Friday, January 31, 2014

The Greatest Of Them All

The Moon is the most common major object viewe...
It was a beautiful night. The moon in total splendour generously spread light on all who sought it. The river that flowed with its rhythmic motion accepted the moonlight with all humility and shone like a river of stars. In gratitude, the river painted the moon with a slight hue of blue. From a distance, it seemed that the moon and the river kissed each other; their passions taking over after not having met for over a month. The small cascades in the river seemed like eruptions of joy while the sweet melody of the flowing river provided for the right background score to make the setting perfect. With no peeking eyes, except the stars to add glitter, some fireworks and a few night birds and animals to keep guard, it was love in paradise. The other creatures, having done their bit for the day retired to sleep and regain the energy needed to battle the oncoming day. Life, though challenging, was peaceful in this quiet little jungle.

At a distance, the cries of wolves were heard. Did they wish to join in and add some overtones? They never did, but then why today? What began with one soon transcended across the pack. What had awoken these sly animals that sensed things before they happened? Was it a human intervention, a hunter on the prowl? The cries of the wolves woke up the entire forest. Mothers made sure their little ones were safe. The adults grouped together prepared to face any attack. The emergency bugle had been sounded in their land and their master strategic plans had been kicked in, but least did they know, no plan had been created for this kind of emergency.

It was as if the Gods were having a duel of their own, the spectators being the stars above and the earthlings below. At first, words were exchanged resulting in deafening thunders. One after the other the replies kept getting louder, each side trying to make his point by overpowering the other. When words failed to prove a point, weapons were drawn. The skies trembled with fear and cracked open to reveal streaks of lightning. Sparks began to fly and the poor animals below hid their faces in the earth. Suddenly all this celestial drama came to an end, ending with three gigantic shooting stars crisscrossing the night sky. Where they would fall, was not known. But it seemed like the worst was over, at least for now.

Ouch, I can’t see a thing. The sand is all in my eyes” 

“Forget seeing, I can’t feel a thing” 

“You can’t see a thing, you can’t feel a thing. I don’t deserve to be here. But…all thanks to you both”

 “It’s not my fault; I never started it.” 

“Mine neither”

“Enough! Both of you. We are already suffering enough. The Gods unable to bear us anymore have banished us from heaven. Unless we get our act together and resolve our differences, we won’t be welcomed back. So let’s work on that in a calm manner, which I hope we can do and get this sorted quickly. Or you never know, we may have to make this earth our home, the thought of which itself, is disturbing. Let’s dust ourselves of this sand and get this done right away.”

The three beings in conversation were Love, Intelligence and Boldness. Leaving no stone unturned in trying to prove their supremacy over the other, they were always at loggerheads. Their news had spread far in the heavenly kingdom, much to the anxiety of the rest who lived amicably. They had been warned many a times, but all it did was quieten them for a few days. The days that followed saw an increase in momentum surpassing the previous heights reached. The last fight involving the three went beyond the limits of tolerance, both in temper and destruction and had widespread implications threatening to divide the entire kingdom into sects. Using all his powers, Love played with the emotions of the people and blackmailed them. Intelligence, using all his wit, played games and laid traps. A favourite of all the intellectuals, he had a strong following beyond compare. Boldness drew fear away from the minds of the people and made them believe that they could win over any calamity that threatened them, no matter how small in number they were.

Read the complete story in State of the Heart.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Chief Minister's Independence Day speech

The Chief Minister’s Independence Day Speech

I was summoned into the office immediately. Leaving my hot cup of tea behind, of which I had only taken a sip of, I picked up my notepad and pen and made a run.

“May I come in sir?” I said knocking at the door of the Chief Minister.

“Come in” was the reply.

Sir, you called for me immediately, anything urgent?”

“I’m supposed to give a speech on account of Independence Day tomorrow, and I’m lost for words. I need a speech that would speak of the work we have done and the challenges that lie ahead. It should sound assertive and have all the qualities of a good speech. Elections are due soon. We got to leave a mark from here itself.”

 Looking at my startled face the minister said, “Brij, I’ve said what I had to say. Ask any questions if you need to.”

The minister’s line made blood rush to my cold feet and got me into action. I glanced at the clock right above the seat of power – 7:12 pm. I had had a tough day, and this is not what I had asked for. The only thing I wanted was to spend the last few minutes in peace before my work day ended so I could gather some strength to face the rain that had been tormenting everyone throughout the day. The next day was a holiday thanks to Independence Day, but at the moment I had to write a speech to earn my independence.

 Mustering up a bit of courage, I asked, “Sir, I’m sure you and your government must have done a lot during this period.”

“Obviously; so many schemes implemented, food security bill, pension plan, kept the citizens safe, always thought of the poor and needy, what else do people want?”

“Sir, then why don’t we speak of them at length? This would bring the focus on all these schemes and help you win praise.”

“We can’t go into the details.”

“But why sir?”

“The deeper we go the deeper the opposition shall dig. They have already asked us for exact figures. There's talk of even roping the CBI in this. There are several areas where the numbers are inflated. With the news of the rotten food grains reaching everyone’s ears, it has made matters worse. It shouldn’t happen that we dig our own grave.”

  “If not social schemes we could speak of the security measures in place. After 26/11, there hasn’t been any significant attack.”

“Brij, you and I know that it would take astute planning and preparation by our ever-so-friendly neighbours to come up with another one. That would take some time. Obviously, without even us doing anything we would be safe and not have any major attack compared to 26/11. In spite of the great intelligence, we boast of; the recent bomb blast attacks did happen. Thankfully what has sustained is the notion we have drilled into everyone’s minds that everyone is safe. But with no coordination between the police department and the intelligence agency at times even I feel I’m not safe. Thankfully I have Z+ security and the chair of the CM, or else you may never know.”

