Short Stories - By Sabir Gham
This is an effort to improve, my use of written and spoken English, by publishing short stories.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
“Independent thinking is mocked in India. There is no support for free voice that raises conceivable but uncomfortable questions. It is a flat social mindset that we have to live with. We, as countrymen, gulp down copious amounts of shit that passes under the tag, traditions or should I say, Sanskriti. It is a flat social mindset that we have to live with. There is no niche one can tap into. To anyone with any grasp of our history, this statement is a wild joke. My knowledge of our traditions is not what we are told. Our traditions are the scriptures written centuries ago in the Puranas, the Vedas, on the walls of temples, and from what I see, they are colourful, exotic, encourage open and broad thinking and spoke openly about ‘acceptance’, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, One world family. We knew the power of the universe, we knew the world is round before Galileo, we profess the theory of Evolution before Darwin, and we knew the folly of humanity. We knew virtually everything. I have a feeling that all this has been hidden from me for a reason…”
It was the eve of my departure to the US eight years ago; I was, as usual giving a rhetoric sermon justifying the reason for turning my back on the country, where I was born, to Vinny dada. Then, I was completely overshadowed by unfathomable reality which took seven years in making. I continued with my defensive act.
“We don’t realize what a wealth of information and understanding we are sitting on. We were the creators of free thought. We were the purveyors of alternative thinking. No other country has ever thought with such depth and realization of the mysterious workings of life. There is much to learn from tradition. Our tradition asks us to think completely out of the box.”
"Then why don’t you show some courage and tap into the niche that you are so confident about… then, opting to turn your back. Why don't 'you' take the fuckin shovel and dig into yourself." He continued his blunt carnage, "And, tell me how are you going to learn the 'real traditions' by staying or settling in US." I had tasted the dose of my own medicine. Till today those words, impugn my state of mind, cast doubts on my own actions. Did somewhere, Vinny and I both know then, what I was talking was just because it sounded logical but I lacked depth? In retrospect I think, those impregnating words, coupled with disconfirming fate has brought me back to India.
I, Vishal Sawant, later variously called Vishu, dhampu, piece of work, and worst, AV aka American Vishu, had become heavily embroiled in fate. I will soon be thirty one. In a nutshell, I am hyper skeptic where others, particularly are gullible, and gullible where others seem skeptical. I am skeptical about confirmation – though only when errors are costly. I am about disconfirmation. Having plenty of data will not provide confirmation, but a single instance can dis-confirm. In my story, I had plenty of data, but a single instance or perhaps, one evening, disconfirmed my non-skepticism, hyper optimistic attitude, to hyperskeptic individual. Believe me the errors were costly, expensive that I am still not done paying the dues.
Tomorrow I leave for Boston, and wonder, if I’ll meet Tanu. My Tanu. “I’m prepared to wear the AV label, again?” I’m no more American, but Indian. IV aka Indian Vishu, doesn’t fit me, as the other Vishal is still in India somewhere, and in an own way should be righteously called IV. Today, as I am taking a walk down memory lane, to savor yesterday, and confront the nostalgia - as usual, I miss Tanu, who, has managed to leave a sour, and sweet footprint; yet so unaware of it and yet so successfully. Vinny’s departing words was not the only reason to be in India. But were enough to fuel the buried anxiety. The decision to move on, without Tanu, and to be as far as possible from her life, was I guess the main reason.
Maturity, money, relationships, success, and growth became relative terms as soon as I landed in US. Freedom, individuality, and sex become over rated terms. The rhetoric were overshadowed by more subtle meaningful words - mellowness, pragmatic thinking, acquiesces, holistic growth, trajectory changes and the obvious, luck, how can I forget. Syracuse came to me as a city without colors. Black and White were the only colors I knew for the first six months in Syracuse. The first six months, I was in denial to accept: I was in a different country; the people and the place tend to look and feel different. I missed Bombay, my family, and friends. To add to the melancholy was the unforgiving winter.
I remember Ankit’s words during a college field trip to New York City, where he was from. “Stop comparing Bombay with Manhattan. You are in a different country. It has to be different; else it would be called India and not US. The sooner you get used to this fact, the sooner you will start loving this country.” Then it was summer of 2002, time for change, time to accept and surrender. I accepted people and situations that I could handle, and surrendered when it was difficult. It took many sleepless nights, panic attacks, with the morbid fear of failure. I realized that, I have to be the change. Summer followed by fall brought the spice back in my life. Friends became family, and studies became dear and not an obligation. Syracuse Downtown was the place to vent out…and suddenly Bombay became ten thousand miles apart, in a country called India, where I had spent twenty two years of my life. Syracuse was home. This harsh really hit me, before I could completely sync in. Krishna and Ganesha became one of gods among the three hundred million gods worshiped in India. I became Vishu, and not Hindu or Indian. Unaware then, that after six years, I will be AV.
As life continued adapting and adjusting day by day, the bitter winters and the years passed. To my luck, after graduating I got a job in Syracuse. Lovers came and left before my covert mind even got a chance to taste the sanity of falling in love.
I was a stereotypical Indian, leaving an American dream; owning a fancy car, earning big dollars, climbing the ladder of upward growth every year or two. But I was missing a family. I knew it well, as I missed it. I got sucked into the flat social mindset, as it was in India. Only difference was it was not covered under the blanket of traditions, but of pragmatism: paying the bills, car loans, saving for a dream adobe in the suburbs. The discourse was well established – us V/s them, the first world V/s third world. Vinny’s prophecy had come true: How I am going learn ‘real’ traditions staying in the US.
Vinny's departing words faded, once I met you, Tanu. To your credit, my self indulged life, was short lived. Our strange past connection was the catalyst. Your eyes managed to question my actions, your silence challenged my core thinking paradigm.
“Stay with me, move in, quit your job. I will help you find one, here in Boston. I don’t want you to move to New York or any other place in the US, but Boston. We have this house; it is big and comfortable for two. We built this apartment together... It is our house. Always remember. I am tired of running, turning my back on my past.....want you. I want to get up by your side every morning. Watch you sleep with your mouth open. Share my cigarettes with you, as we talk endlessly about the most banal things. This is not an option, Vishu. Period.” You spoke seldom. But whenever you did, I tried to listen carefully. Many-a-times not realizing where, you are coming from. Today, I think "Did I take your words too literally?"
I am in India, earning much more then I was in the US, matter of fact, more than you and I combined in US. Tanu, I have tapped into a niche and have my own empire. As much as I take pride and ownership, I can still smell the void. I still miss you, I still miss my family. I think about that evening, and ask, “What happened?” aware you are not around. “What happened that, we had to part our ways? Why suddenly, we started dwelling into what was wrong, rather than loving what we had?”
Today, I am in a country, on which I had turned my back seven years ago, in a search to fight ‘traditions’ without any depth or understanding; Today, this country has accepted me without any questions, and welcomed me with luck. Today, this country has taught me to think outside the box. All I had to do is to take a look beneath me – there..laid a plethora of wealth, conceivable and achievable wealth. I am in India, ten thousand miles way from the country which gave me you, and the skills to think radically different. And yet, every passing day, with all this success, I still quest to hear your voice.
It was an unusual call, on a cold New England Friday morning from Vishal's mother while driving to Albany, on business. Frantically, he had pulled over to the shoulder, on Interstate 90E. Whenever his family called at odd hours in India, a sharp uncertain instinct passed his spines. It always reminded him of the day, when he had, picked a call from his brother, who had unconventional conveyed Papa’s demise, due to a heart attack.
“Do you remember the Tendulkars. His daughter is in Boston; Dhampu.” She says in anticipation. “Yes, I do, what about them and can you stop call me Dhampu. Anyways, how are you, and ….”
“We are fine, raja, but listen.” She had continued before he completed. “I want you to call Tanu. Her father Avinash personally called me to ask you to visit her. Maybe she can get your help. She is studying in Boston or something.” He had ignored her instruction, assuming a trick to entice him into arrange marriage. As her expectations had accelerated, since his father's death.
Inculcated by her dad, Tanu, had called Vishal, that evening. Personally; he wanted to pass on her invitation, but lack of social life due to overwhelming work, he accepted her offer to meet her, at her house in Framingham.
She stood outside her house, as his car pulled into her drive way. She has a slender face, pleasingly feline features, spare, straight brows. Bright orange, GAP jumper, blue jean, tightly hugging her slender body, which was shivering in cold. In her long undone hair, eyes carrying delicate rimless frame, he was not sure, if she is the same Tanu he had seen, maybe fifteen years ago. On the phone, he hadn’t bothered to ask what she looked like, assuming he’d recognize her, but now he is no longer sure.
“Tanu” he says, approaching her.
“Hey, Dhampu.” She says, opening her main door. “No, it is Vishal, now.”Nobody in US had ever called him Dhampu and Suddenly he realizes that she knows him from his past. Past he had long forgotten, from a country he no longer associates himself with.
She shared a house with five other Indian FOB housemates, whom she barely knew by name. The melancholy smell of her house, reminded him of the life during the hard three month of unemployment, where he had shared similar house, with seven other Indian graduate students, in Wooster. A town not far, from Framingham. She introduced him as his friend from Bombay, “Guys, this is Vishal - he was once my neighbor in Bombay,” as appose to a Dhampu. They didn’t care to know his name. Sensing the hostility, he proposed a Dinner in Cambridge Square to avoid any acquiesces with her housemates, which he had not planned for.
She’s been living in the suburbs, for almost three months: spending her days, searching for IT jobs, adjusting to the harsh winter and the uncared American life. She had visited Boston only once, and has not heard of Cambridge nor was aware of its proximity to MIT and Harvard.
“The journey is not so much about changing landscapes as about seeing the landscape with new eye. I hope you see the new landscape with a new eye, as I did. Believe me, you will love America, more then the country, the new perceptive. Yes, the journey is difficult, and also accepting the change will be a daunting task, but have the proclivity to change. After all, talli ek hath se nahi bachti, na? Cheers...Welcome to America.”
Vishal quoted, awkwardly glad to be with her, while they were sitting at a bar in Cambridge. To which she replied, “right……whatever,” and chucked her second round of Long island ice tea. She was down with two shorts of Tequila, and had finished her second long island ice tea. For the first time in her life and for the first time in America she was in bar drinking profusely, with a stranger. Well…not exactly a complete stranger. Tanu was in America to get over a broken relationship. While, he was struggling to adjust in America, she was in love with her Vishal in India. He would be soon made aware of: the other Vishal, her Vishal, but not tonight. It was this Vishal’s night with her, to know her, to fall for her. To his despair, he conveniently assumed, that she was in US like other Fresh of the boat IT consultants, to earn thousands, by faking their resume, working for a multinational company, with a desi consultant, who has a fake company either starting with “info” or ending with “soft.”
The night was full of hopes for both. Tanu had never experienced this type of freedom. In India, she was independent, but it always bothered her that even at twenty eight, she had to call her parents to tell them her ware about. At times, she conveniently ignored their call and eventually slept at Vishal’s place, without any remorse, of what might be going through her concern parents. They would frantically call all her close friends, at two in the morning and sleep worried in the early morning hours. Once, after weeks of ignoring their call, her dad called Vishal and spoke to Tanu, who was sleeping right next to him. She had no choice but to answer. Her father demanded Tanu to get back home, and yelled “Enough is enough; you have already crossed all the boundaries. Stop being disrespectful and get hold of your life." Sharp words, mellowed as he continued, "For how many years, Tanu, for many years…..you are going punish me. Please be little more considerate, I am your father, beta.” Without realizing why her dad had yelled, she returned home, and didn’t speak to him for two months nor did she speak to Vishal. When she was in her teens, she had stopped talking to her father for five years. One morning, when she had graduated from college she had started talking to him without giving any explanation. Glad to be father again, to his only daughter, he didn't bother to find causality, in her actions.
