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What I read – 2 (16/100 #100bookpact)

January 3, 2016

There is no denying I have become a compulsive book buyer (and before-I-go-to-sleep reader) after I have come to possess my Kindle. Every now and then, I check out the monthly deals on Amazon and buy books one after the other which are on discount! As a result, I have a growing pile of unread books.

Following are the ones I read recently.

1. The Lie of You by Jane Lythell

I never ever buy a book unless I have read 10,000 reviews on it! However, this was an exception. In one of my sprees of buying books off the Amazon Kindle Store, I bought this one after reading only the short summary and reader reviews. Described as a psychological thriller which is my favourite sub-genre, it did not thrill me as much as I would have liked. Written from the POV of the two main characters, it is a story of how two women compete against each other both in their professional and personal lives. The predictable twist came way early in the story and the ending seemed like a flat Cola with no fizz. I am not a great impulsive buyer of books, it seems.

2. The Bestseller She Wrote by Ravi Subramanian

This was my third book by the author and I picked it up solely because I was curious to know how the best thriller writer of India (and a male author) has treated the romantic genre. Much to my surprise, rather than a plain vanilla romantic tale, it turned out to be a romantic thriller. The story explores the facets of adultery set in the backdrop of the banking industry (which he is a master of) and the publishing world (which was hugely insightful). It has a well-crafted plot line with interesting characters and peppered with maturely-written erotica – something which is hardly found in mainstream romance novels of India. The ending has a classic Ravi Subramanian twist, however this time I could predict it. But that only means I have become an expert thriller-reader ;). Perfect for the long flight or gloomy winter evening or boring lecture in class – this fast-paced story will grab your attention and hold it till the end.

3. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

I had set my eyes on this one for a long time but was on the fence about whether I wanted to read about my favourite character (Salander) by an author other than Steig Larsson. I cleared my mind of the bias before giving in to my temptation and therefore, was not disappointed. This is very important – you cannot read this book while comparing it to the Millennium Trilogy. Characters and setting are the same but the story is wholly different, very modern (concerning artificial intelligence et all) and has a surprising antagonist from Salander’s past. My only complaint is that the plot has too many elements crisscrossing their path which distracted from the central story line. But if you are a fan of the Swedish setting and the two protagonists, don’t give up on this book without reading just because it’s by a different author.

4. The Geneva Option by Adam Lebor

It is the prequel to The Washington Stratagem (TWS), which I read first. Bits and pieces of this book appears in TWS which intrigued me enough to read it. Unfortunately for me, it couldn’t thrill me enough because I have read the sequel first and knew what was coming; so if you want to pick up this author remember to read this first and then TWS. But in isolation, it is a good plot with twists and turns of the Delhi-Manali road – a perfect time pass read. There are not many stories set in the backdrop of UN and so this offers a great glimpse into the working, structure, politics and dangers lurking in the organisation.

5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

What a book! After eyeing this bestseller for sometime, I picked it up recently at a discount. Critics use one word frequently to describe a book – unputdownable. I think this term is apt for The Girl on the Train. Apart from a singular plot which holds your attention, very different and unique three women characters and a superb ending, this book is a great lesson in writing thrillers. It teaches you how to juggle different point of views and shifting time scale beautifully, gives you a lesson on how to create flawed characters which hook the readers and unravel layers of a psychological thriller bit by bit and how to write a full novel in short, crisp sentences. Go read it immediately!

6. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

I must confess I still haven’t finished A God in Every Stone by this author. Somehow I lost interest in between, despite the promising story. I will try to finish it and put up the review. However I enjoyed Burnt Shadows immensely. This story carries the reader from Japan to Delhi to Istanbul, before landing up in Lahore and then New York and finally ending in Afghanistan and Canada and takes place between 1945 and 2001. It traverses through bombing in Nagasaki, partition riots in Delhi, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 9/11 attack and weaves them beautifully in the lives of the characters. Kamila Shamsie paints pictures with her words in this poignant tale; it is a must-read if you are a sucker like me for good human stories.

7. Tim by Colleeen McCullough

Before you beat me for reading this masterpiece so late, let me hurriedly confess that for a long time, I did not want to ruin my fangirl awe for Colleen McCullogh’s The Thorn Birds by reading another of her works. What if I didn’t like it? I shouldn’t have worried – she is Colleen McCullough after all! Her stories gives a brilliant insight into the Australian way of life and Tim is no different. Portraying both the working class and the wealthy, this tale describes the unfolding of a relationship between a middle-aged, plain looking but wealthy Mary Horton and extremely handsome but mentally challenged, young Tim Melville breaking free of the social taboo . This story was my constant companion in my recent trip to Corbett National Park and I couldn’t have asked for better.

8. Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

Yes, I read thrillers from around the world, especially those by the master storyteller Keigo Higashino whose Devotion of Suspect X remains to this day one of my most favourite stories. Dealing with an old-world Japan starting from 1974, this story begins with a murder and solves it only at the end, after a whopping 500-odd pages! In between lie the stories of two unlikely characters – the victim’s son and the prime suspect’s daughter. Peppered with a portrayal of Japan’s changing social, cultural, technological and economic scenario, this story is a classic Keigo Higashino where readers already know where it is going but trying to figure out why and how it is going where it is going! Didn’t get what I meant? Go read this book to find out.

9. Defiant Dreams – Tales of Everyday Divas

And finally, I read the book which is made up winning entries from a nation-wide contest by the e-zine Incredible Women of India and Readomania,  including one of mine! This calls for a detailed review on my blog.

Do let me know your opinion if you have read any of the books I am writing about.

Fantastic Friday Fiction – IX

December 4, 2015

Ten Years Later

Even today, he caused my heart to stop for a second!

10 years is a long time to remember how a lop-sided grin instantly changed an otherwise serious face, how laughing eyes conveyed a lot more than words and how the first two shirt buttons carelessly kept unfastened revealing a hint of chest hair had an unnerving effect on me.

But 10 years is not too long to forget the many sleepless nights I had cried myself to sleep, the many hours I had stared at the phone screen hoping to see it lighted by his name once more and the times I had spent asking numerous agonizing questions to myself, without any answers.

As these thoughts raced in my mind, I kept a cool exterior and smiled warmly at the person standing before me.

“Prithwi, how are you? It’s good to meet after so many years – how many had it been – ten?”

“Oh yeah, ten long years! My goodness, Sree, you still look like… you still look the same!”

My belly did a break dance without any warning.

“So, what brings you to Dubai?” he asked, flopping down on the sofa near me.

Did I hear a hint of amusement in his voice? Ah! Still the arrogant pig, he is.

“Well in the last 10 years I have evolved from a college girl to the Vice-President of a MNC. I have to travel to our various offices in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and London. I spend 12 days every month outside India. So to answer you, work brings me to Dubai.”

“Ouch, you still have that sting! Only you can be so smilingly sweet and venomously sarcastic!” Prithwi said with his eyes laughing.

I couldn’t help but join him in laughing. “You still understand it? My subtle sarcasm is lost on people nowadays. May be tonight I will have the perfect recipient to practice it on.”

Tonight!!! Where did that come from? Stupid girl, get a grip! My head raised a admonishing finger at my heart.

“Sir, your Tom Collins. Madame, your Cosmopolitan.” The god-sent server saved me before my cheeks became too red.

 “So Prithwi, how have you been? Tell me what has happened to you in the past 10 years.”

“Oh! C’mon, you know already, don’t you? I have let the world know all that I could share about my life via Facebook. Don’t tell me you have not seen!”

“Prithwi, do you really think I would have followed your life story on Facebook when I hardly log into it myself?”

“Hey, that’s not true. You uploaded your Swiss trip photos some time ago. You and you hubby holding hands in front of the Alps has been your cover photo ever since!”

For the first time in the evening since I had bumped into Prithwi at the hotel bar, I began to relax and enjoy my time. It was good to know, after all these years, that Prithwi followed my life through Facebook.

“Hey, I know the meaning of that hint of smile playing on your lips. Don’t you think that I stalk you on Facebook! That album of yours received so many “Ooohs”, “Wows” and “What a cute couple” comments that it remained on the top of my feed for a week!”

I stared at the man. How is it that my thoughts are still so exposed to him? I thought I have grown up, learnt from my mistakes and evolved into a mature woman, but here he was treating me like a little girl, as always!

“I never meant that you stalk me. I upload a few pictures off and on but really do not get the time to go through my news feed. The last I know of you is you getting married. You can tell me what happened since then, just so that we can converse for the rest of the evening.” I replied keeping my secret smile at bay.

“Evening? I thought you… Never mind,” Prithwi looked at me without a flicker of his eyeslids. I knew that gaze very well, remembering the first time he held me with his stare like that. It seemed like yesterday!

I arched an eyebrow. I had to pretend I did not understand. After a while, he dropped his gaze.