Read the complete story in State of the Heart.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

We all have best friends, but no one can even come close to this.

My Best Friend

Nitin, you’re fine na?” a concerned voice broke my flow of thought, and I turned around to see who it was.

“Hey Akshata, yes I am. But why ask? What’s the matter?”

“I have been noticing you for the past few days. You have been blabbering something to yourself. Today you were doing it again, so I thought I better ask.” Akshata said as she took the seat next to me.

“Oh, I didn’t know I was being noticed“

“You definitely are. In fact, people also talk about you”

”After a tiring day of work people have the stamina to notice things? I thought everyone escaped into a world of their own.”

“They may be tired, but their mind is always wandering and looking for something unusual and exciting. You fit the bill perfectly.” I just smiled in reply.

Being popular was not something I craved for but to my good luck or bad something about me always caught the attention of people; making me popular without any effort.

“So what do you blabber about…the horrible work at office?” Akshata asked with a smile.

I looked at her and smiled too. ”You know, your blabbering habit is not a good thing. It makes an onlooker think you’re disturbed or probably swearing at him/her. You should see a doctor or try meditation. It would surely help.” Akshata’s concern was heart-warming.

In this maddening race of life where winning is all that matters and petty politics the order of the day, it was hard to find people who stop by and show some care.

Akshata and I were bus buddies for quite some time now. Bus buddies is how I term those people whom you only meet in the bus while travelling to and from office. You do not work with them or catch up otherwise. Yet, it’s their company and the conversations with them that makes the nearly four hour journey to and from office a pleasure. The best thing about the conversation is that it can include anything under the sun, even work details. Sure enough, some conversations with some people don’t go down the interesting line but still it’s a chance worth taking. I had noticed Akshata reading a novel by Chetan Bhagat, and that became our conversation starter. Before we knew it, we were on song. Bus buddies also come in handy when you need the current position of the bus or need to stop the bus when you’re running late. At that moment, they’re like angels in disguise.

“Hello, where did you get lost?” Akshata asked. “Something is surely the matter with you.”

Nothing baba, I just drifted away, that’s it.”

“What’s the matter Nitin? Won’t you tell me?”

“Something should be the matter to tell you about na.”

“I don’t believe you. You just go blabbering on and on and say nothing is the matter.”

“It’s not blabbering. I just speak to someone.”

“Someone? But to whom and how? You neither have your earphones connected nor have a Bluetooth earpiece clipped on.” Akshata was being herself. That meant she wasn’t going to let go off me easily. If there was something she didn’t know, she would pursue it by all means. What made matters worse was that I couldn’t even bluff with her. She would sense it and then get irritated. Tolerating an irritated Akshata was not a good proposition.

Read the complete story in State of the Heart.
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Greatest Of Them All

It was a beautiful night. The moon in total splendour generously spread light on all who sought it. The river that flowed with its rhythmic motion accepted the moonlight with all humility and shone like a river of stars. In gratitude, the river painted the moon with a slight hue of blue. From a distance, it seemed that the moon and the river kissed each other; their passions taking over after not having met for over a month. The small cascades in the river seemed like eruptions of joy while the sweet melody of the flowing river provided for the right background score to make the setting perfect. With no peeking eyes, except the stars to add glitter, some fireworks and a few night birds and animals to keep guard, it was love in paradise. The other creatures, having done their bit for the day retired to sleep and regain the energy needed to battle the oncoming day. Life, though challenging, was peaceful in this quiet little jungle.

At a distance, the cries of wolves were heard. Did they wish to join in and add some overtones? They never did, but then why today? What began with one soon transcended across the pack. What had awoken these sly animals that sensed things before they happened? Was it a human intervention, a hunter on the prowl? The cries of the wolves woke up the entire forest. Mothers made sure their little ones were safe. The adults grouped together prepared to face any attack. The emergency bugle had been sounded in their land and their master strategic plans had been kicked in, but least did they know, no plan had been created for this kind of emergency.

It was as if the Gods were having a duel of their own, the spectators being the stars above and the earthlings below. At first, words were exchanged resulting in deafening thunders. One after the other the replies kept getting louder, each side trying to make his point by overpowering the other. When words failed to prove a point, weapons were drawn. The skies trembled with fear and cracked open to reveal streaks of lightning. Sparks began to fly and the poor animals below hid their faces in the earth. Suddenly all this celestial drama came to an end, ending with three gigantic shooting stars crisscrossing the night sky. Where they would fall, was not known. But it seemed like the worst was over, at least for now.

Ouch, I can’t see a thing. The sand is all in my eyes”

“Forget seeing, I can’t feel a thing”

“You can’t see a thing, you can’t feel a thing. I don’t deserve to be here. But…all thanks to you both”

“It’s not my fault; I never started it.”

“Mine neither”

“Enough! Both of you. We are already suffering enough. The Gods unable to bear us anymore have banished us from heaven. Unless we get our act together and resolve our differences, we won’t be welcomed back. So let’s work on that in a calm manner, which I hope we can do and get this sorted quickly. Or you never know, we may have to make this earth our home, the thought of which itself, is disturbing. Let’s dust ourselves of this sand and get this done right away.”

The three beings in conversation were Love, Intelligence and Boldness. Leaving no stone unturned in trying to prove their supremacy over the other, they were always at loggerheads. Their news had spread far in the heavenly kingdom, much to the anxiety of the rest who lived amicably. They had been warned many a times, but all it did was quieten them for a few days. The days that followed saw an increase in momentum surpassing the previous heights reached. The last fight involving the three went beyond the limits of tolerance, both in temper and destruction and had widespread implications threatening to divide the entire kingdom into sects. Using all his powers, Love played with the emotions of the people and blackmailed them. Intelligence, using all his wit, played games and laid traps. A favourite of all the intellectuals, he had a strong following beyond compare. Boldness drew fear away from the minds of the people and made them believe that they could win over any calamity that threatened them, no matter how small in number they were.

