Beauty does not lie in the eyes of the beholder

The alarm kept ringing unremittingly but Reeti woke up from her deep slumber only after her mother’s squawk reached her ears. She shot a hasty glance at the clock while she dived towards the bathroom to freshen up. She was late for office again and she knew she would have to face her mother’s wrath as this had become a routine off late. It had been almost 3 months since 23-year-old Reeti began having prolonged midnight conversations with Ritul who lived in Pune. Ritul and Reeti had connected on Facebook through a common close friend. What started as a casual Facebook messenger chat had now turned into a clandestine affair, though there were no talks of commitment from either of them yet.

Reeti gaped at the mirror and felt crestfallen. She was almost in tears looking at the malevolent, outsized pimple that had popped up right at the tip of her nose. All the efforts she had been putting in since the last few days to ensure a scrupulously clear and radiant face had gown down the drain. Ritul was in Mumbai for a customer visit and it was a special day for her – their first date! But she did not want to meet him now. He would also mock at her skin just like some of her friends and relatives did during her growing years. From medical treatments to her grandmother’s hacks, she had tried it all in the past but the pimples kept coming back with a vengeance. There was a time when Reeti was extremely miserable and down in the dumps because apparently no boy had a crush on her ever, even though she was considered to be a benevolent, affable and intelligent girl. But, once she began working for a leading MNC, her self-confidence increased and the thoughts about her physical appearance started taking a backseat. Though she had never met Ritul, she felt a connection with him and was keen to take this relationship forward. He seemed to be a sensitive and level-headed man but Reeti was too scared to lose her worth in his eyes. She did not want him to think of her as an unappealing woman and wanted to look beautiful for him.  But, the bulky bump on her face had shattered her desire. With a heavy heart and moist eyes, she sent him a text message.

“Sorry Ritul, I cannot meet you this time. Something very urgent has come up at office and I will have to work late hours. Hope you understand. Hugs!”

Hydro and Strikers – By Shreyas Saboo

//This story has been submitted by 8 year old Shreyas who resides in Hyderabad. He had written this tale as a part of  the weekly Creative Writing Classes which I conduct in my society. The kids were asked to write a story related to friendship.//

In 1999, there lived two aliens – Hydro and Strikers. They were best friends and both loved hopball. They also liked to invent things and their latest device was the tracer which could trace anyone, anytime. They kept all their inventions in a laboratory. They also started working on a new invention – a spaceship which they named MP390. Both of them worked hard on the spaceship and were delighted when it was ready.

One day, Hydro told Strikers that even though the spaceship was ready, he wanted to ensure that it was working fine.

“I think I should take the spaceship for a test drive”, said Hydro.

“Oh yes! I think you are right.”, replied Strikers.

So the next day, at the crack of dawn, Hydro set off for testing MP390. His route was from Mercury to Earth, and then back. But alas! When he was between Earth and Mercury, the spaceship started slowing down and even before five minutes had passed, it crashed into a house on Earth.

Book Excerpt: Shadow in the Mirror – Deepti Menon

SHADOW IN THE MIRROR – DEEPTI MENON

Shadow in the Mirror

Excerpt:

The door opened and her aunt bustled in. An air of expectation hung about her, tempered by an aura of anxiety that surprised Kavita. “Kavita, child, please don’t let your heart rule your head!” Her aunt seemed to be actually pleading with her. Kavita nodded mechanically as she looked at the older woman’s lined face. Wasn’t this her future being decided? “I will not make any compromises, whatever Aunty says!” she said to herself, but at the moment it was easier to concede to her. One last look at the mirror, the smoothening down of an unruly curl that kissed her flawless profile, and then she waited in impatience for the summons. The minutes went by, dragging their feet, emphasized by the ticking of the clock. Or was it actually the beating of her heart?

Black and White – By Jeslyn

//This story has been submitted by 8 year old Jeslyn who resides in Hyderabad. She had written this tale as a part of  the weekly Creative Writing Classes which I conduct in my society. The kids were asked to write a story related to friendship.//

Today is a day of celebration and jubilation. The American Civil War has come to an end. It is 1865 and the 15 year old and shabbily dressed Martha, a black African slave girl, is bidding farewell to the noble looking Stella, who is also of the same age. Stella is the daughter of the wealthy white landlord and Martha and her parents worked as slaves in his cotton farm. Stella and Martha have known each other since they were just 7. Stella used to feel sorry witnessing the plight of slaves at her father’s farm. She became Martha’s friend and began to teach her whatever she learnt at school. Martha grasped things fast. This continued and for 8 years, Stella educated Martha to bring her on par with herself in knowledge and skills.

