face, his stomach was open with blood that seemed to be filling up into the stomach cavity and overflowing. An old but resilient looking doctor was barking urgent orders to the others around him, and everyone seemed to be unquestionably tamed to this old man.

“Is the transfusion active?”

“Yes doctor”, replied a nurse.

“Dr. Patil, how is his pulse holding?”

“His pulse is down to 60 dropping rapidly…. 55…. 50…45…”, a man monitoring a screen near the head of the man on the bed shouted.

“Paddles! Charge to 200, clear!”

Prithvi could almost feel a jolt himself. Poor fellow, this man seems to be in real trouble, he thought.

Just then a nurse shouted, “Everybody, including all the interns, except the one assigned this case — OUT!” She literally pushed people out.

Prithvi felt her throw a piercing look at him. He was scared. He seemed to have a gurgling feeling in his gut. It was the same feeling he had felt when he was on a giant wheel the first time. He remembered that day.

It was on his 9th birthday and his parents had taken him to Wonder-la along with his friends. This was the party he had begged for, from his parents. Though he seemed outwardly excited by the prospect of exciting rides, he was very afraid to get onto the giant-wheel. He was pretending to tie his shoe lace and his friends who had most willingly climbed into a giant wheel were calling him to join. He was still pretending to fix his shoes and shouted to them that he will go in the next round. His friends continued to call him to join them.

His father had come by his side and whispered to him, “I will sit with you.”

So, he had climbed onto the giant wheel along with his father, clutching his father’s hand. And all through the ride, his father, a retired air-force lieutenant was telling him “Once you get over the fear, it is the most wonderful feeling to own the skies and fly like a bird”. Prithvi threw up after the ride, but immediately went for another round like he wanted to overcome the fear of heights and motion sickness all in one day. As he was ending his second ride, he saw his father’s face. His father had that proud look for a brave son and at that moment Prithvi knew he wanted to fly like his father. This was a week before his father’s death. One of the things that Prithvi never got over from.

Prithvi was out of the room, he found out by the card above the room that it was an ER operation theater. Prithvi looked around, and saw Ganesh, shouting over the phone.

“B-positive… need fresh donors…. Get them over right away.”

“What?” …. “No, we don’t know anything now… will tell you as soon as I find out. Please get these donors Ravi. Very critical.” He seemed to be sobbing.

Prithvi moved towards him to say he was B-positive and he can donate, just then he saw Vidya, his wife, accompanied by her brother Naren. Prithvi was irritated by his presence and more with Vidya who had brought him.

Why did she have to bring that haughty nincompoop? Does she think I cannot handle this situation? I have to figure out a way to stay away from his foolish banter.

And like wise, Naren started enquiring around showing off that he was a doctor. “Were his pupils checked for dilation?”, he was asking an intern, who had no clue. He went around saying he was a doctor, and if he could enter the ER operation theater. Some intern was pointing to the nursing station, asking him to check there.

There were more people streaming in, and all known to him. His secretary, his sales head, and many from his IT team. They were all crowded around Ganesh asking for updates. He wanted to join them but then in the corner of the room, he saw his mother sitting with her second husband, sobbing quietly. He went to her with a strong urge to hold her hands, but as always, his step father was holding her hands consoling her.

He was again filled with the same contempt that he had for his brother-in-law.

Why was his time with his favorite people marred with these vain idiots? In what way was this son of a bitch suitable to take his father’s place in his mother’s life?

For the first time in his life, he was irritated by the feeling that even after almost three decades he could not get over his step father taking his father’s place in his mother’s life.

He recalled the day his step-father came into his life. It was during his ninth standard summer holidays, four years after his father had died. His mother had never seemed to have come back to normal after his father’s death. Prithvi had come to terms with it, thinking that his mother’s grief at losing his father was that immense. But when she married his step-father, he was filled with contempt for her, and immeasurable hatred for him, so much so that, his mother was very relieved when Prithvi chose to move into a faraway college in Ooty for his PUC.

He remembered fondly how his mother visited him every 15 days, and by his request without his step-father and they would have great fun planning some or the other outing around Ooty. This had gone on for a little over a year till his little half-brother was born, and then ended his healthy connection with his mother and his family on the whole. Despite his mother’s pleas he would hardly visit, and even if he did, it would only be for a day or two. He was always a part of summer camps, trekking groups, running groups and rock climbing groups during the holidays that his mother could not argue with him to visit her more or for longer durations.

He sat next to his mother for a while, and when he could no longer bear her sobbing, he got up to see what was happening. The doctors had not yet come out of the ER operation theater.

Ganesh and what seemed to Prithvi like his entire faculty and IT department were gathered around whispering to each other.

“Why don’t they give us some update?”,Naren asked. “It would not have been like this in Manipal, the doctors are more responsive there than here. Why Ramaiah though? Who chose this hospital?”, he demanded in an accusatory tone.

Ganesh quietly replied, “This was the nearest to the accident site and they have responded with right surgeons within very short time.” He got up to meet Ravi, who introduced him to the donors. Ganesh and Ravi went to the nursing station to arrange for the blood donation to the hospital to make up for all the blood that was being used up.

Prithvi walked away and lurked around the ER theater hoping to get some update. He entered into a frenzy of confused thoughts, he felt a gripping fear, and at the same time gratitude for something that he could not figure out. He felt someone jerk him into the ER theater, where he saw the old doctor covered in blood, asking the scrub nurse to push another epi. Before the she could respond, everyone heard the final beep on the heart monitor and the screen showed a complete flat line. For a minute, everyone stood still.

The old doctor broke the silence, “Please note the time of death nurse.” He walked out of the operation theater.

The head nurse called out to another nurse, ordering cleanup activities. Prithvi looked on wordlessly. The nurses didn’t seem to care for his presence. He sat on a stool nearby. He felt a sense of emptiness and peace as he saw the staff cleanup. The intern was stitching up the stomach, a nurse was cleaning the face and rest of the body. The head nurse called out to a staff for a fresh pair of clothes and a gurney. He stood still watching all the activity. It was as if the world stopped moving except for this activity. He wanted to say something, but nothing seemed to come out of his mouth. He was never a man with many words in such situations, but he very badly wanted to say something. The feeling of emptiness, was so intense that he wanted to scream, and he tried to scream, but no sound came out.

He remembered the day he was taken to an emergency operation for his left thigh hematoma surgery.

He had screeched in pain all the way to the ER and to the operation theater. All the restrain he had managed the previous couple of months, denying that his leg condition was serious, seemed to gush out. He was not just screaming for his pain, he was screaming for his unfilled dreams, he was screaming for the sacrifice he had made for his dreams and he was screaming for the futility of it all and he had screamed till the doctors managed to put him under. The sudden nothingness when he was under was what he was feeling now.

He felt for his thighs as was his habit ever since his operation, to feel the closed up wound on them whenever they throbbed, which pretty much throbbed all the time, that had resulted in his permanent limp. He could not feel the hump of the wound, he jumped down the stool to further examine, and he did not feel the constant pain that he was used to expect with sudden movements of his leg. He suddenly realized the pain which was a part of his being all through the last 20 years was gone. He felt a sense of relief but was puzzled by it at the same time.

How did this happen? He pondered and stared at the body of the man being cleaned up in front of him. His first thought was gratitude to that man who seemed to be the reason why he felt painless but was also filled with fear from the mammoth comprehension that was seeping into him. He stared into the face of the body and saw the face of a man who looked older than he was, with salt-pepper hair on the head and a well-trimmed beard and a slightly puffy face that typically came with constant drinking. His eyes were shut, and his lips were pursed but seemed like they were saying something, that he did not want to hear. Prithvi was staring at his own face on the body. At first, he thought his head was mixed up, but his painless leg made it more clear.

I am dead!?

 This surreal fact seemed to strike him at his chest, he seemed to fall back away from the body. His body.

 He looked on. At first with fear, and then with a deep sense of relief.

Relief from what? What am I, where am I, is this a dream or is this how death feels like?

He wandered around the room for a while, watching his own body, being attended to.

Should I go back into the body? Is it possible?

He stared at the body and felt a slight urge to try. But he felt himself going upwards and circle his body like a confused eagle looking at prey and deciding whether it wants to catch the prey or not. This went on till one moment, he could no longer bear the sight of his own body. He felt an urge to move away from it.

He found himself moving towards a wail that was coming from outside the ER. He saw his mom, step-father, wife and brother-in-law huddled at the entrance of the ER with Ganesh. His mother was crying uncontrollably. Vidya was just still with a look of anger and fury on her face. He chuckled.

Even in my death I can work her up into anger.

He sat next to her, wanting to tell her that it was the last time he would piss her off. He remembered the day he had first met her.

It was in one of his early courses as a faculty in his new institute. He was conducting a finishing school course. Vidya was sitting in the front seat, listening to him skeptically with her hand on her chin. She was quiet all through the two-week course, even in the sessions where the students were asked to share their worst fears and best times, she divulged very little, as if to say she did not care for any of this. It was the Thursday of the second week of the course, the day before the final day of the course. Prithvi limped across to her during the session and asked for a meeting with her after the class.

“Are you not liking the course, Ms. Vidya?”, he asked.

“It all seems like a scam to me”, said Vidya. She was wearing a white shirt on a lose jeans, and with her hair tied up on top her head and her spectacles made her look like a mean journalist to Prithvi.

“You think through this course I will recruit you into a zombie group that that would suck the blood off this population?”, Prithvi asked with a serious face.

Vidya looked at him with disdain, “You know all this grouping us into personality types and telling us what kind of people we are, is nonsense and is useless in the real world.”

“What did you expect when you enrolled? That this course will turn a beast to a beauty or a frog to a princess?” asked Prithvi, still with a serious face.

Vidya stood up completely annoyed by his nonchalant jest and turned to walk away.

He stopped her. “Look I am sorry, I did not mean to mock you. Tell me, I want to understand, what can be done to make this a better course for you?”

Vidya hesitated at first and then blurted, “First, stop putting on a holier-than-thou attitude. “I limp… so I am good at all this. I limp so I know the world. I limp, and I make a Mr. Know-it-all face so ever body should respect me.””

“Oh, my look caught your attention? That is more than I could ask for as a trainer”, he laughed. He mockingly enquired, “Do you believe my limp is real, or you think I fake that as well?”

She threw him a piercing glance. “You think you are the only one to have a limp in life? Physically or otherwise, everyone has a limp, otherwise why would people hop on to make-believe crutches like your training courses?”

Prithvi looked on with interest, “So what is your limp, may I ask? And clearly my course is not right crutch for your limp. Tell me what would have been a good crutch for you?”

And so their association had begun. She was like no other woman he had known. Her early conversations with him were more like science lessons.

“Did you know the difference between a tender coconut water and the tender coconut pulp is the cellular structure that grows from the water. The water is just absence of cellular structure”, she had shared when they were having tender coconut water on a summer day.

“The first part of the body to develop in a fetus is the anus”, she said when they were dining and discussing some training syllabus.

But the passion with which she spoke of such topics was actually what drew her to him. Within a very short time they had exchanged vows in a small ceremony.