The fissures were clearly visible now, and unless something was done quickly, the kingdom would be torn apart. Worried about the impending future, the Gods decided to take the matter to the Oracle, the supreme power in the universe, the one who had an answer to everything. Though her solutions did not make sense then and there, but in the long run they were immaculate. Always clad in a deep V-neck white beaded flowing dress with a necklace of white jewels as her only accessory, she travelled in a cloud with the stars lighting up her way. Though known for her wisdom, her beauty was no less. Often people came to her to find a way through their troubles but would get lost in her beauty.

The Oracle was highly respected not only in the kingdom but the entire universe and was often consulted and visited by other Gods from near and far. She had a calm demeanour but a short temper. No one in recent memory had seen it, but the stories that had passed through the generations were enough of an indication.
With her eyes closed, she calmly listened to the distress of her people. Once they were done, she opened her eyes. Spending a few minutes in silence she said, “The problem is no longer about swelling pride but about three warring factions. I would like to address your people. Go inform your kingdom.” The Gods, without asking any further questions, bowed in respect and left.

The entire kingdom assembled to hear what the Oracle had to say. On earlier occasions whenever people assembled there were smiles and cheer around. But this time, with tempers soaring, animosity filled the air. People stuck to their clans and did not verbally interact with people of other clans. The only interaction was through dirty looks, which least said were provocative. The Oracle took the high chair and asked for Love, Intelligence and Boldness to step forward. The chatter dropped to a pin drop silence, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on the proceedings. The Oracle asked each of them their reasons for fighting. The three gave their own reasons but blamed the other for starting the conflict. The accusations and counter-accusations led to a fight again, increasing the unrest among the clans. Seeing their leaders being blamed for the fights, with tempers flaring, forgetting they were in the presence of the Oracle the clans joined in too. The Oracle’s patience was being tested. Swords were drawn, and brother was no longer brother. Rivers of blood had started flowing. The assembly had turned into a battlefield. The Oracle had had enough. Everyone present were about to see her fury.

The Oracle raised her hand and snapped her fingers rendering everyone motionless. They could see, hear but couldn’t move, no matter how much or how hard they tried. She looked at the three leaders of the clans. “You people have disgraced this kingdom and deserve no place here. If you all think, you can live without each other, then learn to live without your people first. It’s only then you will realize the importance of the other and what acceptance means. You are henceforth banished from this universe till you sort out your differences. To make sure you don’t go separate ways you shall be tied with chains to each other.” Looking at her guards, she ordered them to throw the three to a faraway land.”

On earth, after dusting themselves, the three of them sat down silently. No one wanted to speak first. Mentally, all of them were cursing the heat, the place, the position they were in. Most of all, the company they had. “It would be much better if I were alone” was the only thought on their minds. The afternoon passed. Yet, not a word was spoken. Thirsty, hungry and tired because of the exhaustion their spirits began to droop. Love saw a small lake at a distance. Wasting no time he stood up and began to run towards it. He took a few steps but suddenly fell down tripping on the chains that tied the three together. Seeing him fall, the other two burst out laughing. An irritated Love got up, looked at them with disdain and said, “Can’t you all see that lake at a distance? If we reach it, we’ll probably survive unless you have plans of dying here.” Intelligence and Boldness looked in the direction Love pointed to but couldn’t see any lake.

“Are you sure you can see a lake? I think all you can see is a mirage.” Intelligence said.

“Agree” Boldness spoke up.

“I’m stuck with two people who don’t even believe me. I so hate this” Love reacted.

“I thought where there is love there is no place for hate.” “And where there's love there's complete trust as well” the other two pitched in. Love felt silent and thought to himself. Wasn’t that the universal truth? Wasn’t that the essence of love?

“Look over there” Intelligence spoke up “I see a lady coming with a pitcher of water on her head. We can ask her for some.” The other two having no other option agreed and started moving. Boldness led the way. But Intelligence, as was always the case tried to take the lead. When he was just about to overtake Boldness, the chain around his hand got too tight for comfort. Wincing with pain, he stopped in his tracks and held his hand hoping for some relief.

“Intelligence is one thing, and smartness is another, but in this case over-smartness did you in”, Love said without wasting a minute to level the score. Though they were tied up together, the duel was still on, however, in a much subdued manner, probably because of the situation they were in. The two of them waited for Intelligence to get better but without losing track of the lady. She had what they needed dearly and couldn’t miss it at any cost.

After they were done they marched on with Intelligence leading the way. On reaching the lady, Love told Intelligence, "Ask her for some water".

Intelligence tried to avoid asking. He was intelligent but shy. Presenting his point unless asked for and taking a stand were qualities alien to Intelligence. Seeing life and its every opportunity as a profit and loss equation was all he did with no space or concern for emotions.

Not to be looked down upon, Intelligence tried to ask the lady, but all he could manage was a mutter, audible and understandable only to him.

“Lost for words?” Boldness asked him. “Intelligence is needed but to execute plans boldness is needed most. After all fortune favours only the brave.” Looking at Boldness, Intelligence said, “You ask her” and stepped aside and adjusted the chains to allow Boldness come forward. Boldness went near the lady who was ignorant of their presence and said, “Hello.” The lady who was in her own world stopped and looked around, but she saw no one. Thinking it was a product of her imagination she continued walking. Boldness went near her again and spoke louder, “Hello, can we have some water?” The lady looked around again. She had heard the words clearly but couldn’t see anyone. She was all alone in the desert and felt shivers down her spine. Without wasting a moment, she made the run for her life dropping the pot of water she carried. Her run confused the three to such an extent that they were caught off guard and remained spectators as the pot crashed and broke into pieces. The desert, as thirsty as it was, gulped down the water without leaving a trace.

