Street Stories #6

Funny that our hearts can love more than one person immensely and die feeling guilty about it.

I was that girl who would hoard books and read them and sit at home. I barely walked out to the dusty Bombay air. I loved closed rooms and the four walls staring at me while I turn pages and pages. But I had to go out today.

I had to buy some things for home. Home—where my heart is. Home— which opens to the sea. Home—- beside Marine Drive as how I wanted it to be. Home— where he’ll come and where I’ll make him his favourite Sharkara Pradamana(Jaggery Kheer). Home—- where I’ll get to love him again before he leaves for another six months.

I reach the market near me. I look for the things I need to make the pradamana. I walk and walk when I feel as if someone is staring at me. My eyeballs make this right-and-left movement and I look back. No one.

I continue walking until I find all of the goods. I leave for home. Home— where he is waiting for me. I walk by the Marine and the wind that accompanies the waves lovingly splash on my face as if the sea is holding my face on its soft palms. I feel the breeze but in my heart I feel it again. The feeling of someone staring at me. This time I directly look back and I see him.

I see Krishna. Krishna, my childhood friend. Krishna, whom I left because he made me feel uncomfortable. Krishna, who was dark(thus the name) and beautiful but was not loved by Niyati, not loved by me.

He pauses and stands there as if he has done something wrong. His face is a field of worries. He doesn’t move. The wind seeps through his silky smooth hair and his white t-shirt showing his bare abs. I am surprised to see him here. I walk towards him. Speeding up my pace. His worries grow. I give him my wide smile and he smiles back. Just to reciprocate. Just a little awkwardly. But it is beautiful. He is beautiful. And I left him. Because I was uncomfortable. Because he loved me when we were young.

“You? Here? How?” I blurt out without realising I sounded dumb.

He looks at me for a while and suddenly he blinks and says, “Oh! I..I was just wandering here. To know Bombay. To get a little familiar you know? With the place and roads.”

“Oh! So you work here now?”

“Ye…yeah” He says with little assurance.

“Oh okay! Nice to meet you by the way. So? Will see you again! I’m a bit in hurry. Goodbye.” I run towards home to meet my love.

And Krishna? Krishna curses under his breath for not spilling his heart out. Krishna just stands there thinking that goodbyes are told when they’ll be meeting again. He breathes out relief.

I reach home. I directly step into the kitchen and make this sweet dish for my love. He will be here by 5 and I have one more hour. I work for an hour and I am done with the work. I wait. I wait for him to come home. Home— where love blooms in those corners.

Neel comes home. He embraces me into a tight and oh-i-missed-you-so-much hug. I breathe in his cologne. I kiss his chest. He kisses my cheeks and looks me in the eye and quotes Kabir from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani — “Tum pehle bhi itni khoobsurat thi ya wakt je kiya koi haseen sitam?”

I blush and withdraw. He pulls me in and I am trapped in his loving strong arms. I withdraw again and walk towards the kitchen.

“You know what I’ve made for you?” I say picking up a bowl of sharkara pradamana and pacing towards him. He says that he doesn’t and I show him the bowl and he takes it. He gulps down one spoon and kisses me on my dry lips.

Later that evening, we sit together, facing the wild sea and whisper each other stories.

Everything is beautiful when he is around. His breath shuffles my hair like how the wind accompanied by the sea does. He makes me feel warm. His hands around my waist makes me feel secure. His smile, it is the monsoon to my scorched land. He’ll be here till tomorrow evening. And then he’ll be gone. He’ll take my breath away with him.

We wake up to the call of his alarm. He says that he has a meeting to attend. I bid him goodbye and leave for a walk by the Marine.

Amidst the sea, the wind, the droplets dancing out of the waves, I saw him. Again.

He was staring at the sea as if he wanted to dive into it and lose his breath. He was pondering. And he looked beautiful doing it.

I walked towards the boy who was looking down the waves. I placed my hand over his shoulder. He jerked. And looked behind with sudden confusion. When his eyes witnessed me, he smiled. This time with assurance. With a pinch of doing the thing he didn’t do last time.

“Hello! It’s good that you came. I had to tell you something Niyati. For all this time.” He looked serious and excited. Not like the day we met.

“But what Krishna?” I say with a little uncertainty. He looks me in the eye. His palm suddenly on mine. And he says, “I have loved you since then. The day when we played together in Kuttanad. You were always this flower I wanted to caress and keep. But you never wanted me. Maybe because of my darkness. Maybe because, I wasn’t loveable in your world. But I loves you Niyati. I still do.” And then he blurted out all of the things he loved about me. From my thick black long hair, to my big brown eyes, to my smooth brown skin, to my pink lotus-shaped lips, to my smile and the way I ran on his grandparents’ courtyard.

