Sunday, June 29, 2008

angel in disguise

An Angel in Disguise

I had just managed to reach the railway station. The traffic was terrible. I heaved a sigh of relief as I paid the taxi driver and entered the railway station. I looked at my watch and I was overcome by panic, I was late and I could hardly make it to the train. I called for a porter to pick up the three big bags that I carried and with my son in tow I literally shouted at the porter to run and make it to the train. The overflow of human heads on the railway station was worse than the traffic that I had faced.

It had been almost three years since I had last visited my parents. My son Monty was only two. His father had shown his inability to join us and overlooking all sorts of caution by concerned relatives I decided to undertake the journey on my own along with my son to visit my parents. My journey from Punjab to Assam was quite eventless and that added to my confidence. I would make it back easily too. But that was not the way it was destined to be. My apathy started with bad weather and the resulting cancellation of flights. As I was running out of leave I had to compromise with a sleeper class ticket in a train that would take me ages to reach my destination. But it would be better than getting stuck up indefinitely.

Thanks to the North Eastern Railways the trains were late as usual and I managed to board the train just in time. For once the delay did not annoy me. I looked for the reserved ladies compartment where I was given a seat .The congested compartment had six sleepers. Five were occupied by a family who was going for a marriage. I requested them to exchange my upper sleeper for the lower one as I had a small child with me. They immediately obliged. I chained my luggage except for a big bag which contained eatables that my mother had packed for us, baby food for Monty and his medicines. He had just recovered from a bad attack of viral and was still on medication. My mother had bought some more toys and clothes for my son after I was done with my packing so I stuffed those in that bag too. I gave Monty his medicines and put him to sleep. Then started the round of introduction with my fellow passengers. Different people different life. They were going for the marriage of their handicapped daughter. They had meager means and with great struggle they had managed to collect the heavy dowry that they were to pay the groom’s parents for accepting their daughter. It was dark and I was sleepy, but by this time Monty had woken up. He insisted on sitting by the window, I shut the glass window so that he could see the scenes outside and went off to sleep. It had been a very hectic day and I dozed off immediately. I do not know how long I had slept; suddenly an odd noise woke me up. I sat up thinking that Monty must be trying to open the window. But he was sleeping soundly by my side. Was the train going to derail, I thought. But no the train was running fast in its synchronized motion. I switched on the lights and to my shock I saw a suitcase half stuck in the window and someone was trying to pull it out …..God!... from the outside. Before thinking what was going on just out of reflective impulse I grabbed the suitcase and tried pulling it back screaming hysterically. Though I was pulling at that suitcase with my entire strength the person on the other side was definitely stronger and it went out of my grip. My screams had woken up the other passengers. Someone ran up to the conductor of the train. I was sure that the rogue was hanging on to the train itself as he could not possibly have jumped off with the speed at which it was running. But nobody had the courage to open the door and check.

It was after I gathered my senses back that I realized that my bag was gone. The other baggages were safe as those were chained. But the bag had Monty’s food and medicines. What would I do for the 3 days it was going to take for me to reach home? I was under panic once again. The wailing family whose entire luggage had gone and so were the dreams of getting their daughter married added to my agony.Inspite of their grief they kept reassuring me. But they were to reach their destination early next morning. What would I do after that?

The next morning my compartment was empty and nobody came to fill the seat. I was alone in that compartment with broken windows and lost confidence. There was no medicine for my son and he was running fever again. His stock of food would soon be over. I didn’t really know what to do. I thought of calling emergency. I was going through these thought when I heard a knock at the door of my compartment. I thought it was the TT and made up my mind to ask him to help me file a complaint and get some medical help for my son. I opened the door, a fair, bearded young man in his late twenties stood there in front of me. I was gripped with fear, what did he want? He smiled and asked me if he could get in. I stood up in the doorway blocking his way and asked in a defiant tone ‘what do you want’. He said,’ sister, I have seen what has happened last night, and with a child it will not be safe for you to spend another night in this compartment with broken windows. We are traveling in a group and one of our friends could not join us, so we a have a vacant seat, if you want you can join us there’. Why did this stranger want to help me out in this manner? I cannot possibly trust him what if he has some ulterior motive. But there was something about this man that was striking about his honesty. But I politely refused and literally closed the door on his face. I would ask the TT to change my seat, I decided. The TT came and expressed his inability. The complaint could only be lodged at the destination, medical help was not possible till we reached a major station which was about seven hours away and he could not change my seat as there was no vacant one available at that point of time. I was feeling terribly helpless and felt like crying out. But I managed to control myself. It was a crisis and I had to keep my cool. I thought of the young man who had offered his help. I had no other alternative left other than accepting his offer, he looked honest and moreover even if he had some ulterior motive he wouldn’t dare try anything. I was building up a strategy before looking for him.