“The water…” the three reacted on seeing it disappear into the desert.

“Now what should we do?” Love said helplessly.

“Let’s follow the lady immediately. In such a state, she must have run to her village to seek protection. If we follow her, we can be safe.” Intelligence had a point. If the lady came from somewhere she had to be heading somewhere. With a pot full of water, she most probably would be heading home. Using the lesson taught by experience, they quickly formed a single file. Intelligence led the way with eyes fixed on the lady in the distance. In case he missed her, her footsteps would keep them on track. While they were at it, Love asked, “But why did she run away?”

“Because she was scared I guess…but then why was she scared?” Boldness asked.

“Because she couldn’t see us” Intelligence answered. “We are invisible to these creatures. It just occurred to me. They can only hear us but cannot see us. We are after all, feelings, which to humans are abstract.”

The invisibility factor increased their woes. There was no way they could communicate with people for it would drive them away with fear. They had to find another way. However, their being invisible also gave them a cover of protection from humans and beasts alike.

Walking behind the lady, they passed through a cover of green. It was surprising that a large green cover existed in a desert. Amazed at the works of God they moved on and arrived at the gates of a large kingdom. ‘Welcome to Xenobia’ the signboard read. Without stopping for authentication, the three moved in and walked the streets. Children played with joy, vendors sold their goods and buyers bargained as much as they could. It was like a complete city based in the middle of nowhere.

Still thirsty they looked around for water but couldn’t find any.

“Strange isn’t it? You can find everything over here except water. The wells are dry too.” Boldness asked with shock.

“Surely something is the matter; we must find out” Love spoke with the rest nodding their heads in agreement. They headed to the palace to get more details.

History had it, that water was never scarce in this land until differences arose with the neighbouring kingdom Genovia. As a result, Genovia blocked the flow of water leaving their neighbours high and dry. In due course of time, their stocks ran out, and water had to be fetched from far away. The only way to end this was to sort out the differences and bring the two kingdoms together. The silver lining was the prince and princess of either kingdoms were in love.

“If we get the two together the kingdoms shall come together, and the people’s water problems will get solved.” Boldness said after the three of them quenched their thirst by drinking some water available in the palace.

“Also two people in love should not be separated," Love said.

“But to arrive at a good plan we need to play to our strengths. In short it should have the right mix of Love, Intelligence and Boldness. We also need to consider our limitations – no one can see us but only hear us.” Intelligence suggested.

“Wish we could consult the Oracle; a full proof plan would be ready in minutes. But anyways, we now need to think of one ourselves.” Love said as he saw the challenge that lay before him. The three of them discussed, debated and deliberated. It was for the first time that they didn’t fight with each other but complemented each other. Finally, they drew a plan and made sure no loopholes existed. A slight error could ruin things further and once the plan was in action, there was no turning back.

“Your Highness! our intelligence sources have informed us that the army of Genovia is preparing for battle against us. The king shall officially declare it soon.”

“What?” the king of Genovia reacted in shock at the news brought to him by his commander-in-chief. “But why and how come all of a sudden?’

“Sire, it seems their water woes have increased. The people have begun revolting against their king. Their king, given his old age decided to go with his people and all out against us.”

“We had no problems in sharing our waters. But they disrespected us. Remember?”

“Yes sire, but now what do we do?”

“What is the preparedness of our army?”

“Sire, just give us the orders and our troops shall march on”

“Fine then, get your forces ready and await my orders.”

Seeing the proceedings, Intelligence was satisfied. Spreading a rumour was his part of the plan. What began in the streets of Xenobia reached the ears of the kings of the either kingdoms. Man is in every sense,  a mere messenger. He will never try to verify the contents of the message before delivering it. He will blindly just pass it on.

In a few days, the two armies were standing face to face, both well in their territories, at least as of now. The situation was tight, and a slight provocation would ignite the fire.

“Father, I request you. Let’s not get blood on our hands.” The children requested their royal fathers. But their fathers were in no mood of listening. The enemy was in front of them. The time for talk was over. All that needed to be decided was who would be the last man standing. The bugle was sounded, and the armies clashed. The number of casualties on either side kept increasing. The king of Genovia kept moving forward bravely talking off the enemy’s soldiers in his way. He was almost about to reach the enemy’s gates when he called for his army to stop fighting. His army stopped at once but in wonder as to what made him stop especially when they had an upper hand. He threw away his guard and armour and made a dash for a spot where two people lay dead on the ground. Their attire did not resemble any of the armies but was familiar. When he reached the place, he knelt down and cried. Unable to see what was wrong, the king of Xenobia too came near him. On seeing the bodies, he too began to sob.

"My daughter," he said. “How could this have happened?”

“Sire! They must have got caught in the battle” The king’s officer replied.

“Look at what we have lost. Our fight has taken away our only kindle of joy. I wish we had not gone into battle. Our children would have been safe. Go, take your water” the king of Genovia unable to bear the loss broke down.

“I too am sorry for your loss and all the differences between us. I no longer want any of this. I have paid a hefty price. If our children were alive, we could have got them married and ended this feud forever.” The king of Xenobia replied.

“Promise?”

“Yes, but what’s the use now?” the king turned to the person who had asked him. He was in disbelief of what he saw. His daughter was alive, the neighbouring king’s son too.

“My child you are alive. We thought you were dead.” The king of Xenobia replied with a mix of shock and joy. Tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy as he hugged her tightly.

“I am sorry father. We acted as if we were dead, but we had no choice. We tried explaining that the war would lead to no good. But no one listened.”

