The Lessons from The Streets of Mumbai.

Mumbai post

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*****

“Once upon a time, on the streets of Mumbai, lived a lady. She was strong, independent, determined and the city had never seen the likes of her. She dreamed about everything she could never have. She strolled down the streets of her beloved city everyday and one could almost say her every breath made the air a tiny bit cooler.

Her grit brought the whole city down. She rose like the sun in the East and no one could slow her down.

She was a bird.

And then, she got married.

You could say marriage shackled and caged her, yet her tale was never forgotten. To this day, the streets of Mumbai miss her stomping feet. The railways miss her sigh. The city remembered her.

Her spirit never did forget the city. She spoke of Mumbai as if it was only yesterday. Pictures of The Gateway soon turned into tales of despair and longing. She told her daughter.

Everything.

Her in-laws would not understand. They would roll their eyes. But, she was not to be stopped.

Years passed, and she was pregnant again. The family needed a son. One daughter was all they could handle. Two was unacceptable. The entire family was invited. Mother in law was convinced a male child was on his way. Preparations began.

The dreaded day arrived.

She washed the utensils. The clothes followed soon after. Her swollen belly did not come in between. Eventually, she was ready. Her bundle of joy. Husband was busy. So was her mother in law. Her other child was too young. The relatives did not bother. She went alone.

She wasn’t really scared or worried. The streets of Mumbai had taught her everything. Not one elusive tear escaped. She prayed to her God and left the house. She never looked at anyone. Took a rickshaw and went to the hospital. She smiled all throughout. Her beloved was coming. Nine and a half months. It was a long wait.

The hospital wasn’t renowned. It was all her husband could afford. A bed was given to her. She felt alone. And she cried. She wept out her misery. And then she stopped. The streets of Mumbai had not taught her this. She remembered the time when she was at a railway station, crying her heart out. She remembered how people looked at her. She was better than that.

At a time when she needed someone to be beside her, only one thing arrived, the pain. And it came right on time. It justified her inconsolable weeping and after three long hours, her bundle of happiness was born. A mother for the second time. She was weak, but she wanted nothing more than to hold her baby. It was a girl.

At that point, she could see her daughter’s future. All the taunts and eye rolling. The pressure to deliver another child. She was in a haze. But all was right when she saw two beautiful black eyes staring back at her. Five little fingers trying to grasp hers.

Weak and battered, she somehow reached the hall. She knew what was to follow. The family would come. They wanted a son. She called them. Afraid. Frightened.

Her mother in law picked up and she gave her the news. She hung up. She was afraid, true, but sadness was one emotion that she just could not feel at that moment.

She remembered the time, when the gates of her University had closed, and she had to stand all alone, in the rain. The wet streets of Mumbai had told her then, that even though people could not see her tears, she should not grieve. She was taught the value of tolerance that very day.

At the hospital, she fed herself. Her husband was nowhere to be seen. Somehow the news of a second daughter had spread, and no one came to her rescue.

She came back home and fought.

In the future, when the entire family would make fun of her second daughter’s dark complexion, she would tell her about the streets of Mumbai. When she would fail in Maths, her mother would tell her about the streets of Mumbai. When she would grow up to be a dreamer, she would tell her about the streets of Mumbai.

Later, the second daughter will scribble the anecdote of her birth on a piece of paper and put this story in front of the world:

The Lessons from the Streets of Mumbai.”

*****

– Diksha Tiwari

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I Forgive You.

I forgive you final

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*****

“I forgive you.

As I tried to gather all my strength to stand up again, he struck me down. Those same arms that used to lift me off my feet, swirl me around and land me down with a kiss. My knees felt like jell-o. I hated the feeling of fearing this man, the same person I had known to only love and adore.

I couldn’t tell what that look on his face meant. He looked disappointed in himself, yet didn’t seem to want to stop what he was doing. There was so much pain on his face. Maybe he was only trying to make me feel what he was feeling and I was trying to tell myself, it was okay. Whatever he was doing to me was okay.