Are we worth it?

Bhavya traversed down the memory lane as the classic patriotic numbers played out one after the other in her locality. The reminiscences of her humming these songs along with her friends in their school bus brought the rare authentic curve on her lips. She recollected how she used to wait ardently to gorge on the delectable laddoos offered by her school on the occasion of Independence Day post the flag hoisting event. Her heart yearned for those idyllic days.  Lost in her own thoughts of her erstwhile life, she was blissfully unaware that her next client for the day had stepped into the room and was calling out for her. Her reverie was broken by the blaring honking of a vehicle in close vicinity and she realized that the musical extravaganza had concluded as well. On a reflex, she turned around and fear gripped her. Had she frittered her client’s valuable time away? Before Bhavya could apologize, she had been stripped off her garments and her façade had been put on. Bhavya had become Rosy. Rosy was aware that there was no way to escape from the besmirched, dingy brothel. She wondered if she would ever be able to breathe freedom again. The 17 year old was awaiting her Independence Day.

Raghu was an optimistic and affable soul. To the world, he was blind but he could see through the darkness he was born with and at times, could probably even observe what the people with the finest eyesight missed. He often thought that maybe, God had compensated him with this innate knack of sensing people’s emotions and mind-sets. He earned a meagre income, just enough to survive, by performing his daily job as the milk delivery boy in a particular neighbourhood. He had completed his basic education and could also type well on a computer. Those who knew him were often amazed by his independence and self-sufficiency. One day, a lady walked up to him to seek permission to cover a story about him. She clicked his pictures as he posed with a beaming smile and gave him hope when she mentioned about how the story would undeniably go viral and make him instantly famous. Though recognition was nowhere on his priority list, he presumed it would make it easier for him to get another job, a more respectable one, which could help him improve his living conditions and support his debt-ridden family. He was confident about his capabilities but unfortunately, most people did not even give him the benefit of doubt and assumed that his visual impairment would be a deterrent to his dedication and effort. So, as expected, his story did go viral but nothing altered for Raghu. A few did mention to him that they were proud to share his story as they “knew” him. Life was still the same for him – the same old routine, the same old “isolation” and the same old “pitiful stares”. At times, he speculated about the reason why no one out of the many who read his story felt that he was worthy enough. Perhaps, they were now engaged in making another story go viral.

Short Story – The Illusion

“I would like to conclude by reiterating that a person’s sexuality is neither a choice nor a syndrome. Just because we cannot understand something which is uncommon, it cannot be declared unnatural. It is as natural as your sexual orientation or mine. It’s about time we educate ourselves and initiate open dialogues about this subject to raise awareness. Please join us and be a part of our movement. Every voice matters!”

As Nikhil stepped down from the podium, the auditorium reverberated with a thunderous applause. But, his internal turmoil was piercing enough to stifle the resonance around him. He wanted to break away from the throng of people that had enwreathed him – some were from the media, some from the audience and some belonged to the event organizing team. On any other usual day, he would have gladly spent time interacting with the crowd about his mission which had become the reason for his existence. But this day was different. It was the anniversary of the horrid incident that had wobbled the core of his being and had altered the course of his life. He wanted to grieve in solitude; he wanted to reminisce all the precious moments that he had so fondly hoarded in his treasure trove of memories.

Once Nikhil managed to make an exit from the auditorium, he scuttled furtively to leave the venue premises. He made a quick call to his driver and just when he disconnected it, he overheard a group of men conversing in voices which, though suppressed, were audible in the grim silence of the night.

“Look, he is THE Nikhil – the LGBT rights’ activist whose speech you missed.”

“Oh he is the one! What missed? I am glad I escaped. I don’t know why did you guys want to listen to his gibberish. You know what, I think he is a gay himself and that is the reason he is so determined to fight for this cause.”

This proclamation was followed by a sneering laughter. Nikhil grimaced and turned to give the man an earful. Being perceived as a gay never bothered him. It was the ignorant, callous attitude towards such a sensitive matter and the mocking tone that ruffled his feathers. But then, something stopped him from walking up to the men. His car had arrived and he wanted to get back home as soon as he could. While his driver manoeuvred his way through the Mumbai traffic, Nikhil unlocked his mobile and longingly stared at Priya. That smile! Her dazzling smile could brighten even the gloomiest of days. A year had passed since Nikhil had lost her. Submerged in her thoughts, he could feel knots in his stomach. He dashed towards his room once he set foot into his apartment and reached for the bedside drawer to read the letter for the umpteenth time. This was not an ordinary letter. It was the driving force behind his crusade against the apathy of the society and the legal system. It was his source of strength and indefatigable resolve. It was the last memory of the love of his life, his wife and his best friend. It was her suicide note.