Tanu was a little purged by the time the night folded. Home was four hour drive for him. He had a friend in the Boston, where he could crash, but it was too late to call. It was long weekend and nothing on the plate for the next day, but hopes. He was hopeful; Tanu will invite him for a coffee. As the bar closed, they decided to take a walk on the river font, next to MIT campus. As the night was getting chiller, the alcohol was fading out.
Unaccustomed to the weather, she was shivering in dismay. He offered her, his jacket. Their hands briefly met, in the exchange. Both noticed the touch, acknowledge it. The jacket smelled of his cologne, strong but soothing, mixed with smell of leather. Suddenly she felt his warmth, as if he had hugged her. Suddenly her mind wondered, as she felt connected to him; some one who is close to her from her past, in this new world. Her mind pondered, ‘How he smelt,’ as she moved closer to him. Unable to resist a sudden and an overwhelming urge, she holds his cold hand. Felt his rough palms cladding her soft touch. It was the closest she as ever got to any other man, other then her Vishal, willingly. theyAfter a short walk he could see her panting. As briskly walked towards the car, he hugged by her arms. Then, he didn’t know, this serendipitous gesture, would lead into a relationship, he was waiting for seven years.
That night she invited him to her house for coffee, where they passed out after talking till early hours, on the couch. Before reality could hit them, they where dating each other.
In the days that followed, he begins to remember things about Tanu, images that come to him without warning while he is sitting at his desk at work, or during meetings, or while standing in the mornings under the shower. Remembers her at social parties, marriages they had attained, religious gathering. He recollects the way she would randomly walk into his parent’s house spending hours talking to his mother, helping his mother in the kitchen. Every morning he would cross the street across their building with her, for the school bus, while her parent kept a concern eye from the balcony. She would nod and wave back at them, as soon as they reach the curb of other end, ensuring a successful and safe transition. He used to envy her, as his parent never bothered, and found it too trivial to indulge in such over protective parenting gestures. These are scenes he has carried within him, buried but intact, scenes he has never thought about or had reason to conjure up until now. He is grateful that his mind has retained these images of her, please with himself.
He had called his mother, to inquire on her family’s well being, after that night’s brief romantic escapee. The Tendulkar and his family were neighbors in Bombay, for five years. Her family had moved back to Bombay, from Pune. Vishal and Tanu where in the same high school, had a teenage crush on each other, which they never accepted. Tanu's father had inherited large real estate, which translated into millions, from her uncle, since then they had moved to Bandra a lavish, affluent, suburb of Bombay, when Vishal and Tanu where fifteen.
Within a week of their first meeting, Tanu procures a job in Boston DT, thanks to AV. He had recommended her to a close acquiesce, who worked for a start up firm in Boston. For weeks to follow, he plans his weekends with her, stays with her in a studio, which she rents in Downtown Boston, now. Every now and then they talk on the phone. She detailing him on her life in Bombay, and how she misses her family, complains about the weather. But she never mentions, other Vishal on these calls. He talks about his days atwork, the projects he is leading, and explains her in detail NCAA basketball season, and shares how he is hosting a beer party to watch a game, with his office buddies. She has seen this brand of hospitality only on TV in India, American serials broadcasted on Star World and has never imagined the reality of its existence.
It was her first night in the new apartment, when they had first made love, swiftly and efficiently. Over time he realizes that she has blank expression while making love. He is not sure if process is painful or she is just a novice. But he knows she enjoys the cuddling, aftermath. As he watches her pass out on his shoulders, contained and exhausted in the same state. Sex, nap where followed by lazy lunch, usually Chinese take out. Then they walked for hours on the banks of Charles, crossing Mass Bridge, into Cambridge Park. At night, they spoke to their families. Openly talking about how they stay in the same room at nights, spending weekends after weekend with each other; which at time made their families to question their relationship. They had mutually decided to not disclose their relationship to their families, but address it as friends. But, quickly and simultaneously, he falls in love with her, her silence, her way of not confronting and accepting, her stoic expressions while making love. For, to love her, he had to love all her ways. Her unkempt ways, a challenge to his increasingly minimal taste, charmed him.
Form the very beginning she feels effortlessly incorporated into his life. It is a different brand of lifestyle, than what she was used to with her Vishal, the other Vishal. With IV, she was comfortable in sharing trivial details of day. Argued over clothes they wore, the way they walked or spoke to family or friends. At times it was intruding. Contradicting, AV would barely question her actions, dress, and would speak at length on ideas, open perspectives, which she attentively listened to, with out understanding. He gave her, her space and guided her only when asked. She likes it, but times missed IV. She has not yet confronted to him regarding her other Vishal. With whom she still talks, but, even he is not aware about her relationship with this Vishal. This double standard was bothering her, since she had moved into the studio, where she felt alone at times, especially on week days after walking into an empty apartment, finding it overwhelming to adjust to a new landscape. At times, she is worried about her past. She has thought of opening up to AV, but the fear of losing him or getting missed understood, has always stopped her. For years she has lived hiding the reality, and had found comfort in silence and accepting, and now, it is her nature.
After months of dating, Tanu visited Vishal’s house, in Syracuse. One day, Vishal he had reached Boston on a Week day, worked from her house, the following day, and had pleaded her to travel with him to Syracuse. That weekend, the rivals, Syracuse University were playing Boston College at the dome. He had arranged for tickets, a week prior and had planned the whole ordeal weeks in advance. Tanu was pleasantly surprised and excited to watch basketball game, for which her had no liking nor understood the rules. Vishal had the played the game for under-sixteen Bombay team, for couple of years, before he was focused to quit by his father, to focus on IIT entrance. At the game, Tanu enjoyed every moment as she watched Vishal jumping and howling for his team, along with other SU students. To keep up to the traditions, he gave his Orange pullover to her, which boosted Syracuse University in its official blue and orange colors. Initially, she had argued saying, she would like to cheer for Boston College. As she has now started identifying herself as a Boston citizen. Ultimately giving in to his expectations, and the love for team, she proudly flaunted the Orange Men jersey, in the dome. The days experience had left a lasting impression on her mind. That day, he admitted his love for her. She was not surprised, and was expecting it. That evening, she mentioned to him openly about her Vishal, and her relationship in India…to which he didn’t object or feel jealous. Partly because, other Vishal was miles away, and partly because, he knew she loves him.
“I guess I'm AV then, aka American Vishu, and he is IV for me, aka – Indian Vishu.” Vishal had coined the terms IV and AV, which over time turned into his irony. “All I expect is, trust, the foundation of any relationship. After all, talli ek hath se nahi bachti, na?” He had ended, their awkward talk, with a serious note. It was a mental block, and opening out, she felt relieved of a burden she was carrying, since they had met; half in an attempt to get closer to AV, half in an attempt to forget IV. But IV was not the only reason for her state of denial and silence.
A week after the game in Syracuse, she had demanded Vishal to move in with her to Boston, and had insisted him on leaving Syracuse. The town he had considered home. Before reality could hit him, he was planning to move in with Tanu, who he had unknowingly caught on a rebound. Before reality could hit her, she was planning to live with a person, whom she was dating to get over the other Vishal, IV, and her past. A past much darker than her incomplete relationship with IV, a past AV, was not yet made aware of.
Within three months he has his clothes at her apartment, their toothbrushes, crossing, in a shape of X in her bathroom. There was a unique subtleness to it, serendipity, paths crossing after years. He works from Boston on Fridays and Mondays. Catches flight from Logan airport whenever he had to travel on business. He has informed his supervisor on his intentions of leaving, for personal reasons. Who initially was hesitant, but had given in, and allowed him find a new job in two months. He was savoring the change, a welcomed new life, as he got acquainted to her daily chores. Fights triggered form time to time, due to violations of house keeping rules. He learns, she gets furious, whenever he kept the toilet seats up, and fells disgusted by the seeing droplets of his pee, splattered all over the WC. She always dries the sink after every use. She learns that he sleeps, always with his mouth partially open, hands folded like a baby, tucking his head into his shoulders. He is porn to snoring, ever so faintly, sounding like a pressure cooker vessel when the lentils are completely boiled. He sees her for entire week without makeup, sees her with gray shadows under her eyes, while working. She is shy during her periods, as he watches her hiding the used tampons behind the toilet, and disposing them, as soon as she is done taking bath. He is extra caring during that time of the month, spends time watching movies on couch, not planning any outings. Cooks delicious cuisines, and packs her lunches. At night she sleeps using his right hand as a pillow, while placing his left on the breast, expecting him to gently massage them, awaiting to fall asleep. It is in these moments, these glimpses; they believe they had known no greater intimacy, making them closer. Every now and then she ignores calls, emails from IV. At times, she openly compares both Vishals', making AV jealous. Openly pointing out to AV, how incompetent he is when it comes to caring. While making love, sometimes, he is uncertain if she is calling IV in excitement, or AV, as she softly whispers, “Oh..Vishu.” as she comes.
They talk endlessly about how they know and do not know each other. Summers spend with each other as teenagers, secrets they shared, crushes they had in high school. The summers they had spend, in the same villages, not knowing their presence. She effortless imagines his life, after he had moved to US. As she was adapting to the changes, first hand. She is glad, and feels lucky to have met him. Now-a-days, while, talking to IV on the phone, she realizes a gap between them, her changed-open outlook, and finds it difficult to associate with him, and the time they had spend while dating in India.
As time was taking its natural course, one day, Tanu received an email from IV, it was his marriage invitation. She doesn't share the information with AV. But in the days to follow she has grown away from AV, spoke seldom to him. She was not sure of her actions, as she gets easily irritated, feels used, feels ignored and betrayed. She yells at AV for no apparent reason. Factually the news was good, a news that should put closure to her incomplete relationship in India. AV, fails to notice these subtle changes in her behavior as he was busy wrapping up in Syracuse, traveling four hours every second day from Boston to Central NY. Also, off late he was complaining regarding an acute muscular pain in his left arm, near his shoulders. While driving to Syracuse he had once pulled into a rest area, and had rested for three hours in his car, due to the unbearable pain, which had made his heart flutter faster then usual. Tanu had fought for hours, with him, as he had not shared this happening and had found in passing, through a mutual friend.
There is no one to greet Vishal when he arrives at Logan International Airport, as he is in no rush to complete the immigration formalities. He notices the diversity among the passengers, as he stands patiently in the long immigration line. Some passengers are new to America, excited and confused, as they wonder around the immigration lobby asking for help to fill up the forms, some of them are seasoned immigrates, as he was a year ago, knowing exactly which line to join, forms accurately filled, some, are Americans, or Indian American who willing or unwilling look down, on the line marked: Foreign Aliens (Non American Passport). He remembers his alliance to the Red-white-and-blue, today, questioning it, yet not sure if he has any admiration for the tiranga. India had proved to be lucky for him. He has achieved fame in the country he betrayed eight years ago. In a span of mere months, he was successful, wealthy and owned his own business. The reasons for leaving both the countries where different, and the reason to return to both the countries are different. This time, for the first time at Logan airport he will be questioned, by the immigration officer, “What is the purpose of the visit, and how long you intent to stay in US, sir.” A question he is not familiar with and also not prepared to answer, to a stranger who doesn’t know him, or his past, especially a stranger who looks at him with a suspicious eye. He is used to be questions, “So how was your stay in Mexico, sir?” followed by Visa check, and “Welcome back.” Before this, every entry to America from India, China, Mexico, or Europe, where he traveled occasional on business or pleasure has been on a business visa. But this time, he was traveling on a Travelers visa. As the long migration line progresses, he wonders how he had done it, leaving his family behind – eight years ago, seeing them so seldom, dwelling unconnected, in a perpetual state of expectation, of longing. Seven years staying in America knowing what was missing, with a stamina he fears he does not posses anymore. Mind impregnated with these thoughts he forwards the visa documents to the immigration officer, who after checking says with a convivial smile, “Welcome back, Sir. Hope you enjoy your stay in Boston.”
