Wednesday, July 16, 2008


This is not a war story. Neither is this a tale of some great, unforgettable love. This is just a part of my memories that has survived the weathering of time.

That was the year of 1991. I was all of age eight. Born to a great Indian joint family, we all, my father and my uncles with all their families, lived in a huge house that belonged to my grandfather, in a small town in eastern Utttar Pradesh, a northern state in India. I was the youngest of the bunch of four children my parents had produced.

Our house stood on the corner of the main road. Next to our house passed a thin, filthy gully, on the other side of which was situated the Badi Masjid (the big Mosque) of the town. In those days we did not have a timepiece in our rooms. It was not that we were not rich enough to buy one; but it was never needed. We all used the Ajaan at the Masjid as our time identifier. It is said that good Muslims pray five times a day, and so the Ajaan was played at five times – morning 6 O’clock, then around 8:00 AM, then at around one in afternoon, then at around five in evening. And the last Ajaan was paid at 8 PM. What I understood from my daily observation was that Ajaan was played as a reminder after which all men from Muslim families would come to the place of worship to pray to god.

I used to be back at around 3 PM from school. Then after having my lunch and talking to my sisters, I would play with my cousins for some time. After which was my homework time. But in our city, and in fact in most of the cities in my state, the power would go off after six in evening. The ladies of the house would light the kerosene lamps and would place them such that minimum lamps are used for maximum light in our ultra big house.

This was the time my sisters would go for their daily chatters and I would be left in the room with a lamp and my books. The windows of my room opened to the gully that passed between our house and the Masjid. I always wondered, in those days, that how could a loudspeaker sing the Ajaan if there was no electricity! And with all my Intelligence quotient I figured out that we could generate electricity by connecting such instruments as speaker with the kerosene lamp. On one occasion, I had argued with Payal didi that we could watch television by following my way of generating electricity. I didn’t know there was a thing like Electricity Generator, then. Closing the doors, I would take the lamp near the window and would try to look into the rooms in the Masjid through their windows.

My elder brother, Pawan, had told me some stories – stories that had fear and the ghosts and the magic. And one more thing, they all were the tales of the Masjid and its long-bearded caretaker. My brother was a hero in all those stories. If I would have not been told those stories, I would have loved the Masjid, I think. It was a beautiful piece of architecture. All white. It used to glow like a palace in full moon nights. I could see its big, clean, open space from my window where the men sat to offer their prayers. It looked very beautiful and rhythmic to me the way they all moved the different parts of their bodies during the process of praying. But when these people were gone, the Masjid would look a little too empty and very quite - To the extent of making it fearful. And when the caretaker would roam around in the place, it offered a perfect arrangement to Pawan bhaiya for creating his great, fearful stories which he would narrate to us, all children, in the lightless nights. After my several visits to several different places of worship in all my growing up years, now I know, that, in general, a mosque is the best place to sit back and connect to oneself, if not to god. It’s a place where you can meditate and introspect with serenity. And when one find his own self, that’s when he finds god.

I was not allowed to open the curtains of my window, after dark. But one could not survive without that as it would be too hot inside, without the fan. So when alone in my room and exactly in no mood to work on my homework, I would open the window and would try to figure out what that mysterious person from my brother’s stories would do in the Masjid.

Frankly speaking, I was not with a brave heart. But I did have some curiosity. So, in a hope to see a little more, I brightened up the lamp and stared inside the blank, black rooms of Masjid. Suddenly, I saw a face on the window on the other side of the gully, with white beards and a lamp in hands, staring back at me through his deep, kohl-ed eyes. He had a pure white face with a black mark on his forehead. My eyes widened up in horror. I could see the face directly coming out of my brother’s stories and I ran directly, thought the long corridors of my long house, to the kitchen.

Taking a few breaths in, I called out, “Maa.”

To which my mother replied, “yes, son.”

“Can I please sit with you here, please?”

“But, here, it’s very hot.”

“No problem. I am little feared to sit in the room. Just a little, not much.”

Arre! What do you have to fear about? It’s our home!”

“I know but I am scared. I just saw the ghost about which….” I trailed off. My brother had taken a promise that we would not tell anyone the ghost stories he narrated.

“What ghost? Rubbish! Did Pawan tell you any new ghost story?”

“No… No… it’s just that I saw a face in the window… please let me sit here. I won’t disturb you in your cooking.”

“But why did you open the window? Don’t know that all mosquitoes will fly in? We won’t be able to sleep in that room now without lighting the mosquito repellent. And then you will cry as you can’t bear the smell of the repellent!”

“I am sorry… but…”

“Nothing. Go to the room and close the window, now.”