His palms didn’t move. They remained over mine. Warmth evaded. His eyes were teary. He wanted me. He was dying to be mine. But mine was out. He was attending the meeting. my love didn’t know that someone loved me as he did. That someone just held me.

That I brought someone to our home. Home— where I bring someone who loves me.

Home—- Where he holds my waist like Neel did and dances with me. Home—- where he interlaces his five fingers on mine and looks me in the eyes. Home—— where his broken heart heals with my comfort. Home— where in every corner he pulls me closer to feel me just to lose me tomorrow. Home—- where his fingers dig into my thick untamed hair and his lips wander over my neck.

Home— where betrayal rules today and justice watches Krishna love me.

Home—- where I sleep with him so that he leaves forever tomorrow.

Home—- where Krishna will last see me.

Home—- where I will last see him.

Home- where I promise to never confess this little secret to Neel.

Home—- where I hide my lost feelings covered with guilt.

Krishna leaves that day. He leaves for good. I give him the love he wanted. I didn’t do it out of pity. I did it to give that part of me that loved him. I let Krishna go with that part of me.

I was somebody else’s for life.

I was somebody’s breath, heartbeat, flare in his eyes. I was his only. I was his. I was Neel’s. I might live with this guilt till I die but I will never hurt Neel. Neel, the one who remains my home. Neel, the palms of the sea that holds my face and kisses me.

Neel, my only.

“The lover who is guiltily loved is cursed and the lover who is lovingly loved is blessed.”-G


Street Stories #5

It was raining in Mumbai. Yes, you’re right, Mumbai monsoons are beautiful. No doubt. But sometimes the most loved thing becomes the most hated one when a dreadful past gets stuck with it.

Even Tara loved monsoons. Because her life found meaning on that June when it showered cats and dogs.

‘ I was reading another mystery novel, completely focused on it. I had my coffee mug, and I was having it in Bombay’s one of the best café. It was raining. I realised that I had forgotten my umbrella. I panicked and I left the place because I needed to get home before it rained cats and dogs.

It was June. I hurried to the door when I bumped into a tall boy with cocoa eyes. I didn’t realise that he held a coffee mug. I didn’t realise that coffee got spilled on my book. I didn’t realise my book fell. Nor did I hear him say anything. I stared into his lips which made an inaudible statement. I couldn’t decipher it because I bumped into an angel. I bumped into magic and it drove me insane.

He handed me my book. I took the wet mess. He smiled apologetically and walked away. I stayed there for a moment facing the glass door and staring at the rain. I smiled. And left.

I left the place to find a box at my doorstep the next morning. A new copy of the book I was reading. Fresh pages, fresh smell of new pages. I found a little bookmark in it. Some words were inscribed on them—-To the lady who got a coffee stained book last evening and didn’t get an audible sorry:)—— and his contact number was also written. Under it, there was—- Text. No Calls.

From that June, I slept under the wings of an angel. Dhruv was a beautiful boy. These words can never surpass his beautiful heart and his beautiful eyes. He was mute. We talked through written words. But it didn’t stop us from loving each other.

On summers, we lay idle and he would run his fingers on my palms and write words which I had to connect and join so that it became a short poem. Once he wrote –//Behold-thine-beauty-in-these-eyes-of-mine- /See-thy-self-how-powerfully-like-hundred-summers-together-thee-shine-//

Our favourite was monsoon. We would sit at that same café where we met and talk about that fresh incident still locked in our minds. He would say, “You drove me insane. You didn’t even blink Tara. You were staring, staring through me. The whole night I spent rewinding the whole thing and reminding myself that how awful I was.”

And then I would smirk and let him kiss me.

Everything was going great. It felt as if life could be survived. It felt as if with him, everything would be easier. There were no nightmares nor pain felt unbearable. We were happy. A little more than any day before we bumped.

I come across thousands of people and they become memories. But when I came across him, he became my dream. Dhruv was that star in my starless sky. Dhruv became hope when things were hopeless.

Universe brings people together to make us believe in it and sometimes, sometimes it takes away one from the pair, just to make us believe in another possibility. A possibility which becomes a reality.

Dhruv had to go. Universe had to take him.

I remember our last summer together when he wrote poems on my palms and one of them was -Don’t-you-mourn-when-I-leave- But I stopped him. I didn’t want to taste the bitterness. I wanted to live every moment. Every hour. Every little second with him. I wanted him to live. Live so happily that death would tremble to take him and will fall on its knees in awe.

But I had to gulp the reality down. It choked me. I let the truth settle in me after so many years after his departure.