It didn’t take me long to find him. His seat was just adjacent to my compartment. The look on my face probably gave him the idea as to what I wanted to say. He got up immediately and helped me with my luggage. He tried to make sure I was comfortable. Once seated, he introduced me to his friends. They were a group of seven Kashmiri Muslim youth. Once again I started going weak on my knees. Militancy in Kashmir was in its peak. What if these were actually terrorists? I couldn’t sleep the entire night. For A couple of hours that I managed to do so, I had dreams of the train being blown up by the people I was traveling with. The next day Hamid was totally involved with Monty, arranging for his food, getting Monty’s bottles sterilized from the pantry, playing with him. As the day progressed I started feeling comfortable in their presence. One more night and I would be home. By the next morning the entire group had packed up their cards and books. They were all playing and taking care of Monty as if he was their family. Hamid then told me his story of his sister who died a couple of years back in a bomb blast along with her young son while returning home after visiting him and how I resembled her. He had tears in his eyes while narrating his story to me. I started feeling ashamed of myself. How could I have misunderstood his intentions when he was actually trying to help me? Perhaps the crime stories that we read about everyday have made us insensitive to humanity. The sound of violence is so loud that noble souls like Hamid live and die in oblivion. We do not realise that more than the bad elements around us there are noble souls who exist in silence and in spite of everything, continue to make the world a better place to live in. That caste and creed have nothing to do with virtue. I reached my destination at around two in the afternoon. My family was there to receive us at the station. Hamid and his friends helped me out with the luggage one last time. All of them were on the platform hugging Monty one by one. They would be getting off at the next station. Hamid brought a small wooden house boat and handed it to me and said, ‘I made this myself and I am giving this to you so that whenever you see this you remember this brother’.

Its around 18 years now, I still have that small wooden boat with me. It keeps reminding me that the world is not after all a place infested with rogues. There are a large number of Hamids around who will take you to safety when you need them the most.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Chapter One

Now that I stand at the crossroads trying to take a decision as to how I should carry on with my life I cant help going down memory lane trying to analyse what actually went wrong. What has led me to this stage .a stage that I never wanted. A situation that I never dreamt of in my wildest dreams. I have tried to work hard for this relationship; I have invested heavily in terms of emotions so that I could keep it alive under all circumstances. Now I feel the very reason why it is falling apart is the way and the intensity with which I wanted to keep it alive. I had no reasons penning these thoughts down. But I have been going over and over all these thoughts for so long that I don’t think I can get rid of the negativity that it instills unless I pen it down. Secondly if I need to take a decision detriment to the interests of my kids, I want them to read it someday and understand their mother and forgive her. Finally all my life I had been trying to prove my parents wrong about the decision that I had taken in my life. I finally want to admit my mistakes to them. They were always right and I was always wrong.

Now the question is where I start from. Do I start from the day I married him or should I go back further as long as my senses carry me. Well I guess I will go back a bit to the period before I met him. I was the eldest daughter of my parents. My father doted on me. Being the first born I was showered with all that they could give me in every term. On the arrival of my two siblings I could feel that attention trickling down. I was expected to make all the sacrifices. I was expected to make all the compromises. I loathed finding myself last in priority. I went through that sense of deprivation that every first child goes through. Now being a parent myself I realize that this is just a natural process and it helped me be a better human being. but apart from making me a good human being did this actually have a role in making my life what it is now…I don’t really know. Let me work on it and find out. I know my father as a very intelligent man. A man whom I always found buried in books. All the intelligent talks and discussions that he had with us still have its effect on my psyche. But like everything else there was a negative angle to it too. He could never become what he deserved to be in life. Why is a question that only he can answer? I do not want to delve on it. What I am concerned with here is the out come of the frustration of failure in his life. For as far as I can remember I have always found him to be a hardcore alcoholic. During the day he was the legendary DR Jekyll , a wonderful human being and at night he was the hideous Mr. Hyde, the role that I hate to comprehend even today. The humiliation that this brought into me was something unbearable to think of even today. Day by day this situation worsened. He would be drunk and irresponsible and my poor mother would struggle making both ends meet, giving us a decent education and healthy food. The only luxury that we could afford during those days. as I was growing up this frustration kept on increasing and I wanted to run away from this situation somehow or the other. I was around 18 and it was around this time that ricku came into my life. His kind talks would give me a breather. Slowly I found him to be a very caring person and fell in love with him. My life and world started revolving around him when he told me that he shared similar feelings. I was so blinded with these beautiful feelings that I overlooked all the other anomalies that lied between us. That other than youth there was nothing in common between us. I was so charmed with his persona and all that he told me about himself and his family, that I kept myself blinded from any other negative aspect that would creep in about him. In him I had found a perfect route of escape from the terrible situation that prevailed at home.

