Lessons from the unread

“Media! What kind of subject is that? How can girls even study that? What time will you come back home? Who will take care of your kids and the house?….Aa,  forget it. You should have taken medical studies and that way you could have managed both,” said Chaturvedi uncle, who was always a bit too concerned about my imaginary future in-laws and least interested in what I wanted to do at present.

“Do you know how to cook or any household work for that matter?” he asked with scrutinizing eyes .I hardly realized that he had not stopped the interrogation, till the time I felt several eyes on me.

“Manageable,” I replied innocently.

Those eyes had started piercing holes through me now.

“What do you mean by manageable?” he asked.

“Maggi!” I replied, with a sense of pride in my culinary talent.

This time my answer made his piercing eyes turn blind.

“Hmmm”! He nodded his regretfully.

“Dasguptaji, your son-in-law has a very dark future, you see. Maggi is what he will have to survive on or else he will have to marry someone who is a proper girl.”

Of course, dad had to become my savior at that point.

“We never pressurized her about anything. She does everything out of her own interest. She’ll learn everything slowly,” he said.

Uncle still did not want to spare me and dropped a bomb.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he enquired.

I was surprised, so too was everybody else in the room. Pin drop silence.

Yes, I answered. The bomb exploded inside his head.

Mom didn’t know where to run to, dad didn’t know where to hide and the others chose to bat their eyelids with terrified expression. I expected the next question to be about my virginity, but uncle was way too deeply in shock for that.

“This is the end, I can see darkness all around her. Very sad, chi chi… such a girl! God knows what her college is teaching her,” said uncle.

A damn interesting man I tell you, Chaturvedi uncle.

Chaturvedi Sinha had just returned from The States. He had gone there to visit his son for the first time. He had all sorts of experiences to share including how embarrassed he felt on seeing women with revealing clothes and teenagers crossing the ‘limits of decency’.

Chaturvedi uncle claimed to have the knowledge of the four Vedas and had got his BTech and MBA degrees from reputed institutions. “That country has no culture, you know, every woman is working and kids are left by themselves. That’s why the kids have no discipline. The men also get involved in household work, it is so sad to see that the wives don’t do it. That’s why they have highest divorce rates. Men and women should not exchange their jobs, all should do what they are assigned to. Oh yes! Having a girlfriend or a boyfriend is no big deal there. Control your wild daughter, Dasguptaji or else she will be bringing shame for all after she’s married,” uncle warned.

Other than holding a senior manager’s post and cribbing about promotions in his company, he also ran a shop of advice very successfully.

“Keep it on the table. I’ll drink it later”, he said harshly to Piklu. Uncle had never liked him. He called him the servant boy. Uncle always felt Piklu eyeing his phone and considered him to be a little thief who never got caught. Piklu was seven but we knew him since he was three. He always came along with Lata aunty and waited in the living room till his mother finished her maid’s work. He often had a smile on his face and liked whatever we offered him.

Piklu was a hassle-free and lively little kid. Chaturvedi uncle, after a lot of struggle of picking up the glass and drinking water had also managed to spill some on the floor.

Piklu was busy flipping through his colouring book when he heard uncle call out to him “Hey you boy! Come here, clean the water on the floor”.

“Ji sahib.”

Piklu ran with a cloth at once, he enjoyed helping his mother out. Uncle wore his disgusted look on his face till Piklu finished mopping up. He looked at uncle and smiled and uncle in return chose to look away.

Who cared about what uncle wanted? I was very fond of Lata aunty and she reciprocated. She was very happy when she heard about me leaving for Bangalore and went around telling the news to everybody with excitement. Piklu had even started fantasizing about it and asked me several questions about Bangalore.

Lata aunty had always encouraged me to do something different. Aunty had hardly completed her schooling when she got married and now at the age of 33 already had three kids, Piklu had an elder sister and a brother too. Lata aunty and her husband never pressurized Rima, their older daughter, to get married and had left the decision to her. Rima worked as a sales girl at Big Bazaar and supported her brother Binu’s education. Rima was 23 and that became the concern of Lata aunty’s neighbours. But the family turned a deaf ear to them.

I vividly remember the day when I had been to their house. It was in a shanty and the area smelled of garbage everywhere. Piklu’s house was somewhere in the centre of the slum. His family was the most wonderful family I had ever met. Everyone one including the neighbours had come to welcome me. Lata aunty’s husband had cooked everything that I liked and also promised me to teach me some cooking. The house was small but not their hearts. They did everything possible to make feel home. I was busy talking to Rima when we heard Piklu calling Rima out “look Rima didi I found this ten rupee note near the field. Please give it father he might know whom it belongs to.” I patted on his back felt proud about his deeds.

I heard someone coughing very badly. I turned to see and found Chaturvedi uncle interfering with my thoughts and he was not able to stop coughing like his blabbering. All of us ran to his rescue but couldn’t help. Even while he was getting chocked he kept cursing Piklu for his state. Uncle complained of difficulty in breathing. He got nervous and was not able to relax. This in turn added to his condition. He held my dad’s hand and told him what his akhri ichcha was.