“Since we are beginning from where we left off, why don’t you first tell me why you did not come to my wedding?” he asked.

Of course! I was dying to attend his wedding!

“For that matter, Prithwi, forget attending, you never even congratulated me when I sent you my Save the Date mail.”

“I get over hundred emails every day, must’ve missed yours.”

“You are still such a… “

“What?”

“Arrogant jerk.”

“Such an accusation for not replying to your mail? You are still so sensitive!”

I finished my second drink – a large Grey Goose with a little cranberry juice and ordered a repeat. I knew I was going too far – both with my drinks and my words. But I was in a mood to be daring.

My legs began to die from sitting in one position for too long. I opened my stilettoes and curled my legs under me on the lounge sofa. I noticed Prithwi’s eyes travel towards the slightly raised hem of my dress. He stretched both his arms on the arm rest, one of which came dangerously close to my bare shoulder. I stole a glance at the exposed flesh of his chest. I pushed aside the memories which had begun to surface from the innermost hidden chambers of my mind.

“I may not have followed your personal life, but I do know that your business has been a roaring success. And let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.” I extended my palm.

“Sree, you are five years late. I have sold off my shares and moved on.”

“Well, yes I was going to ask you the reason behind such a decision. I thought it was a foolish thing to do,” I couldn’t stop myself from saying.

“Wow! Sree, you still speak your mind without a filter! Glad to see someone being honest and unpretentious.”

I kept looking at him, waiting for his answer. He finished his drink in a gulp and ordered a repeat for the third time. “So tell me about your husband. How did you guys meet?”

He had again steered the topic of conversation towards me. So secretive still, I thought. “It feels strange to be asked this question five years after I married. But in the spirit of catching up, let me fill you in. It was an arranged marriage,” I replied.

He chortled.

“What?! You went for arranged marriage? Who does that today?”

I lost my cool.

“What is the problem with an arranged marriage? It was a traditional method but nevertheless, I found a great guy whom I fell in love with. I am not like you, who found a girl to date and marry, all within a year of….”

I immediately regretted my words. This was completely unnecessary. After all these years, I couldn’t blame him especially since he never misled me. He was very clear right from the beginning. If I wasn’t ready for a fling with him, then I cannot blame him for moving on and settling down with the next girl he met.

I excused myself to visit the washroom before my eyes betrayed and exposed the tears about to fall. I was upset to realize that I still remained a stupid, naïve girl when it came to him. I was mortified to realise that he still had that much power over me.

After carefully reapplying my slightly smudged kajal, I returned to where he sat, despite the strong urge to flee from the scene.

“Can we order something to eat? I am quite hungry,” I said in a casual voice, determined to salvage the situation.

“I regret the way things turned out between us.”

I was stunned. Where did that come from?

“I never meant to hurt you. I behaved like a jerk by suggesting a fling instead of a meaningful relationship. When I met you, I wasn’t ready to commit but I was attracted to you enough to suggest a casual physical relationship. That was crass of me. I am truly sorry.”

I was finding it difficult to breathe! After all these years, he was apologizing!

“Thanks for your apology, but I think it was not your fault. I was quite young and naïve and so it was my mistake to misjudge your intention. You were very forthcoming about what you wanted and did not lead me on.” I said with a smile.

“I know it doesn’t make any difference now but I think I made a mistake then. I regret it even today.”

I caught my breathe! What is he saying?

“You know Sree, I was afraid to admit my feelings then; that’s why I hid behind my cool dude exterior and talked about casual sex and fling and what not. If only I had owned up to the unexplained feelings I had for you, things would have been different.”

Oh my goodness! He was confessing to have been in love with me! After 10 years of leaving me in a heap of emotionally distressed state without a care as to my feelings, he was now saying things could have been different between us! Despite my extreme self-control, I was feeling insanely happy.

In a flash I felt like the 22 year old hopelessly romantic girl who had fallen for a suave, smart and handsome 27 year old just by hearing him speak at a seminar. The search for his email ID, emailing him from the cyber café, the first meeting followed by the numerous meetings (or dates, if they may be called so), the taxi rides with his hands casually resting around me, the invite up to his apartment leading to his first move – they all seemed to have happened just yesterday! Sitting in the dimly lit, romantic lounge with soft music playing in the background, I forgot the intervening 10 years.

The atmosphere between us changed, as if both of us wanted to pick up from where we left. While our conversations began to flow much more easily, the air became charged with sexual tension. Our body language started screaming signals to each other. More drinks followed with plates of delicious food. Five pegs down, I began to go from my happy-drunk zone to my slurred-speech-drunk zone.