It had been three months, three months since his mother passed away. At first he found solace in being alone. Then along came alcohol. Eventually, all that was suppressed only found a way out when he was intoxicated.

It started with a lot of misplaced anger or at least I would like to think it was misplaced. He’d come over, sit silently for a while and then suddenly burst out about the smallest of things. For example, if the music was turned on too loud. He would just out of the blue get really, really angry. This was a new side to my soft spoken, forgiving, passionate man. I convinced myself this was him still finding a way to grieve.

My favourite memory of him, one that accurately described him, was when we made a weekend trip with our friends to a place on the outskirts of town. A mutual friend who had problems with drug abuse, stole his wallet. He knew his pin and blew away all his money on booze and drugs and completely disappeared. Once we got back and tracked the card, we found out it was him.

He came over to apologize. My guy listened patiently, and at the end hugged him and said not one word. I was surprised that I was more infuriated than him. How could he just let this go?

The misplaced anger had soon turned into him forcing himself on me. There was no “love” in the love making. It felt like he didn’t really want me, he just wanted to hurt me. So many moments I didn’t even recognize this man who was inside me, this man who looked like he wanted to tear me apart, all for his pleasure. The first time he hit me, he was broken himself. He spent days apologizing. He couldn’t believe it himself.

Honestly, I want every girl to know or just be aware, that once he hits you, it’s never going to be just “once”. It’s like once they’ve crossed a line they can never go back to the other side. And it becomes something that they never thought they could do, but did, and can do again.

We’re not together anymore. It’s been three and a half months now. I still get drunk texts from him. I know he is far more miserable now. The last several months that we were together had taken away so much from me. I never thought that his bruises would imprint themselves so deeply on me that my entire life would change.

But, you know what? I forgive you, my sweet love. I am so sorry we couldn’t make it. I am going to remember you for the pure soul I know you still are. I know you’re suffering immensely right now. I know you need me. I hope you understand that I left because I couldn’t let what you meant to me, ever change. We’ve been through so much together but because of you even a friendly shove from someone suddenly gives me flashes of you charging at me. Looking at myself in the mirror, I can’t help but notice the fading scar around the edges of my lower lip. I’m going to brush this away. I promise.

I am going to brush you away. But wherever you are, my foolish heart still wishes you’re okay. I hope you can find a way to be happy again. I forgive you because of how forgiving you were.

I forgive you because I want to pick myself up.”

*****

-Someone who wanted to remain anonymous.

A Paradox.

A paradox.

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*****

“So we were working. Distributing pamphlets and educating people that every child had rights. Also, if you know someone who wants to be educated but circumstances are not letting him/her to do so, you can contact us. We have shelter homes, education centers and health centers. We can help the child out. You could contact us anytime at our toll free number.

But here is where the astounding question came. “But, why should I?”

We were walking through the streets looking for people to talk to and make them aware of the aforementioned things. Make no mistake these were THE under-privileged. They did not have an A.C. Some did not have a fan. Some were alcoholics who beat up their children and wife. Some hadn’t eaten for days. And most just did not care.

At this point we were near this Pay and Use toilet. You need to pay a rupee to use it. This guy in his shoveled and battered shirt asks us this. You could make out he was married. You could make out he did not make enough to support his family.

He told us, “Listen to this story. And please do not get offended.”

He repeated the last sentence twice.

He told us, let’s assume I have four kids. And every single day I am working hard to make ends meet. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. And every day I have five mouths to feed. I barely make a living. So why not? You say I should let my kids go with you. They will be taken care of, fed, educated. I understand all of that. But what happens to us? Are you saying, us, dying of starvation is fine as long as they get to live happy? Let’s assume all of my children are working because they just have to. For all of us. Together. To survive. What then? Take them away? They are my blood and I am working hard to make sure they get to eat everyday.

So do not come here and tell me to do this and do that. Do something for us too. My hypothetical children are going nowhere. But, I will definitely spread the word around and let others know. We did not say a word. Gave him the pamphlet and we left.

There were two others with me. They’ve been working with this organization for a long long time now. When I asked them about this incident, they told me that I knew nothing. There was only so much they could do.