It had been here in Boston, exactly a year ago, Tanu had broken up with him, just a day before he was planning to pop the question. It was a spring Thursday, his last day at work and in Syracuse. The weather was not too cold, but not warm enough. The sun, was out for a short time, but soon was overshadowed by dark clouds. Vishal had spend the entire morning in meetings, and had luncheons with his department colleagues, when it had started raining. Some of his office buddies were glad and some were sad as the noon was filled with mixed emotions. Tanu was not able to join him, due to a pressing work commitment. By the time he had left the office, he was physically exhausted. They had called movers to help them pack and move, weekend prior and all he had to do that evening was, to drive to Boston with his car and the ring he had bought for Tanu. He was planning on the proposal for weeks. Pop the question, outside the bar in Cambridge where they had first hugged, and felt the connection. On the way back, he had called Tanu, informing her about leaving Syracuse. Tanu, had not returned his call, but had received a messag, when he was almost an hour away from Boston. “Good hun. make yourself comfy.. might be late tnight. Sry. in a mt. luv u :-*”
He was furious, as he had expected her to be home, to receive him – it was a special day, a turning point in his life, as he made this decision for her. The entire journey, he felt ungratified, slighted. He considered spending the night at friends place in the suburbs of Boston, to show his defiance. Physically fatigued he reaches Tanu's the apartment, crowded with unopened boxes. Tanu was not in the house; he called her, but it went to her voicemail. He had stepped out for a smoke, when Tanu entered the apartment, and found the door not locked. She was talking to IV when he entered, completely ignoring his presence. After a while, he could not hold his anger and unleashed the rage on her, yelling, while she was still on the phone with IV. He knew she was talking to IV. In furry, he had kicked one of the unpacked boxes, and hurt his leg. Tanu, had not reacted, but was angry, and at the same time, intimidated. She was shivering, as she locked herself in the toilet, and told him to leave the house. He had stepped out in rage, and returned after an hour, calmer and poised. By the time he returned, she kept all his belonging in the storage, and a note outside her house. “I have packed all your belongings. Please don’t bother to show your face.” He had resorted to his friends’ house that night, returning to Tanu’s apartment, early in the morning. All she said that morning, before clamping her lips obstinately shut. “You are a fake. I don’t care if you live or die.” followed by calling the apartment security who escorted him out of the apartment, and out of her life.
For days, and weeks he called, profusely apologizing for his actions, but she never answered, nor replied. He had moved back to Syracuse, with all his belongings, unpacking bare requirements. There were nights, he felt asleep on the carpet, without deliberation, waking up at two A.M. with the television still on. It is as if a project he had taken responsibility for, done all the ground work, but had failed to start. A vision completely disconnected with the reality. And yet in those days, he couldn’t really blame her. After two months intoxicated in self pity, he had moved to India. A year later, the shock has worn off, but a sense of failure and shame persists, deep and abiding. They had both acted on the same impulse, which was their mistake. They had both sought comfort in each other, and in their shared world, perhaps for the sake of novelty. His time with her seems like a permanent part of him that no longer has any relevance, or currency.
He hears a familiar voice, as he steps out of the immigration room, into the visitor lobby. It was Tanu, wearing bright orange Syracuse University, pullover, waving at him. She looked the same, as he had first seen her, in Framingham, standing on her porch in cold. Slender face, pleasingly feline features, spare, straight brows. Bright orange jumper, blue jeans, tightly hugging her slender body. In her long hair, eyes carrying delicate rimless frame, and this time he was sure, that she is the same Tanu he had known a year ago, same Tanu who he had known for years, the Tanu, who has become a permanent part of his life. Their eyes meet, briefly as his mind wonders questioning the really. Tanu is in tears, as she runs toward him, hugs him, and kisses him. Vishal is still questioning his fate. Soon, he is returning her kisses, hugging her, crying out her name. They stepped out of the airport, Tanu, holding him by his arms, as Vishal still looked contemplated. She directs him towards the parking lot, where she had parked. Vishal was not aware, that she drove or owned a car. Tanu knows this, “Yes, I drive now, I also have a Mass License. Don’t worry, I will drive you safely….” said to clear his inhibitions.
On the drive back to Boston Downtown, both speak at length, updating each other, on what they were up to, what had changed since that evening. None dwelled over what had gone wrong or who was at fault, none of them broached the topic. Whenever, their conversations lead to that evening, they looked at each other ineptly, and ended the conversation incomplete, perpetually followed by a long pause. He notices subtle changes in Tanu, she was more outspoken, had a faint accent, acted as seasoned immigrant, as she drove confidently on street of Boston downtown. She is selective in her words, thought through before she spoke. She spoke with confidence, confronting, to the point. He notices these changes, surprised to see her evolved.
It was raining, in Boston, as it always did in fall, uncalled, and unwelcome. The rain was heavy now, the sound of it percussive against the body of her Camry. “I don’t have an umbrella. Keep your luggage in the car; we will pick it up later. Let the fuckin rain stop. I can’t wait to show you my apartment, our house, your house Vishu. Get ready to run, and get wet.” a warning, as she parked her car two blocks from her apartment. Vishal, had faint tears, when she said, our house, as he kept is eye locked on her face. He wanted to say, 'Are you sure', but refrained.
They entered her apartment; it was same, as he had last seen it, a year ago. The only difference, is uncluttered, and decorated with flames on the wall…filled with pictures of Boston city, family and him.
She took a step toward him, looking at the shirt that clung coldly to his body, then directly looking into his eyes,
“What, then? What you think. It is same, as you left it. Just the pictures, to fill it up the void." In tears, "Now, listen carefully AV, don’t you ever fuckin leave me.”
The information fill between them, valuable to the year she’d kept it from him, negligible now that she’d tell. Through the window he saw the strangers running to avoiding the rain. He went to the window and pulled down the shade completely, darkening the room. Then he turned back to Tanu, close to her now. He kneeled on the floor and put his arms around her legs, pressing his face against her jeans, eyes filled tears. He felt her hand on top of his head, her long fingers grazing his hair, and instantly, powerfully, he felt an erection. He began to kiss her legs, grasping at her belt loops and pulling her down so that she was knelling on the carpet, too. He put a hand up against the think inseam of her jeans, knowing exactly what it was like to touch her there, the combination of skin and bone and hair. He looked at her and he saw that although her face was turned away, she had relaxed her body, adjusting herself to accommodate his hand. "I missed you... Vishu." she whispered.
He was kissing her neck now, and then her mouth, strong, open-mouthed kisses that she was returning. He took her hand and placed it under his belt. She looked at him then, with slight tenderness, and shook her head. "It has been a long time, AV."
He continued, guiding her hand to his belt buckle while forcing off her clothes, the bright SU pullover, the soft T-Shirt below that. Her hair came undone. He pulled down her jeans, followed by black underwear. They took off their shoes and socks, a mess of wet grass clippings falling onto the carpet, then positioned themselves on the mattress. He couldn't remember the last time they'd done this, in her apartment. Maybe that morning, before their final fight, year ago... it was May, and as usual raining in Boston, as it was raining that evening. He entered her and felt her hands on his back, warming him, her ankles around the backs of his legs, and the shock of her tongue in his ear. She offered to turn over, knowing this was the quickest way. But he wanted to face her. He put his mouth to one of her breasts, tongue circling her nipples. Tanu rolled her eyes, feeling his touch, his weight over her. Her breathing became audible and then she cried out, loudly enough for anyone in the neighboring rooms to know what was taking place. He came inside her, for the first time.
As he moved to side, an acute pain induced and baring it, he kisses her forehead, lying beside her, without making her aware. Their eyes locked, facing each other, for minutes. But after some time, she realized something was hurting him, as his eyes had turned red, and watery. She knew they where not tears of joy or containment but, pain. He was sweating profusely, now. She had realized, the magnitude of what can happen, and hoped that fate did not turn on her, not today, not again. She cried, as she jumped on to his body, pressing both her hands firmly against his chest, “Not now…not now…Vishu, don’t give up.” Continued as the tone fated, “Not now, god, please."
I had seen you too many times to count, but a farewell that your family threw for mine, at your house, in Sagar Vihar, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life. My dad had inherited lots of wealth, after his brother died in a fatal accident. From an ordinary middle class family, where my dad barely earned enough to support our household, we had turned into millionaire overnight. It was the day, when our ways had decided to part, without our consent. That day, as a teenager, I was determined not to cross your path …ever. My brother, Samir and I had made a pack, “We would never talk to Vishu.” SSC results where announced a day prior, and you, Vishu, single handily had stole our thunder. Entire building, including my parents where talking about your achievement. As expected you had surpassed by a landmark. I envied you toughly. My dad considered you a golden child, a piece of work, “Good in sports, good in studies, smart personality, well mannered. Tanu, look at him, he knows what he wants in life.” My family had decided to move to Bandra, abandoning the middle class life for a life I had not signed up for. But my scar past had nothing to do with our broken paths.
I become what I am today, at age of sixteen, on an overcast rainy day, of `93. I remember the precise moment, lying helpless in pain, blindly staring at ceiling. It is wrong what they say about that past that, how you can bury it. I have learn, the past manages to claws its way back. Looking back on it, I’ve realized that I was blindly staring at life, for the last fifteen years.
We had moved to Bandra, adjusting to the new life, without any difficulties. Material comfort was not a need, but a want. It was easy for me and Samir to fit in, as money did most of the talking. We enjoyed the attention and comfort – didn’t envy what we missed in Thane. I had no recollection of our life in Thane, till I met you, in Boston. Money, is power, and can make people blind, in our country. As much as it is a cliché, it is the hard really. Who better then me to know, a victim at sixteen?
It was Thursday evening, summer was over, and the heavy rain had managed to drown the shockwaves of Bombay blast. I was studying for HSC exam in our house, and my parents and Samir had gone on an extended vacation in Ratnagiri. The place was quarantine after the blast; and we had canceled our summer vacation earlier that year. I had enough people to look after me in Bombay. Relatives who sprouted from no where, claiming the relationship, after our wealth acquisition. Basically friends, extended families, along with maids, and servants, brought by sheer power of money.
I was too young to understand the best and worst of man, too naive to understand, the grossest act, architect by men in the Bombay blast, which had made no significant impact on my life. But I was not naive, to sense extend a man to go to quench his physical desires. I could see it in his eye, his intentions the moment he had stepped into my room, the moment he had unleashed, his male dominance, with a forceful blow. It was Pradeep kaka, a close cousin of my dad, who owned half the share of the property, my late uncle had pasted on. Before I could even fell the pain, it was over leaving blood stain on my jean, and dark scar on my mind, craved so skillfully, that even today after years, it hurts.
At times, when we made love, a raster image of that moment hovered, in my mind. But the warmth of your body always managed to provide the comfort, and assurance, before the image could amplify.
When I told my dad, he was furious, but felt helpless. Breaking the relationship meant, leaving all the wealth. Wealth we had acquired not through perseverance but through luck, over someone's dead body !!!. Breaking the relationship meant, returning to Thane, to simple life, with no money, but just hopes. Money had made my parents blind, they had grown quickly accustomed to a lavish life, ironically, it precisely the same life they had abandoned and despised, when they had eloped and got married, years ago, breaking all the ties with their families.