Dear Nikhil,

I know that by the time you read this letter you would be devastated. I know that what I am going to do now is an act of cowardice. I know that I am being unfair to you. I know that you must be seeking answers to innumerable questions and I hope through this letter I am able to answer some of them. I am sure you don’t need to be told that you are my best friend. We grew up together and understood each other in a way no one else could. But, I guess there are certain things which are not easy to be shared, even with your best friend.

Remember how I was trying to hook you up with your crush when we were in college? Those were crazy times and probably the most memorable moments of my life are from the initial years of college. However, gradually, something had started bothering me during that period. You always felt exasperated whenever I refused to date a guy. You thought I was a tough nut to crack. But the truth was I was experiencing different emotions – emotions that were alien to me; emotions that I struggled to comprehend; emotions that gave me restless, sleepless nights. I was attracted to my classmate, a girl. You did sense at times when my mood was off. But, I had enough convincing excuses which kept you away from deciphering the truth. I could not talk about this with anyone, not even with my parents as I had never even heard the word ‘sex’ from them ever.

Eventually, I did a lot of research on the internet about the way I felt and my fears were confirmed. Though I discovered that being a lesbian was not a rarity and there were others sailing in the same boat, nothing could allay my anxiety. It was hard for me to accept this reality but I could not deny my homosexuality. I was tormented and retired to bed sobbing each day. As time passed, the topic of marriage was brought up at my home. The very thought of marriage made me feel ill at ease and one fine day, I mustered up the courage to let Mom know about my sexuality. To say that she was horrified would be an understatement. That night she came up to my room and embraced me. I was relieved to learn that she understood. But the respite was short-lived. Next day, my mom took me to a doctor for treatment. He assured her that his prescribed medicines would make me “normal” soon and my mom was ecstatic. I wanted to reason with her but kept shut. The medication started having adverse effects on my well-being and played havoc with my menstrual cycle as well. But, mom was adamant that I complete my course and ensured that I ingested the medicines in her presence. I had no option but to lie to her at the end that the pills worked. I did not want to put up with all the health issues anymore.

It was around the same time when you proposed marriage to me. I had the option of letting you know the truth and moving away from your life. But, I saw a ray of hope and accepted the proposal for my own convenience. It would have been easy to spend my life with you rather than any other man. Or so I thought! How wrong I was. The first time we made love, I could see the gleam in your eyes. I knew how special the moment was for you. But, I did not feel anything. I only felt uncomfortable, even dirty at times. But, I pretended and pretended till I could no longer put up a façade. There were times when you asked me if I was nervous about sex. But, I dismissed your concerns by playfully chiding you for not understanding the natural hesitation of a new bride.

All my life you encouraged me to be myself, but being myself had become a daunting task for me. I was scared of the wrath of my parents. I was scared of being ostracized by society. I was scared of the legal repercussions. And more than anything, I was scared of the impact all this could have on you. Even if you would have supported me, this truth would have definitely complicated your life. I am sorry for putting you through this. But, I cannot carry on like this anymore. The fear, guilt and my self-deception is killing me every moment. My life seems to have become an illusion. I know I have messed up everything and the only way out is to set myself free, which in turn will set you free. I have to go. I could not be a good wife, but unfortunately I could not even be a good friend to you. Please forgive me. I am sorry for being selfish again.

Love,

Priya

Nikhil clutched the letter to his chest and let out a loud wail. Those searing words glistened with tear drops. Nikhil was never livid with Priya. He was heartbroken and considered himself responsible for Priya’s suicide. He was disappointed in himself because he could never deduce what she was going through in spite of being so close to her. He was disappointed in our failure as a society wherein someone thought that taking away one’s life was the only choice left. One could debate over Priya’s extreme step but whether it was right or wrong was not the focal point for Nikhil. There were other difficult questions haunting him relentlessly. Will we ever value human life and emotions over our prejudices and regressive mentality? Will we ever be able to stop ridiculing others and instead, try to appreciate our differences and accept people with an open mind? Will we ever get out of our comfort zone to bring about the revolution our society desperately needs? Maybe, someday we will.