He had told me that he was doing his graduation in biology he would even bring me notes to help me in my assignments as I was doing my honors degree. he convinced me that he would try to get a commission once he completed his graduation. Being convinced on that I took up a job as a clerk in the bank in spite of the fact that I had topped my university in the first year. I needed the job to be away from the family so that I could marry him. baba was dead against this relationship and wouldn’t let this happen as long as I was staying home. one day he said that he would ask his brother who was an army officer posted in shillong to come over and talk to my father to convince him about our alliance. I was sort of shocked because he had told me that he had only one brother who was an IPS officer. But I did not care…….any negativity was blocked. the outcome of that meeting was a failure so he convinced me into getting married in court as he was to be transferred soon. I agreed keeping myself blinded to the humiliation it would bring to my parents. I was madly in love…..or so I thought.

The first setback that I received was during the first night that we got to live together under the same roof. He told me that he had a brief affair with a married woman and that the daughter that she had was actually his. I felt my world coming down like a pack of cards. I was shattered but I never showed. I never asked him who that woman was or who his daughter was. Whether it was true or another of his many lies. The next shock was when he took me home. He had told me that he belonged to a rich family and that he had joined as an airman just to get away from his Hitler father. One look at his home gave me the right picture. Even the house that his family lived in was not theirs but his uncle’s. Then came his sisters. According to him he had only one sister the others were his cousins whom his kind and generous parents had offered to bring up, as their own parents were very poor. I had a bad time trying to figure out who the real one was and who were the cousins, till it finally dawned that they were all his real ones. Now it was difficult for me to comprehend as to why he had lied to me about all this. I had not married him for his riches I loved him and that would not be affected with the number of his siblings in any case. I did not know what to do and what all I had in store. How could I live with a relationship that was based on worthless lies. But I knew it was too late to react. It was of no use carrying on with the bitterness was married to him. It was a sacred bonding which had to be respected. I had opened that door at my own choice shutting down the other. And I still felt his love for me. So I decided that the best thing would be to forget and make the best of what was at my disposal. Then came another shock. He wanted me to take my transfer to where his parents lived and not where he lived. His reasons-my job was more stable than his and that his parents needed me. I tried to convince him that I could get myself transferred to wherever he went. But he insisted. What I could not tell him was that I had married him to be with him and not his parents. It was only later that I realized that he wanted to enjoy both the luxury of a vacation wife and that of a free life which would be hampered by my presence.

And this is how my married life started. Alone at his parents house. Not even his parents house. The house that belonged to his uncle who would ask everybody including me to be out at the drop of a hat. The taunts his sisters inflicted about the great deed they had done of bringing me in without a dowry. That I was sending my salary home to feed my poor parents. There are n number of incidences that I would not like to mention , not that I remember all of them either. But i blocked all the humiliation and all that he had done to me. Kept quite and Clung on to the weak threads of love that I was still a fool enough to imagine existed and carried on. Trying to become an epitome of sacrifice. The best wife and daughter in law they could think of. Never looking into my own needs. Shouldering responsibilities he was supposed to take. Fulfilling his needs when he was supposed to fulfill mine. Just on one dream. He would soon work for his commission and I would leave my job and join him.......... This was never to happen.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taming The Art Called Driving

For me it had always been a dream to be behind the wheel.While an average human being is supposed to be licenced by 18 or to the most 20, I could not go beyond a two wheeler till 39.This is my story of how I finally fulfilled that hidden desire.