Think for a moment. Would you let these parents die? Or would you take their kids away. Their own blood. Think about it.

Think about it. Just for one second. And understand.”

*****

A Memory to Share.

A memory to share

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*****

“I remember distinctly when I was very young; a distinct memory like a song over-sung. I used to see scary images on the window mesh when I used to wake up at midnight. I used to see faces, mashed up ones, screaming ones, horrified ones, pale ones… scary ones.

I used to hear things, fear the night and fear darkness. I used to feel as if something kept watching me in the dark. I feared any sound that came out of the dark. Ghosts loomed over my head, constantly.

Night time was a scary time, darkness was a scary place.  Crying, I would hold out my hand in this darkness and one hand would always reach out to hold mine. In that cold place, one warm hand always held mine to tell me “I’m here.” He kept holding on until I got over that fear or drifted off to sleep.

My brother was always there. When I silently said, “Be there when I’m scared,” his smile would say it all, “I’ll be there when you’re scared.”

He used to say, “There’s nothing to be scared of! If something makes you feel weird or scared, go and find out what it is; poke it with a stick and you’ll see that it’s not scary at all. Or, even if it is, it is fascinating and new. Don’t be scared. It’s really nothing.” Those words gave me courage then. He made sure he was there when ever they wouldn’t.

“There was this time when I was walking the road that led to our back-field. I heard some noises. But I did not run away, or turn away. You know what I did? I went to where those noises were coming from and you know the watchmen? Turns out it was them. They were sitting there laughing and talking. There was this other time I heard an unusual sound. I tried looking around and saw that it was the trees rustling against each other. It really is nothing, nothing to be scared of,” he used to say, instilling as much courage as possible.

There was this one time when I was sleeping alone. My brother and my mother were in the other room talking. I heard a sound that I’d never really heard before. It had a shrill kind of distaste to it. Only, this time, I wanted to see what it was. Yet, I was too scared to do it alone. I called my brother. He came up to me and asked, “What’s the matter?” I told him about the sound and he said, “Let’s take a look!”

We switched the light on and looked around. After five minutes, he came from under the bed with something quite pretty in his hand. He said, “So here’s your answer to the sound. It’s called a cricket! It makes these noises…. No reason for you to fear. Go back to sleep.”

That night, I slept knowing that I was in the company of something pretty that sang a lullaby to me to help me sleep, and not something that was going to kill me.

I won’t say that I was never scared after that, I won’t say I don’t feel scared now, because fear is something that will never leave you. It is something that mankind must learn to live with.

But today, I am not ‘that’ scared kid. Back then, I would say, “Be there when I’m scared,” today I’d be the one saying, “I’ll be there when you’re scared.”

There is a point in everyone’s life when they go from “Be there when I’m scared” to “I’ll be there when you’re scared.”

I’ll always remember this memory, and every time I do, tiny droplets stand at the brim of my eye, ready to jump into the smile that just takes over.”

*****

Srikar

The Rock Bottom.

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*****

“Life is not all good. It is a combination of the good and the bad. Most of us want our lives to be a pocketful of sunshine. I was no exception. Although later on, I realized that wouldn’t one be tired of being happy all the time?

I don’t know.

Let’s go by basic human psychology. We take things for granted when they happen daily. Say our parents, or even maybe ourselves for that sake. According to me, life should be a healthy mixture of both.

College was brilliant. And here began my little experiments with alcohol, cigarettes and ganja. Now that I look back, I wish I had known that these would be the very thing which would become my beacon of escape.

After college, I got a job in one of the best construction companies in India. Good salary, huge company and the likes. But I decided otherwise. My decision was mostly because I wanted to satisfy my parents and their happiness. My say in it was very meagre. So I left a job that would pay me well, ensure a perfectly good future and I devoted all my attention to qualify for a Government job. For those who are from India they’ll know how difficult it is to get one. But this wasn’t my biggest problem. Boredom was.

It changed me in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Initially it was all well and good. I was working and the preparation was going well. But, with time I began to confine myself within the four walls of my room.