He was sleeping, like an angel, in the coffin. He was claustrophobic and my whole body shivered knowing that fact. My whole body wanted to hug him tight because I knew, I knew he would have collapsed if he were alive.

I let the coffin be wide open. Until I am there. I left his body there. To be closed. To be buried. To be dead. I walked away, they closed the coffin. I stopped loving rain. I cherished summers. I lost my love for monsoons. And Dhruv wouldn’t have liked it but he would understand. He always did.

Dhruv was still a star in my starless sky. He remained in my skin. His scent remained in these walls, on this bed and in me.

Today, my home is silent. It’s his silence. His muteness. He is present yet invisible. It is more than enough to feel him. It is more than enough than anything I could ask for from the universe.

You see, I come across thousands of people and they become memories.

When I came across him, he became my dream. When I will come across Dhruv again, he will always be a star.’

“Years later, Tara also seeks a journey. Dhruv was a star in my starless sky and Tara, she becomes another, just beside him, which completes my sky.” -G

Street Stories #4

She was like a dream, caged and killed.

Chotu was a boy who sat on the corner of the street and sold beedis.
I have always seen him either with his father or alone. Mostly, he sat there alone holding his or maybe his father’s smartphone.
I’ve never had even the tiniest need to visit his stall until then when I had this sudden need to know his story.

That boy, he fascinated me. He fascinated me not because of his circumstances but because of his dreams. Dreams that he might never have caressed with those hands which passed on beedis to greybeards and young boys.

And so, someday in winter, I stood across him and blurted a ‘hey’ which he responded with a nod. A confused nod. ‘Didi? Are you here to buy beedis?’ And that’s how we sat in a corner and talked.
Every time, I asked him a question, he would let out a gasp to show me that he wasn’t really ready to answer.
In the middle of winter, I got my answer. I got a story. A story, sometimes all of the people carry inside their jackets and never pull it out from there. A story, nobody asks. A story, anyone could hardly speak about.
And his was tough.

Chotu had a sister, a few years younger than him. She was sold.
For him, it was hard to push those syllables out of his mouth. Real hard.

“Didi, he sold behena to a man as if she was a beedi from his stall. And…and I do-don’t know if she is alive or not.
I don’t know why Baba sent her. For money.
Didi, women are not beedis, to be used and then killed so easily and then thrown and being stomped upon on some unknown street.
Women are more than that. I regret selling beedis. It kills me didi, and it kills a lot more like me who sell beedis because their story has this burnt page where the smell of ashes suffocate the very raging soul of theirs.”

And he broke into tears. I don’t know if he broke because of his sister or because of the thoughts that pricked him every hour of being useless.
I did not ask him anything from that day.

But one day, in spring, I saw him sit there, sell beedis, like old days.
This time he waved.
And yes, a little something dawned upon me. So many people with so many stories, and my pain, it can never stand against or surpass theirs.

“Like beedis, women get sold. Like its smoke, women disappear. A little used, a little killed and then buried.” -Chotu

Street Stories #3

“And what fate does to lovers is cruel yet so beautiful.”

Gulaabo was weaving sweaters on a February evening, making herself comfortable on the verandah with half of her vision residing less on the wool than on the people walking by. Her wrinkled pale face was like Kashmir’s serene white blankets of snow on rocky mountains. Her wrinkled hands were still young and her eyes still wore kohl. She beautified herself in her leisure hours. Gulaabo was the world’s best Ajji. She might have not given me world’s every best rich thing but she did give me love and stories and poems every day.

One evening, Gulaabo was sitting in the verandah and dreaming , when she heard a tring-tring which made her jump. She glanced at the old face and it was a Gulab-Wala( rose seller). He smiled at her and they exchanged few glances of uncertainty. “Gulaabo, today’s rose day!” I exclaimed and made her buy two roses which we both exchanged. We kissed each other and she embraced me into her arms. At that moment, I realised that I only had her.

The Gulaab-Wala, whose name happened to be Ali , crossed by our little house frequently. We all wondered from where he brought those fresh red roses.

Months later, I realised that Gulaabo had feelings for Ali. She would be found chit-chatting with him and God! The red on her cheeks never disappeared at his presence. She would pour him a cup of tea every evening when he went by our house.

Years passed by and one evening, as the sun ran down the hill, Gulaabo was no more. I never knew it was going to be my last sunset. Ali stopped coming since then. I remembered Gulaabo telling me that Ajoba never loved her. He never caressed her lovingly. He was hard-hearted. He didn’t value her softness. He didn’t realise her love. Gulaabo was happy that he left her to die. But Gulaabo was a strong young woman at that time. She worked as a tailor and made this small house of ours. She took me from a Bombay’s chawl. She saw me crying beside a leaking gutter. She took me for forever. Only to love me more than I could ask anything from the universe.