“Did you mean you had this planned…How?”

“Worried that the matter would go out of hand, the prince sent me a letter with this idea. Understanding the gravity of the situation and with complete trust in the prince, I agreed.” The king’s head hung in shame.

“We are sorry that our foolishness took us to such extremes.” Turning towards the king of Genovia he said, 

“Let us end this once and for all. Our children have taught us a valuable lesson.”

“I agree, Oh king of Xenobia. In fact, I recommend we mark this occasion and take our relationship to a new high. I suggest we get our children married to each other.”

“That’s a fantastic idea. Our relationship would bring peace and prosperity to our kingdoms just like in olden times.”

Seeing the two kings unite, the prince and princess were very happy. Not only their people had come together and the scarcity of water had been eliminated but also they were going to get married, and years of separation were soon going to end.

In a few days, the two kingdoms came together to celebrate the wedding which seemed impossible till a few days back. Intelligence, Love and Boldness, had smiles etched ear to ear.

“Such a lovely moment isn’t it?” Love said.

“Yes, it is. Our plan worked perfectly. We spread the rumour intelligently, boldly taking the risk of war.” Intelligence replied.

“But wait a minute, where did love fit in all this?” Boldness questioned mockingly.

Love looked at Boldness and replied calmly, “Love is not about hugs and kisses but is a lot more than that. Love is also care and trust. In this case, both, the prince and princess cared for their people. Because they loved each other, the princess trusted the prince. Because there was trust, she decided to take the plunge. So, do you now see?” Intelligence and Boldness kept looking at Love. He was right.

“If we three are present together in any relationship it would never break and always be filled with happiness. 

Wonder why it took so long for us to understand this basic fact. All along we kept fighting on who is the greatest amongst us. We didn’t realize that we are great only when we are together, alone we are nothing.” Intelligence pointed out while the rest agreed in unison.

The three of them suddenly felt lighter on their feet. When they looked down they saw that the chains which had inhibited their movements had disappeared. But before they could react they were sucked up into thin air and found themselves standing right before the Oracle herself.

“So have you found out who the greatest amongst you?” The Oracle asked.

The three replied in the affirmative.


The Oracle, on knowing everything gave them a smile and said, “Welcome back.”

To read more stories or purchase the book visit Amazon

The Love Letter

“Even if someone wishes to forget this day, he will never be able to”, I said to myself as I glanced through the various pages of the newspaper which were covered with advertisements of the oncoming Valentine’s Day. Special gifts, offers, discounts and related news made the task easier for people who either had run out of ideas or time to mark the day. Love articles and some news write-ups of a few cultural groups protesting against the day of love filled the remaining space. Though the newspaper resembled an advertiser’s paradise, it helped by giving a break from the ‘Sauna Belt’ and ‘Height Plus’ advertisements that featured on other days. Also love stories made for a far better read than articles on murder, theft and this country going nowhere. 

Husbands would be happier if reminders of their anniversaries could also be flashed in the newspapers. Not necessarily to celebrate the love that existed between them and their spouses (if there was any left) but more importantly to avoid the All India Radio-type sermons and uncalled for expense on gifts which had to be bought as damage control in case they forgot, I wondered. 

Personally speaking, I hated Valentine’s Day. Not because of any other reason but because to celebrate it you had to be in a relationship and have the prerequisite – a Valentine. I was single and wasn’t in one. And because I wasn’t, the heartburn was more. I would love to be in one but thanks to my work schedule I hardly had time for myself, having time for another was way out of the question. I was happy being single but not on Valentine’s Day. Seeing so many couples around sharing warm moments together, the heart, as irritating it can get, cites a need for someone. The heartache then transcends into something way bigger that’s easier felt than explained. Hence, all these years I locked myself up in a room with no access to the internet, TV, radio, newspapers or any other modes of communication so the day just passed by without my heart knowing about it.

My thoughts were broken when I saw my train chug into the station, that too when there were still two minutes for the train to arrive as per the display. Caught off guard and not having much time left, I folded the newspaper and rolled it up. To keep it safe, I held it between my thumb and index finger as I reached for the door beating a few hundred passengers who expressed greater interest in catching the same already crowded local as me. Irrespective of  the capacity, ‘find a place and fill it’ has always been the mantra in India. We never shy of it and live by example. We can proudly claim that we can fill any mode of transport to at least three times its capacity with ease. On some days, we beat our own record. In addition to carrying people way beyond capacity, the local trains in Bombay have this special state-of-the-art system for picking up and alighting passengers. The beauty of this system is it works best during peak hours. All you need to do is position yourself near the door. The rest is taken care of, all thanks to the system made up of the ever-in-a-hurry people who will do anything to get in or off the train.

As I made another successful entry into the train and continued a dream run so as to say I chose to head to the seats on my right instead of the left. Activating my mental radar, I began the search for a seat to sit. But along with the seats I observed my fellow passengers as well. 

Man is a complex animal. No matter how much you study him, it’s never enough. In fact, he will continue to throw surprises. The more you study him the more amazed you shall be. As a pastime, I’ve always enjoyed observing people - the way they think, behave, act, and talk. Animals learn a lot merely by observing. That’s so correct in the case of humans too.

A trio of college boys were around who seemed more interested in their virtual mobile world than the real one they lived in. They kept passing around a BlackBerry phone each taking a turn at chatting with someone over BBM. “Ask her what her name is” one of them said. The other nodded in confirmation and started punching the keys on the device. After hitting ‘Send’ the three of them waited anxiously for a reply. The cheer that broke out and hi-fi’s exchanged was a sign that a reply had been received. “Hemal Solanki” “Does that mean she’s a Gujrati?” one of them asked. “Na, Marwari” the other answered. “Hmm”, the three of them thought.