Prithvi looked now at Vidya and asked softly, “Was I a good crutch to you? Was I the right one?”

Was she the right crutch for me?

He thought of the lifestyle he had created for himself that involved, travelling across cities for the most part of the year. Vidya had never complained or tried to change him. She would not ask much about his leg or the details of his whereabouts either.

She was a Type A diabetic who needed to attend to her body constantly throughout the day. Her diet and her insulin intake had to be monitored every waking hour. After the doctors forbid them from having children, she had added Guru Ravishankar’s Art of Living Satsangs into her routine and he had added few more of his training institute branches across the country.

Prithvi thought, we were both crippled and in pain and only crutch we got from each other was…..he thought hard…..we both accepted the crutch we thought we merited.

 He remembered a quote by Colley Gibber— our hours in love have wings; in absence, crutches.

 Few hours later, Prithvi looked around at an extraordinary scene in his home. His relatives, colleagues and friends had gathered around, with somber faces. His body was laid in the foyer of his Swedish architecture inspired home. His body was laid on a diwan with a lamp and a dhoop stand near his head. His face seemed to be peaceful in the backdrop of serene white sheets under his body on the diwan. His body was clothed in a white formal shirt. Vidya, ever composed, had ensured no one made a scene or a sound in the gathering. There was a backdrop of some chanting playing on a laptop near-by.

Prithvi watched on as people paid respects to his mortal remains. He was surprised that there were so many.

Did they come for me or for Vidya, or for the sheer curiosity of seeing me lifeless?  he pondered

He remembered the inauguration of his last institute in Coimbatore, where had invited a group of five local small industry business leaders for a panel discussion on ‘Impact and Influence’. One of them was a COO, who had previously worked with Prithvi in his Mumbai branch for training his staff for high performance. This COO had made a speech about Prithvi and his training program during the panel discussion

“The key to surviving in this digital world whether you are in a small corporation or a large corporation is to have the ability to, very early and consistently in our careers, strike results or outcomes that make an impact in the business context. And as we grow in our careers, we need to be able to influence our teams, our management or our peers even to steer through the constant changes that the technology or the industry throws at us. On both these aspects, Mr. Prithvi Belavadi through his well-designed training programs for our company has hit the mark, be it in terms of coaching our young teams to bring about impactful solutions in our electrical designs or in terms of motivating our senior teams to influence the successful implementations of the changes in our ecosystem. This has not just steered our company into navigating through our changing business goals, it has also helped some of the individuals to discover their potential and use them to scale our company outcomes as well as their own careers and personal aspirations. The training programs in TFB strongly reflects the very nature of the man that Prithvi is, “results” but without losing the perspective on the sensitivities involved around the human nature and behavioral aspects. That is the reason he has so many followers in the social media and business circles”


Prithvi looked at Mr. Veeramani, who had made this speech six months back, pay his last respects to him and felt deep gratitude towards him for letting him know that his life’s work, though was not his first choice had meant something to someone.


Would I have been able to feel this sense of ‘met purpose’ if I had been a pilot? And for 20 years I spent unduly cursing my fate that did not allow me to follow in my father’s footsteps, he thought with a settling feeling.


On the eleventh day of his death, his family were gathered around to immerse his ashes in the Cauvery river near Srirangapatna. As the priest was chanting the “Asthi Visarjan” mantra, Prithvi looked on. The priest was explaining to the family that the whole purpose of this ritual is to ensure the dead person goes to a better place where he is peaceful and happy. Prithvi looked on, now battling his existence in the form of a ghost. He had reached a point where he was in a constant fear of where this was headed.


Am I doomed to exist like this?


He felt a deep sense of panic, so much so that he moved away from the river-side where the rituals were happening. He felt he was stuck with no means to go anywhere else.


Just then he saw four figures coming down the steps. He felt himself drawn back to the place where the rituals were happening. Vasundhara accompanied by Priya, Ganesh and Rohit, joined his family. Ganesh made a quick round of introductions, and the rituals continued. Vasundhara was holding Priya’s hand and standing few steps away from the priest and the family. The priest handed the urn that held Prithvi’s remains to Vidya. Vidya asked Ganesh and Naren to join her in pouring the contents into the river.


He was never a religious person, but Prithvi felt grateful that he was survived by people to whom it meant something that he was in a better place.


He looked at Vasundhara and remembered the day of the reunion when he had come to the Marriot hotel, Bangalore where his college reunion had happened. He had not been able to decide, whether to meet Vasundhara or not, so he just sat on a corner table near Vasundhara’s table. He was masked by the pillar next to him. He watched her speak about her children with the same twinkle in the eye that she had whenever they met 20 years ago. She spoke with pride about her husband who she was saying was a better parent than her to her twins.

Though he had a strong urge to just drop by her table and announce himself, he restrained himself. Not even for the world would he have wanted to ruin that twinkle in her eye. He had remembered his father’s words, when he had wanted to pull a fish out of the aquarium and hold it in his hand. His father had said, “You can hold the fish if you are sure the fish will breath in your hands and not if you are going to take the life out of it”

Prithvi had one final look at Vasundhara, who was looking distantly into the river with tears filled eyes. He then felt something draw him higher and higher, in great speed towards what seemed like a tunnel of light. For the first time since he had died he felt peace and nothingness and he realized, that this was what he had unknowingly always wanted, more than anything else in life. All his thoughts, memories and feelings even, seemed to get washed out by the light ahead of him and although he could not have explained what was ahead of him, he felt completely ready and willing to go through with what lay ahead.

Ethics & Values

Individually or organizationally, values determine what is right and what is wrong, and doing what is right or wrong is what we mean by ethics.

Why are values and ethics important to us? Anthropologically speaking the purpose of mankind has been to achieve great things in the boundaries of values and ethics. As Ayn Rand says – “Ethics is a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives”.

So values and ethics or the lack of it is what has determined great historic events of human life time. Lets examine a few of them

One of the biggest moral dilemma in history was faced by President Truman for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, destroying more than 200,000 lives. One aspect was killing 200,000 people in a matter of seconds to end the war and get Japan’s unconditional surrender. The other aspect was, could there have been other humane alternatives to end the war or could it have been far too costly with no guarantee that it would be more honorable than killing so many people in a matter of seconds
Take the case of medical research where lot of animals are sacrificed to understand how a drug could behave on a human body. Are the lives of animals too much in return for great drugs and vaccines that have saved millions of people from losing their lives to deadly diseases

Or lets take the simple cases that affect a common man, like abortion. For many people, abortion is essentially a moral issue dangling between the rights of the fetus, and a woman’s rights over her own body. While one can argue that once a seed is sown, we should go with the flow of nature to nurture that being, while others can argue that it is better to nip it at the bud when the impact is negligible as compared to forcing an unwanted human into this world

There are innumerable dilemmas like this in our history and in our daily lives that goes to say that it is neither easy nor adoptable in a situation. But one thing, is that it is the defining force of human kind. The true mettle of a human being gets defined by the degree of ethics and values we apply because as john ziman says – “Ethics and values are not just an abstract intellectual discipline. It is about the conflict that arise in trying to meet real human needs and values

The providence of Love

As she reached the lane of her mother’s house in Basavangudi, Vasundhara was amazed at how much Bangalore had changed. She knew it was a cliché she had heard from her friends who returned to States after a vacation in India, but she could not help being disturbed by the noise, the crowd and the traffic and that too, this late in the evening. The putrid smell inside the taxi and the long ride from airport, only made it worse. She was nauseous to the point where she had to stop to get out of the taxi to puke once near Hebbal flyover.

She was both relieved and tensed at the same time when she reached her mother’s house. It was almost 5 years since she had seen her mother. Her mother could never get the hang of skype. And even if she could, speaking face to face with her mother, would not have been something that Vasundhara longed for. Secretly she was glad that her mother could not catch up with technology. Her customary weekly calls to her mother, typically ended with either her mother breaking down about the neglect she had to put up with, inspite of having a husband and 2 children, or they would hang up on each other, not able to tolerate each other’s lack of empathy towards each other’s situation.

It was 10 years since Vasundhara had visited home. The last she had visited was when she had come to visit India after her twins were born. Five years back, both her parents had visited her in Chicago, for a month. That one-month visit had turned out to be a nightmare that she could never come to terms with. Her parents, fought over every tiny aspect of daily tasks and had expected her to side with one of them. Her husband Vijay, not a man to tolerate, noise and bickering, would plan long business travels during that time. When they were leaving States, she had advised them to live separately, for which, her father had replied that her mother should move out, and mother had cried over the fact that she had put in all her hard earned money on that house, and she was being asked to move out. All in all, like many other painfully forbearing couples, they had lived together for 49 years till her father had died last week. She was both sad and happy about her father’s demise. Her ailing father was one thing that her mother would stop complaining about now, but she was sure her mother would find some other sad aspect in her life to whine about.

She paid the taxi driver a 100 rs extra for carrying her luggage till the compound. She looked around at the street that seemed narrower than she remembered. There was a woman in the next door, tying a milk bag to the gate who looked at Vasundhara with a lot of curiosity. Vasundhara was too fatigued to reciprocate. Before she could knock the door, the door was opened by Lakshmamma, her mother’s maid servant and companion. Lakshmamma greeted Vasundhara with a huge smile, almost like she was relieved by her arrival. Vasundhara, smiled and asked “is amma sleeping?”

“No akka, she is in the bathroom, she is waiting for you for dinner” replied Lakshmamma

Both of them lugged the luggage inside the house. Vasundhara was amazed at how the house had not changed one bit since the last many decades. She was escorted to the room that she had shared with her brother all her childhood till her marriage. The 2 beds that were kept, one on each side of the wall, were joined together and her brother’s key board had been moved to a corner, from where there was no way it could be played. Lakshmamma, showed her the shelf in the cupboard that had been emptied to accommodate her stay for a fortnight.

It was still 9.15 in the evening and Vasundhara, freshened up, took a shower and came out of her room. The house was quiet, and darker than she remembered. She wandered around the living room, stopping at the showcase, where everything in it was exactly as she remembered. Her mother came to the living room from the kitchen, and Vasundhara gave her the obligatory hug, and lakshmamma setup dinner on the living room table. Vasundhara said “the house is exactly the same, nothing has changed” Her mother was quick to reply, “I only have to take care, I have kept it as good as I can, and with no one to care for, some of these have worn out, but who cares……”

Vasundhara decided to focus all her energy on the vada she picked up from the table and told Lakshmamma “very nice” and got herself immersed in her dinner.

When Vasundhara woke up from her jet lagged sleep, it was slightly after 10 in the morning, she checked her messages and was glad to find Sneha’s message saying, she will drop by in the evening to pick her to the college reunion that was planned in the evening. She quickly freshened up, went into the kitchen, found some breakfast. Just when she was about to finish, her mother and Lakshmamma opened the door. They had lot of shopping bags in their hands and Vasundhara helped them out with that. They had gone to shop pooja items for their father’s last rites ceremony.

She imperceptibly found from her mother the exact date of the ceremony and the arrangements for the same. All seemed to be in control, the purohit and the caterers were booked. About 100 were expected, but can never say with death ceremonies, her mother was declaring.

