My numb fingers took the pen out of my reliable red jhola. The auto ride to the Shivajinagar Railway Station at 6 a.m had been enough to freeze my ears and nose momentarily. I cursed Winter under my breath for finally having arrived, though inwardly smiling that it had. A resolution was made not to sleep in till noon henceforth, and also to utilize the waking hours in Pune better.
The oversized purple sweatshirt gave little warmth but I thanked my roommate for reminding me to carry it at least, even if the need did not arise in the day. Better something on the back than nothing! Remember the fate of the person who could hear the whistle blow 500 miles away?
It was odd not to see a crowded station like the Howrah station in Calcutta, where at daybreak or nightfall, crowds were never a scarcity. Other than the general want for people though, the Indian Railway Station scene was pretty much the same-a few school boys awaiting the train, the chaiwalla, the occasional man crossing the tracks, the station residents/refugees lying down on the benches with their scanty blanket and monkey caps, that only revealed their eyes and nose to the passersby...
As a child, there had always been a fascination for homeopathy, scientifically defined as 'a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners use highly diluted preparations'. To me, it was the tasty cure for a stomach ache or headache, without the painful ordeal of having to swallow a tablet like Disprin or Pudin Hara, a tough thing to do at the time. The septicemia attack when I was 8 or 9, however, accustomed me to the art of tablet taking and since then, drips and tablets don't bother me.
So there I was, a child bored during her summer holidays, not sure of how to spend her time. Since school was out, there was no faking illnesses either, something that every child would look forward to doing every morning. Mummy rarely bought my 'tummy aches because of the bad cheese in the previous dinner's pizza' or 'headache because of excess swimming the previous evening'. A pity, because some of those excuses would actually sell if I had sold my brilliance with better marketing skills!
Either way, on one summer afternoon, I decided to take on a course of homeopathy for a month. I made sure that Mummy was asleep and Papa was in the office, for it felt slightly silly doing what I was. I took out the box of Glucon-D from the cabinet and cut out blank papers into small rectangles. Each tiny rectangle had to be given the same dosage of the 'delicious white medicine', which would prevent me from anything and everything that could fall sick. I could not afford to fall sick that summer, since big things were happening for me-the summer swimming camp which meant consuming a plate of masala chips after every session, the arts and crafts summer camp, and more importantly, the mental preparation for entering middle school on the next floor in the schools building!
There was a lot of concentration devoted to this job that I had undertaken, and exactly one teaspoon of Glucon-D was put into each paper. Then, it was neatly wrapped in a four-fold manner into a smaller rectangle. There was one rectangle to be consumed after every four hours (of my being awake in a day). And since this was approved by no doctor, it had to be done on the sly. And so, the medication began its course.
No one did get to know of my medication, and wonders never cease, I actually don't remember falling sick that summer! I would pat myself everyday on the shoulder and say, 'Good going, Dr Kejriwal!'
She stepped out of her bathroom in the fresh new pink towel wrapped around her body. The curls of her hair were even more defined when wet. The water dripped down her back, one drop at a time. She drew the curtains in the room and started drying herself. A tiny puddle was beginning to form on the floor. She did not care. She was conscious of the eyes the eyes that would be on her. She looked into the mirror and felt his stare, though no one lay on the bed to make eye contact with.The clothes that she would wear lay pressed on a bed in a neat stack. One by one, she put them on. She brushed out the knots from her curls and applied the kajal under her eye. She stared back hard at herself in that reflecting surface that showed her who she was. The pink kurta was of a deeper shade than she would admittedly wear out, but it suited the skin tone. She put on the earrings. She wore the chappals. Heels were not her thing. She stepped out of her home, bought a pack of cigarettes, and got into the auto.
The place was not the same. The feeling wasn't the same. The names of the items on the menu would be the same, but the taste would never be the same. She sat there on that same table, quietly sipping on the glass of vodka that was mixed with Coke. The worst combination, for some. But she sipped. Silently absorbing the music of the space. Absorbing the once felt excitement inside her.
The vodka was soon over. The dues were paid. She stepped into the ladies bathroom and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looked different. Perhaps it was the alcohol. Perhaps it wasn't.
She could not see herself in his eyes
She could not spell out the confusion in her mind
She would not smile the same smile again.
He would not even care
For he had stopped bothering
Stopped living to see that smile a long time ago
They say that home is where the heart is. It is the place where one feels like he/she belongs and can find a comfort in being there. Four walls, a floor, and a roof over the head is what they say makes a home. But that is only the socially accepted definition of it. This photograph depicts ‘home’ to the man shown above. His home’s flooring may be of gravel; the disfigured sofa in the living room may be his bed; the cycle behind him in his garage may be his means of transport. But he has shoes to adorn his feet, clothes to cover his back, a blue box-like room that may be claustrophobic but has nice windows to pride as his own. He has the air he breathes to be grateful for, the road he can walk on to gain hope from, the emotions of pain, joy, hope, and struggle that he can experience to feel thankful for.
There are many in this world who have none of this-disabled people who have no arms, legs, ears, eyes to feel with and take the support of; people who have felt so much emotion that they can no longer feel; people from denotified tribes who have no land to call their own; people who are framed and imprisoned for no wrong doing of theirs and the four walls and roof around them are really not what they want to call ‘home’. The community factor comes in here and one can say that this is not the case of one man or woman alone but there are whole communities that live like this. There is a culture that is born within a slum and a certain way of life becomes accepted there, though other parts of society would not think the same way and like the same things. The tastes differ based on the environment that people grow up in and live in.
Let us take the example of the man in the photograph. He could have been from a well off family and under certain circumstances, was forced to take to the streets. He could have grown up in a slum and had skewed values (according to societal norms) and got into alcohol and stealing and sent to juvenile jail. He could be anyone. He represents humanity. He represents the past, present and future. He is society. It’s only his story that makes him different from another individual. Such is life. Such is society and the world around us.
In our grandparents' days, meals were so simple and innocent...A conversation between my Nani and Nana took place over dinner:
Nana(whispers into my ear): Now I'll get my ice cream and she'll ask for a little bit and eat 90% of it, leaving me with the 10% like she's doing me a favor!
Nani(notices the whispering): I know he's telling you that I eat his food. On the other hand, when I am ordering something, he'll say No a good ten times. When the dish arrives, he'll agree to 'try' it and finish it off.
Nana(waiting to see if Nani returns the bowl): See, I told you she'll eat it all up! I'm going on becoming slimmer and she's just getting fatter. :)
It was just delightful seeing them this way. It was so young and childlike. It's a nice concept to wait till the husband gets back from work and eat with him, for the girl to cook(once in a while!), to eat something that you didn't order but want from your partner's plate...Food really does have some magic to it!
A sense of guilt surged through him-
The unwanted thoughts too heavy to push aside
The pain caused, weighing down on him.
A good punch or two even, would serve no good
Too petty compared to his deed.
Stopping himself had not even crossed his mind.
But an end had to be put.
Better now than never.
I want out.
I want in.
There's nowhere seemingly safe.
I know it's happening,
I even know where!
But my feet fall back with every try.
Every attempt I make to crawl back to it fails-
The dismay is followed by pain.
The mental displeasure,
The physical aches,
There's really no going away.