The only thing my father managed to do, was never mention Pradeep kaka’s name in front of me, and kept him away from our house and my sight. Vishu, it was that day, I resorted to silence, never questioned, or confronted, to anything. Bear it if possible or turn your back and run, was my mantra. For me silence was acceptance, and not conforting, was a deal I had signed with my past.
The evening, when you were moving to Boston, was a turning point in my life. I was ready for a luxurious life filled with possibilities and welcomed difficulties. That day I had decided to bury my past, take charge with your support, with a new eye. Earlier that day, I had told my parent about our relationship. “Papa, I have finally decided to take the plunge. After all -talli ek hath se nahi bachi, na.” I was on the phone with IV, and was telling him, "I am moving on." when you, came down on me – I saw the same rage in your eyes, as I had witness, in Pradeep kaka’s. I was scared, Vishu, I was terrified. I couldn’t believe you would react, violently. I was petrified.
When I found that you where coming to Boston, through Samir, and learnt about your achievement - I knew I had to talk to you, explain to you. I pulled myself to together, to confront you, to tell you, “Not that you didn’t care, but just didn’t know. I am sorry.” But today, you will never know....
Vishu, today, I don't know if I’v won the battle with my past...but you will never know.
You will never know that IV and I were never lovers.....
You will never know that I had managed to pack all your belongings, but could not part with your SU jersey, because it had your smell.
You will never know, today, I gave birth to our golden child - Vishal.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tejal woke up late in the afternoon with a hangover. She had her famous stoic expression on, as if nothing had happened, or changed. She had invited Joshua that weekend to help set up her new apartment in Edison. Tejal had moved from Brooklyn to Edison. The New York City taxes, and the city expenses were taking a toll. The city girl was going to experience suburbia life, for the first time. Tejal had helped Joshua move, two months ago from Phili to Newark, Delaware. They didn’t meet those two months. They seldom spoke on the phone. Most of the conversations lasted a few minutes and they would end up fighting over some banal issues; How the perspectives did not match or who is more rigid or egocentric? Joshua's favorite was - How she is always in denial, because of her past. Tejal's favorite was how he was over enthusiastic. Joshua had his own friends, and travelled for work. Tejal had her family and the Manhattan desi parties. That evening, Joshua was tired and wanted to leave but was just waiting for Tejal to wake-up. He knew about the stress one experienced during a moving day, and decided to stay. Their eyes met briefly during their laborious unloading endeavor. Smiles were passed. But they hardly spoke due to the tiredness and the hangover which had lasted from the previous night. Exhausted and mentally fatigued he sat on his Ducati, at four. She complained, but understood. On the way back he took the Turnpike, racing the traffic on the US 1. The New Jersey Turnpike led all the way to his house, and just before Phili airport, he had to take exit for Newark, Delaware.
The previous evening, they had worked for hours unloading and unpacking. That night before getting into a serious discussion on their relationship, they had casually flirted while unpacking; on the floor; in the bathroom while installing the shower curtains; on the kitchen counter. She showed him, her family pictures while arranging them carefully in her living room. She made him remember her family by name and where they lived in US. “You're like Matt Damon's character in Good Will Hunting. How the fuck you remember all these names, addresses, roads. What amazes me is that you remember phone numbers, your credit card numbers, account numbers. How do you do it?” Joshua was sharp and had a lucid memory. She was always testing it, to get amused. He said, “It's simple, I remember numbers on the phone dial pad. Like the way you type without looking at the keyboard, your fingers just fly over the keyboard.”
Soon after Joshua left, Tejal stopped unpacking. She was tired and unwounded on the bed, where they had made passionate love, that morning. She blushed. She remembered, what Joshua had said that morning, before she had passed out. She remembered their first date, in Manhattan; the walk in the Village, on the cold February winter night. Her right arm inner locking his left. She remembered sipping Shiraz, in Washington Square Park. She laughed remembering, the way he had swindled the wine along with the glasses during dinner, from the Thai restaurant near NYU. She remembered, sharing with him, her childhood days in Manhattan before moving to Queens, while pointing out to the hospital where she was born. She remembered her first bike ride, the way she kissed him. It was the classic Alisha Silverstone stunt, which she practiced for hours in dark gullies of Philly downtown, while flirting on the bike. She remembered, the previous night, their flirting, on their kitchen counter, the fake mahogany wooden top acting as the catalyst to their excitement. She remembered his soft lips, his gentle way of kissing. She remembered the way he had said, ‘I like you’; his eyes filled with compassion. And the way she had rejected him that night. That Sunday evening, sitting on her bed, staring at his picture, for hours, she wanted to disagree to their prior agreement. That evening she had realized love is blind. Suddenly, she got up to light a cigarette, and walked around in her empty apartment, savoring the smoke. Suddenly she remembered, overhearing Joshua talking while she was asleep “I don’t think this is just friendship. I hope you know that - I love you, Tejal." She though she was dreaming. That evening her feeling had changed – her fears had come true. The lust had turned into love. She knew this from her past. This was not for the first time in her life. No lateral or pragmatic thinking can ever explain the blatant power of love. But wait. “Is this really, what I think it is?” Assurance and reassurance. She ran to the phone, to call Joshua. There was no answer. She called him again, over and over, messaged him. There was no answer! There was no answer for days, for weeks, for months, for years. For the second time, in her life – she had to move on, with a bitter taste.
Joshua was at his exit, when Tejal had called. He slowed down, to pickup the call, and moved to the right lane, and stopped just before the exit, over the shoulders on the I95. He saw it was Tejal. At that very moment life took a turn. A car hit him, which was also taking the exit, and could not see the Ducati, as it was in the car’s blind spot. The paramedics arrived, in couple of minutes. Joshua was flown to a hospital in Philadelphia. He was at the mercy of god at the Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia. Joshua was blind sided, by the impact; before she could tell him, that 'love is blind.' Joshua went into coma that evening. He finally slept that night. The tyranny of longest night finally ended. Then, he didn’t know that he will sleep for longest time in is life. They say, while meditating one goes into profound state of supper consciousness. During his spiritual practices, Joshua had experiences a deep sleep, but with awareness. This was not meditation. Coma, derived from Greek word Koma means deep sleep, without awareness - a profound state of unconsciousness.
Joshua's Parents moved to New Jersey, that week. As soon as they received the call from Mercy Hospital, detailing Joshua’s critical condition – they took the first flight to Newark, New Jersey from Bombay. His father, was retired a General Manager at Kinetic. Mummy, was a well known lawyer in Pune - who give away her name and fame for love, in a heart beat. The lady of limited words had told him, “Josh, remember – ‘pyar pe duniya kayam hai’.” ‘World is based on the foundation of love’. Hustling, they had come from rags to richest. Just couple of years before, Joshua’s accident they had decided to take it easy and where well settled in their lavish bungalow, in Sindh society. America was not new to them. They visited Joshua every year. Joshua had told them “Consider Philadelphia, as your second home. You are always welcomed without any prior notice. I just want you to nock before entering. I don’t want you guys to see me in an awkward state with my friend or friends…I know you know what I mean, Papa.” But this visit was not like others. On the twenty two hours long flight from Bombay to Newark, Joshua’s mother was induced with doses of morphine, as she was getting anxiety attacks.
Initial years where difficult. But Joshua’s family lived with hope and immense self confidence. It was time to test their core principles. Hona hai too hona hai; ke sera ke sera – ‘what has to happen will happen, accept it.’ Principles: to accept all situations with courage. One values the person the most in their absence. Joshua had gone through this when he first moved to America. His respect for his family grew stronger while in US. Tejal, experienced this after her father’s death in a fatal accident. Joshua’s parents experienced it when Joshua moved America, and while he was in coma. Every day, before their dinner staring at the empty dinner chair and plate, they missed him - included him in their prayers. And every day was filled with hope for a better tomorrow. It was difficult, for them, especially away from home, where there was no family; to support them in their grief. Shobha, had to take medication for her depression, which took a reverse tool on Papa and Asif, Joshua’s brother. But life went on, as it always did. Past will always be the past. It slows you down, but it is important to come back to the present as quickly, as possible. History, is just a good narrative. In retrospect, narrative will always have a logical conclusion. Love and luck, is random, and one always gets fooled by it, in an attempt to find causality.
In America, Shobha started her law practice again. Her target was the Benz, who nearly took Joshua's life. An affluent owner of a famous restaurant chain in Downtown Philadelphia and who was driving under influence, that night. The case was simple, but was the laws where different; as the country was different. The American optimism and Indian heart paid high dividend within a year. Shobha won the most important case of her life, and this one was for love. It was a jackpot for half a million dollars. The win was broadcasted by all the local news channels, in Philadelphia. Tejal missed it, who was just couple of hours away from Philly. She had moved on. Joshua’s family celebrated the victory in his room. Shobha invited his friends from Philadelphia to ABC studios, from Delhi University to UPenn. But Tejal was not invited. Tejal did not exist, for his parents. First time in Joshua's life - he had not mentioned about his girlfriend. Nor did he have any pictures, in his room; the room, which was filled with pictures of his family, friends, and all the girls he had dated. Tejal’s picture was on his cell phone, which was crushed, in the crash, so was her heart, which had come out of the state of denial, only for one day. Joshua wanted to propose to her in Paris. In the same city, Papa had purposed Shobha. In the same city, Mr. Mehta and Mrs Mehta went after Tejal was born. Twenty seven years ago. In the same city, were Tejal and Joshua had first seen each other. Both where of same age, and shared the same birthday. Their eyes had met briefly in Paris, on their birthday – while searching for a familiar skin color and similar American Indian accent, at the Hotel Bistro, in downtown Paris. Their minds wondered if they are Indian. ‘Indian’s staying in Paris; Indian’s from India or England or America or West Indian islands.’ Tejal had mentioned to her American friends, that night, “Girls, I want him, as my gift; tonight.” Joshua had mentioned to his American friends, “Hey, that girl is a really cute. I think she is Indian. Should I ask her for a drink. Is that common culture here in Paris?” On the flight back from Paris, they sat next to each other. The co-incident surprised them. After introducing - both had said “Desi, how interesting!” They spoke at length, on the flight. Tejal flaunting her French and broken Hindi which had a thick American accent. Joshua flaunting his, eloquent way of making up stories. Paris was just the ice breaker. It was Manhattan that brought them closer. Tejal sometimes used to mention in sweet rage, rolling her eye, “I had to search for a brown skinned guy in Paris on my birthday and to my luck; I find you.”
The dinner was set up in Joshua’s hospital room, with an extra, but empty chair and empty plate. Entire family spent the night with Joshua in the hospital. Mummy slept hugging him, on his bed. She cried the whole night, slapped him with anger, and kissed him with compassion. Joshua did not react. Brother, Asif slept on the chair next to the bed, starting at him in rage and anticipation. Joshua did not react. Papa was sitting by his legs, wondering. The man could not cry any more; but was hopeful. Hopeful that one day the father and son would go bar hoping in Greenwich village- as they always did, when he visited him. But that was not the day.
Joshua was moved to Florida Hospital in Orlando, a month after the case. The hospital was famous for its coma care and was a non profit hospital. Joshua's mama, Mr. Shaw leaved in Orlando, and owned a Motel on Orlando's famous International Drive. Florida was big change. A change Asif and Papa were waiting for. Shobha engaged herself in teaching meditation, at a retirement home. Asif helped Jim in the motel business. Papa started an Indian glossary store, and eventually after three years an Indo-French restaurant on the strip with Asif. They named it, the Zahir. It was Joshua’s favorite novel, and also their Zahir. Asif was a good cook, and owned an upscale restaurant in Pune, which had sold for the brotherhood, and moved to Philadelphia - the city which had got its name, for its brotherhood. Orlando was their home now. It took them less time, then Joshua - to forget Pune. American or Indian was their irony, now. Busy was busy - days and sometime months went by without talking about Joshua. The visits to the hospital reduced. But still the chair and plate was empty on the dinning table, before every dinner. Past was past, and life goes on. Joshua’s accident had slowed them, but they had come back to the present. So had Tejal. She married a year after Joshua’s accident. She tried Joshua’s cell on day of her marriage. She had nothing to talk, even if he had picked up the call. But again, there was no answer. Life can be funny and all you could do is laugh over the irony and the helplessness. We need answer to questions which can’t be put in words.