“Sneha is dropping by in the evening, we are going to that reunion party” Vasundhara said. Her mother just nodded vaguely, which Vasundhara was sure was a nod of irritancy. She quickly added,” it is a dinner party, and I might be late, so will take the home keys with me”, for which her mother just shrugged without a word. Vasundhara decided to let it be and waited for Sneha

Sneha was a high school teacher in a famous CBSE school. She was both school friend and a neighbor to Vasundhara since their first grade. After marriage Sneha had moved to Malleshwaram, and her parents had sold their property and had moved to an apartment. Both Sneha and Vasundhara kept in touch with each other since the last 5 years after Sneha traced Vasundhara. They chatted in whatsApp regularly and they knew fairly well about what was happening in each one’s life

“Heard Prithvi, is in Bangalore” Sneha mentioned as they were sitting in a coffee shop in the JW marriot from where they had planned to hop on to the reunion party in JW plaza 2 floors above.

Vasundhara did not respond. “I think, he knows you are coming, someone must have told him”. Vasundhara again did not respond “you think you want to meet him?”

Vasundhara was thinking, “I would love to see him, talk to him, hold his hands, walk round the Jaymahal park like the old times” but she just said “why? What for?”

“For satisfying our curiosity of course” cried Sneha smiling “to find out about his wife, his life after you left to States”

“The woman he married two years after he told me he was too focused on his air force training to marry me?” thought Vasundhara. She just uttered “what is there to know? Nothing novel will come out of it”

“C’mon, atleast he can see you and eat his heart out. I don’t know how he looks right now, but trust me you look spectacular for a 40-year-old. In fact, you look more beautiful than you were 25 years before. Before you were pretty in an obvious sense of way, but now you look picturesque with a quaint charm about you” declared Sneha, who herself was a tall and striking personality

Vasundhara just laughed, “What good it is for anyone? We could be Anjelina Jolies, but we still need to go back to our lives of you teaching in school and me running a path lab”

“Whatever, I am happy that we look this way, and if we want to, we can fool around with our charm, it is not what I want to do, but it is nice to know, that I have that choice” said sneha. They both laughed…

She probed again “So you want to meet Prithvi? You should you know. It has been 20 years, it is nice to meet an old acquaintance, and you were so close to him right. And we are not kids, we know our boundaries ….”

She will never understand. For her it is a thrill” Vasundhara was thinking

“You remember, how we used to look forward to his coming to the college. He would always get a chocolate bar and you would give the whole of it to me. Did he ever realize you hated chocolates?”. sneha enquired laughing.” Man you must have watched hundreds of movies with him”

Vasundhara remembered how she would bunk college, and go to his bachelor pad in RT Nagar. He would cook for her and his home was like her own, where she even had a cupboard for herself. To her friends, she would fib that she was going to the movies or someplace out and no one knew about their hub at his home. “Five years….. I have been with him, heart and soul, she thought. And we managed to keep it a secre”t, she thought relieved

“He was not just an acquaintance Sneha” replied Vasundhara

“I know, but he is as good as one now” replied Sneha “when was the last you met him? guess it was at the opening ceremony of Rakesh’s studio. That is where you distributed your invitation cards to everyone….” Did he come to your wedding?”

“No he did not” replied Vasundhara

She remembered the last time she had met Prithvi. It was in Jaymahal park, where she had begged him to marry her. She promised him that she won’t be a burden on him and would live alone till he completed his air force pilot training in Delhi. All she wanted was to be legally wedded to him. That was the only way she knew she could get a semblance of acceptance from her parents. There was no way her parents would tolerate a live in relationship, which was what Prithvi had vehemently wanted. He had called her selfish for not understanding his point of view while she had begged him to understand hers

“I never understood what went wrong with you two. Suddenly you just announced your wedding to Vijay” Sneha was saying

Vasundhara thought “My heart broke, that was what happened. Marriage was a very small price he could have paid for what we had” but said “It was a long time ago Sneha, lot of water has flown under the bridge, and we are in our own islands of life now”

“You know he might come in here today” said Sneha “he is invited though he was 4 years our senior. Or I guess he is invited unofficially …. That was what Rohit was saying. Oh well for the old times sake hope he drops by”

The hope to accidently bump into him, just to see how he looks, how he would look at her, was the hope that Vasundhara had been living with all through her life, after marriage. Now she seemed unsure. But before she could respond, Rohit came by. “Ah you girls look great! and same as before”. Rohit gave them both a hug and confirmed “Gopi is on his way. He should be here in 15 mins” said Rohit. The four of them had decided to have a private catch up before the others arrived.

He looked at vasundhara and declared “what is it? 20 years since we met? Man the time has flown. So you a big shot in US I heard?

Vasundhara laughed “I work in a lab and you own many labs, so who is the big shot” they both laughed. Rohit added “you are pretty modest for a person working in NIH”

“You really disappeared from the scene Vasu, at one point we were hanging out everyday and suddenly we don’t even know where you are and what you are doing” cried Rohit. “typical, what happens to people who go off to US. But your disappearance was very weird, the other US big shots atleast ensure they keep in touch to show off their fairy tale life” he exclaimed laughing. “You disappeared like you wanted to avoid us and we were hurt and we may have called you names during those days”. they all laughed

“I take the credit to have dug her out and how?!! shouted sneha. It took me years to get her contact info. “funnily it was through Vijay’s cousin I got her contact no”

Gopi joined in all exchanged pleasantries “you look great Vasu…. And Sneha… you look hot as ever”. “And you look drunk as ever” added Sneha jokingly

They were sipping coffee. When Rohit asked “are you in touch with Prithvi?”

Vasu thought oh God, hope these people don’t think I am fixated with Prithvi and just replied “No”

“He might come by today he is in Bangalore on Business” said Rohit

“Do I want to see him?” Vasu was asking herself “and to what end?” She was suddenly immersed in sadness that went deeper than ever before

Others were reminiscing about the different people and events. They were laughing remembering how Prithvi used to bribe the judges to ensure that their theater group won all the prizes, simply because Vasu was part of it.  Vasu wanted to run. Suddenly she wanted none of this. She wanted to be back in her home in States, where there were no memories that could haunt her. She got up and mumbled “rest room” and slipped away from her friends, from whom she wanted some space.

She locked herself in the restroom, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and saw her face in the mirror, and suddenly got angry at herself. “why does this affect me so much. I was dumped by a man 20 years ago, and by a man who was …what …selfish, egotistic, heard hearted, and in all likely hood, never thought very less of her. She was now married to a decent man, in a good job, with lovely twins… why should he haunt her so much now. He can go to hell!” she declared to herself angrily. “Oh God for the heart ache he has incited on me, make him remember me in his death bed atleast and with regret that he does not have me by his side” she thought sadly. She fixed her face and took a resolve to leave the thoughts of Prithvi behind her and went back to her table

Sneha was arguing “I never had a crush on Dhruv…. You guys are imagining”

“We are not”, Rohit quipped. I remember how you used to find excuse to sit next to him or borrow notes… you used to try a lot to get his attention”

“I don’t remember all that… all I remember is he was a studious boy, whose notes I used to trust and prefer… anyway what is he doing now?”

“He is also in US, is quite private, not much in Social media, like our Vasu”

They turned to Vasu “You did not come to your brother’s wedding right?”.

“Ya I was almost 9 months pregnant with my twins. I saw the pictures though I did see Sneha and you in some of the pictures.” reflected Vasu

“And still you did not feel like getting in touch with us?” pointed Rohit

Sneha intervened “ya right, she had just had twins, and in the midst of juggling the twins and her work, she would think, Yes! Now I want to get in touch of Rohit”

“C’mon, all I am saying is we were not just friends, we were close friends, she did not have the slightest curiosity to find if we were still alive?” quipped Rohit

Vasu just gave up and yelled “Look, I am sorry Rohit I have been a very self-centered bitch, I never cared, but I want to make amends now…. I promise I will keep in touch. I will ensure that I will everyday check if you are dead or alive. OK…”

Everyone laughed and the others from their reunion party started trickling by and everyone got busy meeting one another.

It was 11.30 when most of the reunion party had left. It was back to the original group of Vasu, Sneha, Rohit and Gopi, with one addition of Ganesh who stayed back lingering around the bar.

Gopi was saying “it was fun. Thanks Ganesh for organizing this”

It was nice to meet people after so many years … People don’t change much do they? Did you notice Rajiv… he is still the flirt he was and half the things he was saying was untrue just like the old times”

“And look at our Ganesh” he asserted to Ganesh “neither have you changed… you have always been an organizer…. Thanks to you, we had this memorable evening”.

“Ganesh, you are an event manager by profession right?” enquired sneha. “wow! You have chosen a perfect profession for yourself. You have always been the organizer of our batch. Remember the final year’s teachers’ day program? The Chemistry prof had tears in her eyes at the end of the party we gave them. You had organized for dhol and drums (Indian drums), and lot of lecturers were saying that after their wedding this was the only time they were garlanded…. You always had a skill to touch people’s heart in the events you organized Ganesh. You are so good at this and lucky for you, you have made a profession out of what you are so good at”.

Ganesh proclaimed “actually I should thank Prithvi for giving me a break in this field” Everyone looked surprised. “you know the opening ceremony of his first training center, I managed that event. He gave me free hand, to do what I pleased. I had organized a theater group to demonstrate why his personality development school is very important and beneficial to youth. I had organized for eminent members from every industry to be there. Sudha Murty from Infosys, Girish karnad, from theater community, Dr Hegde… it was a huge success. And since then I have been managing the opening ceremony of all his 21 training centers. He was supposed to come here today… wonder what happened. Well … he is a big shot… I am not surprised…”

“He was always a big shot”, thought Vasu. Remembering the days when he was doing his PG, and juggling some successful content management business.“He always had a flair to be a big shot” she thought almost in pride

“Oh wow! He has so many centers? Never knew, but I do know that his centers do a great job of personality building courses. My office has his courses as the standard program for the new entrants” said Gopi

Vasu was remembering how in the old days; he would be great motivator for everyone around. Even for her, when she was not sure if she could get through the IISc entrance exams for post-graduation, how he had pushed her to take the exam, where she did get selected. If not for the marriage she would have taken the IISc path.

Ganesh was saying “the man has a great charisma, I heard he got a standing ovation for his talk in IIMb on the importance of non-technical trainings in the Industry and Society”

“What is his training centers called?” Asked Vasu

“you don’t know!!” exclaimed Rohit. “Man you are something, you really turned all of us off, even Prithvi”

Vasu looked at him vexed “don’t go on and on again… I have told you already, I have been a bitch. Move on….!!”

Ganesh responded “it is called ‘TFB’, it stands for thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

“Oh!” exclaimed Sneha impressed

“His ideology is that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours distinguishes individuals from one another and shapes us up in what we become in life” Ganesh was saying

“Just like him. Fancy ideas. He never bothered to understand how his behaviour and feelings impacted me” thought Vasu

Sneha exclaimed “Wait…. Is it the same centre with a name board TFB with a logo of a monkey carrying another monkey on the back?