 

It takes a village to raise my child

Chosen by BlogAdda among the top picks of the week

The baby yowled again. She sighed! She wanted to prepare dinner and was already running late with her chores. But the impish 21 months old would not allow her to perform any task and bawled the moment she turned towards the stove. She tried all the tricks to keep the toddler occupied but when nothing worked, she was left with no choice but to hold the tiny tot in one hand and cook. It was uncomfortable because she was making Koftas and hence, had to be tremendously vigilant to ensure there was no spluttering of oil on the child cocooned in her arms. Sounds like a typical day in the life of a mother? Well, yes it is, except that the child is definitely mine but the lady in question is not me, but is my close friend who lives in my neighbourhood.  That is the kind of bond my little one shares with my loved ones who reside in my housing complex.

Friends have always played a pivotal role in my life. Needless to say, my family means the world to me and I cannot imagine my life without them. But, my friends are my lifeline and they occupy a unique place in my heart. My friends have stood by me like a rock in every circumstance come what may. They have looked after me during times of illness or despair, when I was away from family. They have watched my back and instilled in me the confidence to be myself. They have brought out the best in me by invariably egging me on to tap and hone my abilities. They have always made me feel like a star. They have given me immeasurable moments to cherish for a lifetime. They have taught me lessons about life which no book or teacher could ever edify me on.

I have been extremely fortunate to have found wonderful people at every stage of my life. I lived in many cities owing to the nature of my father’s job and fostered deep connections with some friends at every place I set foot on including, of course, the six years of my hostel life. But once I began to traverse the conduit of the corporate world, I started to feel that I can no longer get myself to make those “special” kind of friends – the kind of friends with whom you don’t just have unlimited fun but you can bare your soul to; the kind of friends with whom you feel at home even in the strangest of surroundings; the kind of friends with whom you are connected through some invisible strings which last through the entire life span regardless of the number of times you meet or interact.  Once I took my nuptial vows, the workload at office and then the domestic responsibilities left us with little time for socializing. Gradually, without any real basis, the notion that I have probably crossed the stage when I can give my all to a new friendship, etched itself in my mind. Who has time in today’s fast-paced world for it anyway – I thought!

But, the universe conspired and we purchased our own apartment, which according to me has been one of the best decisions of our lives. The society that we live in is one of its kinds. There is a sense of belonging each one of us feels here.  It’s a lively abode abuzz with the energy and vibrancy of the residents and there is a positive, welcoming and affable vibe that is all around in the air here.  Though I warmed up to the place instantly, I still kept my distance when it came to making new friends. I enjoyed their company but did not make efforts to spend more time with them.  But, being a sucker for genuine love and warmth, how long could I stay away! My neighbour was my first friend here and through her I got acquainted with a few ladies, with whom I went on to build close ties eventually. However, the “unyielding me” would still say to my old friends – “Yes I have good friends but it’s not like how we were during college.”

Then, one fine day, I saw the two pink lines which transformed my world in more ways than one. Pregnancy made me realize how imprudent I had been all this while. My community friends made my pregnancy a smooth and pleasurable experience, so much so that I did not feel the need for the presence of anyone else from my family till a little before my due date. I was pampered in profusion in every way possible and was treated to lip-smacking delicacies throughout. My mother was also particularly glad and reassured to witness the manner in which we all connected with each other.

Since the birth of my daughter, my friends have become that village which is instrumental in raising a child. It is so relieving and soothing to be encompassed by a strong support system, especially when your husband has erratic working hours. I have never had to worry about any kind of emergency because of the existence of such obliging, accommodating and amazing people right next to me who never blink an eye even when they have to go out of their way to respond to a call of distress.  Like once I was not able to reach my husband when I was down with high fever, and a friend immediately offered to take my daughter to her place while I snoozed away to glory at home.

My heart wells up with joy and gratitude to see my daughter being showered with abundance of love by everyone. She is adored by all of my friends and their children who belong to various age groups. She gets to learn different things from different people and all this stimulation is aiding her growth positively. Having a village means I have a troop of folks to lean on for support and advice. Sometimes, it is not even about taking suggestions or seeking opinions. It’s not even about having deep, soul-stirring conversations all the time. Parenthood is a roller-coaster and during the lows, it is a huge stress buster to have someone who can listen to you without getting judgemental or someone who can make you laugh in a way only friends can. You get enough opportunities for a breather as you know your child is being watched by someone responsible and trusted during a gathering. There are times when my daughter refuses to even come to me because she wants to be with her amorous extended family, and I am delighted to be blessed with such moments. She also refers to a close friend of mine as “mummy” at times and I am indebted to God for bestowing her with such motherly figures in her life. I know that she knows she can count upon them always.

