I knocked the door as I peeked in Gayatri’s room. Gayatri was sitting on the bed sobbing. Maya and Rhea were standing next to her, consoling her.
‘I am sorry. I can come later.’ , I apologized still peeking in. Noticing a stranger, Gayatri quickly wiped her tears; Maya and Rhea gave a thin smile, turning and looking at me. I could sense my presence was not welcome but they didn’t want to be rude.
‘No..,No. We just finished. Please come in Karan’ Maya greeted me as she walked towards the door.
I got introduced to the ladies barely two days back but it seemed that I had known them for ages. It was difficult to explain why I felt so; maybe we had a lot in common. Today, I was at Gayatri’s place to pick them up for a felicitation program. All four of us would to be felicitated today ; being winners of a Writing competition hosted by a popular publishing house.
‘Why are you all dressed in the same saree?’, I pointed out as I pulled a chair to rest my butt.
‘You too have a matching shirt and trouser that goes well with our saree.’ Rhea remarked looking at me.
I was wearing a grey trouser and a light blue shirt which seemed to go well with their grey saree and light blue blouse.
‘What kind of coincidence is this?’ I asked scratching my head.
‘This is no coincidence. Just that we have been shopping from the store round the corner’ Maya said.
‘I agree. Then we are all dressed for the occasion’ I remarked and we all laughed.
The three ladies looked fabulous in grey saree but a smile was missing on Gayatri’s face. Something was bothering her. She was not at peace. She was fiddling with her mobile all this while as if she was expecting some urgent message.
“Is something bothering you ??’ I asked Gayathri gently. Gayatri did not respond. I looked at Maya. She came closer and whispered.
Couple of whispers later, Gayatri’s life was like an open book to me.
Syed and Gayatri didn’t mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least expect it. It creeps up suddenly. When someone needs attention, care, conversation, laughter and maybe even intimacy. Love doesn’t look at logic, or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.
Gayatri was from a very conservative South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every Eid. That said it all. Their paths would never have crossed if it hadn’t been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. Gayatri wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all?
She looked at her watch. Syed was late. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes at the cafe, sometimes in his car, sometimes in places that she could never tell her friends about. They would never understand. And yet Syed made her happy.
One day, suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. “On my way. Have something important to tell you.”
Gayatri stared at it and realised she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her?
He never reached that day nor there was any communication from him for the next two days. Maya, Rhea and Gayatri were childhood friends. When they met Gayatri later that day, she sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. ..
‘Is all ok ?’ I asked Gayatri in a trembling tone after hearing about the blood stained knife.
‘Yes …Yes. I am worried about him. No messages from him for three days now. Looks like he is just in’ She jumped with joy, her face glittered as she alighted from the bed and moved towards a chair in the corner.
She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?
‘How could you do this to me?’ She screamed as she fell on the ground.
We all ran to her rescue. As I lifted her, I accidentally happened to see the message on her phone. Though it was unlike me, I deliberately ended up reading the complete message out of curiosity.
It had a picture of 15 bearded men; hands held high up as if they were shouting some slogans. Syed would be one amongst them, I guessed.
Below the picture, there was a message which read ‘There is so much terror in the world. I am on a mission to spread peace. This is my family now. Forget me and if possible please forgive me. Yours’ Syed’
I passed on Gayatri’s phone to Maya signalling her to check the message as I slowly put Gayatri on the bed.
‘Who is Syed in this picture?’ I asked Maya.
‘Picture ? Where is the picture ? I see a message which reads ‘Kill those infidels’ Maya screamed as she handed over the phone to Rhea.
‘I don’t see any message, just a heart’ Rhea replied calmly.
‘Ok. Give me the phone. I will show you’ I almost grabbed the phone from Rhea’s hands.
‘ooh no. Its locked now’ I said , a bit frustrated.
‘Anyways, whose blood was on the knife the other day at starbucks? It definitely can’t be of Syed’s’ I said.
‘Why not? Don’t rely on the message you just saw. It could have been sent by anyone using Syed’s phone’ Rhea argued.
‘What are you saying then ? Did Gayatri kill Syed ?’
‘I am not saying that’ pat came the reply.
For the next half hour, we kept arguing about whose blood it could be. Several conspiracy theories were coming up and the plot was getting murkier. Suddenly, our conversation was interrupted by Gayatri’s sudden movement on the bed. She had woken up. Possibly, it was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
I could sense the pain in Gayatri’s eyes. I went closer.
‘If not Syed, you will surely find Salim one day’, I whispered softly. It was such a foolish thing to say, I know. She smiled a bit. The room was much peaceful now.
‘I need to take this call from Sanjay. Please excuse me.’ Maya said looking at her phone. It looked like a video call from Sanjay.
What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?’ Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’
‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.
Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.’ She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?’
In a fit of rage, She smashed the phone on the wall.
‘We would never know now’ , I remarked looking at Maya. She was seething with anger.
‘Take it easy Maya. Its all part and parcel of life ‘ I tried calming her down. Just then, Rhea interrupted.
‘Are you sure, Rhea?’ asks my mother.
‘ I am sorry, I didn’t get the context here’ I told Rhea.
‘Of course I’m. Survival of the fittest, mother. I’m not going against Darwin. Also I don’t want unnecessary scars on my body.’ Rhea continued without heeding to my question.