“Let me take you to your room, you can’t even walk straight,” he offered.

I was only too happy to lean on him, while he held my waist and walked me towards the elevator.

A huge crowd entered the same elevator as us, which caused us to move too close to each other. His hands travelled from my waist to my hips. After what seemed like ages, we stepped out of it.

“Here is my key. I think it is room 1204 at the other end,” I handed over him the key card.

We reached the room and he opened it for me.

“Thanks Prithwi for escorting me up. It was so good to meet you. Keep in touch,” I extended my hand.

He hugged me instead. “I am happy to have met you too.” I could feel the pressure of his chest on my breasts and his hands touching my bottom lightly. After a tad too long, he disengaged himself and gazed into my eyes with a smouldering intense look. Wordlessly, he leaned forward.

“Goodnight Prithwi,” I said and turned to enter my room. “I really love my husband, even when I am drunk. You see, I am still as romantic as I was, 10 years ago,” I offered as an explanation before closing the door on him.

It felt so good to finally get even.

************

The idea of this story came to me while watching the Titan Raga advertisement where Nimrat Kaur meets her ex-boyfriend. I wondered, what else can happen when one meets an ex-flame. However, I didn’t pen it down till last night when the story came to me, inspired by a conversation about love and longing in the changing times.

What I read -1 (7/100 #100bookpact)

September 30, 2015

After being a hard-core fan of the physical book for a long time, I recently shifted my loyalty to Kindle. After hearing me crib for the upteenth time about how I don’t get time to read nowadays and seeing me struggle to fit in fat books in my hand luggage during my numerous work tours, MH gifted me a Kindle Paperwhite.

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Now my book case is no more overflowing with books, I can buy more for less since kindle versions are a lot cheaper than the physical books and I can carry my reading material anywhere to read – long drives, long queues, long waiting time at the airport, long (or short) flights. I have even started to read a few pages every night before shutting my eyes. Kindle has done wonders to my reading habit.

Emboldened by my performance, I decided to start a “What I read” series where I will occasionally list out my reading list and my two cents about them.

I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

The best spy thriller I have read in recent times, I first saw this book in January in the hands of a co-traveller to the Jaipur Literary Festival. I borrowed and could manage to read the first chapter. After a long time, I found a book whose first chapter had me really hooked. The physical book was too pricey, so I held back my temptation. The moment I got my Kindle, this was my first buy. A murder mystery gets linked to an international thriller of huge magnitude in this extremely fat book. Even though the entire story was from the first person point of view of the protagonist, the author, quite unconventionally, reveals the backstory of the antagonist through the same POV – which I choose not to criticise too much since the story was so good. If you are a fan of thrillers, read this one for an extremely enjoyable read.

Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan

I needed a feel-good love story and turned to my favourite woman author of the present times. I have read all her previous books and have always enjoyed her style of writing. This one was signature Anuja – a love story set in the 80s and woven around a serious issue. I read it in bits and pieces during a particularly busy work-phase and found out that it helped me cope with stress. Getting lost in a make-believe world is always my favourite kind of pastime and if that world has handsome, sexy and romantic men then who cares about piling deadlines?

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

I may be quite late in my reading, but I strongly believe in the adage – better late than never. This book and the movie based on this book have made headlines, so I was quite curious about this love story between two terminally ill teenagers. Emotional, heart-tugging and warm, this story is deftly written for all kinds of audience – young and old alike. I intend to explore more of John Green’s books.

Bankerupt by Ravi Subramanian

Even though he has been around in the Indian writing in English scenario for quite sometime winning awards and fans through his thrillers, If God is a Gamer was his first book that I read and loved. Getting the Kindle meant I could read all my favourite authors to my heart’s content. So I went ahead and bought this book which gave me company in those boring flights. Another cleverly-plotted tale sprinkled with money-laundering, corporate scams and the fiercely competitive world of the American academia, this one is an intelligent thriller which I enjoyed immensely. I am hoping more of his books become available on Kindle soon.

Brutal by Uday Satpathy

Rashmi Bansal, whose blog Youth Curry has me as a regular reader, launched an initiative called Bloody Good Book where readers would vote upon and decide on which book to publish. Brutal was the first one to be published by them along with Westland. Naturally I was intrigued. Uday Satpathy has written a good story with the usual components of a thriller – gruesome murders right at the beginning, two protagonists with demons of their own, a larger-than-life antagonist, a catastrophe waiting to happen, a weapon of mass destruction and a good climax. I noticed a few irregularities e.g. a person wearing sunglasses in the evening, but it was an overall engaging read. I will wait for more from Uday.