The infamous India backup alternative called - arranged marriage. Her checklist had many crosses, but one has to follow the script. Very few, especially from the subcontinent can dissent mediocrity. As mediocrity was covered by the blanket of traditions and Tejal was traditional. She had to give up under emotional pressure. Her father’s death had accelerated her mother expectations. In or out of denial did not matter - it was Dr Patel, to whom she pretended to date for five days. Pragmatism as always; won over individualism. Her brother was a doctor, her brother in law was doctor and now, her husband was a doctor.
‘Change is permanent;’ but over four years had passed. Joshua had shown no signs of recovery. He had moved his figures couple of times, but it was an unconscious action. This was common amongst coma patients. Medically, it did not carry any significance. Hopes were fading out and turning into fears. The doctors had no answers. Amey joined Florida hospital that summer. He was the beacon of hope, for for Shobha. She used to say to Amey, “One day some unknown love will bring back my Joshua to. It would an unexpected shock.” Amey was in med school, studying at the University of Central Florida. He had joined Florida Hospital’s residency program. A strange feeling of knowing Joshua passed through Amey’s mind, when he had first seen him. Amey knew somewhere he had met Joshua or seen him. Somewhere…sometime ago. Amey visited Joshua every day, and used to watch him closely. It was just two weeks, since Amey had joined Florida Hospital, he noticed Joshua attempting to move his hand and spoke something. It had happened before, but for the first time in five years Joshua attempted to speak. Amey did not understand those words, but those two words had changed the entire landscape of the hospital. Joshua was well known in the Florida Hospital - he was the youngest, cutest and the most harmless patient for last four years. The nurses flirted with him, all the time, while changing is cloths, taking him for a walks, and kissed his soft lips countless time. Even in coma – he was decadent. The entire staff, that day was talking about Joshua, and those two words. Amey personally called Shobha, who had not visited him for over a week. The entire family, spend days in the hospital, after that incident. Eventually Joshua opened his eyes, for a while; spoke some words. The reports showed progress, indicating signs of coming out of the unconscious state. It was the sweetest September, of Shobha’s life. The recovery was gradual, but the hopes where high. Within a week, Joshua was out of the unconscious state, and was talking – but was not receptive. Mummy, had again given up her voluntary work, in heartbeat for love. The Zahir was closed down.
Joshua was completely out of temporary lapses, but he still could not move, or talk to for a long time. But by now, he knew or was made aware of the present and the past. Joshua cried for couple of days – but was matured to enough to understand that - he was lucky. Lucky to be alive, lucky to have parents who sacrificed every thing they owned, lucky to have a brother who gave up his adulthood for the brotherhood, lucky to hit by a driver who was driving under influence, lucky to select high premium medical insurance policy, which covered his huge medical expenses. Redemption was not an obligation, but a willful choice.
For Shobha – it was a new beginning. The sun was shinning earnestly over Florida hospital – in the sun shine state. The Zahir was back in business. Joshua was getting ready to leave the hospital and stay with his family after thirteen years. Within a month he was showing good signs of recovery, under Amey’s medical supervision and moral support. He was able walk, run, and talk to strangers at length. He had also started flirting with the nurses; who no longer saw him as harmless cute Joshua, but as a sly cute Joshua. Joshua’s life had evolved; ironically while he was sleeping. His family owned a lavish town house on in Orlando, now; owned Indo-French restaurant on the International drive. He was an American resident and soon would hold an “In god we trust,” American passport, with an Indian visa, and will start living with his loved ones in a country he called home; the home away from home. His education or experience, did not account for his growth or maturity; these where relative linguistic terms, now.
But there was no closure. This unclosed chapter of his life hit him when he was back tracking the accident. Mummy was talking about Mercy Hospital, and the months in Philadelphia. He had asked her, “Where is Tejal.” “Tejal” she replied with a perplexed look. “Never mind.” He replied and thought about the longest night. In his recollection, he saw Amey. Tejal had shown Amey’s picture that night, while arranging her apartment. He remembered, she mentioning Amey – her brother studying at Temple, soon was going to join the Med school, after his graduation, with major in Physic and minor in Economics. Suddenly he, remembered her phone call while he was on Interstate, but then he also remembered, that five years had passed. The Black Swan in his life started bothering him.Part 3
The Black Swan is not just a metaphor: until the discovery of Australia's common belief held that all swans were white such belief was shattered with the sighting of the first cygnus atratus – a black swan. The Black Swan is not a simply a problem in logic, but an empirical matter concerning the occurrence of usual event; an outlier or an exception that have the property of carrying a large impact. Another one of its attributes lies in its character of surprise. In the arts, it can correspond to a piece of work that, unexpectedly, captivates interests, spreads like wildfire, and dwarfs other contributions. Retrospective determinism, is a vicious mental process, also called the hindsight bias, in which these Black Swans become explainable after the fact, owing to the unconscious use of posterior information. Today, in retrospect, Joshua –has a string of logical inferences. One: the want; and not need of a partner. A partner, to whom he could surrender and beg for emotional support and motivation. Two: low odds of meeting someone and getting connected on a flight. He did not search for causality, on the flight but just capitulated. Three: her denial, lead to his inquisitiveness. Ultimately was he was fooled by randomness, both by love and by the Benz. In his undergrad he had learned, a system works in close approximation to ideal state, if it has a robust feedback loop from the output to the input. The circuit should always, be complete. Closure for him, was of primordial importance. He had to talk to Tejal. It was easy, as his mind was still as sharp. Not only he remembered her phone number, but also he had recognized Amey. He just could not gather enough courage to talk to Amey. Joshua had started admiring Amey. He had helped him to recovery from the shock, and made him realize, that the accident was his good karma. What goes around comes around. It was November, an entire month had pasted, with the thought of confronting Amey.
A day prior to his discharge, he asked his parents to leave him alone. He wanted some time. Time to step back briefly into the past. Time to gather courage to face the present. That morning he spoke to Amey and expressed his heart out. Joshua helped Amey to decipher, his curiosity. He told him, how he knew him, saying, “You must have seen me Tejal’s leaving room, in one of her picture frames.” He told him about Tejal and their covert relationship. He told him, his feelings for Tejal. He shared some bits of the longest night. It was Amey, who suggested him, to call Tejal. Amey had put it in a simple word– “Mere Yaar, pyar pe duniya kayam hai.” ‘My friend, the world is based on foundation of love.’ Joshua had heard that before. It was Amey who dialed Tejal’s number, which had changed. Joshua, spoke to Tejal that morning after five years. He was tears, when he heard her voice. He said, with his hands trembling due to uncertainly, “What up, my dear. My American guju bhen.” After hearing heavy breathing for brief time, he heard her sob. He knew; no introduction was needed. He told her every thing, except that he was in coma for last five years. He told her, he was in the hospital, and that Amey is his doctor, who gave him her number. He kept the conversation short, and told her to come to Orlando, catching the earliest flight. He did not bother to ask if she was free that day, but just instructed to come and will take care of the expenses, if it was a problem.
Tejal had come to visit Joshua with her kids, Rahul and Sapna. The hospital security allowed them to meet only for ten minutes as it was pass the visiting hours. Amey had made a special request to the hospital management, before their meeting and they had permitted ten minutes. Tejal had a lot to talk and demanded answers. Life can be funny and all you could do is laugh over the irony and the helplessness. We need answer to questions which can’t be put in words. First few minutes pasted, crying and hugging. Joshua told her, the story, in his eloquent style. He tired to be funny, but failed, as Tejal could not stop her crying. She was in stock. She demanded time, to understand and grasp the seriousness of the scenario.
At the end his story he asked her, “By the way – Why did you call me that evening.” Enough was enough. She could not take it, anymore. By now, she had broken down, completely. Joshua got up, from his bed and offered her, the hospital bed to lie down. She did, as he inculcated, politely. Tejal had not spoken a single word. Joshua got up and walked to her bag; searched for a cigarette. He opened his hospital room window, light the cigarette after five years. Savoring the smoke, he looked at Tejal; who was now sobbing profusely on his bed. After the smoke he walked up to her, hugged her. Slept by her side, and kissed her forehead. She opened her eyes, said in broken voice, “I had called you, to say ‘love is blind.’ Joshua, and we need to re-define our relationship.” It was his turn, now. Both could smell the void. They say in China, when you are confused, sleep and when lost, wonder. Both spend the next ten minutes, questioning their fate. They did not speak.
It was Sapna, and the security staff that brought them back to the reality. Sapna was crying, and the security staff was knocking on the door. Without a word, she left his room, sobbing. Amey hugged her outside Joshua’s room and took her home. Amey slept on the couch, while Tejal and the kids slept in his room. That night Amey put the kids to bed. While leaving his room, Amey hugged Tejal, and kissed her goodnight on her forehead. Before closing the bedroom door, all Tejal said “Thank you, Amey.” Both Joshua and Tejal did not sleep that night. The next morning was a new beginning. Finally home. Finally, after five years, the empty plate and the chair will have a recipient.
Tejal and Amey, came to see Joshua in the morning. Both did not speak, that morning. Both knew it was their last encounter. They had got their closure. Life was not funny anymore, but brutal. It did not need any answers, as there were no questions. Shobha noticed the glow on Joshua’s face, that morning, when Amey was introducing Tejal and her kids, to them, as his sister and nephews. He said –“Tejal and the kids are visiting me for the Thanks giving.” Shobha knew it was the same Tejal. The Tejal who had had got back she Joshua.
It was raining that November morning. In India they say, when it rains in November, something good or something bad is going to happen. Joshua stepped out of the hospital in the rain for the first time in five years. Alongside his parents and Asif, he walked towards his parent’s car. Tejal and Amey had tears in their eyes as they watched them walking towards the parking out. Joshua moved to open the passenger door but his father stopped him – handed him keys and pointed him to the Ducati, and said – “The present moment is inevitable…go enjoy.”--------
Friday, January 4, 2008
Joshua knew this was going to be his last encounter with Tejal. He had not expected to meet her again, especially in Florida. Joshua had labeled their previous meeting – ‘The longest night.’ Even after five years he remembered that night as if it was yesterday. A good narrative should always have irony. It is the irony that captivates the audience and keeps them interested in the story. A story is good if there is irony. The irony of the longest night and the irony of the present day was what made their story.
Tejal had come to visit Joshua with her kids, Rahul and Sapna. The security allowed them to meet only for ten minutes, on Amey’s request. Tejal was still trying to figure out, why she was there. Flying all the way from New York to Orlando, It was unlike her, as she had never made decisions on short notice. She despised flying. She was angry. The mental rage and conflict, that she had just ten minutes with Joshua, after crossing all the social, traditional and connubial boundaries. There was lot of catching up to do. Why she is married, why Joshua in the current scenario, what happened that night, why there was no phone call. She had a lot to talk and demanded answers. Life can be funny and all you could do is laugh over the irony and the helplessness. We need answer to questions which can’t be put in words.