This is something we always do. After finding out the name and the community a person comes from, we draw a mental personality sketch of the person – his/her looks, likes, dislikes, nature, perception, vegetarian, non-vegetarian, etc. Even if we may be entirely wrong, we never refrain from doing it. Doing this helps us take things forward or not at all.

“What are you waiting for? Ask her which college, stream, year, phone number” his friends coaxed. “Also ask her what she’s doing on Valentine’s Day. She can join us if she likes” the third friend said with a wink, listening to which the other two started laughing. “Yes why not? Should I also ask her “Would you marry me?” The laughter changed into a roar so much so that even I broke into a smile. 

There’s something special about college life. Probably because it’s the only phase where we aren’t serious about the most important things and we choose not to be serious about life. Love too is not spared. Unfortunately the maturity that love asks for and responsibilities it brings along is only understood when it’s too late and you’re heart broken. Till then all is perfect in that cocoon world.

The question and answer session on the Blackberry continued till the trio got off at their station. With them gone, I shifted my attention to the others. A few people were catching up on the world through newspapers and magazines while a few were trying to relieve themselves of the day’s stress by either playing some games on their phones and tablets or listening to some music. Some, taking advantage of the pillars meant for support, decided to catch a wink. The pro’s at this act slept without any support and provided entertainment for the onlookers by their near miss-falls while they dozed off to glory. There were a few who just sat to themselves or spoke to their fellow passengers or over their phones. Rest seemed more interested in what others did than themselves and stared at the people and what they did around them. Probably they too followed the same principle as me but took it to another level of staring and not observing. Everything seemed mundane, until something caught my attention and never let it waver. 

The letter was carefully folded and slid into the shirt pocket. The moment the letter went in, a tear drop came rolling out. It’s said that crying silently requires great strength; after all it’s a trait of the strong. That too crying in public, that too in a relatively crowded compartment of a Bombay local where most people don’t have any other work to do than staring at each other is something. 

Very easy to miss the obvious, a young man was sitting right opposite me next to the window while I sat on the space left after three passengers took their share each. He was looking outside the window as if hoping that the wind blowing in his face would dry away his tears but they just kept rolling down. The tears with nothing to stop them rolled along and fell on his shirt and began wetting it. If the tears didn’t stop or weren’t stopped soon the shirt would be uncomfortable to wear. Time and again he kept removing the letter out of his shirt pocket, read it and put it back in again. It was as if he wasn’t done with it. There was something that made him read it again and then put the letter away. What could be so appealing and disturbing at the same time? Nothing seemed to be wrong with my co-passenger. Somewhere in his early-thirties, dressed as though working for a corporate that ran late into the night, he seemed perfectly sane. It was just that he was not living in the present but lost in thought. His eyes spoke it all. The tears bore witness.

Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to unearth the reason that caused my fellow passenger to weep. The detective in me took up the case and started analysing the man and the situation. My first clue was the letter. My challenge was to get hold of it to read its contents. It was a plain simple letter and not a medical report. If it had been the latter, the reason would have been obvious. He or someone dear was going through a serious illness. The news of a limited time to live or requirement of large amount of money for an operation or a cure could be the reason. But that was not the case. It was a plain simple handwritten letter with its contents unknown but disturbing. What did the letter contain? What could be so bad around Valentine’s Day when everyone is interested in the exchange of cards, gifts and chocolates? A time when love is in the air? Was his wife or fiancĂ© leaving him? Was his proposal rejected? What could it be?

As the destinations of everyone travelling in a train are different, my time to solve the case was unknown but was quickly running out. The letter was the only thing that could solve this mystery for me. Asking the man directly what was troubling him was not a good idea looking at the state he was in. I knew that if I didn’t solve the mystery, I wouldn’t be at rest for the next few days and probably be in the same state as the man. I couldn’t let that happen to me. The pain of Valentine’s Day was more than enough to bear. Any more would lead to near death. 

How should I read the letter? If I stand would I get a glimpse? I ruled that option out. I tried straining my eyes to read the letter from the back but the low lighting and pendulum-type movement of the train made that impossible. The writing too had hardly an imprint on the back of the page. But what I could make of it, it contained only a few lines. “A crisp and clear rejection?” I thought to myself. “What have we come to?” With only the stars above to help me, I looked up to the skies for some divine intervention. Though all I could see was the ceiling fan and not the stars I hoped for a miracle. Luckily for me, the passenger seated right next to him got up. This was my moment, my only chance. Without a moment’s delay I sprang into action and got off my feet and made a dash for the just vacated seat.

After occupying it, I took a deep breath. “Just in the nick of time” I thought as I watched the dismayed faces of other passengers as they failed to occupy the seat. In spite of my heroics, my fellow passenger was oblivious to my shift in position.. Now in the direction of the wind, I could feel the chill. Valentine’s Day was indeed going to be very cosy this year I thought as the warmth of love would be really felt by those in love. To me it would be just another day. Hopefully next year I would have someone. Without losing a moment I took position. Time was ticking by and my station was fast approaching. This one was going down to the wire. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the letter to come out again, that too before I got off. If it didn’t, it would be a case of ‘So close yet so far’. What made matters worse was the thought that what if he got off before me? That would signal the end even before the beginning. What was in that letter? What was disturbing him? What could make a grown up man cry? Who had left him? What had he done? What had someone done to him? The questions in my mind kept multiplying. I was getting impatient. Anxiety was taking its toll. I needed to have the answer now or I would never have it. Come on, just once more. “Please!!!!” was the prayer on my lips. 

To my good luck, the letter came out again. Without wasting a moment and leaving nothing to chance, I made most of my position. Moving myself closer, I slightly bent over to be able to read its contents. The letter was slowly unfolded and the mystery that held me captive for so long finally unravelled itself.