“ya … that’s the one” replied Ganesh

“It does not make sense to the theme of the centre right?” asked Sneha…. “How is this monkey pic related to personality development?”

“Actually I had asked him the exact question on our first meeting, in fact had suggested various other logos and had fought with him that his logo will be deterrent to the theme he was trying to promote…. A monkey picture to promote a personality development center…. But he was very adamant to use it exactly the same way. A big monkey, carrying a smaller monkey on it’s back and the smaller monkey wearing a blue scarf… I never got it. But then he is doing so well, inspite of it….” He laughed “his center is one of the top three training centers in India and he also has centers in Singapore and Dubai. He has 19 centers in India and 1 in Singapore and 1 in Dubai”

“I see it every day and never gave it much thought. Never imagined it was all Prithvi’s” said sneha

“Monkey on a Monkey’s back….” Vasundhara was thinking, her face white. She remembered the first time she had been to his home, he had carried her on his back and had declared “This is the way a bride should be carried to her home, and this is how I will carry you home after our wedding”.

“This is how monkeys do it” she had squealed in mock holding his shoulders as he held her on his back.

“So we are the happy monkeys” he had replied and took her on a tour inside his home carrying her on his back. She was wearing the blue scarf that he had gifted her that day and as far as she could remember that was the happiest day in her life other than the day she had held her twins in her hands for the first time.

That had been their routine, since then, whenever they were celebrating, like him passing the pilot entrance exams or her finals’ results or any happy moments were celebrated with him carrying her on his back and dancing around the house. It was a silly expression that had become a habit to him, much to her chagrin sometimes ….

Ganesh was saying “He has always been an enigma. Never explains himself, very easy going in somethings, very stubborn in others. Well he has had his share of let downs in life, so he is entitled to being eccentric”

Everyone asked almost together “what let downs?”

“Oh he has a permanent limp on his right leg, that resulted from some hematoma or some such thing, that was neglected and treated late. He suffers from permanent pain in his leg due to a damage to his leg muscles. He is mostly on pain killers and walks with a stick. That was the reason he could not become an air force pilot” said Ganesh.

“Wow so much we don’t know and so much we assume. I always thought he was a big shot business man, never imagined all this” muttered Gopi. “wish we could have met him today”

Vasu and Sneha were in Sneha’s car at the back. Sneha was telling her driver not to come for work next day, since he had worked so late that day. Vasu was quiet hoping not to be interrupted. Sneha guessed as much and busied herself with all the whatsapp messages, looking through the pics of that day’s party. Finally Sneha could not hold back “Do you want to meet him? I can easily find his number, you are going to be here for another 15 days and you can plan it out”

“No…. better this way, nothing to be gained. He has his life, I have mine, there is no need to disturb it” said Vasu. They passed the rest of the time in silence till Vasu was dropped at her house.


Vasu was on her way to the airport 15 days later, the taxi ride, did not seem as bad as it was while she was coming from airport 15 days back. She inhaled deeply as the taxi took a turn near the Baptist hospital. This was the hospital where her father had breathed his last. For the first time she remembered the good times with her mom and dad as a child. The days when they would go the Anjanaya temple on Saturday evenings. It was a family routine, for many years, they would visit the temple, and then go to Sukh sagar, have tiffin cum dinner. Thrifty though her father was, this was a routine he never missed. She remembered her mother those days, planning light lunches on Saturdays, just so that they can eat their heart’s content in the evenings. Wonder what happened to them in the later years she wondered.

Vasu had had a dialog with her mom finally. As she was getting ready to leave to the airport, her mother had started what looked like her next life time grievance “from tomorrow, I need to lead a lonely life, atleast your father was there till now” she had started sobbing.

Vasu could no longer keep mum she shouted “amma, the last 10 or more years, you have led a miserable life with appa. You both could not stand each other. Why?… last Diwali when I had called you, you even said you will get peace only after he dies. He is dead now, you have your peace. Why this tragic tears. Why cant you be ever happy. Look if you cannot be here, you are always welcome in my home. If you need anything here, anything at all, I can arrange that. Beyond that it is upto you to decide to be happy or miserable. I have never seen you happy with any of us. You had problems with appa, you cant stand your daughter-in-law even for your son’s sake and me …. you wanted me out of the house the minute you could arrange it. Believe me, nobody on this earth can make you happy, since you have decided to be unhappy. We have never expected anything from you amma…. I have never burdened you with my problems ever. Me and anna (brother) ….we have never let you feel any financial burden. What do you want from us? You want to be sad, because you feel you are not entitled to be happy. Please come out of that mind set. Be happy. That is the only thing you can truly contribute to your children’s happiness”

They heard the taxi beeping. Vasu hugged her mother, and added “love you ma, will arrange for your tickets if you want to come to my home after your trip to Kashi” and left. Deep down, she hoped she never had to come back here, because she knew, if she had to come back, it would definitely not be for happy occasions.

As they approached the Devanahalli check post, she checked her purse to ensure her tickets and passport were handy. She felt the compact hand mirror in her purse and felt a deep melancholy. The mirror was a gift Prithvi had given her on her 20th birthday. She had found it from the box she had dumped in her mom’s attic 20 years ago. The mirror was a like a round compact powder box, only smaller with a flower pattern all over it. It had her name inscribed on top and when flipped open, the cap had the mirror inside it and on the base was written “You are looking at the face of my life”

She wondered if she would ever see him again. But then thought “it is meant to be this way. Else the world would have conspired for us to meet some way. And if it is meant to be, we will meet someday. Maybe that is the day when we would have paid our price to indulge in our love. And if not, why is it needed also. We have each other’s love, we have had the providence of experiencing this whole feeling we have for each other. How many get to experience such a feeling?

So thinking she made the rest of her journey back home

Short Story – Trying not to be

It was Friday evening- the poker night for the ladies of the “Brigade Apartments” in Malleswaram. It had never occurred to Tanuja till late afternoon that it was her turn to host the night. Tanuja was a Client Implementation Partner for a CRM product company. She typically had busy Fridays and today was an especially hectic one. Only at 4 PM, when she was done with all her meetings, she saw the pictures of “Thengol in the making for tonight” in WhatsApp sent by Sridevi from her poker gang. What was Thengol? Tanuja tried to recall. “Something belonging to the family of south Indian crispies”, she decided.

She had always resented this convention of sending pictures of what you cook to the message group. “Why would you want to do that?” she would think. “To crow to people about what you can cook?”. But today these pictures had saved her a day of wrath from her friends, had she forgotten that she was the host.

A few years back Tanuja would have resented any idea of kitty parties like these, but she had grown to understand that unless she learnt to appreciate the petty joys of women mingling, she would struggle to cope with the stress of being a single mother and would end up like Meena aunty, her neighbor who hardly had any friends or visitors. She lived a life alone scorning at anyone who she thought would not match up to her intellect and had let the distance between her and the people around her increase. Having had a many heart to heart conversations with Meena Aunty, she had learnt that one of the biggest traps that a woman can find herself in is to develop a belief that all the people who indulge in the mundane gossip or the cookery talks or the in-laws bashing do not possess the necessary acumen of a learned and wise person.

She left office and went straight to the food street of Malleswaram and ordered bajjis, dry bhel, samosas and jalebis to be delivered to her apartment. From there, she went to “Madhuloka” a wine boutique- one of the leading wine stores’ chain in Bangalore. When she entered the wine boutique, the shop manager gave her a knowing smile as if to say, “I am a cool guy, who does not judge a woman who comes to a wine store”. Tanuja did not return the smile thinking, “When will people stop saying, IT IS OK for women to buy, consume or sell liquor? Well, it was NOT OK for human beings to do that”. She chuckled to herself and thought, “Imagine a poker night without wine. Surely Sridevi would approve of it. But the poker nights would not have continued”. The only reason her friends and her (barring Sri), looked forward to poker nights was to have a social excuse to drink. Most of the times they hardly played anything, only ended up eating, drinking and talking their hearts out about their insecurities or conquests.

Tanuja looked forward to this especially since it was on 4th Friday of every month when her children spent their weekend at her ex-husband’s home. In fact the poker nights was started by Priya, after Tanuja was divorced 8 years back. Initially it was just Tanuja and Priya, and now it had expanded to other ladies in the building as well.

Tanuja reached home at 7 PM and quickly showered and as she was about to light the diya in her pooja room, her phone rang. She looked at the caller. It was Neha, her daughter.

“Hi Sweetie, you guys reached your dad’s alright?”

“Yes Ma. And Ma our school is off on both Monday and Tuesday, because of Onam”. Tanuja could hear son’s hooting in the background

“That’s a lot of holidays you have had this month! And hey we can visit your Ajji this Monday then!!”

Ma, Dad’s checking if we can go to Chickmanglur to his farmhouse and whether we could also visit Vijay uncle and Saru Aunty”. Vijay was Sujay’s (Tanuja’s ex-husband’s) brother.

“It has been ages since I saw Nikhil and Nitya. And Nikil is going off to Boston in the coming August! Please Ma, can we go?”

“Does Rahul want to come as well?” before Neha could respond, Rahul was already shouting “Mama please! I want to go!”

“What about your homework? And do you have enough clothes? When do you plan to leave?”

“We finished our homework in the afternoon Ma and Dad has washed and ironed all our clothes, and once Jyothi Aunty is back from office, we plan to leave”.

A pang of melancholy ran into her spine hearing Jyothi, Sujay’s current wife’s name. She wished she was callous enough to tell them no, but she could not.

“If you guys think you are going to be ok, go ahead”, she said. A sob almost escaped her, but went unnoticed in her children’s cries of joy.

“Thank you, Ma…. You are the best”, shouted Rahul over the speaker

“Be careful both of you. Don’t go wandering around alone”

“Ok Ma, bye!” Shouted Neha into the phone before she ended the call.

Tanuja sat down, with tears rolling over her cheeks. She sat not moving, till she heard her door bell ring. She wiped her face, tied her hair with a clip and opened the door. It was Priya and Sri. They barged in carrying Tupperware boxes filled with food for the evening.

Sri was angry with Priya and told Tanuja, “This one went and invited Anne! If I had known before, I would not have agreed to come today”

“Oh, c’mon Sri, why do you have to be so racist even for a slumber party? We are not doing a pooja or anything, we are just playing poker. And anyway she said she will not come”

“Obviously she will not join us” went on Sri, “She probably has another party to go to, and pester them to convert to her religion. Do you remember at Vivek’s Birthday, how she preached on and on about her holy book and all the sins we commit? And, how if we don’t follow her holy book, we are all doomed to go to hell? And, she has the nerve to say that, after eating our holy animals?”

“It’s ok Sri, leave it. She is not coming. And I only called her so that she will not feel bad being left out.” Priya tried to pacify Sri, “She is doing something, that she has been brought up to do. It is not as if we all get influenced by her right? Remember she has never done that in our gatherings after Tanu told her not to do that? You must agree Sri, except for her religious idiosyncrasies, she is fun to have around. She is well read and she is one among the few who get our sense of humor. And she is always there when we need help. Just last month you borrowed her gas cylinder!”