‘It’s a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don’t understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. “Save A Life. Donate!” they shout.’
‘For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother’s womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It’s so rare – literally one in all humankind – that they didn’t even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea’s Heartsawesome but the doctors aren’t thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?’
‘An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate – are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?’ Rhea paused.
‘So, you have two hearts?’ I asked sensing an opportunity to interrupt.
‘Yaa. One on my right and other on the left side’
‘So, what’s the problem. God seem to have sent you with a backup?’
‘It’s the doctors. They want to make a guinea pig out of me. They want to learn at my expense.’
‘That’s it or there is more to it. It’s possible that your life may be in danger’
‘I am 16 years now and haven’t faced any health issue till now’, she defended.
‘Really ? You are just 16 ? I thought you were around 35. A girl never ages beyond 16, if you ask her.’ I joked; she blushed.
‘Your blood circulation is really awesome. It’s showing on your face. Its art-awesome’ I said making her blush further.
‘What’s your story Karan?’ , Maya asked interrupting our conversation. The focus was on me now. All ladies were looking at me now.
It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.
Kiara was looking gorgeous as ever. I couldn’t resist the urge to go and hug her. While I stood there contemplating a nice hug and kiss session with Kiara, our eyes met. I smiled and waved. She turned her face and walked away, only to be joined by a guy.
‘Is he her husband or her boyfriend or just a friend?’ I kept wondering.
‘Sir, please come over’
‘Please give me a seat closer to that gentleman. We are in the same group’ I requested the lady at the counter pointing at the guy accompanying Kiara.
‘Sure sir’, She obliged.
Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in the same row as Kiara and her boyfriend but on the other side of aisle;. Kiara looked happy or maybe she was just making me jealous. My seat, next to the aisle was a perfect place to keep a watch on them and eavesdrop into their conversation.During the course of the flight, I realized that she was traveling to Goa with Rishaab and Diya. The flight would fly to Goa and then to Bangalore.
Old memories die hard, they come and haunt you at times. I could never forget how she walked away with my best friend disregarding my feelings on the day of our college farewell. We were in a relationship and only a heartless bitch could have walked away that way.
In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan’s right hand more firmly. Rishaan’s other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya’s. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioral dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa. I didn’t want to miss the fun. Instead of going to Bangalore, I decided to follow Kiara and take a break in Goa and visit my parents in Vasco.
When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny…his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher. It was all visible on his face. All this while, Kiara was ignoring me which was making me a little uncomfortable.
‘How are you Kiara after all these years?’ , I wished Kiara while Rishaan was away.
‘Kiara ? I am Natasha. You are mistaken’ She replied.
‘I am so sorry. I know its none of my business but I want to caution you to stay away from that heartless prick. He seems to be double timing you and Diya’ I cautioned her.
‘Diya is Rishaan’s wife and I have something secretly going on with him’, she laughed.
Soon she joined Rishaan and Diya and off they went. I stood there watching them; in the middle of nowhere.
‘Karan, Karan . Its the siren again.’ Maya screamed and brought me out of nothingness.
‘What happened ? Is it the police ? Are they here to arrest Gayatri ?’ I screamed but was hardly audible.
Maya was scratching her head and pulling her hair while Rhea started laughing incessantly. Gayatri who was quiet so far was trying to hide behind me. The siren was getting louder and was almost unbearable.
As I was trying to come to terms, a dog entered the room. The ladies were now trying to hide behind me.
The dog walked towards me, our eyes met. It was a German Sheperd. It was wearing a tee. On it, “Agra Mental Hospital” was inscribed.
I looked at the three ladies. Madness and terror was clearly seen in their eyes. Few minutes back all was well and we all were sane. It was an irony that a dog was making us realize that we were insane.
‘How did I land here? Am I insane? ‘, I kept asking but had no memory of coming to the institution.
The dog circled around us. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
‘Hit the siren with this chair’ Gayatri suggested.
Without a thought, I closed my eyes, lifted the chair and smashed the siren. The siren had gone off. It was peaceful now.
I opened my eyes. My seven year old daughter was standing next to the smashed alarm clock.
‘Was it a bad dream, papa ?’ She asked innocently. It was a bit embarrassing. The otherwise invincible papa was now looking vulnerable. I simply shrugged my shoulder.
‘oh boy. I need a break’ I told myself.
For the past eleven months, I was getting too much involved in the POI Write India contest. Months after months , writing tirelessly and without a win was possibly affecting me physically and mentally.
My baby girl was still looking at me innocently, expecting an answer.
‘It wasn’t a bad dream Simi. It was my bad luck.’ I said lovingly looking into her innocent eyes.
She stood still. Something had struck us both. On the nearby table lay the very first prompt of the contest which i started reciting softly but audibly , still looking at Simi.
‘Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!
But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly.’
‘Papa, Are you reciting some mantra?’ Simi whispered softly.
‘Yes. I am initiating you. Next year, you participate too. May this bring you luck ‘ I said handing over a blue Saphhire; a symbol of strength given by my grandma on her death bed. All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am….
The rays of the sun were falling on my face now. It was a new day. Soon, there would be new mentors, new writers, new ideas and a new beginning ………….