As soon as Tejal entered Joshua’s room, Amey got up to leave. On the way out he greeted Tejal. She completely ignored him, and with the faint tears in her eyes ran towards Joshua, and hugged him. Amey knew he would greet her later. The kids where excited to see Amey mama – uncle. Joshua smiled, looking at Tejal, returned the hug and he kissed her on the lips. He always took the liberty of kissing her on her lips, without considering her position. Amey noticed it, had no reaction. Joshua, rolled his hand over her stomach and said as he always did, “See, I told you…you will always be one of the most beautiful person I have met in US. I love the way you carry yourself, even if you have turned into a typical Guju house wife…. I am so happy to see you and your kids. They are adorable.” He smiled and glanced, continued. “Which one is adopted?” She was in tears now, and replied “Bastard….. Sapna.” Amey took Rahul and Sapna out of the room.
Joshua had spoken to Tejal that morning, after five years. He had requested her to come to Florida, by agreeing to pay for the tickets, and insisted to come with her kids. It was late in evening he was waiting eagerly for Tejal. As he was waiting he was thinking about the night, he had last seen Tejal in New Jersey, five years ago.
Beset by his ironies, Joshua was laying next to Tejal, who was asleep. They had made love, just hours ago. It was Sunday, round eleven, in a small New Jersey town. He had got up, couple of hours ago, due an early morning phone call from his parents, heat and a bad migraine, after sleeping only for an hour. Tejal was submerged under a thick blanket, sound a sleep. Though covered under the blanket, Joshua, could effortless visualize her naked body. He could see, the contours of her body, arms shielding her breast, the freckles on her back. He knew her body well, every scar, every cell, very well. Just three hours ago, his naked body was her blanket. Just three hours ago, every cell in her body was vibrant, filled with lust, filled with awareness. Awareness that in mere minutes, the lust was going to turn into exhaustion; a physical and mental exhaustion. Joshua, could smell Tejals, he knew her smell, the smell of her sweat and perfume. But this smell was mixed with smell of sex and dry October Jersey heat. Joshua and Tejal had very few physical encounters, but both made love passionately. When it came to intimacy, Tejal was the alpha male. Tejal commanded his moves, by strong hand and eye gestures. She commanded her positions, by her body language, which Joshua adored and was always, submissive. Their physical chemistry connected them. Both never accepted the love for each other, as both where uncertain of their mental disposition. They never tried to label their relationship and had mutually agreed to call it friendship. That Sunday morning, sitting besides Tejal, staring at her for over three hours, he wanted to disagree to prior agreement, as that night he had realized love is blind.
In Tejal’s book of relationships, every male friend who does not met her criteria of a significant other, is a friend or a good acquaintance. Friend who can be forgotten, by saying: good riddance. In Joshua’s book of relationships, every female friend can be a significant other, if and only if she accepted him, with his clumsily and over enthusiast nature. Who can be forgotten, by saying: ethos is important. Boys are immature, insincere and promiscuous. This was her excuse for all the broken relationships. Girls are over judgmental and over possessive was his excuse for all the broken relationships. For him, time was the best tool. For her, self derived mental checklist based on past experience was the best tool. Both had well rehearsed answers, if questioned by their Indian decent, concerned parent on their plans of getting married. Both knew their defensive strategies well. But both knew, they where alone and dearly missed a companion in their life. A companion, not just for their physical wants. A partner, to whom they could surrender and beg for emotional support and motivation. Both knew, through their individual experiences, friendship was surely not what they where on the quest for. Getting married was their sole desire. But getting married to someone they accepted and top of all met their individual self derived criteria. If all the boxes on their checklist where checked, then love was imminent. This was corollary to their theorem of relationship.
For Joshua things had changed - his fears had come true. The lust had turned into love. He knew this, from his past. This was not for the first time in his life. No idealist, lateral or pragmatic thinking can ever explain the blatant power of love. That morning, he had sudden urge to re-define his feeling for Tejal. His physical cupidity was overshadowed by compassion. He had not considered this possibility. Suddenly he noticed the blanket did not cover her body, leaving her bear back exposed. Winter or summer Tejal always used quill in the night. He quickly tucked her into the blanket. He carefully studied his sudden reaction, and felt content. Content by the fact that there was no covetousness in his action. His hands did not run over her body. He laughed and said to himself– “Never under estimate the predictability of stupidity.” That night he was not worried about rejection, but Tejal’s position. Just few hours ago, Tejal had mentioned her heart break, and desire to be disconnected with any emotional feelings. Hence he knew it was stupid to devour his mind with such a possibility. He knew, Tejal would say “I don’t look at you that way, you are just a friend.” He said it out loud, assuming Tejal will hear him in her sleep, “I don’t think this is just friendship. I hope you know that - I like you." The irony… It was killing him on that Sunday morning.
Couple of hours ago, while they were having serious discussion on their relationship, Joshua had expressed his feelings to her. He had expressed to her how desperately he wanted her. Tejal had expressed her feelings to him. She had expressed to him how emotionally disconnected and confused she was. Joshua had said in simple words, - “I love you, Tejal.” Tejal said, “I like, that you bring upfront, and telling me. But Josh, you don’t know me and what I am going through. You don’t know my perspective. Lets keep the family pressure aside for a minute, as I know even you are going to the same. Hence surely that is not my excuse, to engage in a romantic relationship.” She paused lighted a smoke and continued, “Josh, I am not over my ex, I think I am still in love with him. Sometimes guys can be so insincere. Bastard knows that I love him. I keep on calling him. Joshua was laughing in his mind. He lighted a smoke and finished his glass of scotch, and started into her eyes. Here, is a girl, talking about the guy and explaining how difficult it is to stop thinking about whom she loves, to a guy who had expressed his love for her. How little a person thinks of the other person, while breaking up? Joshua knew this feeling, as he could just laugh, and think about his breakup with Payal, after four years of healthy relationship. This time, for Tejal it was some Krish, for Joshua it was Tejal. But Krish was a third entity. Confused! But well aware of the irony. Joshua smelled the void in the air. He hugged her, without a reason. Tejal hugged him back, felling the void. In China they say, when you are confused, sleep and whenever in doubt, fuck. It was easy and the best short cut. This was universal law. Kings, CEOs, Students, managers, boyfriends, girlfriends, athletes all around the globe used this strategy. Sex and sleep was cathartic. Joshua’s spiritual inkling, Tejals traditional stronghold was of no use. Confusion, coupled with conflicting cultural upbringing, Chevas Regal and the sexual tension lead to sex, and then to siesta. By the time they finished their passionate act it was nine in the morning. Both slept like babies, cuddling each other, completely naked. But, Joshua got up, after an hour because of a phone call. His parents always called him, on Sunday, with whom he didn’t talk, and ignored the call. The dry October heat, coupled with the smell of sweat, sex and perfume mixed with migraine, bunged him of going back to bed. The universal law had failed! And the thinking started.
What are her expectations or was this just lust. Joshua was in no mood for one night stands. He was done playing that game, and had moved on. He had rejected girls, who just wanted to sleep with him. It was a false ideology, after a certain age, it was difficult to sleep with somebody, where there is no emotional connection. Yet sometimes one fails to be centered and slips. Joshua had slipped couple of times, that year. Joshua had his own share of one night stands. He was promiscuous, so was she. They knew they were promiscuous. She knew he was promiscuous and he knew she was promiscuous. They knew each other knew that they where promiscuous and they hated it. But their maturity told them, that they didn’t have the right to question it. Monogamy was norm in relationships, but not expected in friendship. That morning, which was still the same night, as he had not slept – Beset by his ironies, Joshua was laying next to Tejal, who was asleep. Problem had started. Their story had turned interesting.
Joshua was one of the few Hindus with a Jewish Mother. He was part of the majority, but didn’t eat shell sea fish and beef. He was one of the Hindu in the population of over eight hundred million, who had a Jewish mama as godfather, and had a Bar Mitzvah. Majority or non existing minority was Joshua’s namesake irony. Ram A. Choudhary was his registered name in Loalla Convent High School and Delhi University in India. Joshua A. Choudhary was his registered name on his blue; Ashoka Chakra embossed Indian Passport, University of Pennsylvania and ABC Studios in Philly. Where he came from, respect for elder was demanded, girls were over protected, life was lead with traditional and cultural belief which were never questioned and just followed, this was the conventional wisdom. His strong disposition on questioning the conventional wisdom was despised, yet envied by his Indian friends in Pune and Philadelphia. Pune was his home, where his heart was. Philadelphia was his new home away from home. Both cities, where known for their Universities. For Joshua, Education equated to maturity and experience to success. His outlook had changed, for good or bad did not matter, as there is no absolute measure. Where he came from, the stereotype was, girls who had boyfriends, smoked, consumed alcohol or had sex before marriage where labeled promiscuous or worst, sluts. Hypocrisy was expected. Where he came from the stereotype was, girls who had boyfriends, who consumed alcohol, who spoke in the quintessential queens English, and who had sex before marriage where labeled upper class, or better, forward. Where he was currently from, the stereotype was, girls who did not have boyfriends, did not drink or did not have sex before marriage where labeled losers or worst, nerds. Hypocrisy was expected. Where he was currently from, the stereotype was, girls who did not have a boyfriends, did not drink or did not have sex before marriage where labeled as conservative or worst, backward. Ten years, with two years of UPenn education and four years of corporate American experience, had made him to reevaluate his core thinking paradigm. American or Indian was his irony. Where he came from, he had to switch off his humanity switch, and accept the apparent disparity. He was made to believe poor people are poor because they are not hard working and passionate. Social Leftist by heart, but capitalistic by mind, was his conflict. He was made to believe luck and fate was immature ideology. Hypocrisy was expected. What goes around, comes around – the karma, and was Vedic philosophy. Spiritual inking and America had made him to change his past prejudice. He believed in luck, and randomness. He believed in being at the right place at the right time. Hard work and passion won’t take you where you want to be. Yes, hard work and passion is mandatory. But luck played an integral part in ones pursuit for happiness. Ohh…the confusion. Conventional wisdom holds that past memory, is like a serial recording device, like a computer diskette. In reality memory is dynamic – not static, like a paper on which new text or new revisions of the same text will be continuously recorded, thanks to the power of posterior information. Memory is more of self serving dynamic revision math: you remember the last time you remembered the event without realizing it, changed the story at every subsequent remembrance.
Joshua knew that human will believe anything you say, provided you do not exhibit the smallest shadow of difference; like animals. They can detect the smallest crack in your confidence before you express it. The trick is to be smooth as possible in personal manners. It is much easier to signal self confidence if you are exceedingly polite and friendly, you can control people without having to offend their sensitivity. The problem with conventional people, Joshua realized, is that if you act like a loser they will treat you as a loser – you set the yardstick, yourself. There is no absolute measure of good or bad. It is not what you are telling people, it is how you are saying it. But you need to remain understated and maintain an Olympian calm in front of others. Joshua knew this very well. “You, sly bastard…” Tejal told him all the time, knowing is wiliness.