“Oh please, I gave her back a new filled one. You are just inviting her so that you can go and eat her famous fish curry and appam!”

Priya laughed. And Sri gave her a scornful look. Tanuja was busy tidying up the dining room and then excused herself to light the diya in the pooja room. She came out looking tired and unenthusiastic.

Priya asked her, “Are you alright? You don’t look well”

“I am alright, it’s just that my mood is a bit off”. Just then, Divya and Sapna also joined them

Tanuja told them about the call from her children and said, “I know it is not fair to feel this way when my children just want to have a good time with their father, but I am not able to get off this bitter feeling that it should have been me there instead of Jyothi, his new, beautiful, charming and despicable wife”

“Of course, it should have been you”, lashed out Divya, “but for that bastard of your ex-husband, who ditched you for her”

Sri interjected, “Why do you have to tolerate this Tanu, just stop sending your children to visit him and least of all to be with her!”

“It is not their fault if they want to be with their father occasionally and I don’t want to fill their minds with all the negativity that is there in my life” replied Tanuja

“I just don’t get how you do it Tanu” said Sapna. “If I were in your place I would have taken my children far away from him and made him lose out on being with his children.”

Just then, Priya turned to Tanu and asked her where the cork opener was. Tanu welcomed this purposeful diversion and went to the kitchen to fetch the cork opener.

For two hours, the group played poker with the same fervor as any professional gamblers. Sri did not drink wine but she was intoxicated with exhilaration of being the best poker player in the group. Tanuja and Priya were more focused on their wine. Sapna tried to give Sri a good run for her money but with little success. Finally with three bottles emptied and Sri’s zest receded they stopped playing and resorted to just lying around in the living room

“Hey Divya, show us the pictures, na? said Sapna.

“What pictures?” asked Priya

“Pictures of Divya in her see through negligee that she bought for her special day” said Sapna

“C’mon, it is not for any special day. It is just another impulse buying”

“Coincidently on time for “the day”?” Chuckled Sapna

“What special day? What are you both talking about?” asked Priya

“Tell them Divs” teased Sapna

“Oh, dear lord, why are you making this a big thing Sapna, there is nothing to discuss!” shouted Divya. She looked at Sapna and said, “Will you stop it?!”

“Hey Divs, you’ll tell Sapna and not tell us? and since when did you start getting conscious about talking about your love life?” asked Tanuja

“There is nothing to tell Tanu, it is just that Vikram has a week off from the hospital and like every time, wants to spend it with me”, said Divya.

“In her house”, giggled Sapna. “particularly in her bedroom, !!”

“Ugh, you make it sound so gross”, retorted Divya. “I have known Vikram for 8 months now. So, what’s the big deal?”

“It is a big deal …. a 40-something like us, having a hot date!!”

“And because we are 40-something, it is hardly a date, it is more of a mutual inner peace attainment” said Divya, winking her eyes

“Can’t you people get married?” asked Sri scornfully. “How long can you sustain such relationships?”

“Ah, the ever ‘goody two shoes’ Sri, when will you grow up to understand that it is not necessary to sustain a relationship for the sake of inner peace” asked Divya.

“One man to another every other year? How long can you keep doing that? You have earned a reputation in this building you know …. They call you the ‘man-huntress’” said Sri

“And why do I care what the old hags here call me? It is a life I have chosen and life I intend to keep up with. I am not cheating any man nor am I not giving false hopes to any man, I am open to them about my intentions, and if they choose to walk out, they can”

“Why will any man walk out of free, unattached sex?” asked Priya

“Do you not remember Raghav?” Asked Divya “I had to feign an affair with another man to get out of his emotional clutches. He brawled like a girl when I broke up with him”

“I don’t understand how you do it Divya. Going from one man to another. Isn’t it tiring?” asked Priya

“And being intimate with so many men”, asked Sapna. Before Divya could speak, she added “Look I am not judging you in a moral sense, but from a mental and physical aspect of it. Don’t you want to hang up your boots and say, “I want to settle down now?””

“Settle down to what? For the life of me, I cannot nurture babies and that includes a husband. And I am not missing or regretting anything, I don’t like festivals, I don’t like family get togethers, I can’t stand being responsible for another human being. I know you will say I am very selfish, but I believe I am being selfless by not putting a man and his children through my way of life. I cannot be like you ladies… I am not wired for family life.”

Sri asked, “So you are saying we all are leading lousy lives?”

“Not lousy for you, but lousy for me…. But to think about it, you have had only one man in your life…. And what can be lousier than that?” chuckled Divya.

“Isn’t one man enough? To know all there is to know about men?”, asked Sri.

“Not for me darling… it is like saying you have tasted one flavor of ice cream and that is all to it. There are different flavors and if you girls want to settle only for vanilla flavor, that is your loss” said Divya

“Girls, can we move on to a different topic please, whatever flavor it might be, you’ll get sick eating ice cream all the time” said Tanuja.

“Spoken like a true Indian divorcee my dear, but how would you know the effects of too much? Divorced at 35, I would say, you have not even had enough of the vanilla flavor”, laughed Divya. “I don’t mean to pry, but tell me seriously- it has been 8 years, how do you cope? You being you, you used to relish your vanilla ice cream with your heart and soul, and now with no ice cream at all… you know it is not healthy.”

Tanuja’s cheeks reddened. She was about to reply and Sri spoke, “Why would you ask such a thing of Tanu, Divya? She has her own life to live, that doesn’t include going around tasting ice-creams. How would you understand what a single mother has to sacrifice for her children?”

“Single Mothers should not eat ice-cream? That is the lamest thing I have heard, even from you Sri”, laughed Divya. She looked at Tanuja and asked, “Really Tanu, your ex-husband- father of your children- is going on a vacation with your children and his current wife, and you think you are required to restrain from having a personal life for your children? I have known you for long. You have never posed as a goody two shoes. You are smart, intelligent and beautiful. He dumped you, re-married and you have resigned to playing a nanny to your children?”

“It is a choice I made”, replied Tanuja wryly

“Hey, you did have one ice cream party though…. with that US guy… Varada ….something … the one that was your B school class mate?” shouted Sapna.

“Varadarajan Pillay… yes I remember” said Sri. “He was from my home town. Not just B school classmate, he was her classmate during her BE as well”

“Yeah what happened to him?” asked Priya

“He got married  years back and had twins, I guess they must be 3 years old now”

“7 years back? You were divorced then…. You could not work out things with him?” asked Sapna.

“I was not in that zone to say yes to him”, replied Tanu.

“Which means he asked you?”, asked Divya, with her eyebrows raised

Tanu realized she had let her tongue slip. She contemplated for a moment about what to say next and decided to go with, “Yes he did”

“And you said NO!!!” shouted Priya “I remember you once telling me about that dreamy weekend you guys had…”

Sri looked lost and shocked, “And when was that? How come I don’t know about this?”

“It was a long time ago Sri, we did not know you then. It was ….” replied Priya, trying to remember

”My kids and your kids went to a republic day parade with Sujay to Delhi. He had great tickets and he agreed to take your kids as well… He had said it will give you a break from recovering from your gall bladder operation” remembered Priya

Divya quipped “Tell us about it Tanu… how was that dreamy weekend?”

Priya and Tanu exchanged glances. Priya had this dazed look and Tanu replied quickly “It was a one weekend thing… never more than that.”

“How did this happen?” asked Sapna.

“We knew each other since college days, he was visiting Bangalore and he wanted to see me…Then, it happened and we never met after that” Tanuja said.

“Why?!!”, asked Sri. “You did not like him?”

“He was perfect! I don’t know… my kids and all….it just couldn’t work” replied Tanu.

“Oh, please not again!! Did the nanny job come in between? You are such a dumbass” scorned Divya

“Yeah, whatever girls…. Let’s move on with the game ok?” pleaded Tanu

“You are so selfless, Tanu”, cried Sri. “You have put your children ahead of everything in your life. And look at Sujay! He had his fun with you…. Dumped you and left you to raise the kids. And now gets the best of everything”

“Oh, that asshole…. And that bitch Jyothi… gets ready-made children to have fun with at liesure. You do the nanny work and they have fun”, bantered Sapna. “I want to strangle Sujay… what did he want that bitch for? You were so perfect. Men are such assholes…. They just can’t have enough.”

“Seriously can we not talk about this please” pleaded Tanu. “It’s over. I have moved on…I chose what I wanted and I have made the choices… may have been lousy ones, but they are mine to live with. And want is not meant to be is not meant to be…. I have accepted that”

Tanu got up and started clearing the plates…. the others exchanged quick glances. Divya heaved a sigh and said “Oh, I am famished. I want to eat some real food”

Sri said “I have got Pulav…..” she got up and opened her boxes. “I have got rasam too… Priya, you wanted to have my rasam… see I remembered. I got some white rice too”.

“I want rasam rice too” cried Sapna

They ate and went about discussing about the dream trip they always planned during these parties. Everyone had ideas on where they should do the all-girls vacation. Sri was rambling on about the greatness of a Kailash Manasasarovar trip, Divya on Europe and Sapna on Bali. Priya was unusually quiet and contemplative, and Tanu looked like she was waiting to see them off and crash.

Sri noticed and said, “You too seem to be sleeping already, I think we should call it a night”

Sapna and Divya were giggling to their own jokes on what women could do on a Bangkok trip and stood up and said, “This was fun Tanu” next month is Divya’s turn, she will tell us about her hot date with Vikram then”. Divya quipped, “Get a life, Sapna”

They all left except Priya. She volunteered to help clean up, though Tanu didn’t seem too keen for her help.

Priya washed all the glasses and kept them on the kitchen window sill to dry. Tanu cleaned the kitchen counter and the living room and while rinsing the mop and said “Thank you Priya. It looks so clean… as though the party never happened”. Priya just watched her quietly.

“Do you want some green tea before you leave?” asked Tanu. Priya simply nodded. Tanu was quiet as well and brought the tea to the dining table

When they were sipping the tea Priya finally broke her silence, “It was before your divorce with Sujay, isn’t it?

“What?”, asked Tanu.

“Your weekend rendezvous with Varada, I just remembered the Republic Day trip of the kids, that was the day after Rahul’s thread ceremony. He was seven then, so that makes it a year before your divorce with Sujay…. before Sujay announced his decision to split up with you” Priya said. “I remember you and Sujay attending the thread ceremony with his mom”

Tanu just looked at her. Her heart went through an electrifying flutter.

“You let Sujay take all the blame?”, asked Priya

“It was his decision”, replied Tanu

“Hmmm the kids…. He was always very sensitive to the kids’ feelings”, reflected Priya to Tanu. “was that a one weekend thing or ……?” asked Priya.

Tanu whimpered “I have always loved Varada, When he left for Australia for his MS, we drifted apart a bit and met again few years after Rahul was born…. And since then whenever he came to India, we would …. Catch up….”

“How did Sujay get to know?”, asked Priya.

“I told him.” Tanu paused and Priya looked on “After that republic day weekend, I decided to break up with Varada and come clean with Sujay. I thought I will start afresh…. But Sujay could not come to terms with my affair, and he decided to move on.”