Maa, but there’s that ghost in Masjid. If I go close to my window he will stretch his hands and will catch my neck.”

“Who told you all that?”

Bha…” I was about to say bhaiya, but avoided, “Nobody. But, I know it does. And I am not going to that room without you.”

“Shut up, Parv. Don’t make useless stories and excuses to escape from your homework. Get your sisters from the porch, and go to the room and finish your homework.”

“But there’s no light in the gallery. How can I go to the porch?”

“Parv, it’s enough. Light the lamp that’s kept in the side of the room and go.”

“But I have problems with the English assignment. I don’t like English. It’s very tough.”

“Do you not have any other assignments?”

“I have. But I don’t understand English.”

“Go and finish the other assignments. We will do English later.”

“But why cant we do English now. You can tell me here only, naa?”

“Parv, I am really very pissed off. Please go now, at once. Otherwise I will beat you very badly.”

At this I made some sad faces and went out of the kitchen. Mustering all my courage I entered the room again to collect the lamp and ran to the kitchen to get it lighted. Then went to the porch where all my cousins and my sisters were sitting and gossiping.

“Pragati di, come to the room with me. I have to finish my homework.” I requested to one of my two sisters. I would always try to take chance on her as she was younger to Payal didi and a little closer to me.

Arre yaar, why don’t you bring your homework here and do it? It’s so hot in the room.”

“I am not going to room again and come back. Please come, naa. Maa will get angry at me if I don’t do the homework” I was almost near to a sob.

“Okay, wait for five minutes. Then we will go.” She tried to finish her gossip. But by the time she finished, I found myself engaged in it.

We only realized it was too late when my mother came and shouted at me angrily, “I asked you to go to room and finish your homework. And you are sitting here and gossiping! Wait I will teach you a lesson today.” She ran to catch hold of me. I jumped on the other side, shouting, “Maa, I came to ask didi to come with me. But she didn’t. Please don’t beat me.”

This helped a little to divert my mother’s anger onto my sisters, “What you girls do all the time? Can’t you sit with your brother and get his work done?”

Payal didi whispered to Pragati didi to make a move. She, then, collected her stuff and started moving to our room. We two, Pragati didi and I, walked in front followed by my mother and her continuous curses and threats of the matter to be reported to my father.

Back in the room, I tried to prioritize the homework once again. Once decided, I opened the notebook and started writing. Didi engaged her in listening to radio.

“You know di, I saw that ghost today, in that window.” Pointing to the window outside, I told her after sometime.

“Shut up and finish your homework.”

Saddened by her non-interest in the subject, I turned my head back to my book. But to take the revenge, in next instance, I faced up and said, “Switch off the radio. I am getting disturbed.”

“Keep shut and concentrate on your work.” She would snap back.

Maaaaaaaaaaa, di is playing radio. She is not letting me do my homework.” I shouted from the room, loud enough that it be heard in kitchen.

“Shut up else I would go out of the room. You will have to sit alone here.”

Maaaaaaaaaa, di is going out of the room.” I yelled again, complaining.

“What’s happening, there?” My mother called out.

“Nothing,” My sister replied to her call, shouting with equal effort and then turning the radio off, she told me, “now finish your work fast, ok?” and she whacked very softly on my head.

But the beating was hard enough to make me cry, falsely. I started walking to the kitchen, crying. “Maa, di is beating me.”

After deadly irritated with this whole extravaganza, my mother came out of the kitchen. Holding me by my arms and walking me back to the room, she asked my sister, “What’s happening here?”

“I did nothing. He is just making excuses to escape from his homework.”

“No maa, she beats me!” I would protest.

“Shut up, both of you. Parv, take your books and come with me to kitchen.”

I collected my books, made some ugly faces to tease my sister and ran to follow my mother.

Once the dinner was ready, maa asked, “Finished you homework?”

“Yaa, almost.”

“Finish it and then eat your dinner.”

“Will you feed me today?”

“Are you a kid and can’t eat with your hands?”

“But I don’t like to. I get bored eating alone. And I take too long to finish my meal.”

“Then go and ask your sister to feed you. She has really spoiled you. I have loads of other work to do”

“But she is angry at me. She won’t feed me today. Please, you feed me. I eat very fast when you feed me. It won’t take long.”

“No Parv. It’s not going to happen. Now finish your home work.”

After finishing my homework, I took my food plate and went to my room. There, I found my sister listening to radio.

“Will you feed me?”

“Eat by yourself. Don’t you have hands?”

“I have. Two hands.” Then I sat in the corner of the room, solemnly, putting my plate on the study table and started eating. My bites were small and slow and bored.

After minutes of my struggle with food, my sister got up, took my plate on her side and started feeding me. Big, giant pieces of chapatti rolled over equally big pieces of potatoes.