I shut myself from the world. I set a list of objectives, but sadly that really wasn’t of much help. Slowly I lost focus. I started believing that there was nothing more to life. I played the blame game. A part of it was true, but another part of it, maybe was not. You see it was my life. And in the end, any decision I would take would actually be on my shoulders. Adding on to that, there were several personal issues pertaining to my family.

I had no one to talk to and I couldn’t really focus on anything. I even gave up music which remains my one true love till date. Before I even realized, alcohol and nicotine started consuming my life. Intoxication was absolutely essential every single day. I would stay over at my friend’s place, giving excuses like I was going over to do group study. Instead all I intended to do was fulfil my lust for alcohol.

I was dying. Literally and figuratively.

My friends were not to blame here. They didn’t really know that it was a daily affair. In other news my exams were getting closer with each passing day.

I could never really open out my heart to my parents. My elder sister was always there for me. But others couldn’t really find me a way out of this misery.

My conscience hit me hard when I failed miserably in the first exam I gave. I was far away from the vicinity of being competitive. God sent me a Messiah and a chance at redemption. He was my best friend from college, Gaurav. This chap, unlike others was patient with me, and believed in me a lot more than I did in myself at that time.

He tutored me, monitored my level of alcohol. He made me count the number of cigarettes I smoked. For the first time in months, I felt good. I could even say I had a reason to smile. But, it didn’t really last long.

Gaurav left for his B-school a month and a half later and almost immediately I went back to my self-destructive self.

I had two weeks to the preliminary exam of my dream job. Convincing myself that there was not much to life anymore, I prepared myself for the worst.

It was Wednesday.

I kissed an old family photo that I found in an album and tried calling her one last time. Her phone was busy. I was happy that she was not like me. But at that moment, it didn’t matter. So I sent her one last text saying that I loved her, and took one last sip of the alcohol. I finished one last cigarette and went to the roof. God! Everything looked so small from there.

I closed my eyes and tried hard convincing myself that my freedom was just an inch away. I knew it would hurt, but slowly the pain would consume me and I would be history. I had one foot in the air. But I suddenly held on to a pipe nearby.

I realized what a coward I was…

I did not have the courage to live nor did I have the courage to take my life! I heard my phone ring and it was Shrea. She was almost in tears. That girl. I’ve hurt her enough. My mom and dad! What about them? Did they pay for me for 23 years just to see me give up?

No!

I came down, threw away my cigarettes and the empty bottle of rum. I took a vow to give up smoking and drinking. I promised myself I would work hard.

Quoting Satyajit Ray – “The only solutions that are ever worth anything are the ones that people find themselves in.”

I would chew on toothpicks, drink a lot of water, but never again did I touch alcohol or a cigarette. It has been two months.

I cleared the preliminary exam and I am very hopeful about clearing the main exam too. I am back to singing, not for the world, but for myself.”

***

Kuldip Sarkar

 

 

The Bystander.

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*****

It’s funny how I remember everything so vividly. It must be over 10 years now. It’s been so long that I don’t even remember how long it has been. And yet, each moment, from that day, is etched in my mind. Every now and then, I replay the events of that day as I remember them. Each time as precisely as the last. It was the first time, in my life when I had truly understood what loss meant. What life meant. What mourning meant.

It was a good enough evening, around 6pm or so. As a kid, I was obsessed with the telephone, and every time it rang I would rush to answer it. I did the same that day. On the line was my uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband.

My uncle has been a very happy man ever since I’ve known him and even today. Even at the age of 50, you see the goofy 10 year old in him, pretty clearly. He’s always going around pulling pranks on me, drawing on my face while I sleep and editing funny photos of me. It’s never a dull moment with him.

As I look back, I understand now, how that day, I almost didn’t recognize his voice. I answered very cheerfully, hoping I could hear the same from him. He asked for my mother. I wasted no time and quickly called her over to the phone, still not understanding what was going on. As she took the phone from me, in a matter of seconds I saw her face turn pale. She collapsed on the floor. I remember being so scared. Not understanding what was going on.