Among the chaos Piklu and Lata aunty came down to help us. Aunty put him down on the floor and asked all of us not to crowd around him. She told uncle to breathe heavily while Piklu was rubbing his feet and hands. After some time uncle showed improvements. Piklu instantly went and helped him to sit up, got him a glass of water and held him for support. Piklu insisted on taking uncle to the balcony where he could breathe better. He sprinted to the balcony and got the chair ready for him. He held uncle’s hand and lead him to the chair. This made uncle felt even better. He was still holding Piklu’s hand and his surmising eyes where gleaming with water. But no one knew whether to blame it on the illness or something else.

Uncle looked at Pikklu with some sort of surprise and Piklu as usual smiled at him and asked if he felt better. Uncle nodded his head and looked at Lata aunty in the room. He had an expression which none had never seen before, like he wanted to say something. He looked at Piklu again but said nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Passion

The trees were full of lush green leaves, a heavy south wind was blowing. The smell of flowers had filled the breeze with fragrance.  Everyone was rejoicing as it was the first autumn after many years that brought Durga Pooja with much energy and joy.

The trees were moving in rhythm, the loud murmurs of the dry leaves were even heard till the temple where everyone was waiting to hear Meera. “No celebration is complete without our Meera’s singing no matter whoever sings”, whispers Nirmala boudi to her friend beside. The temple was enveloped with the soft sound of sitar, jugalbandi of leaves and the wind was also making a presence along with the melodious singing of Rupa . A beautiful Ashtami morning indeed!.

Mouth as wide open as a tunnel, eyes as shut as a locked door Meera was sitting and drowsing in the centre of a row of singers when she was jolted by the loud claps for Rupa that ran across the temple. It was now Meera’s turn to strain her vocal cords .All eyes turned at once from her to Meera . “Inspite of belonging to  a lower middle class family, I trained my daughter with my hard earned money and she has always rewarded me with her honey sweet singing, she has never let us down . She recently finished her M.A in Indian classical music and is keen on studying further. She runs a music class in the city next to our village. She also has the responsibility of the house along with me and her father, as she has two sisters following her. We want Meera to study more as well as our other daughters but life is not as smooth and sweet as singing and living apart carries its own dangers. Meera has proved herself matured enough to understand this difference when she had rudimentary singing skills. This fills our chest with pride for our daughter”, talks Moni, Meera’s mother to Sandhya di who is a new face in the village and asks about Meera’s background.

Meera’s singing pulls everyones ears at once. The air is again filled with the sing song of Durga Pooja. Even the leaves and the chirping birds were heard singing along. The tinkling sound of the sitar played by her nimble fingers sounded like beads of ghungrus dropped on the floor. Meera sat in the middle of the alpana on the floor, draped in white saree with red border. She sang like choirs of Koels singing the song of joy to maa Durga. “I was very proud of her and was holding her hand and standing next to her among the never ending claps”. Pandit ji screamed with tears in his eyes “Wah! Maa Saraswati resides in her”, undoubtedly that was a matter of fact. “We have been best friends from childhood and I have known her passion for music, rather I am the only one who knows the hard work, madness and bravery she has in her to carry out her love for music .Meera and I have shared every bit of our lives and she has always been a perfect friend to me. I was a bit lost in thoughts when Meera pulled me out of my sweet reverie”. “Rupu ! Though the claps are louder for me but you have always been my idol and shall remain to be so.” We both smiled at each other and walked down the isles with the other performers along. Our parent’s heads held high where every eye looked at us with love and respect.

“So see you in the evening Ashtami pooja,” “Oh no am so sorry Rupu you know I have to go to the city for work today also” “You didn’t get a break today also ? That is weird. Ok never mind carry on I shall see you tomorrow in the temple.”

 

The evening was well lit up, since the night was covered with the blanket of stars. The North Star was dancing to the tunes of the autumn breeze. “Will you please hurry up?” Maa had to scream at least once at this time at Meera since she often gets late for the job in the city. It’s quite a long way and she has to hurry up. “Don’t forget to pack your shawl its chill outside.” She kissed all bye grabbed her packed bag wrapped maa’s old shawl across her shoulder which hid her new salwar kameez. She rushed into the dark part of the night which led to a dim lit reddish room, there was no feel of the autumn breeze, no tinkling of sitar and no honey sweet singing of Meera . The atmosphere was damp and suffocating. Too much hard music to tolerate. Everything was harsh and difficult. Darkness was the dominant colour.

 

“You are late again Meera,” “I’m sorry Rahul! Had a lot of work today. This will not happen again”. “And you are excused again, now come on get ready!” She pulled her satin sleeves up which exposed her tattooed arm, the braid transformed into a ponytail, shy beautiful eyes into blazing bold ones, delicate gold chain replaced by a metallic band around her neck and nimble fingers were controlling the strings of guitar with the same passion and perfection as sitar, soft sweet singing changed to hard rock singing. “That was Meera standing and singing in front of me, her drastic transformation was my favourite part. I always admire her for her guts and her craziness for music and that is the soul requirement to be a part of our rock band. I respect Meera a lot and want to help her as I am aware of her struggle. She is from the village which survives on the mercy of our city.” Meera adds on to her income by playing for the rock band too and earns more than enough for her family. But she always feels guilty about lying to them, she knows how to manage and she will rock in this too as she does in her life.

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