“Why did you not go back to Varada?”, asked Priya

“Varada moved on after our breakup and was engaged to his wife; he does not know I have split with Sujay. I could not bring myself to tell him” replied Tanu.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, and Priya got up, picked her bag and reminded Tanu about the house warming function that they had to go the next day. “We need to leave at eleven”, she said and left.

Short Story – A Tale of two choices

Dev Patil a former Indian cricketer, a noted batsmen, is one of the pioneers in the history of cricket. Born in a Kannadiga family, he started playing cricket at the age of 12 and later represented the state team at the under-17 and under-19 levels. Among the many awards that he got, the one that Dev cherished most was when he was named one of the best 10 cricketers of the year by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac in 1998. He was also rated as the top ten sexiest cricketers by People magazine, but he seemed oblivious to the fact that he was considered a very handsome guy with a charm of a sensitive down to earth South Indian

He had retired international, ODI and first class cricket but his passion for the game was still as renewed as it was during his first international debut against England 20 years back. He had the option of choosing some of the most prestigious corporate career offers after his retirement, but as a self-effacing man, and his ideology of giving back to the society, he had developed an instinct to mentor the upcoming cricketers and to no one’s surprise after his retirement in 2014, Dev joined the Young India Cricket Association, Bangalore as a member of their board of selectors. . In collaboration with this Foundation he was also coaching India’s junior women cricket team.

On a wet rainy day in early July of 2014, he was being driven by his driver to the Columbia Asia hospital, to get a consult on a muscle injury he had gotten the day before, during his daily work out. He knew it was an acute injury to his right leg calf and though there was no fracture, his leg felt too stiff and painful to walk.

He was preoccupied with the promise he made his mother today to take a decision on Sathya aunty’s niece. “She is a beautiful girl- a genetic engineer and she is from our caste!” his mother had exclaimed. “You are being inconsiderate to me, Devu. I have always, always supported you. When your father had refused to support your cricket career, I backed you up. And now I am asking you to just do this one thing for me. I know you like her and I am very sure she will say yes if you show interest. You both hit it off so well, in Jayant’s wedding. She is also dedicated to her career just like you and she would make a perfect wife to you. Look Dev, either do this for me or I will go away to Pune to Siddesh uncle’s house. I have had it with your lonesome life”.

Dev had groaned “but ma, we hardly know each other”.

His Mother “that is why take her out to dinner this weekend. ”. Dev had relented and agreed to dine with the genetic engineer.
“Mother has supported me always, I could have done anything she wanted, but just not this” thought Dev sighing, “No matter what one’s achievement is in this country, they are mauled by his marital and parental status”

His car came to a halt in front of the hospital entrance and his driver said “Sir please get down here and wait for me, I will park the car and come back with your medical files”. Dev got out of the car, he took a step and almost fell down, and the hospital security helped him to a chair outside the entrance. Dev sat down realizing that his injury was more severe than he thought.

The driver sped off to the parking lot and Dev was left to himself sitting on a chair with his baseball cap and a Ralph Lauren polo sweater with a hood, intentionally covering most of his face, to avoid being recognized. He watched a boy wearing what looked like Punjabi pajama kurta, purple in color, cleaning the entrance of the hospital. The boy was wearing a woolen skull cap and out of two holes in the cap, Dev could see few dark black curls of hair popping out. The boy was engrossed in clearing the water on the entrance steps making swishing noises. As time passed, there was something about the boy that caught Dev’s eyes. The boy was wearing slightly oversized clothes with a distinct piercing on both ears with small bronze rings. He had finger rings on 4 of his fingers, which had petite design with different colored stones and beads. He also wore a stainless steel Punjabi men’s kada (bracelet) which seemed a little large for his bony wrists. It was not just the weird dressing sense that caught Dev’s attention, but the manually stitched sling bag the boy had on him that seemed to have a cricket bat and a cricket ball in them. The sling bag was made of old jeans. One leg of the jeans was stitched with a sling handle that looked like a tennis racket sling, only narrower to hold the cricket bat.

“Appu!” called a youth who ran up the steps, where this boy was standing. “Tomorrow’s match is cancelled. I am going to Tumkur, with Nagaraj and Badri. Sameer’s father has died. Do you want to come?”
“No, I cannot come; I cannot leave my mother, she is not keeping well”.
“Ok”, the youth replied, “Can you take my shift in the hotel? If you don’t I will lose my job. Sameer needs us. He has no one”. The boy replied “Yes I can take your shift”. “Ok then” the youth said and turned around.
“Wait!” the boy cried. He removed his watch and gave it to the youth. “Sell this and give the money to Sameer. Don’t tell anyone I gave them to you”. The youth gave him an enquiring look. “It is a Rolex watch; it will fetch a lot of money if you sell it in ‘Raja Market” Dev added. The youth nodded, took the watch and walked away.

Dev was intrigued by this. A sweeper boy, giving away an expensive watch, to support a friend, without a blink of an eye! How a sweeper boy could own a Rolex was one thing, giving it away without second thoughts was another

The boy finished clearing the water and brought a mop to dry the marble steps. As he came to the top steps where Dev was sitting, Dev tried to stand, to make room for the mopping, but gave a small cry of pain as he stood up. The boy said “You sit down Sir; I will clean that space once you go in”. Dev sat down. He realized he was sitting for 20 minutes and his driver had not yet come. His pain killers were wearing off and his ankle had started sending spasms of shooting pain from his foot up to his knee muscles. He called his driver and asked “You come back to the entrance and give me my medical file. I will go by myself”. The driver agreed and Dev sat wondering how he will haul himself 5 floors up to his orthopedic appointment.

Driver, Babu came by the entrance, got down and handed the file to Dev and asked, “Sir, will you be able to go by yourself?” Dev replied “I will manage”. Babu looked at the cleaning boy and said “Come here boy. Can you help Sir to reach the consultation room?” The boy looked at Dev and told Babu “I can take him”. Babu called the security and asked for a wheel chair. Dev protested but Babu insisted. Babu helped Dev to the wheel chair and the boy put his mop to the side and held the wheel chair. Babu said “I will go to the parallel road and once I am parked I will call you”. Dev nodded and pulled his cap down to cover his face further and the boy wheeled him into the hospital.

They reached the orthopedic consultation floor, five floors up through a crowded lift. Dev announced his name to the receptionist and asked her “Is the doctor in?” She replied with earnest nod and said “yes Mr. Patil. But he was just called for an emergency in the orthopedic ward and he said you should wait here”. Dev could not hide his discomfort and asked her “Do you have any pain meds? My leg is killing me”. She gave him a Zanaflex and a glass of water. He took the pain meds and asked the boy to push him to the corner close of the consultation room. Dev could easily get a doctor to his training camp, but he was not a man to trust any doctor and he had been seeing Dr. Murthy since he was a teenager.
Dev was texting a message to his training coordinator when he noticed the boy flipping through a sports magazine.

Dev asked, “You like sports?”
The boy nodded “Yes Sir”
“What is your name?”
“Apoorva, Sir. My friends call me Appu”
“What kind of sport do you like?”
“I simply love cricket!”
“You carry that bag with you always?”
“Yes, it has my cricket bat and ball. If I leave it at home, my neighbours will take it. They play rough sir, and my bat won’t survive with them. It is a SG Cobra bat, Sir. Made of English wood”
“SG Cobra Select!! That is a fine bat Apoorva, can I see it” Dev said thinking how this boy could get such an expensive bat.
Sanspareils Greenlands (SG) is India’s no.1 cricket gear brand and also world’s largest manufacturer of cricket gear.

Dev did not believe the boy had a genuine SG Cobra Select, thought may be a cheap imitation. To his surprise the boy removed a genuine Cobra Select. Dev held the bat and examined the thick edges and curved blade, it had the new multi-colour Player grip and also a Toe protector that gave better durability and maintained the moisture level. This was one of Dev’s favorite bats and he even endorsed this brand of bat
“This is a great bat Appu and I mostly play with this”
“I know Sir I have read about it” said Appu

Dev was intrigued that this boy had recognized him, but had kept quiet about it. Ignoring the muscle spasms that were still not quelled by the pain meds, he further probed the boy.
“You read English?”
“Yes Sir, last year I passed SSLC in English” he said proudly “I was third in my class Sir. I got 67%. And in the first attempt! I got award money also from a NGO sir.” Dev said, “That is wonderful Appu, did you get your bat from that money?”
“Arre Sir, can’t get this English bat for 500 rupees”, he said, grinning.
Dev noticed that the boy had a charming aura around him; he thought the boy looked wiser than his age. A snacks cart came by. Dev ordered a cup of coffee for himself and a sprite can for the boy. He saw the boy looking at him as they were sipping their drinks. Dev looked away and sipped his coffee, dissolved in his thoughts

He remembered his college days at Christ College, Bangalore where he earned his degree in commerce. He had had a friend, Mihir Pandey who used to tag along, uninvited with him everywhere in spite of subtle hints that Dev would give him to say that he would not want him around in public always. But Dev could never tell him bluntly not to follow him. He would avoid Mihir in the college, and ensured that he was never openly seen with Mihir. On Dev’s 18th birthday, Mihir presented him with a red silk shirt, saying, “It would look lovely on you Dev!” with a bright and expectant smile. This happened in front of Dev’s friends’ gang who used to already tease him that Mihir was his bonded slave. His friends started chuckling and mockingly said “Indeed you would look lovely Dev, it is a fine shirt”. Dev’s face turned red. He did not take the shirt. He spat at Mihir and yelled, “Mihir I do not want a present from you. I have told you many times not to follow me in the college, I don’t need you. Please leave me alone and get lost!” Mihir looked shocked, and walked away and Dev was too embarrassed by his friends’ leg-pulling about this, to ever care about what happened to Mihir after that. And this incident earned him his nickname for life “lovely Patil”. This name stayed even now and was commonly used in in his cricket circles too, though not many knew the origin of this nickname.

His mind wandered from Mihir back to the boy, the boy was watching the news on the TV in the reception Immediately after he finished his coffee, Appu took Dev’s empty cup and his Sprite can to a trash can and came back and sat quietly as though he was abashed to speak to him. After 5 minutes the receptionist came to him “Mr. Patil, Dr. Murthy was dragged into an emergency procedure and would take another 20 to 30 mins. If you cannot wait I can move your appointment to tomorrow sir”. Dev thought for a while. Another day of undiagnosed injury was hard to live with. He said “If it is another 30 minutes, I will wait”.