Avenger by Frederick Forsyth

I cannot add anything new to what has already been said about this God of thrillers. This was a classic Forsyth, with a haunting story of the Tunnel Rats, horrendous crime and his trademark description of the meticulous planning of the Avenger, chosen and tasked with snatching a warlord from his fortress and bringing him to justice. The ending is another beautiful twist. I plan to finish reading all of Forsyth’s books, now that I have my Kindle.

The Washington Stratagem by Adam LeBor

I picked it up during one of Kindle’s monthly sales after reading only the summary. I found out it is the second in a series, featuring Yael Azoulay, an UN staffer of American-Israel descent and involves mysteries and intrigues from the corridors of the UN. Even though the author goes back and forth in his narration and introduces sudden flashbacks which I do not prefer, I quite enjoyed this political thriller involving UN and its nexus with large corporations, war-torn countries and political intrigue. I already have The Budapest Protocol, the first book by this author in queue.

Yes I have read all of them in my Kindle and in little over a month. And yes, you noticed right – a lot of them are crime thrillers. For a few months, I have been on an obsessive diet of crime stories and thrillers. I will bring short reviews of them soon.

I discovered the #100bookpact on the social media and decided to merge the two. I am going to include only the books I have read this point forward to keep track of my reading habit.

Happy is my state of mind

September 25, 2015

Whenever I go without too many days without writing, God sends me a signal. Last time when I was grappling with too many events in my life and too less words on my computer screen, I won second prize in the Rupa contest and got published in ‘An Atlas of Love‘.

This time, after going for months without writing much, ‘Stree’ happened. Readomania and Incredible Women of India organised a short story contest and invited inspiring stories of women. I immediately knew which story I was going to write. When I shifted to Gurgaon as a newlywed with zero skills in cooking, I had engaged a Bengali woman to cook dinner for us. She once told me the incredible story of her life, which left a lasting imprint on my mind.

As usual, office and work-related travels took up most of my time. Rhiti Bose, a fellow contributor to my earlier book, An Atlas of Love and founder of Incredible Women of India encouraged me to participate. At the end, all it took was one weekend to finally get down to writing it. A few edits later, I sent it off and felt content to have written a short story – my favourite genre, after a long time.

Two days ago, they published the results [link here]. My story was among the top 25 among 90 entries, which will be published in an anthology.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgQTmtulhkg

I feel truly blessed and inspired.

Writing makes me happy. But recognition makes me happier. Thank you judges for restoring my faith in my written words.

Few reviews of An Atlas of Love

September 7, 2015

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My personal favourite of the sixteen short stories is The Unseen Boundaries Of Love by Debosmita Nandy. What began as a story of a person who had tried to immolate self because their love was not being accepted by the society, ends with betrayal of a whole new level. Nandy has written a story, which in my books, is similar to the works of a seasoned author.”

Read the full review at Samarpita’s blog.

What apparently looks like another chic lit romance turns out to be brutally intense, powerful and shocking towards the end. The final two pages helped this tale bag the 2nd prize in the Rupa Romance Contest.”

Read the full review at Ritesh’s blog.

Although the bulk of the stories end in the customary lived-happily-ever-after mode, albeit after striking twists in some cases, there is much else going on in the volume. Pitiful stalkers, couples with a taste for kinky sex, psychotic cross-dressers, lonely widowers, inter-generational romance, even a tale of gay love (though with a tragic ending)—you get the whole works.

Read the full review at Livemint.

I was floored away by Unseen Boundaries of Love by Debosmita Nandi. It did give me quite a kick and kept me wondering though out the day. The brutalities of unconventional love and the innocence of the same were quite stark.”

Read the full review at Sridatta’s blog.

“The intention of “An Atlas of Love”, a new anthology of romance published by Rupa, is fairly transparent. The key word is ‘atlas’, whose breadth and colour the anthology seeks to convey through its love stories.

Read the full review at The Hindu.

An Atlas of Love is a compilation of diverse themes and differing storylines, each with the author’s take on the concept of romance. The themes presented in the book aren’t necessarily exceptional, nor are they all examples of exemplary romance. And yet, most of them have an idea or revelation that sets them apart from each other whilst providing for a quick read.”

Read the full review at Deccan Herald.