“It’s too big. And I don’t want to eat vegetables.” I complained.

“Eat fast, you Nautanki!” She said and then smiled.

I pulled my eyebrows up to see the expression on her face. Satisfied with the idea that we had arrived at truce, I smiled back. And she rubbed her hands through my hairs. We laughed aloud. In the kitchen, my mother was smiling happily at our reunion.

That was when the last Ajaan of the day flew out of the loudspeakers. It was 8:00 PM. And then, I narrated my great experience with the ghost in the Masjid window to her, happily horrified.

As I told you, it’s not a great, war story, neither was it a grand tale of love. If printed in a book or made into a movie, not too many people would care to read or watch. But these simple moments, at times, stay for longer than any big event of an individual’s life. And for that person, these small fights have a bigger significance than a great war and this simple feeling of being loved has a greater importance than any great love story. This story, of my own life, has stayed, in my heart. And after some fifteen years from that night, I could still recall those moments in their exactness as if I am reading the pages of an unwritten memoir. And I smile.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Mayank had left office quite early, or rather at the right time - at around six in evening, but instead of going home, he went to Worli Sea-face, very near to his office.

Sun was still warm. In Mumbai, the length of an evening is very short. The night waxes out as soon as the afternoon wanes. The sun drops into the sea as if the gravity doesn’t allow it to stand in the sky any more, minimizing the existence of the evening. At times, Mayank wished if he could lessen the interactions with his parents by such degree as these evenings and to avoid the daily altercations between them, he decided to return at an hour when they would be asleep.

Sitting by the seaside, one of his early childhood images always popped up in his mind. This was the night when his father had tried to hang himself to the bedroom fan. The doors were closed from inside. His mother was requesting to open up. He was shouting, “What the hell my son will feel like when he gets to know that his mother loves to go for coffee with her boyfriend more than sitting with him for his homework?” She had shouted back, “He is not my boyfriend, you fool! He is just an office colleague!!” Then she had run to the phone to call for his grandparents. When they arrived, his grandparents convinced his father to open the door.

During all this, Mayank had sat in his room, sobbing badly. He didn’t understand the happenings in his house in its exactness but he jotted it down on the memory cells to find its meaning in his growing up years. And now when he understood, he told himself, “May be I would have never known if my mom had some affair with her office guy, if they had not made a scene that day. But all these years I definitely knew that my father would go anytime he wished, without giving a thought to my homework.”

The waters from the sea touched Mayank’s feet hanging from the walls by the sea side. The sea was rising up. He looked at his watch that was showing that midnight had arrived. He checked his mobile. He had missed nine calls, seven from his home and two from unknown numbers. He called for a taxi and headed for Elphinstone station.

“How should a twenty-five years old son behave when his golden-jubilee-neared parents fight on almost all the trivialities of life? What should he do when they start marketing their individual contribution to his life? And what should he do if they decide to separate at an age when they would need each other the most?” Wondering into all such questions, Mayank boarded the last Local to home.

When he arrived, his kitchen lights on fourth floor, he noticed, were still on. His heart dropped. “No god! Not at this hour, please.” With a heavy mood he climbed up to his apartment. His father opened the door with an unusual look. Mayank was just two steps in that he said, “your mother left.”

In an instance, Mayank already thought about hundred things. “Left what? Food uncooked? Or food uneaten? Cloths unwashed? My father? Home? World? What?”

And he asked, “What?”

“Your mother left home.”

“To where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then what do you know?”

“That she left.”

“That you already told me. What else you know?”

“I suppose she is carrying her mobile. I called her but she did not pick up. And the mobile is not seen anywhere in the house.”

That night, Mayank could not sleep. He kept trying her number but it was switched off.

The next morning, while he was readying himself to go to police station, he received a message. It read as – “I left 4ever. Plz dnt worry abt me. I m in oldage hom. I m ok. God bless. Ur Ma.”

Mayank sighed with relief. Now he knew he does not need some outsider that too Mumbai police, to intervene into some absolute family matters.

He called up his manager and informed that he was not well and hence couldn’t attend office. Then he browsed the internet for all old-age homes in Mumbai, shortlisted the ones with highest possibility of his mother’s residence. When he called up and enquired, most of the homes told him that they could not give any information about the inmates. So he decided to visit them personally. After visiting several such homes, he finally found the one where his mother was sheltered in. He tried to persuade her by every means he could. But she was not ready to live with his father. When he suggested making separate arrangements for both of them, she agreed to pack her bags and come with him.

Returning home, sitting by the window in the taxi, Mayank asked himself, “What are they after?”