Gulaabo used to tell me that Ali was an angel. She would tell me how his roses never had thorns, how his hands were made to caress and not hurt, how his smile was the noor to her darkened life. She wanted to live even in her eighties. She wanted to love in her eighties. But their love was incomplete. She knew she wouldn’t last for it to last. She knew that life was over, that Allah had given her too much time, that she shouldn’t ask for more from him.

On the day of funeral, I saw Ali with his red eyes and wrinkled clothes walking towards Gulaabo’s pale, lifeless body. He showered roses on her as if he was showering his remaining love for her which he couldn’t give her. And believe me, it was endless. The flowers covered her whole body. Only that they were dry.

Maybe Ali forgave fate for this misfortune. Maybe Ali accepted death and accepted the drying of their love. Maybe Ali will never sell roses on railway stations, local trains, Marine Drive and any gully. Maybe Ali will be never seen as a ‘Gulaab-Wala’. And

what fate does to lovers, so cruel yet so beautiful.

“I remembered them when I knew this world wouldn’t, I remembered them like ‘ibaadat’ like never before and their smiles became the ‘noor’ of my darkened life, like never before.” – Heer

Street Stories #2

“Some lives die on the headline and some are dead, or living thousands of deaths that don’t make to the headlines.”

Living in a city is beautiful as well as tough. There are thousands of mysteries behind the iris of many. Roop was one. Roop was a fifteen year old orphan girl who got lost in a fair. Her parents didn’t find her so fate took her with itself.
She knew every chowk and gully of Bombay as if she owned it. But the reality was, the city owned her. It became her home.
Roop was free. So free that her wings were never used to chains. She was so free that her heartbeats never slowed down.
But it didn’t last long. Freedom was a right but only few had it on their platters. Rest had to struggle for it. Sometimes, even die for it.

Roop ran down the ally with her rusted anklets irregularly dinging. While her legs were eternally moving to and fro, a van gulped her in the blink of an eye.
Her legs were paused. Her heartbeats, bewildered. Her body, icy. Roop was held so tightly that her wings were tearing apart. Her liveliness got muted. Her eyes, a deep void.

Roop’s footprints faded with time and it didn’t matter because Roop had nobody. In the middle of one night, Roop became a mystery. A mystery like a few.
I relax myself in the car and stare out of the window. There are similar cars and people inside them. And nothing seems odd. But believe me, you can look at the window of any car and find Roop.

Roop could be sitting there and staring outside the window to see nothing. Her whole life had been turned off. Her eyes might not drizzle anymore.
Roop could be in any moving vehicle which my eyes would never witness.
Maybe Roop will lose her organs to somebody else. Maybe Roop will get muted and touched.
Maybe Roop will struggle and look at you from the window but her face wouldn’t show the struggle.
When the signal is green, Roop’s vehicle will drive off and you shall never see her.
Maybe Roop will die with no present, no past and no future; with nobody; with no regrets; with no wings.

Maybe Roop will not be put on the headlines.
Maybe Roop will die young with a freedom that got snatched.
But her death would become her freedom. Maybe after too much struggle, death will grant Roop her wings. And then, Roop will be free again.

“Maybe abandoned lives don’t have the freedom to live. Maybe, we are extra. Right?” -Roop

Street Stories #1

“Some dreams are about surpassing the sky”

In the blue sad sky, helium balloons find their way out to somewhere we can’t reach.
Ghazal used to sell helium balloons for 15 rupees. Hardly, a child cried over the balloons that floated high in the sky when got away from the little hands. Ghazal would eat two times a week and everything depended on how much she sold.
I would wonder from where she used to get them; how she carried the cylinder and where her family was. Ghazal had beautiful eyes and a muddy face.

As months flew by like helium balloons floating around the city and getting entangled in electrical wires, Ghazal stopped coming to our locality.
Her muddy face, which was because of her poor conditions, faded over time from the heart of the land. But the sky, the sky didn’t forget the little girl.
In the corner of my mind, I always wondered why I never saw their childhood as dreamy as mine.

I had dreams. Ghazal too had dreams, maybe much bigger that surpassed the sky.
Ghazal was also a child dreaming to fly away and stay happy. Ghazal would have always wanted to be like one of her helium balloons. She would have wanted to float away into the space and never touch the tarred roads of Bombay. Maybe her heart looked for a great flight.

And maybe Ghazal will fade from my memory but I want Ghazal to know that her story will always stay with me, floating in the blues of my heart, in the ink stuck on my diary and in the sky with the aura of it. //