Dear Papa,
Thank you for being my very dear friend and my support. Every night before going to sleep I pray that God takes special care of you. You are the best Papa in the world. I love you very much. Would you be my Valentine?
Your loving daughter,
Anjali.

The words of the letter left me spell bound and hit me hard like a bolt from the blue. Was I living a dream or was it reality? Was I living at all? After reading the letter I too was lost in thought. I have always known Valentine’s Day to be a day of love. In fact I hated its existence, just for not having someone to love. But this letter changed all that. This girl did not have anyone to be called a Valentine. She was probably too young to understand life. But she definitely understood love. And she understood it very well.

In one day, I had seen three perceptions of love. A love where you needed to be in love as in my case, a love filled with casualness as in the case of the college students, and a very mature love as in the case of the little girl. I, all my life perceived love as something you needed another to share with. But I was wrong. Love needn’t be that. I had forgotten that love had so many dimensions and forms. To celebrate Valentine’s Day you needn’t be in love. You can celebrate it with your family, friends, God and also with yourself. Love is all about being happy and contented with yourself and surroundings. If there is no love, there is no acceptance of positives and negatives, there’s no space for understanding and care. If there is no love there is nothing. Where there’s love there's everything.

The tears of the man now made complete sense. No one had left him, neither had he left anyone. No one had done anything against him and neither did he. Yes, he was hale and hearty too. He had not lost anything, but had gained the most precious gift in this entire world – Love, a gift that no offer could claim, no money could buy, no discount could apply and no tips and tricks could help. He had received love from the most unexpected quarter - a person whom the he loved the most. When your child asks for more love in return of her sweet love all you can express is in tears. 

As I got off my seat and made a move towards the exit I looked at that man. He was still lost in the letter. The difference was now I knew what was bothering him. In fact, nothing was. He was just too thankful to God for his child and the abundant love he had received. The man would surely be the best Valentine his daughter could ever have. 

In the last half an hour of my travel, my life like the train had gone from one point to another. The journey had transformed me and taught me to see things bigger and better.

This Valentine’s Day was indeed going to be special, going to be warm and memorable - both for my fellow passenger and for me. He had received love from the one who loved him and he loved the most, while I received enlightenment. And then I too shed a tear.

To read more stories or purchase the book visit Amazon

Addiction

I really don’t quite remember when and where it all started. I must have been around nine or ten. Initially, it was all new and tough to take in but as the days progressed, I found my feet and got into the groove. It was my classmates in school who introduced me to this world. I would call them friends as they showed me the way to lifelong happiness and contentment. My friends were the outcasts of the school; always left alone and neglected by all, except by the group to which they belonged. This group was always known to bunk classes and supposedly hole up in their secret hideouts doing things they were known for - lost in a world of their own and having lost consciousness of everything and everyone around them.

As luck may have it, curious and intrigued by their way of life, I befriended them and entered their world. I realized they were a happy lot and nothing in the world could make them sad. I hoped to make just a quick entry and exit, but life had other plans. It was as if I was engulfed by this world. One went to two; two became four and the series continued. The more I tried to pull out, the more I got pulled in. Constant fighting at home and bad academic grades made my new found world attractive. In this world, there were no compulsions and no obligations. I was always the super-hero slaying beasts, demons and villains alike. Here, everything was perfect and reality was left far behind.

Soon, my association with the ‘cult’ group was known to all. Stories of my borrowing, begging and at times even stealing money to satisfy my addiction started doing the rounds. Summons were issued to my parents. Constant scolding from teachers and parents became the order of the day. My classmates maintained an arm’s length distance from me adding pain to my misery. But I couldn’t do anything. I just couldn’t resist the temptation. The intoxication was heavy and the addiction strong.

Time passed by and I finally graduated from school and college. As far as my grades were concerned, I had maintained the fantastic ‘just passed’, border-line passing percentage; a feat in its own right. The addiction was so heavy and prolonged that it took its toll on my health. At times, I would cry; at times jump around happily with a new sense of vigour; at times I would be dead silent and blank-faced. Total neglect of my food and health made matters worse. I had no social life and locked myself up paying no heed to the constant pleading of my near and dear ones. Relatives and family friends blamed my addiction for my condition and convinced my parents to get me married to bring me on the right track. Proposals though few, started coming in. A girl was soon chosen and a date decided.

The girl, beautiful and although modern, was the homely type. She always kept my parents happy which helped to reinforce their faith in her. I must confess that she was up to her task of changing me right away. She would cook my favourite dishes, spend quality time with me and make sure that I was always comfortable. I am not sure whether she did this out of love or out of obligation but she did it well and that too without anything in return. Over the years, despite her repeated attempts, nothing changed. I was still the same. She, probably out of frustration and despair gave up on the idea of changing me. There was dead silence between us. Once my parents left for their heavenly abode and with no one else to speak to, she made frequent visits to her parents place. Her visits, which were only for a few days initially, went on for months together as the years passed. However, in spite of her absence, she made sure I was well maintained. One day, she gave me the news that I was to be a father. Though happy, I was honestly least expecting it. Fatherhood meant having to sacrifice more things than one. Money had increased in value. My wife begged me to give up my addiction and welcome the new born. “All these years I have never asked for anything but this.” I guess I was obligated to grant her wish as I had promised my parents that I would always keep her happy and would fulfil her every desire.

I slowly and steadily gave up my addiction and got whole-heartedly involved in the upbringing of my child. I locked up all the things that had kept me company for all these years; guess I could never let them go forever. Before I could realize, my child had grown into a handsome school going boy scoring good grades and often reminding me of my younger days. However, he had one quality I wish he never had – the same old curiosity. In my absence, he entered the room that was forbidden and unlocked the chest he should never have. From there on, just like me, he too was lost forever in that ever so-beautiful world where there’s nothing that’s impossible and life is all so perfect; in that magnificent world of reading books.