Tejal was one few Hindus, whose family settled in America forty years ago. She was never part of the majority and didn’t eat shell fish, beef or chicken. She was one of the Hindus in the land of three hundred million Jewish and Christians who celebrated Diwali and Thanksgiving. Majority or non existing minority was Tejal’s namesake irony. Tejaswini A Mehta was his registered name in Townsend Harris High School and City University of New York. Tejal A Mehta, was her registered name on her blue Eagle embossed American Passport, New York University and Citi Groups in New York. Where she came from, respect for elder was demanded, girls where over protected, life was lead with traditional and cultural belief which where never questioned and just followed, this was the conventional wisdom. Her strong disposition was not to to question the conventional wisdom. This was respected, yet envied by her Indian friends in New York. New York was her home, where her heart was and always be. There was no home away from home. For Tejal, Education equated to success and experience to maturity. Indian or American was her irony too. Her outlook was same, for good or bad didn’t matter, as there is no absolute measure. In her house, the stereotype was, girls who had boyfriends, smoked, consumed alcohol or had sex before marriage where labeled promiscuous or worst, sluts. Hypocrisy was expected. In US, where she grew up stereotype was, girls who had boyfriends, who consumed alcohol, always spoke in the American English, and who had sex before marriage was conventional.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
A sudden outburst of emotion – of being all alone again, rushed through my spine, as I entered my Syracuse apartment. I had just returned after dropping my parents to the Rochester Airport. They were going California and I was going to be all alone again in Syracuse for 20 odd days. I was lying in bed, waiting in anticipation to pass out from exhaustion. An exhaustion which had come from a long day at work, a 5 hour grueling drive to Rochester and an unseen emotional turmoil of a space which was being handed back to me. My mind started checking an invisible list of all the work I would have to do on my own. Cleaning the house, cooking food, washing vessels, grocery shopping, doing laundry, the list was endless, but not quite without the worst of household chores-- ironing the cloths. I realized how quickly our bodies and minds adapt and get comfortable when provided with all the possible material and emotional amenities. How fortunate and pampered does one feel, with a little love and affection? That night I went to bed thinking about this new comfort zone I have built around myself, that I was back under my parents umbrella of affection and I was eating food with my family again.
My parents visited me this summer. It was Papa’s first trip to USA. The night before their flight I was all worked up. "How will I adapt to such a big change!! Change staying with my family in US, especially after a gap of seven years?"
“What will they do, in this small town of Syracuse? What are their expectations from me? Will they like my house, Syracuse, the SU hill area, the flat screen television? Should I install Hindi channels with all the K serials for my mother, so she feels at home? Will they be able to switch on the TV or the cable box and safely switch it off? Where should I take them in Syracuse, when I return from office– Skaneateles Lake, Green Lakes, Onondaga State Park, Carousel Mall? Where else we can go around this area? Will they be bored in Syracuse? What will I do, if they lock themselves out of the apartment? I will need to buy new cell phone, for them. Do I have enough grocery for four grow ups? Will they like my new car; is it big enough and comfortable for four? Can they drive in US? Where should I take them in US? I should take off, for a week. Do I have vacation left? How I will manage my office, and late night emails and conference calls when they are in the house? How many times, we should drive to Manhattan? Will they enjoy in the city, and what – the Broadway shows or the Times Square or the SoHo area or the south side pier? Will they like my friends – both Asian and American? When should I call my friends for Dinner – just the Indian or American? How much it will cost me to travel with them, what credit card should I use, what are the interest rates on the cards?” All such questions, along with feeling of overwhelmed excitement and joy rushed through my mind, while I was waiting to receive them at Syracuse’s Hancock International airport along with Sonal.
I could not believe that I was missing them in just couple of hours, I was elated over the fact, they where going come back in twenty days. I said to Sonal on the phone, that evening lying on my bed.
"I am so happy they are just thousand of miles away in California and not ten thousand miles away in India...They are in the same dam country!!”
Just hours before dropping them to Rochester airport, I was happy that they where leaving for LA. I was going to be independent, like a bird!! Free to hang out in local pubs in Syracuse with my friends on the weekend. Not having to driving to NYC or NJ or Philadelphia or DC or Boston getting bored and stressed getting lost on American Interstates. As they slept on the back seat of my car.
"I don’t have to answer them - where I am going, with whom I am going and what time I am going to come back. Whose house I will be staying over - girl or a guy, in the same bed or on a coach….not answerable to anybody…"
Paradoxical sequence of thoughts –emotionally getting attached to someone so much that even couple of days are difficult to get by in their absence, but at the same time, the their mere presence sometimes bothers you. I have observed similar paradoxical and self contradicting feelings before. Hence I call it “banal emotional peevishness”
My cousin, Amu constantly complains about managing the Payal, her 18 months old baby daughter, with her 24/7 over elated state.
"Sabir, Sometimes I hope that Payal was never born. I want to ship Payal to India to her grandparents, and see her again only after she is turned ten and timid, or sometimes I want to forget Payal in the mall." Her rhetoric words surprises me all the time. But, at the same time, when I take Payal for a drive in my car, Amu, will call me every two minutes to check on her daughter.
“How is your child seat, where you able strap it! ….Did you put her seat belt? Don’t go on the Interstate; don’t drive fast. Are you talking on the phone without the hands free? How is Payal doing, is she enjoying…my babby…It is 5 minutes, since you have gone. When are you coming back? What is that noise, is it Payal crying? Get her back….blah blah.”
When I pointed out to Amu these paradoxical emotional tantrums, she said,“What can I do –she is part of me, I can’t disown a part of my body! I have the right to complain about it - don’t take that right. And Stop being philosophical all the time.”
Sonal, was one day talking about similar feelings, explaining her blissful relationship with her new boyfriend Mike, and how they miss each other and yell at the same time. She said, “Every morning Mike has to pass my test, to prove love exist, and is going strong. I am generally first to be out of the bed. I get up I turn…I kiss my Mike, with his eye closed he will smile and turn to the other side, muttering something. That smile means the whole world to me. I don’t care even if he fakes it. You fake it till you make it and once you make it you don’t have to fake it. He has passes my stringent love inspection most of the time, and I say to myself ….the spark still exists." Sonal was now blushing, then with a serious look she added, "When he is traveling, all I miss that morning smile. But at the same time, when he is round me, I will constantly compare him with my other relationships, guys. I yell on the way he dresses, walks and his clumsiness. You know….He drops his coffee on the shirt every time he drinks from the cup…every time. It is the embarrassing! Sometimes, annoyed with his gauche behavior, I feel like leaving him… but what you can do – love is fucking blind.”
Many graduate students, in US or any other country go through the phase of unemployment. I remember Bombay – in the summer of 2001 without a job, just after graduation. The dot com bubble had just busted companies where issuing, pink slips to their new hires. Amey and I used to walk on the streets of Andheri –SEPZ area, handing resumes to the companies. The August Bombay heat did not stop us from walking in our unkempt attire from one company to other. I remember the objective on my resume read - “There will always be dreamers… we dream to achieve...to achieve my dreams, I need a job...” It was the tacky!! Retrospect when I think about those days - it was the 3 page long resume and my tousled appearance that was responsible for all the rejects; I didn’t even receive a single, first round interview call. After Master’s I went through a similar phase of unemployment and this time I didn’t have the money or the companionship to make door to door visits to companies. Again it was summer, The Summer of 2005. The main difference this time was a Master degree, passion to excel, a resume with objective clearly stating– “Interested in a full time position in Operations and Supply Chain Management….” I spend my entire day smoking and applying to some twenty to hundred odd companies each day. But this time, I was missing the emotional support, or should I say, I was missing the emotional support to Cultivate self pity. I was missing the physical presence of some person who can understand the emotional stress, to feed my ego – saying – “you are good, aggressive and qualified - don’t worry you will get a job soon. It is just a bad phase in your life. The diamond shines no matter what. They have to find the diamond from the mine, and clean the dirt accumulated and polish them.. then Valla...”
My apartment lease expired in the August and I had to move out of Syracuse. Anil, who stayed in Boston, offered me shelter. Anil, worked with me in GE, and was now working for over six months with a service provider in Marlboro - a suburb of Boston. Boston for me was one of the most beautiful and expensive cities in the North East.
It was around that time, I realized that emotional support or EQ - Emotional Quantum is a vital motivating factor. I always said to friends in US, “EQ and my ego are the only things that keeps up and running.” In this case, as much as I agree it was all self pity, but the fact of the matter was I needed someone who could keep me going; else I would have given up. Every day in Marlboro, instead of smoking on Anil’s porch, I used to apply for Jobs, prepare lunch, catch a train to Boston, and return in the evening before Anil returned to have dinner together. I had dinner with Anil every day during stay in Boston. Over the table we discussed the bitches of life, good GE days and the post cold war capitalistic flexible corporate America. With two weeks of my stay in Marlboro, I received a call from ABC, followed by couple of other interview calls. I had nailed all the interviews and opted for Syracuse over San Francisco and a Fortune one company. And for all the towering excellence in communication skills in cracking the interviews, I give all the credit to Anil, not because he guided and taught me "how to dream and achieve," but because he boosted by morale by his mere presence. Somewhere down the line, he had provided - the intangible emotional support, to keep me up and going. Anil was my lucky charm, the blessing in disguise.
Every emotions comes with a dollar tag
When I met Sonal two years ago, in a club, she said –“Nothing is free, in this fucking country, not even sex. In the night club the guy has to use his charms to impress a girl. So looks are important and most important is to buy drinks for the girl and her girlfriends. Also, maintaining a level of chivalry is important. Then the guy has to make sure the girl is drunk enough, and only then try to cast his spell, and may be – only, may be if the girl is drunk enough the guy might get a kiss or phone number based on intoxication level. But, the bottom line is the guy has to keep the drinks following. Now, said that, are you buying me a round of shots or not!!” Six years of staying in US, I still wonder, in all the relationships that I had - did my character impressed the girls or was it the dollars in my wallet? Today, frankly I don’t want to know the truth. As my anal mind would start questioning – “Was the sex paid for or was it is due to alcoholic overdoes, or was it out of genuine affection or combination of all.”
Over last 10 years, I have gone from too many friends, family members, to select few, to no friends. In Dadar, it was beset by undergrad friends visiting 512 Ocean View apartments, during finals month. Sometimes I had to flight with my friends in order to focus on my studies. It was like an open house Library, with “Silence please” signs missing. We still call my apartment wada - big social joint. Sometimes I pretended I was not home, and lock my door from outside. In Sixth semester - Junior year, 17 of my friends stayed over for 3 days at my one bedroom apartments and Suraj, my house maid complained and threatened me to leave the job, if I continued to invite friends. My neighbors, The Kolekars, complained to my parents about the noise caused by constant talking throughout the night. All and all, they where the fun days, chaotic, but fun filled with strong emotional bonding, 24-7 morale support, in the worst and the best times of the indecisive, immature, yet responsible - undergraduate days. Every passing semester was an achievement and the wait for the next semester was short. We said "4 gone 4 go to, and 4.0 to maintain." And today, every evening is empty. I hate to go to my lonely Ivy Ridge apartment, and watch repeat broadcast of Seinfeld on NBC or Planet Earth on Discovery Channel. My apartment is equipped will all the material comforts one on think off - kitchen filled with sophisticated gizmos to alleviate fine cuisine, red wines hand picked from local wineries, flat screen LCD 56" HD TV, laptops with high speed internet and hi-fi in the house, king size bed with a Posturepedic mattress - basically all the material comforts, I dreamt when I was in Bombay. But today, the wait for the next turning point is longer, and longer. Like a kid, I fear of falling sick and no body by my side to attend or give medicine or cultivate my self pity. Worst, sometimes I fear I would be alone driving at hundred miles an hour through the narrow streets of Syracuse, towards, Waverly Ave admitting myself into the Emergency Room, of Upstate Medical, without Sonal or Ashwin by my side. If ever my heart decides to flutter at the rate it did on that awful night of Dec 11th 2004.
It is not because I don't have friends, or family in US, but I think it is the way small town American is structured. Friends and family are considered in terms of total cost. It is Economical to Emotional!
Somehow I feel staying away for so many years, especially away from family and now, away from my friends - I have lost the feeling of belongingness and lack emotional bonding. I guess the distance plays an important factor, in the way we think, act or react emotionally. Staying away I have become immune to the virtues of emotional attachment. I am in a constant state of denial. Not sure of what I am denying. Maybe I am in denial - to like someone or something or maybe I am questioning my ability to love? I hope the later is not true, after claiming one world family ideology. The only logical justification to my apathy towards emotional feeling is - “Every emotions comes with a dollar tag.”