My father was at work and my younger sister was still a toddler. I tried to pick her up with all the life in me. She was conscious, but she just wasn’t there. Her eyes seemed lost and confused. She lay on the floor and called my father. He almost didn’t understand what was going on over my crying and screaming, so I asked him to call my uncle. Within an hour my father rushed home as my mom continued to sit there, crying agonizingly. My mother’s sister, the oldest of the five siblings, had passed away, leaving behind two beautiful daughters around the ages of 11 and 13, and a loving and devoted husband.

I remember sitting in the backseat of our Maruti 800, my mother in the passenger seat with her second baby cradled tightly in her arms, as she stared out the window, with empty and vacant eyes. I remember watching my father constantly shift his eyes between the road and my mother, not saying a word.

I still didn’t understand what was happening, somehow I just knew this was one of those moments when you don’t say a word, be a good kid and not trouble your parents. It took us an excruciating 4 hours to get there. I wonder now, what my mother was thinking about throughout the drive?

Was she replaying all the memories of her sister in her head? Was she trying to remember the last thing they spoke about? The last thing she said to my mother?
I didn’t ask any questions.

Reaching my aunt’s apartment, my father took over my baby sister, and I held my mother’s hand as we walked up the stairs. It felt like each step was a burden on her. Felt like it was eating her away and she wanted to go right back. The screeching and screaming resonating all around us made it worse. On reaching the door, I saw a body on the floor of the living room and a lit diya. She lay so oddly still.

So many unfamiliar faces all around her and then there were them. The two swollen and red eyes and their helpless and exhausted little faces. Two faces who were family. They were next to their mother, never once moving their eyes. When they finally did, they saw my mother and I enter the door, followed by my father and sister. Almost immediately the silent room was filled with painful squeals of the two little girls whose life seemed to have come to a standstill.

They cried and cried and it was so difficult to watch without crying myself.  My mother struggled to enter the house. It suddenly felt so real, as if I knew exactly what was going on, right from the beginning. Neighbors and friends cried with us. It was almost as if the pain in the room had consumed everyone.

Earlier that day, my sweet aunt, had woken up early, cooked food, got her two daughters ready for school, and kissed them goodbye. Later she laid out clothes for her husband, and watched him hurriedly finish his breakfast and leave for work. I wonder now, what did that morning feel like? For all four of them? My uncle, their two daughters and my aunt. Did they feel a hunch, like we all do sometimes, that something was going to go wrong today? Did my sisters’ feel like the moment they step out of the house today, their life was never going to be the same? As they went about their day at school and work, did their mother and wife cross their mind? As she collapsed in pain in the bathroom, how badly did she long for her family? Did she suffer? Did she wait helplessly for death as she suffered? I can’t write this without replaying the day in my mind again and hiding my tears.

When the girls came back, no one opened the door. After enquiring around, they called their father who rushed home. They broke into the house through one of the windows. The bathroom’s tap seemed to be open. As they walked through the wet floor of the house , did they think of the worst? As they struggled to open the locked bathroom door, did their hearts sink deeper with every passing second?

She was gone. Long gone. So was very thing that had meaning to their lives. He had lost his lover, his friend. The girls had lost their mother.

When the body was taken away to be cremated, I recall the most painful memory I have of that day. I can almost picture it right now, happening right in front of me. The eldest daughter sat next to the ‘diya’. She sat there for hours at a stretch, blankly staring at the ‘diya’, until she fell asleep, her eyes swollen and her face wet.

After a couple of days when the diya burned off, the mud lamp was still there. Every night she would come and lie next to it. On her stomach, hands under her head, facing sideways, staring at the diya. Continuously. It was the last place her mother lay. Did she feel closer to her on that spot ? No one questioned her or tried to move her. Apart from the moments when we tried to feed her, the rage she showed when we tried to take her away, was all the emotion we could get from her in the weeks to follow.

That image. It’s engraved somewhere deep inside me.