He remembered a night from his childhood. His mother had asked his father, “What’s the problem?”

His father had replied, “Nothing as such.”

“When you watch television to avoid a conversation, there is a problem!”

At this, his father had turned towards her and had asked, “Why do you think, I would be interested in telling YOU my problems?”

“Ya, off course! Why should you tell ME? But I hope you understand well that it’s OUR family which will suffer from your so-called personal problems.”

By now, they had entered into shout-on-shout-back game.

The problem for Mayank with every such thing was – He never discovered the reason for their fights. He engaged himself in a retrospective analysis, “An individual’s personal chaos has a great potential to disturb his or her child’s mind. People, at times, marry to stabilize their lives. But do they ever calculate the possibility of destroying their partner’s stability if they do not attain theirs? After all, one’s mental or societal stability, like all his or her personal qualities, has to be attained by his or her personal endeavor. It can’t be sought as a dowry. It can’t be derived from anybody else. And what happens if one gets into a marriage where his or her partner is also in an unstable state? Now think of a child, such couple is going to produce!! And I have been one such child – a child born out in a dysfunctional family. I always wonder if I were just a mistake of a night! When my parents were never in love for all their lives together, how could they make love voluntarily?”

He thought, “It was never like they loved me in any way less than the parents of my friends did to their children. But they certainly fought more than that. And their love was divided. I was never loved by my parents; it was either my father or my mother. They even fought over the matter that, of the two, who loved me more!”

In all his childhood, Mayank spent most of the time in figuring out one or the other thing. During lunch hours in the school, when all his friends bragged about their parents and their love, he wondered what to brag about. And the whole break time would pass in such wilderness and all he did was eating his Tiffin silently. He could never feel proud enough about his parent that he would feel to talk about them in friend’s group. If ever he visited some relative’s place, he would curiously watch how they behaved with their kids, sometimes with pity for self, sometimes with jealousy towards them. He used to notice, how a mother would reinforce the faith in father, if ever the kid would talk against him. And he also watched fathers to do it for mothers. At times he would think, “Is this the reason why I don’t believe them?” He remembered how his father would spill of bad words for his mother when he found the slightest error in her cooking or his mother would curse his father when he forgot to fill in the electricity bills; though each one would know that there must be some reason why the other committed the mistake.

He thought of the day he was taken to his boarding school in Lucknow. He had passed class fifth and his parents, for the first time, had come to a conclusion together that it’s best to keep him in a residential school. All exams and such stuff done, Mayank was enrolled in the school. The school had allowed the parents to take their kids out that evening as from the next morning they won’t be seeing their parents. So he was taken out to the markets of Aminabad and Hazratganj to do some last minute shopping. This was one of those rare occasions when Mayank had his parents together. He was happy. While walking on the roads, he held his mother’s right and his father’s left hand very tightly, signifying the only link left between them. On the dinner table, his mother had asked his father, “I think we can stay for one day more… just in case, Mayank needs something else?”

“I guess school authorities are good and they will take care of his needs, if any,” his father had snapped.

“But this might help him settle down… he is so young… such a kid… and he will be on his own from now…”

“Then, might as well we don’t leave him only, if you so believe that he can’t live without you… and more over you only wanted him to be put in a boarding school… as you always believe your job is more important than your family…”

“Yes it is… because we just can’t survive on whatever you earn…”

He didn’t remember where this discussion had progressed from there. All he could recall was that his happiness was gone. He had said, “Mom… dad… please don’t fight. I will be all right. You can leave… I will make friends and I will be all right.” That night while leaving their parent, every kid in the hostel was crying, except Mayank.

He looked at his mother, who was sitting by his side. She was asleep, resting her head on his right shoulder. He questioned to his self, “So what is the reason?” And then, offered himself a random flow of thoughts in the absence of an answer, “The reasons of their fights are not important anymore; but the fights are, I guess. They are REASONS – the reasons for their survival. And it’s so very obvious. A fight has to be the reason for our survival. Now the question is - whom do we fight? We all fight different enemies at different times. When we are awakened, we fight against the night; when we are asleep, we fight against the day. But what if we have lost all the battles and don’t have any enemy to fight with? We might then tend to create enemies - some unreal, superfluous enemies. And the process of creation is outwardly. We, at times, forget to fight the enemy within. May be, that’s the only reason they ever had for their survival and they hold each other as the only seen enemies! May be, just may be. In these fights none of them ever won but the loss was always mine. They could never hurt their enemy but what they killed was the concept of parenting. They killed my parents.”

When the taxi stopped at a traffic signal, Mayank saw an orphanage. He looked at the kids hanging around the gate and then thought of himself. A thought appeared and then lingered around in his mind, “What’s the difference?