For years I would dream of driving through the streets effortlessly only to end up hitting something living or non-living and waking up sweating and in shock.The recurrence of such dreams would only reinforce my determination to learn driving.Then finally one day I decided I would buy my own car and then it would be no looking back.For days I would be flooded with all sorts of emotions.The pride of having my own car in the front yard, the anticipation of being behind its wheels, the feeling of self worth and above all the feeling of freedom.I talked over to my husband and chalked out a schedule for him to teach me the nuances of the much elusive art.I could not sleep the night before the morning he was to take me out for my first date with my dream-in-real.I woke up much before the alarm went off at four.Went into gear and tried waking up the snoring thing.In spite of my best efforts he would not budge. Finally he got up shouted at me for my being over zealous and then went off continuing with his passion.......SNORING.All my eagerness went down the drain. But the sight of that beauty in white wouldnt let me be in peace. Once again I started pestering him with renewed vigour. Finally on our way back from a party one night ....we were quite late and there was no traffic.....he let me take on the wheel. I was excited and filled with ecstacy. Finally the day had come. I would be driving.......God.....driving.After the initial ABC of driving he asked me to switch on the ignition.With shivering hands I turned on the keys.Wow was like music to my ears.I was feeling no greater than the first conquerer of the Everest.But this was not to be for long.From that moment onwards till the next 10 minutes that I sat there I could hear nothing but his irritated bickerings......hell is this the way u drive....hey u will hit that.....women can never drive.....I was an idiot to let u sit there......Driving is not for u ......and on .....and on....Finally I had enough of it.I hit the brakes.....God that was pretty smoothe.Gave my bit to him. Got off the wheels and asked him to enjoy being my unpaid driver. I promised myself I would never ever try again and die with this unfulfilled desire.Would I end up being a ghost haunting every driver on the road?......I wondered!!!!!
Over the years things changed.I left home and was on my own once again.Left the car back, as it had no meaning for me any more.Without a driver it was worthless and I couldnt afford to hire one.I was back with my two wheeler. It is the best mode of self driven conveyance I guess.I loved gliding through the traffic into the rugged roads of the village where I worked.Then one day suddenly out of the blues came this agent of God sent down specially to get me into driving. This fellow was very proud of his car and it was one of the few things that he loved dearly. He took me for a drive around town.I loved it, relishing every moment of it.Suddenly he said....come on, you drive....I told him I can't drive.He said never mind....just give it a try, I know you can do it. I was this was a man who loved his car more than anything and he was ready to hand it over to someone who probably didn't know how to even hold the steering wheel properly.I told him what if I hit it somewhere and the car got damaged.He said ...I can always get it repaired, You dont worry about that.Anyways it was me who could not gather the courage to give a dent to his beloved .But then that was the moment of truth for me and in my heart of heart I promised myself that the next time he was here, I would be driving him around .A couple of months later I bought home my second car. I went to a training instructor. Enrolled myself for the one month course. I was surprised with the level of patience my instructor had.At the end of the first week I asked him to accompany me in my car.He argued that I wasn't trained enough to be on my own.Finally he had to accede to my stubbornness. I took out the car put on the reverse gear and started moving.My instructor barked at me....I haven't taught that yet don't try it. I panicked and instead of hitting the brake I hit the accelerator and the next moment..... WHAM......I had already rammed into a parked car by the time I hit the brake. I rushed out to see how much damage I had caused the other car.I was releaved to see that there was not even a bit of a scratch.Then my daughter came out running.....mumma see what you have done...The huge dent at the back of my car almost brought me to tears....but from that moment I knew I had finally tamed the art.
Exactly after six months my dear friend happened to visit again . I offered to pick him up at the Railway Station.By that time he had the entire briefing of my adventure.We were driving together again through the town ,but this time in reversed roles.Me behind the wheel and he on the passenger seat. I told him about the promise I had made myself and how he was instrumental in my learning to drive. Then I asked him the question which I always wanted to.....Why did you ask me to drive the car that you love so much knowing well that I could not drive?....What if I damaged it trying to do so?.......He said " Dear I love my car that is why I asked YOU to drive it" I simply smiled and drove on.....................