He broke the silence with Appu and asked him “Are you a batsman or a bowler?”
“I am an all-rounder Sir” Appu replied leaping with pride and naively charming smile and went on to explain to him “I have done batting, bowling and wicket keeping also, not always all in the same match but have always won matches for the team Sir”
Dev probed, “Who do you play for, who do you play with? Do you have a team?”
“Yes Sir I play for Gundu Rao gulley cricket association in Marathahalli.
Dev could not help laughing “Gundu Rao association!!? Never heard of this before” he said chuckling
Appu went on to explain, “It is the cricket group in our locality Sir. Gundu Rao, a gas dealer pays for this. He sometimes gets money from the residents also. But he himself mostly pays for the bats and balls and everything”.
“He got you a SG Select bat?!” Asked Dev
“No Sir, it was a gift by a friend”
Dev wondered who gifts a sweeper, a bat worth Rs. 10000.
He asked “What do your parents do?”
“I have never seen my father Sir. My mother works as a maid servant in Raheja apartments”
“You go to college?” asked Dev
“No sir, Have to earn money. My mother’s knees are weak. She complained every day that she has to work alone to take care of me. So I also started to work”
“You know, if you are so good at cricket, you can apply for Karnataka Under-19 team” asked Dev, not that he was sure of the cricket prowess of the boy, but simply to check his reaction. He was used to kids applying to him and almost begging him to influence them to the selection committee. He was curious as to why this boy had still not asked him
“My mother will not let me Sir” replied Appu, brushing his curly hair in an attempt to set it right.
“Why not?” asked Dev
Boy was quiet for some time and then answered “I won’t pass the medical tests Sir”
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Dev
The boy did not answer. Dev thought of all the grave diseases that one could have that would stop him from playing professional cricket
Dev looked at the boy who was staring at the floor. Dev thought he saw the boy’s eyes welling up.

Before he could say anything, his mobile rang. It was his driver. He was saying “Sir, I could not find any parking due to a rally going on, I will be waiting in the streets and would drive to the hospital entrance once your appointment is over”. Dev was answering ok to the driver, when he noticed the boy curling a strand of his hair with his fore finger.

Just as Dev hung up his mobile, the nurse called to say the doctor was ready to see him. Dev nodded to the boy and went into the consultation room. After a series of examinations, X-rays and scans, his doctor diagnosed it as a muscle tear. He prescribed him pain meds, R.I.C.E. treatment protocol, physiotherapy and exemption from rigorous physical activity for 3 months.

Dev finished all the required procedures in an hour’s time and then went to the cafeteria with the help of Appu. Dr. Rao had fixed him up for a neuro consult in 45 minutes, to ensure that nerve damage if any was also diagnosed and treated. He gave Appu money to get lunch for both of them. Appu got them a South Indian thali and butter milk. They sat quietly eating for sometime

Dev asked the boy “What is wrong with you Appu? Why can’t you try out for selections for Under-19?”
The boy looked at him and said “Let it be Sir, people like me don’t deserve to be in such teams.”
“But you already play cricket right? Why should a change in the team matter?” Asked Dev
The boy replied with controlled expression “I am from the Hijra community Sir”
Dev pondered over this answer and not knowing how to respond kept mum for a minute. With a deep sigh asked him “so are you a …..?”. The boy nodded
Dev was quiet. He was not equipped with experience to respond appropriately. His encounters with hijras was always in a traffic signal, where these eunuchs are dressed like a woman in a traditional Indian getup wearing bright saris and flowers on their plaited hair, asking for money. In South, India where Dev was from, hijras are seen just as a nuisance who beg for money and curse if not given money. He had never had such a close encounter with a hijra.

He told Appu, “You don’t look like a hijra”
Boy replied, “My mother tries hard that I don’t look like one Sir. In my school, no one knew I was a hijra. They just thought I was a funny boy. In my cricket team also, they make fun of my walking, but they don’t know”. He looked at Dev, “If they knew, they would not let me play cricket Sir, I would be treated badly. Sometimes, I feel like telling it aloud and face the world, but then for the sake of my mother I control myself. My mother ran from her family in North India to protect me. It is not easy in the north Sir. I would have been sold to people who use us to make money”.
Dev was contemplative and said, “That was brave of your mother Appu. You are very lucky to have her.”
Appu looked at him for a minute and broke down “I don’t deserve her Sir.” Again, Dev was lost on his reactions. What do you do when a hijra breaks down in front of you? Do you pat them? Do you hug them? Do you console them with money? He just looked at him and asked, “You should not think so, your mother may have sacrificed her life for you”. He had no idea that this would make Appu cry harder.

Dev wanted to run, but he sat through it. He toyed with his food and let Appu cry. Finally Appu stopped crying and wiped his face with his sleeves and said, “Sorry Sir I should not behave like this. ”Dev looked at him and said , “That’s ok Appu; you don’t have to be sorry. You should just make your mother proud. You should study and become an officer, and take care of your mother. I can help you study and support your mother”
Appu looked at Dev and said, “You are special Sir, you are not looking at me like I am an outcast. You are not looking away when you are talking to me. Not everyone are like you Sir”.

Dev’s mind was running with guilt. He had not offered to take Appu to try out for Under-19 tryouts like he had initially offered. Even with Dev’s influence, it was not easy for a hijra boy to get into an Indian cricket team. More than that Dev knew he did not have the courage it took to introduce a hijra to the Indian sports circles.

Appu continued, “Everyone who knows my condition have only tried to use me as a hijra. My father who wanted to sell me to the hijra pimps, my mama (mother’s brother) who introduces me to rich men who will give us lot of money if I spent a night with them, all the men I have ever known are the ones who share their bed with me in the night and treat me like trash in the morning. You asked me Sir, how I got my bat. A famous foreign sports man gave this to me before he left India. He also gave me a watch. He was the only man who treated me well during the day time also, may be because we were not in his circles, where he could be shamed by being with me.

Dev asked, “Why do you do this, after all what your mother did to protect you?!”
“My uncle made me Sir, said this will help me pay my fees” replied Appu “and then he takes away most of the money. If I refuse he says he will tell everyone in our mohalla that I am a hijra. I can’t let him do that, my mother will die if that happens”.

Dev was appalled at this. Appu was trapped back in a fate that his mother gave up her life for, to avoid. It should not be so hard to just be in this society. His thoughts went back to Mihir. “Was Mihir wrong to assume the right about me? Was I wrong not to make the right choice though tough? Wasn’t it my idea to go on that boy scouts camping trip with Mihir? Why are we cooped up in a world that does not recognize anything beyond defined normal? I am ready to spend my life alone than to admit the real me!”

He made up his mind at that moment to help Appu. He told Appu, “You should come clean to your mother about your uncle and move out of this place to some place far where your uncle cannot reach you”
“I cannot tell my mother Sir, she will be heartbroken” said Appu
“If you don’t tell her now, you will live a life that defies all the sacrifices your mother made for you” said Dev. “You should not lead a life that humiliates your soul Appu!”
Appu looked at him “Sir I am just a slum dweller with no money, where will I go?”
“I will help you!”
This decision was a turning point for Dev. His hectic cricket career had saved him from thinking about what he missed in his life so far. He needed something else to sustain him in his life ahead. It was still too difficult for him to come out of his closet in the world he had made for himself so far, but he could help others to lead a life which is not stifled in a closet that takes away the very essence of being.
Dev arranged for schooling and college for Appu in Ooty, where Appu could also work as a librarian. His mother joined him and continued to work as a maid, and Appu with his mother lived in a garage lent by one of Dev’s friend.

Dev started a NGO institution for hijra rehabilitation where down trodden hijras were provided with food, shelter and life skills training. He also endorsed a movement against forceful prostitution of hijras and helped rehabilitate hijras of all ages across India.

No one knew the real Dev. Dev chose neither a life of lies nor a life that would shake his position in the society. He continued to be single despite his mother’s repeated threats to leave him. He lived a life of a decent bachelor, and turned into a full time philanthropist, mentor, and women’s cricket coach. The only regret he ever had in his life was, he could never find Mihir despite his continued search.


SOS – Save our skin or save our soul?

Had read this book difficulty of being good,  authored by Gurucharan Das, quite some time back, and in the last few months, have been reminiscing it time again. In this book the author draws parallels with the characters in the epic Mahabharata, in trying to explain that every hero/character came with moral failings that triggered historical catastrophes related to them . Every character is flawed is the theme of this book, be it, the personification of dharma, the eldest Pandava or the epitome of dark character, the eldest Kaurava. There are shades of good in  dark characters and shades of bad in good ones and unless there is a trigger for these shades to appear, we tend to believe in just white or black. The more important aspect of this book is the explanation of dharma, that it is a very subtle and an unexplainable act, so much so that the good dharma or bad dharma cannot be discerned

Imagine the conflict a man goes through, when his mother and wife stand out to fight for the ownership of that common man in their lives. Does the man give into his mother ignoring the woman who chose him to protect her for life or, should he choose his wife over his mother who sacrificed a better part of her life to secure his future? What is a man’s dharma if he has to choose only one among the two. Or imagine a very dear friend who is in trouble with the law, do you support the law of the country or the friend who has stood by you in your rough times. I recently encountered an old man who had apparently slammed the phone on his son who he has not seen for the last 8 years. Do we blame the old man for being so heartless or the son who appears so guile to have disappeared to another country to have a better life, away from his parents. Imagine the moral stand of the old man’s wife. Does she stand for her husband, her life partner or her son, a part of her heart?

Taking a moral stand is not as easy as it sounds, because there is always a conflict between moral good and ethical good. Morals and ethics though are used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference. Ethics are defined for a culture or a work group or a community and it is validated with a defined set of rules, that is defined by a society or a group. Morals are what are defined by an individual wrt right or wrong conduct and it is based on an individual’s ideals and principles.  Can we at all times be both moral and ethical?

Imagine an own brother or a sister or a parent or a child who has committed a crime due to a weakness of his/her character that you sympathize and empathize with. There was this time when a brother of an ethically wrong guy, stood up to him but the  wrong guy’s wife and children stood against him. One might blame the brother saying “how can he support an unethical person” but isn’t that the moral stand of a brother? At the same time one might question the moral stand of the wife and children of this wrong guy who was dumped by his first family for his unethical ways.  Can one always stand for ethics irrespective of the disturbances it causes in a relationship? Can one stand for ethics, even if they are violating a moral obligation? There was once this senior executive in an organization who fired his best friend for violating the organization’s ethical standards. To be precise on the violation this friend took a bribe from a vendor partner for sealing a contract. And to be precise about this friendship, they have known each other for more than 2 decades, studied together, started their career together and in the initial days, when they were peers, they have been (seemingly) blood brothers. Can our personal relationships take a back seat to our principles?

Was Brutus justified in backstabbing Ceasar in the name of saving Rome?  what are we? Are we born with our justice system implanted in us or are we born with a soul that should precede any man made bindings? This is not an argument on whether to be or not to be ethical but on what should take the precedence, morals or ethics?

The Big 4

An American friend of mine once asked me – “have you hit the big 4?”. I gaped at him…. First, I thought this was some local American pub or a fast food joint…. And then he said…. “I have hit my big 5”, then I thought it must be an American lingo for being tired, because it was a long day, and I was very tired. And since I had still not responded he became apologetic,  “oh come on, don’t be so distressed, you don’t look a day older than 30, I only guessed, based on your experience/designation (30 was an exaggeration, but he was trying real hard to be apologetic)”.  Then it hit me…. He was talking about my age. Had I hit my 40th year…. The big one in a women’s age chart!!. I still did not respond, changed topic and quickly got away from him. I was distressed, did I look 40!!?