I miss her. Even today. Although my memory of her is blurring by the day, I still have some moments in my head, clear as day. And that’s how they’ll always be. I’ll replay each memory of her, even the one of the last time I saw her. After all the old toys we’ve given away or discarded, that one soft toy, of a baby with a fuzzy, blue, round pillow for a body and hair in the structure of a pineapple, that, that is never going away.

It’s been over 10 years, Mausi. The hole you left in our lives can never be replaced. You are cherished. I wonder now, when I look at my cousins; both in their twenties, what reminds them of their mother? As and when they remember her, how do they conjure up the courage to not just drop everything and give up on life? My uncle, who still hasn’t lost the goofy 10-year-old child in him. How do they go on? How did they, ever, move on?

****

We’re here for you, friend.  The wall will remember you.

Metamorphosis.

 

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***

Fat shaming is real. It happens. And we’ve all been involved in it one way or another. Be it as the victim, perpetrator or just a bystander. We’ve been there.

“I’ve been battling obesity since the 6th grade.  Failure in academics just made it worse. Eating my troubles away kind of became my thing. All kinds of junk food, aerated drinks, no physical activity whatsoever.

All I did everyday was watch TV and whine about how life sucked.  Before I knew it, I was this huge meatball weighing 93 KGS.

Almost overnight, the name-calling started. Loser, Obese kid, Fatso, Pumpkin and so on. It was embarrassing. I won’t lie. At one point, I just didn’t care. I told myself, “People who are going to hate and cuss, are just going to. There was nothing you could do about it.”

Later on, it got worse. I couldn’t bend properly. Couldn’t find clothes that would fit me and at times, I convinced myself that people automatically took me for a loser.

Most of my friends were either fit or at least close to it and I’d be the one who’d pant after walking up just a few flights of stairs. I’d watch movies and be like “Damn, look at him, so fit. I’m going to work out and change myself!”, and I’d get up and try doing a push up and fail terribly.

Life went on. Relatives started warning my folks about how bad my health was. Doctors would tell me that my weight wasn’t good for a guy my age. Even my friends would tell me to start working out.

And honestly, I tried.

I joined a gym. After 20 minutes of working out I would get exhausted and leave.  I would go home and follow my prescribed diet for a day or two. It’d be so hard that I’d give up and get back to my old routine. The cycle would start once again.

At one point, I gave up. I accepted the fact that I couldn’t lose weight.

I moved to Pune for higher studies. It wasn’t very different there either.

It went on like this until one day, while browsing through my Facebook page, I happened to see a picture of an old classmate. He was like me. Obese and a bit more on the heavier side. But, to my surprise, he had changed considerably. This guy had lost a butt load of weight and seemed happy and fit.

That was my Eureka moment. If this guy, who was just like me, he could lose so much weight, then why couldn’t I? That day, I promised myself that come December, I’d lose at least 10 Kgs.

I joined the gym one last time and maintained my diet. Whenever I would lose hope, I remembered my friend. I had only 4 months. I skipped junk food and aerated drinks. I’d wake up at 7 in the morning and go to the gym no matter what.

During this entire process, almost every person in my social circle mocked me. I would ask them to “Wait and watch” and all they would do was laugh. But, this time, their laughter didn’t really bother me. It just made me work harder. Days passed and I couldn’t see any change. It hurt, because I was working really really hard. I deserved something, right?

I was close to giving up, but somehow, I kept going.

December came and I went shopping.  Boy was I shocked when I found out that XXL didn’t fit me anymore. The joy was surreal. I took an XL tee and ran to the trial room, put it on and watched myself in amazement. I had done it.

Later on, I checked and found out that I had lost 12 Kgs. It was great. The feeling of achievement.

After that, there was no stopping me. I wanted to do even more. So after my vacations, I worked even harder.

I set a mark and worked hard to achieve it.

Now two years later and 35 Kgs lighter, I’m a happy man.

To those who feel the same, trust me, people are going to berate you, mock you and demean you. There is nothing wrong with you. Take it as a challenge, get up and prove them wrong. The results are slow, but one day, you’ll look back and it’ll all be worth it.”

-Allister Martins.