In the era of nuclear families, it is indeed a blessing to stumble upon friends who become like family with so much ease that you do not even realize when and how. I am pleased with the fact that I have got myself to let off my guards and make friends again, the way I have been doing all my life. When you have such fine friends in close vicinity, everyday is a party! I know there are many who manage exceptionally well without one, but for me, it takes a village to raise a child and also a mother, and I am glad I have been endowed with mine.

A letter to a Mom from her Toddler

Dear Mom,

It seems like I gave you a very hard time today like I do on most days perhaps, as I can sense by your exhausted and flustered state. I am sorry but I did not mean to do so. I know there are times when you are at your wits end because you are unable to figure out the reason for my tantrum or outburst. But trust me Mom, that during such times, even I have no clue about the cause of my tears or feeling of distress. I am still learning about a lot of things. I have just begun to acknowledge my feelings. I have just started understanding the ways of the world. There is still so much that I cannot comprehend.

I know that you get tired of my howling at times. “Why do you have to cry or scream for everything!” you say. I am sorry mom but I am slowly learning to express myself and don’t know how to handle my emotions yet. I can communicate but I have a long way to go before I can talk to you clearly about what is going on in my mind. When you refuse to let me do stuff which I am keen to do, I feel unhappy. I want to explore everything in this world which I have only recently begun to perceive with my own senses. But, according to you I cannot do certain things and I wonder why. You explain to me about danger on some occasions but I don’t really recognize the safety risks you speak about and even if I do, I am not yet capable of retaining it all in my memory.

Short Story – The Unwed Mother

// This short story is the winner of “Muse of the Month” contest conducted by Women’s Web in the month of May 2017. It has been published and is available at the below link:

http://www.womensweb.in/2017/05/the-unwed-mother-may-2017-motm-winner/

Araina goggled at the test results in disbelief. The second pink line had appeared, turning her world topsy-turvy in an instant. She was perched on the sofa with a deadpan expression on her face. And then as reality hit her, panic mode kicked in. A whirlwind of emotions churned inside her and she cursed herself for changing the course of her life for a few moments of bliss and pleasure. She started pacing all over the room fretfully, while trying to figure out ways to sort out the mess she had got herself into. She clenched her fist and thwacked the wall, and broke down hysterically. She had to let those emotions come out to be able to think rationally about the situation. Araina was a strong and pragmatic person. After crying her heart out, she regained some composure and decided to face the circumstances head on. She could not change what had already happened, but she had to approach this with a sane mind.

Araina dropped an email to her reporting manager stating that she was sick and hence, had taken a day off. She booked an appointment with a renowned gynaecologist in the city for 12 PM. She took a rapid shower and hastily slipped into her office wear.

Short Story – Some friendships last beyond a lifetime

//This short story has been published by Women’s Web and is available at the below link:

http://www.womensweb.in/2017/05/short-story-friendships-last-beyond-lifetime/

Udita was numb. She could not feel a thing, neither the embraces nor the handshakes. And then like a sudden gush of water, tears flowed down her cheeks as she started weeping profusely. It all had to come out – the pain, the anguish, the struggle and at last the sweet victory. She was exhausted and overwhelmed with emotions. Flashes of her ordeal played out in front of her eyes and she felt as if someone had pushed the rewind button of her life. Her thoughts raced back to that fateful day – the day that transformed her life forever and shook the very core of her being; the day that made her cognizant of her immense inner strength and resilience which were hitherto unknown to her.

Udita was supposed to meet her best friend, Tara, at their favorite hangout place, Café Coffee Day. She was waiting in the outer seating area of the café which was facing the road. It was a busy street with traffic at its peak for the day. It was time for office goers to head back home, thus making it difficult for pedestrians to cross roads. To avoid encountering traffic jam, she had started early from her office. She expected that Tara would arrive tardily as always so she decided to order their favorite cold coffee, Devil’s Own, in the meanwhile. Just when Udita stood up to move inside, she spotted Tara waving at her from the pavement across the road. She gleefully waved back and signaled Tara to cross vigilantly while she waited.

Udita’s mobile started vibrating and she groped for it inside her handbag. Uday had always complained about how one could never find anything that one needed inside the bag because of the mess that it was. She flashed a fleeting smile as she thought of him and took out her mobile to answer the call. Before she could do so, she heard a thud. She hastily dumped her mobile back into the handbag and turned around to find a clamorous mob. She inferred from the chaos that an accident had occurred and hurried to the spot to help, while simultaneously looking for Tara in the crowd. After struggling her way through the swarm of people, she was shocked beyond belief when she saw Tara lying there in a pool of blood.