The first thing I had to do was to splurge on a high calorie dessert which is the only known way to calm me down and this I did in the nearest cold stone ice cream parlor, the most over rated ice cream experience as per the Indian Americans I know. The fuss is really on the cold granite stone on which the ice cream and toppings are churned to produce ice cream which is no better than the only ice cream I ever truly qualify as ultimate which is at the corner houses in Bangalore. Anyway it was while I was eating this cold stone ice cream I realized that probably the big 4 is also an over rated woman’s age-band. If a woman is 40, so, what does that mean?

It could mean we are no longer attractive….attractive enough to entice opposite sex?!! Like that was on our to-do list….. . It could also mean that we are approaching our Big M and are no longer reproductive…. Can be viewed as Godsend, but whatever….. And then it could mean we need more makeup to cover our blemishes and wrinkles…… like, there is any makeup invented that covers 40 years of harried wisdom in our eyes….;-) …. Apparently even the dating sites have separate segment for women over 40… almost like the end of season sale section in malls…. Or is it that 40 is the age when you are supposed to have it all and we are scared that we are under achievers? By most people’s definition, at 40 we are supposed to be having a high-flying career (VP or above) and/or show off a family portrait that portrays a combination of happiness, success and prosperity. While most of our careers are flying all over the place, we could perhaps show off a family portrait, that portrays nothing more than our mobile phone camera quality. So is it hard to hit the big 4 gracefully?

Take a look at the way a woman gets spoken of after 40 in the net…… “10 warning signs that women over 40 should not ignore”, “ 100 ways to look younger at 40”….”, “lifestyle changes that women over 40 should follow”, very disturbing at the same time hilarious. The world around us changes…. more and more people stop calling us by first name… we hear madam/maam more often…. Or worse we are called “aunty” by the youngsters (in India), our 12-year old had to set up a DVD player or a printer, our kid’s math homework becomes too hard, we will no longer say – “can I get a smaller size” or “no matter what I eat I never put on weight”, our wardrobes inexplicably transform… the cute but skimpy ones vanish and ugly but comfortable ones take its place, we will start screwing our eyes at small letters and prefer curd rice over pizza for dinner, we can actually hear ourselves saying – “is that music or noise!!”, pubs and happening hangouts start to become crowded, dim and noisy and in eat outs, to our orders we are adding “less sugar”, “without butter/cheese”, “pitta bread instead of potatoes or fries”. All these are really pitiable….sounds like we are really going over the hill…..

Or this hype could be a  ploy set to dispirit us….. to weaken our newly gained astuteness….to come to think of it …. we are wiser…..we have finally figured out how to put up with all the idiots in our lives….. like nodding our head in submission, even though we plan to do as we please later, handling certain awkward situations with such finesse, that even the jerk responsible for that awkward circumstance believes that the whole thing was a triumph, feeling guilt free when we pretend not to hear the boneheads, walking away  silently from useless brawls even though we have a good shot at licking the opponent. We are finally able to come to terms with our elders and trick them into believing that “we acknowledge” that we are suckers who could not have survived without their supervision. We finally realize that we don’t have to be the “rats” in the rat race and feel secure enough to just do what we think is right even if they don’t win us a race. We are no longer parental controlled, we no longer have the pressure of checking the price of everything we buy, we no longer have to worry about every pimple or freckle on our face… we are liberated from the pressure of looking blemish free at all times. We are starting to be pleased with game nights…. whining over our family, hooked  on to a sports channel is replaced by celebrating the most cherished “me-time”…. The list goes on …..

So it is cool to grow old even if it means that we take the back seat…… it is the back-seaters who have the most fun!! And like Mark Twain said – “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

This blog is dedicated to all my women batch mates in school, college and office who will hit their big 4 along with me next year!!

I am not in the race!

”I am not in the race!!” were the words being screamed at my friend, by her daughter when I went to congratulate my friend for this same daughter’s wedding which I could not attend in person. This friend has been a role model in parenting….. I have seen her raise her 2 girls and have picked up several pages from her real-time book of parenting skills. My first instinctive reaction when I heard this bawling was, to feel miffed with the daughter who seemed to be so pig-headed. But later when I got to the bottom of their argument, I realized that this friend of mine, a star parent, had lost herself in the glory of continuous A+ in raising successful children so much so that the “glory” of achievement had started becoming more important than the “achievement” itself.

Why do we want the best for our children? Is it so that the world will accolade us for being the best parent or is it so that we hope for a happy life for our children? Lots of time the latter seem to get flouted and all our actions seem to be fixated on the former, and this is true in every other relationship too. We love someone, we tell them we love him/her or do something that shows likewise, but is there a need for the world to know we love someone dearly or that we are loved dearly? If I get a Gucci bag for my birthday, the only sure thing is that, this person is earning surplus, and does not guarantee love unto death. Even if that person had to work overtime to get me a Gucci bag, should I brandish the Gucci bag or the person, to the world?

The point is, why is it important for us, for the world to know how good we are feeling about something or someone in our lives? This is deeper than it seems… what is happiness really? We have built about a perception of happiness over time and that is “happiness is only what can be acknowledged by world as happy”. I once had a neighbor family who used to be happy at all times; in sickness and in health or in success or failure. This I know for sure because they would not conceal their sickness and failures. When I say they would be happy I do not mean they would be partying during sickness and failures, but they would not be ashamed of their downfall or ashamed of sharing their downfall experience and one thing I noticed was, they would recuperate  faster than normal from their downfall since, all they had to focus on was, on their problem and not on what others thought about it or going out of the way to hide their problem from others

We broadcast the happy moments of our lives to every one we know/knew/will know. How many of our updates on social network says “I am pissed at my wife or “Crap, I missed my promotion…again” or “I want a divorce” or “my son flunked his physics in boards” or “I want to kill that woman who flirted with my husband” or “I am hurting like hell due to my disc prolapse” or “my parents are so inconsiderate” or simply “my life is not going great”, while these kinds of updates make up for 50% of our life (if not more). This is because we have qualified these as failures. An expensive & exotic vacation is the mark of a successful person whereas the struggle of making a marriage work or raising difficult children, is marked as a failure!!?

All of us have gone through the rigmarole of doing certain things since it was the defined “must” happy thing to do – get married, all cousins are already married; have children else world will think you are infertile; move to another country else your career is tragic; have a grand house-warming party, else others won’t notice your prosperity; wear expensive outfits else others will think you are deprived; sometimes we do these just so that we conform to the normal and we are not pointed at, but after sometime it gets too weary to keep living up to the expectations of a perceived happy life. It is ok to sleep early on a Friday night, it is ok not to be the romantic or partying types, it is ok to enjoy a book on long holidays, it is ok to have small ceremonies to celebrate big things, it is ok if we look average at a party. As long as we are comfortable, hopeful and mindful of others’ sensitivities it does not matter how and where we celebrate our success or happiness. I agree with my friend’s daughter – it is perfectly fine “not to be in the race”!!…. (Come to think of it, racing is what derby horses do ….. year after year, decade after decade, they do the same thing which is to run in races, win some, lose some…. And the major part of importance of horse racing  lies not in achievement of the horse or the horse-rider but in gambling money that the gambling audience win or lose…..)

Change in people …. reality or perception?

A long-lost childhood friend of mine, before shifting to another state, had said “we will meet one day and, we would have changed so much and what fun it will be to rediscover ourselves”. I have never met her after that, but I wonder how she is now? Would her pattern of throwing up a storm when she lost any game with friends, have changed? Or her extreme self-consciousness when she met guys? Or her annoying trait of helping others in the class to complete an assignment, just so that our class would score a star when she was the class prefect? Or her (then) exasperating habit of picking up stray puppies and feeding them biscuits when, during those days we hardly had any extra biscuits for ourselves……do people change from what they were during their childhood or adolescence to when they are adults?

Sometime back had, had a reunion of sorts and the much awaited event of unfathomable reunion, had turned out to be a mediocre meeting with a bunch of humdrum adults who  still nurtured the same quirks and annoyances, though in the facade, they may have become more affluent or more educated than before . I say mediocre not in terms of personality but in terms of failing to meet the expectations of seeing exciting changes in people when we meet them after a long time. Do people change?

Interesting studies have been done on animals, get a lion cub, raise it like an obedient puppy, nurture it in a gentle, calm and loving environment and when it is fully grown, put the lion back into its natural habitat and sooner than later it will succumb to its natural animal instincts of “killing” and “survival “. It will go back to being who it is, “the Lion”. No matter how long you teach the lion to be loving and gentle, once back it its natural environment something will trigger its true self to emerge.

Humans have evolved from animals, can someone with innate quality of cheating or getting cheated, change? The kids who pass with flying colors through copying their classmates answer sheet will usually be the ones who flourish through plagiarism or stealing others’ ideas in corporate or business world. Casanova teenagers are the ones who sail through multiple affairs in their adult life. Not so long ago, when I met an acquaintance of mine, was shocked to find that she had ended up marrying a guy who was caught cheating on her more than once. Her justification was “he has changed”. Had he really? or was it just that he no longer had the charming exterior or the moneys to woo the ladies. It is not easy for an average salaried , fat and balding man to attract illicit romance, it is easier instead to feign holiness. He may have made changes to his lifestyle to suit the situation, but he cannot have changed. Changing oneself and making changes in life are not the same, though lot of times it is mistaken to be otherwise

Let’s take the success stories, were Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg contented, happy-go-lucky kids who went with the flow and followed in the footsteps defined to them? Was Mother Teresa a clubbing and a prancing teenager? Was Spielberg an academic who loved science and maths? In some there is a dominant fire and in some dormant, but the fire factor does not change, it surfaces in some form or the other, which we sometimes mistake for a change

We live in a world where the exterior keeps changing….. changing fashion, changing architecture, changing technology, changing medical procedures, so much so that it is mistaken for changing people. The management teams keep phrasing, “Change is constant”, they mean changing business needs and environment and not personalities. When, human resources in an organization spend lot of money to change an employee to make him more productive, how does that work? In my opinion it does not. At least does not work in terms of adding a new personality into an employee but probably in honing his existing skills or ascertaining a personality he probably already has. So in one case, an unskilled presenter after a training on “presentation skills”, may not become a good presenter, but the training might help him understand how good/bad he/she is so that he may change his career path that does not depend on his presentation skills. In other cases the training might help a person to tap his inner skill as a presenter and he may evolve as a good presenter after the training. He has not changed only discovered his innate skills

There are times when things get confusing, an old acquaintance who was mean and bullish during your college days, may become a life savior of some sort in your adult life, is that for real? Does a person’s caprice about you change? Deep down it does not, but we humans are malleable to changing our whims if there is a gain of any kind to be had out of anything. If the tides change and the gain is no longer valid, back emerges the real feelings. And sometimes we think a person has changed after some ordeal he has had to go through in life, but that’s not true. Like John Green says, “Grief does not change you. It reveals you.”, not just grief, any peaks in life, of success, failure, happiness, sadness, simply divulges who we are.

One thing good about this though is, all those dependable people, we have had in our lives will continue to be the same, though from the outside they seem to have changed. And icing on the cake is, the factor, that you can depend on them when required also does not change