Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
- Jules Renard

16 May, 2010

The Fifth Sense

They told me he had disappeared. I did not believe them. I was so unaware...

Six months ago, I opened my eyes in hospital. For the first time in 22 years of my life. The congenital defect had finally been defeated, and I could, for the first time in my life, enjoy the sheer pleasure of sight. So many new experiences all of a sudden! Blue, black, green, yellow, moving, standing, gliding, square, circular, triangular, irregular, it was all beyond the stuff of my wildest imaginations! It was my birthday — 5 August, 2009 — in the truest sense of the word.
I saw my parents for the first time. The stunningly fair skin of my mom, the uniquely wheatish complexion of my dad. Of course, it took me some time to even begin to comprehend these concepts — first-hand experience is always a redefiner...

The next week passed in dizzying joy. However, there was a thought constantly nagging at me, and as each hour passed, it only got more and more intense. Where was Akshar? He'd be so happy to see me actually looking at him with eyes, rather than just my imagination, helped by my other senses... And of course, I wanted to see him — how he actually looked... Was he as beautiful as in my imaginations or even more?

Each time I asked his whereabouts to my parents, they simply tried to change the topic, giving feeble replies like "He's gone somewhere", or "I don't know". And I'd gotten quite skilled at detecting people's tones for any traces of untruth. Something had to give way. And ultimately, in the last week of September, it did.

"Dad, can I use your mobile phone?" I asked.
"Why?" Dad replied with a question of his own.
"I want to call... somebody." I was a very rare liar, and it clearly showed.
I stood silent. I was caught.
"I'll tell you where he is." His voice rose an octave — always a danger sign. "Tell me, when did you last speak to him?"

I rewound. It was ten days before the operation. He was saying, "Will you — once you are able to see, if at all — I hope that day comes soon — once you can see me... Will you still love me?" And we had kissed...

"About ten days before the operation," I replied to my dad's query.
"Since then, he's disappeared. Even his own parents have no clue about his whereabouts. And please, please — stop thinking about him. You've just got a new lease of life, stop thinking about the past."
Past? And what good is this 'new lease of life' when my very oxygen has been snatched away from me? No, I thought. He cannot disappear — not when I can, now, actually see. I'll find him. Even his parents are supposedly unaware — his parents...

The very same day, at half past midnight, I took Dad's cellphone when he was fully asleep, and dialed — lower-right, extreme lower-middle, upper-middle, lower-right...
After almost an entire stanza of Ya Rabba, the phone was picked up.
It was Akshar's mother, but I didn't have much luck with her either.
"There's no sign of him, really... I know you care a lot for him... As soon as there is any news, you'll be the first to know..."
And again, I picked up the tone.

I decided to visit Akshar's place. Although I had no address, I knew the directions... sort of.
'We've reached the mithaiwalla — now we take a left...' The voice from another universe rang in my head. Seeing the sweets seller, I took a left turn.
After several such directions, I reached E/303, Diamond Apartments.

A boy, probably in his early twenties or so, opened the door.
"Oh, come in, come in!" Akshar's brother welcomed me in the house. He was arguably the only person who knew my and Akshar's feelings for each other as well as we ourselves did.
"Tell me the truth — I know if anyone will, it's you. Please."
"Don't make me do this."
"Where is Akshar?"
And Ankit started crying, right before my eyes.
"Akshar is... no more..."

I walked out. And I walked. And then I walked some more.I'd have liked to think that my sensitive ears has failed me for once, but deep down, I knew that it was not the case. I did not cry. In fact, I hardly used my eyes — it was my other senses doing the work of guiding me through the crowded Kolkata road.
When I stopped walking, I reached the place which, I now realized, was the one I'd been subconsciously walking to all along — my birthplace.

The query took only a couple of minutes. And then, I had before my fifth sense irrevocable proof. Irrevocable proof that Akshar loved me.

NAME OF DONOR: Akshar Khanna


09 December, 2009

Beyond Divides

It had been four years since Sumit Sharma had flown off to New Zealand for higher studies in psychology amidst a lot of opposition from his family. Although the force of the apprehensions that Sumit's parents, Naresh and Smita Sharma had, had long since reduced, their shadows had never quite left their lives.