To read more stories or purchase the book visit Amazon

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An offer of love for the day of love

Valentine's Day is less than a month away. And if you're searching for that perfect gift or something to be the cherry on the top may I make a suggestion - a book of short stories on love. A book to read together, feel together and love together. 

To make the day even more special the book comes with an exclusive 2014 calendar filled with images and quotes from the book. Just like the book cover, the calendar would not only fill that one day but the entire year with love. 

Tempted? Wondering how much the book would cost? Well you need not fear.

As a special offer till Valentine's Day, the book would be available at just USD 0.99 (INR 60/-). 

Not good enough? Still want some more? 

Every book you purchase, we would give a part of it to charity in your name. Click HERE for details.  

So, to summarize, in just USD 0.99 (INR 60/-), you not only get a 4/5 rated book of short stories on love but also an exclusive 2014 calendar and would be showing some love to the unfortunate through some charity. Now isn't this an offer of love? Go on and purchase the book at the link below.

Click for eBook and Paperback
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Shoe Campaign

Woo Hoo - Shopping in the Sales!
Woo Hoo - Shopping in the Sales! (Photo credit: Caro's Lines)
At last, after slightly more than a year, my formal shoes gave way. Should I say thanks to the uneven roads, lack of footpaths, and my walking habits or even running at times in office, I wonder. But yes, I can surely thank the makers as the things made in today’s times usually never last long. Be it the summer, winter (Bombay has been seeing some winter days as of late, something we Bombayites are not used to) or even the rains, my shoes made sure I got home with a sole beneath my feet. As the ageing signs of my shoes began to show I was convinced that the ripples and creases would soon lead to my shoes turning into crocodiles. No matter how much I tried, maintained and polished, I couldn’t prevent it from happening. The day was here, and I was unprepared.

I must admit; my shopping skills are bad, to say the least. My choice gets everyone questioning whether I have eyes and by the money I spend, if I’m the only son of a millionaire. Fortunately, I have my sister who has eyes that pick the jewels that come within easy reach. But since dependency at all times is not good, I decided that I would buy the shoes myself.

On my way back home from office, I stopped at a very popular shoe shop that has Kareena and Saif as its ambassadors. I’m sure you will find this store in every Metro. In fact, they are opening stores in sub-metros too. I walked in and was guided to the formal shoes section. Forgetting about questions like the price range I picked a shoe that I liked at first glance. The comfort of wearing it was good and the style suited my attire. I tried a few more pairs and did a mental comparison. The salesman let me take my time and was silent in observation. The price too wasn’t something I couldn’t afford; luckily for me it was pay day. But since I was taught to study the market first and then purchase, I decided to have a look at the other stores and make a decision. So I excused myself and walked out.

The next store I went to boasted of shoes that were made to sustain in the Land Of Woods. What was even better was they had a sale on. Unfortunately, they only had 1 pair of formal shoes and that was not to my liking.

I headed over to another store. No brand here to boast of. I must say here is where my ordeal started. The words that kept flowing from the salesman’s mouth superseded the shoes on display. It was as if he were on a rant. As per him every shoe was of top class that could beat the best, suited me like no other, had the comfort of the shoes of a king and would serve me like a faithful servant all my life. My every move to get out of the shop was foiled by another pair of shoes. It felt like I was held captive and would never be able to leave.

Continue reading the story 
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Friday, January 10, 2014

An Indian family went on a trip over the weekend. What happened to them will shock you.

Monsoon in the Westghats in Maharashtra, India
Monsoon in the Westghats in Maharashtra, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A Rainy Day

It was a rainy day as most days of that monsoon had been. We were at Lonavla railway station waiting for the Indrayani Express which would take us back to Mumbai. We were nearing the end of an amazing weekend in this picturesque hill station which was made even better by the constant drizzle. It was a while since we had been on a holiday with my new job not giving me the luxury of a break. With my daughter’s vacation coming to an end that weekend, my wife and I decided to pack our bags and go out for a weekend to the nearest hill station from Mumbai i.e. Lonavla. To make the experience even better, we decided to travel by train. The journey to Lonavla was an exhilarating experience for our eight year old daughter as she watched in amazement at the vivid colours of the monsoon. She jumped in glee seeing the many waterfalls that seemed to magically appear in the Western Ghats at this time of the year. She held my hand tightly when the train passed through one of the many tunnels that are a feature of this short train journey but slowly got used to it by the time we passed through the fifth or sixth one. In Lonavla, the three of us had a wonderful time under the numerous waterfalls, having a cup of hot tea at Tiger Point or a masaledhar bhutha (Spicy corn) at one of the many viewing points dotting this famous tourist destination. It was a tired threesome who was now waiting at the station as the train chugged in. Having settled in our seats, I took a moment to look around. My wife had a happy but tired look as she placed her head on my shoulder. My daughter still had the energy to go on and on about the wonderful things she did during the past couple of days to her grandparents who had just called on my mobile phone. With a smile on my face, I looked outside the window to see the train slowly moving out of the Lonavla station. Life seemed so wonderful around the people I loved the most. As I replayed the wonderful moments of the past couple of days, the train slowly made its way into Khandala station. There was a crowd of people waiting to board the train at this station as well. As the train came to a halt, I looked outside the window. Among the many people moving about, my eyes fell on a lady with her two kids who were standing just outside our window. They were looking around anxiously and from what I could hear from their conversation amid the din, they were apparently waiting for the father who had gone searching for the right compartment. Suddenly, in a flash, a vivid memory of a similar rainy evening started playing out in my mind.


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