Bombay - Reheman
Dec 18 2006
On the fifth day of my trip to Bombay after recuperating from my semi gastro attack, I decided to hang out in Dadar. Dadar to me is place where my dil – heart is. My "home"in Bombay. I was born is Ghatkopar, and spend 20 years of my life at my parents house, from Kinder Garden to High School, but I still call Dadar, as my home. Dadar was the place where I grew, learnt to take responsibility, got new perspectives, made friends for life, realized life is never a black and white, and there are no simple solution to a big issues nor a quick fix. I quote at times to my parents, "In Dadar, I became, Mr. G from Billy." Shoddy! But true.
After spending some time with my parents that morning, I called Ashwin. We decided to meet at Shivaji Park Katta - bench, near Shivaji Park Gym (SPG) at eight. Ashwin took the responsibility to coordinate with others members of the gang, so we can group up at the infamous SPG katta as we used to during the good old undergrad days. I set out on my brother’s cruiser bike, to Dadar – excited to re-visit the best days of my life. Deep inside I was on a quest to know - how life has changed in my home town, and wanted to compare it to my new life in Syracuse, NY. I was on a quest to gather more samples for my self derived axiom – “Every emotion comes with a dollar tag?”
We spend the entire evening gossiping on the SPG katta, with Ashwin, Vishal, Deepak, Amey and some new members. Since most of them where directly coming from office to crash our katta party, they had to leave early. Everybody, but Ashwin, left by eleven. Ashwin and I decided to have coffee at the new Coffee day. And at twelve we left for Dadar train station to have tea at Ragu’s.
Study from noon to evening at the wada, catching up with weekly gossips from eight to ten at the katta, dinner and light beer at Sherrey’s China house, back to studies at eleven at the wada, tea at two in the morning at Ragu’s, back to studies at the wada –this was Sunday during the finals months in Dadar.
At around midnight we left for Dadar station, as we where driving from Shivaji Park to Dadar railway station, I started pondering over my faint memories with Ragu. I remembered my first meeting with Ragu. Ragu’s tea house was a big discovery for me, it was like, discovering Ctrl S shortcut feature on the computer. Something that becomes trivial, over a period of time. But, every once in a while you feel glad that you discovered it, giving you a remote sense of achievement. During undergrad I used to study whole night especially during the finals month, and used to go to Dadar railway Station in the middle of the night for a stroll, tea and sometimes to buy some cigarettes. It was during one of these visits in my second semester –freshmen year, I found Ragu’s Tea House. Ragu’s welcoming smile and the smell of the elichi tea attracted me. At first it was just business. I buy the cutting chai -tea, pay, buy some cigarette as needed, say hello, and then say goodnight. As the visits increased, it was more then just business. I spoke to him for hours sometime I sat there for hours studying in the mist of early morning Bombay vegetable market rush hours. Sometimes I explained him microprocessor technology from my text books – and used to tell him how it is going to change the world. I have to admit Ragu was a good listener and was earnest. He used to say “You are my most loyal and most educated customer I have.” One day, drunk from a party, I was not able to find Ragu’s small tea shop, so I suggested him to put a board – called– “Ragu’s Tea house –devour the elichi.” Ashwin and I painted the board that Sunday… Ragu, discussed his personal problems openly with me, and sometimes expected some advice. He of impression, that - I had all the knowledge and wisdom in the world, since I was educated and can read and write in English. Hmm…Talk about subaltern philosophy. I remembered visiting Ragu’s house, near Mahim railway tracks and meeting his wife –convincing her not have a third child, due the pressing financial situations.
When our bikes pulled into Dadar station, Ragu was busy attending to customers, serving and making tea at the same time, with his only good left hand. We knew, he will be busy, as midnight was always the peak hours, at Dadar station. Ragu looked the same - big eyes, with dark circles lacking sleep, skinny, murky complexion, but well composed and poised in the mist of the midnight rush, with a spark in his big eyes, welcoming very customer with a smile, even though some patrons where yelling at him for no substantial reason. He was wearing the same white t-shirt with holes, caused due to constant cleaning, washing and reusing and khaki shorts – now torn in some places. I remembered that I had never seen Ragu in any other attire. The tea house smelled the same – a mixture of elichi and pungent smell of boiling milk. The shop looked the same – as I had seen it the last time I was there, seven year ago. A bench by the stove, painted in the customary pista color, occupied by customers, four bamboo bars, supporting the aluminum shelter just above the stove, and big enough to provide shelter for customer sitting on the bench and Ragu’s open kitchen. The kitchen was the same – it included a big aluminum vessel for the milk, a table for the stove, with two small drovers use as galla’s –place to collect money, a tea vessel and a seven jars filled with various types of khari biscuits. Men where standing and yelling at Ragu’ to hurry up, and blaming him of missing the train, as if he had focused them to stand there.
After couple of minutes the rush subsided–Ashwin and I found a place on the pista colored bench. Ragu noticed Ashwin in the crowd, he a passed a smile and winked, indicating to wait patiently and he would attain him as soon he could. In the same motion he glanced at me. I smiled, in anticipation – to receive a more emotional gesture, as I was meeting him after seven odd years. But he just passed a welcoming nodded, and continued with his dual task, as a cook and server, with is only good hand. Suddenly after few minutes, he looked at me and there he was…standing with glass of tea is only hand and trembling, with tears in his eyes. I knew he had recognized me, this time. It took him time, for which I forgive him –as I had lost over forty pounds, and looked different –little fairer, short hair with a gouty and maybe well dressed. I was not in my normal ugly shorts, and lose t-shirt. For a moment he did not know how to react. Then keeping the glass aside he hugged me, as if I was back from the grave, and busted out in tears. I have to admit, I too had flint tears in my eyes, not because I met Ragu – but seeing the excitement in Ragu’s eyes, to met me. He served the remaining customers on the bench, who where now staring and perplexed. Ragu, put a wooden plank over the stove, which read in Marathi, Bhandh - closed for the day. Ashwin and I were not surprised by Ragu’s reactive gesture. He had closed his stop many times before this for Ashwin and I– inspite of yelling at him. The Ragu’s tea house was his only source of income. But we knew Ragu was an emotional guy.
I spend the rest of the night talking with Ragu. He prepared special tea for me, with material water – for which he had to run ten blocks to the nearest open glossary store, and spend twelve rupees, approximately 20 cents, which was one fourth his entire days earning, after hafta. I did not gather enough courage to eat the khari biscuit, from his containers. My excuse was hygiene. But Ashwin did.
Ashwin was tired and left, after having a cup of tea the khari biscuit. After Ashwin left, we sat chatting for good two hours. From my past life I knew Ragu as a good listener, but that night I got to know Ragu as talkative, detail oriented and highly emotional person. I got to know Ragu as a person to whom I could relate to. I got to know Rage as person who lived for love. I got to know Ragu, who in someway – was like me. I got to know Ragu, as a person who believed in Emotional connection. Ragu was high on his EQ, and always smiling.
He detailed every small change that happened in Dadar since I had left. He started by asking me when I left Bombay, and based on that he started detailing all the changes. He knew that I was in US. For him it was just some place thousands of miles away from India and Pakistan. All he knew about America was – people like me go there to study and earn money, the currency is called Dollars and all gora’s –white people, are from America.
He talked about the construction of the new platform, at Dadar railway station. The amount of time it took and the hullaballo caused due to the construction. He said, “Sabirbhia - I had to move my tea house, to other side of the bridge, and the business was really slow. When the construction was done I had to fight with the officials, and the local gunda’s –Gangsters to get this place. You know how much this place means to me. This is my annadatta – food provider. Moving to a new location was sacrilegious for me. Allah had blessed me with this place.” After a pause he said, “Ganesh had blessed me with the place.” I smiled, at Ragu and said, “Remember, you told me that you are Muslim and I was not going to kill you for it…” He laughed and continued, explaining how much he values and finds himself lucky to have a tea stall at that precise location. He told me that Allah was on his side during his flight with the local bhai – Gangster and corrupted police officials.
He said “Sabirbhai – I am still here because of you. If you remember Sabirbhai, the day you walked in to my shop for the first time, it was Eid-Mubarak and the chaad –moon was out. You where wore a green t-shirt, and asked me if I made elachi chai in a polite manner. I knew since then, you are my blessing in disguise – and some day inshallah- by the grace of god, you are going to bring me luck, which you did.”
I was confused, and was not able follow or remember. He continued, with tears in his eyes– “Sabirbhai- you started visiting my tea shop, and sometimes you used to read in English in my tea shop, you brought all your friends – Ashwin, Vishal, Shankar – and all used to study here. You explained me how a computer worked. I was motivated by you guys and registered by two kids in English school. Thanks, to Ashwin’s network and his kind help – my kids are in local primary school. They now study– in kindergarten! I hope one day they will become like you guys and work on the computer, instead selling tea. I will tell them, then – I know how the microprocessor inside the computer works, and how it just knows - yes and no” He nodded his left and right head, in the same way I had explained him Logical circuits. He continued. “One and zero, and just based on a combination of ones and zeros it can perform complex mathematical operation.” I was, stud by his remark. Wow…Ragu still remembers, what I had taught him one day – when frustrated and amazed while studying R. P Jain’s – Introduction to Logical circuits. “Wow, you still remember” I said in English, now with tears rolling over my face.
He continued, “You and your friends studied in this small shelter - all this caused good vibrations. My tea shop got more business because of those good vibrations. You suggested me to put that board – which grew by business, ten fold.” I smirked at him. I was still not sure what he was talking about.
“After the platform construction – the bhai, did don’t allow me to put my stall here. Ashwinbhai used his network and pressurized the corrupted police officer. Hence you can see me here – at my sacred place of workship, my annadatta. Sabirbhai – the day I re-opened Ragu’s Tea house again, I missed you dearly. I called all your friends for a jasham –party. We had cold beer. First time – Sabirbhai First time. I had English alcohol.” said blushingly.
“Because of Ashwin and your friends support I am here. I know Ashwin because of you, you are my blessing is disguise. We are surviving because of you. Else what would I have done with just one hand and two kids.”
It was getting too emotional for me to handle. In an effort to change the topic I asked his to pass me a khari biscuit. I was staring at it for a long, and was now tempted to have it.. He paused and reached out to one of seven jars and severed me two biscuits. My efforts, where in vain, as Ragu continued...
“Ashwin, told me about your health – and that you where hospitalized. Sabirbhai – you should care of your health. I had kept my shop closed, the day when Ashwinbhai told me, and went to Hijiali – and prayed to Allah for your good health. I also I went to Shidivinak to pray to Ganesha. Ashwin and Shankar came along. You have not idea how I feel seeing you in such a good and health– fair, and slimed down. I did not even recognized you, when you first walked in.” He smiled. “Tomorrow I will go to Hijiali again to thank Allah. I knew Allah, won’t take you way from us.”
It was too much for me to handle. The tears kept rolling. I told Ragu to stop taking. Suddenly I felt overwhelmed by all the emotion. I told him that I have to leave – as it was getting late and he needs to re-open his shop. I hugged him, and I promised him that I will visit him again before I felt for the States. The hug this time was filled with genuine affection. Reheman had stopped crying – and wished me luck. I wrote my address and phone number, and told – to write to me and call me when his kids learnt to write and speak in English.
I reached for my pocket to pay for the tea, material bottle and khari biscuit, and suddenly I realized – “These emotions did not come with a dollar tag.” I realized with people like Reheman, my parents, friends like Ashwin, Anil, Sonal - praying for me, I don’t care if I had to drive alone at the speed of hundred miles an hour through the narrow street of Syracuse to admit my self in Upstate Medial emergency room. As I know Allah and Ganesh both are by my side in disguise. I will be up and running again and again, in no time.