The day when they would finally witness the impact life abroad ('Across the seven seas', as Naresh put it) was only two days away when they got the phone call. Sumit's name was taken so often in conversations that when Smita heard over the hone a voice that said, "Hello, Ma! Sumit here!", she almost certainly thought she was imagining.

"Sumit... is it really you?" she asked in Marwari, her voice half-choked already.
"Yes, Ma! How are you doing?" Sumit responded from thousands of miles away.
"Just waiting for you dear..."
"Ma, Guess what! I passed! With distinction!"
"Congratulations!" The one thing Smita and Naresh had agreed upon was the immense number of opportunities available abroad. Smita could literally visualize the great door opening in front of her eyes.

"I need to tell you one more thing..." Sumit said, his voice abruptly changing tones.
"What, my dear?"
"Er... I have married."

Immediately the world came crashing down on Smita. Although she was much more understanding than Naresh, being a typical Marwari, she shunned even inter-caste marriages with all her fiber. And here, her own son, marrying a total foreigner!

To confirm her worst fears, she asked:
"Is she a foreigner?"
Now, it was the turn of Sumit's voice to break.
"Yes, foreigner. From New Zealand... Here itself."

Later that evening, verbal fireworks exploded in the Sharma household three months prior to Diwali.

"I'd told you... time and again I'd warned you NOT to send the bloody rascal in that White nation..." Naresh's rage-filled voice continued. "Here in India, he wouldn't even glance twice at a single girl... but there... in the Western nation where there is no such thing as 'culture'... he meets a ruddy witch who casts a spell on him and claims him for herself... How COULD he marry such a characterless girl!"

Smita decided against pointing out that Naresh hadn't seen the girl yet, and so, couldn't really call her 'characterless'.

"He's coming day after tomorrow, right?" Naresh fumed.
"Yes —"
Before Smita could even breathe, Naresh had finished his next statement: "Is the girl with him?"
"Er... Yes..."
"Now I'll get to see that darned New Zealander..."

The day finally arrived. Forgetting completely his son's outstanding achievement in his academics, Naresh was only searching for a mass of blond hair, or a body sporting negligible clothes, or any other indicator of what he pictured as his lone son's bride. It was only him and Smita on the airport — their daughter Vrinda had been conveniently cooped up in the house — permission for her 5-day Field Trip duly revoked.

And then, they saw him. Sumit. However, Naresh couldn't pin-point any of the signs he had shortlisted; only a friend of Sumit's he recognized as some Alex from a picture Sumit has sent over the e-mail about a year ago.

Before Sumit could even open his mouth for pleasantries, Naresh demanded:
"You married?"
"Yes," Sumit replied in a small voice.
"Where is the bride?"

Sumit paused.
"Where is the bride?" Naresh repeated, his voice and blood pressure both rising.
"The bride... the bride is none other than Alex here..."
"The bride... is Alex..." Naresh's eyes slowly moved from Sumit to Alex and finally zeroed in on him.
"Alex is... the bride..." he repeated, the wind knocked out of his chest.

"I... I kept this hidden from you all these years, forgive me... but... I'm gay. A homosexual."

A torrent of thoughts followed that pronouncement in Naresh's head:

He remembered overhearing Sumit profusely saying 'No' to somebody over the phone many years ago, and after the call ended, silently crying in a corner...
He remembered himself saying two days ago how Sumit "wouldn't even look at a single girl"...
He thought of himself opposing inter-caste marriages, but seeing his son break barriers of not just caste, religion, region or race, but gender too...

But then his brain had had enough. It protested by deciding to simply stop Naresh's heart from pumping. A heart attack.

It took Naresh two months in hospital to come to terms with his son's truth, but with a lot of help from his psychology expertise, Sumit finally managed to convince Naresh to accept Alex as a 'daughter-in-law'.

Last heard, Vrinda was allowed to go to England to pursue Oceanography; and Sumit and Alex were "living happily ever after".