I am humbled by each of them and inspired to write more.

My weight loss and dieting stories!

July 9, 2015

 If I have come so far as to even think of dieting, you must know something is wrong.

Yes, I have piled on the kilos. Lots of them and in a short span of time.

If you are my friend from school, you might be nodding your head in disbelief while remembering the skinny me! If you are my friend from college, you might be recalling my curves with slight jealousy. If you are my colleague from my first workplace, you might be shaking your head knowingly. And if you are my colleague from my second workplace, you might be wondering what on earth am I talking of, since I look just the same!

My dear friends, you have to get married, shift cities, change workplace, set up house, run a household, stress over absent maid and cook, work late in office, frequently travel for work, eat out once in a while and be on a mission namely I-am-in-Delhi-so-I-will-eat-all-that-I-can-lay-my-hands-on to know how easy it is to pile on kilos the way I have.

No, there is no time for exercise. Yes, I hate going to the gym. No, I cannot control my food urges.

And I have weighing scales in my house. There, I said it loud.

After unsuccessfully trying to fit in a routine of 30-minute exercise in my daily hours, I turned to dieting – the next best way to lose weight. I read up on Atkin’s diet, GM diet, 5:2 diet and knew they were not for me. Any sort of extreme diet which cut out one type of food or asked me starve for 5 days and gorge on 2 days could not be a healthy way to lose weight.

So I made a few small lifestyle changes. I reduced my carb intake by cutting out rice from my diet on weekdays, switching to wheat bread for breakfast and reducing the number of chapattis for dinner. I removed sugar from my tea and switched to green tea/black tea. I stopped having dessert after lunch in office cafetaria and tasted only my most favourite sweets. I stopped eating out every weekend and reserved such outings only for special occasions. I also began to drink lots of water and munch on something every 2 hours to avoid stuffing myself during hunger strikes.

I began with brisk walking and moved onto jogging. I also added some squats, lunges and planks for over all toning of body. And I went back to my childhood love of yoga after a gap of 18 years.

Along with my diet change, going back to yoga worked wonders for my body and soul. One hour of Sivananda routine of yoga left me refreshed and unwilling to eat unhealthy stuff. I also went for a strenuous weekend trek to Nag Tibba and ran for 5 Km in the Gurgaon Half-Marathon, both in the month of May. I still have a long way to go but I am slowly moving towards a healthy, fit me.

This post has been written for Dabur Honey. Check out their Honey Diet for a customised and healthy diet chart. 

Fantastic Friday Fiction – VIII

June 19, 2015

Conversations with My Husband

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Oh I finally have some moments alone with you!

I have been trying to snatch a few minutes with you since morning, but all these visitors kept me busy. Finally, here I am, at your side to share a few unsaid things before it is too late.

Are you wondering what is it that had to wait till today, after spending so many years together?

Don’t be surprised; I just wanted to have conversations with you – the kinds we used to have every evening after you returned from office and we sat down with puffed rice and tea or every Sunday while having a heavy lunch, our fingers dried from the long-eaten curry and rice. I have missed them during the last few years when all we talked about was your dialysis, my arthritis and our sons’ future.

Oh about our sons – they have been planning for some time to sell off this house to a builder for three tiny match-box sized apartments and some seventy lakhs of rupees! This very same house, which we built brick by brick and where they have grown up now has a price tag! I still remember the days when you were putting in extra-time at your office and I was saving every paisa that I could from the household budget. It took five long years to build it and several more to make it our home, and these sons of ours want to bring it down in one single stroke of their signature.

And those wives of theirs – they are one step ahead. They are already dividing up my jewellery between themselves mentally! No no, I don’t need proof of this, I know their attitude; it’s called the instinct of a mother-in-law.

Oh! Don’t laugh at me. I know you will always be the indulgent father figure for them but I cannot but remember how our sons distanced from us within a few years of their marriage.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if our daughter was still with us. The cruel Almighty gave us only one year to spend with her. Yes, it has been over 40 years since pneumonia claimed her but I will never forget my first-born beautiful girl.

Yes, yes, I know she got all your genes, including that curly mop of yours. Before you start gloating about it, I will let you in a secret – I hated your curly hair.

Okay, I admit that on the night of our wedding, I told you I loved it. What could I have said when you disclosed that you had poured bottles of oil to make your unruly bob of hair manageable and asked for my opinion? I wanted to escape the strong stench of coconut oil and have you concentrate on other important affairs of the night, so I lied and said that I love them as they were. You took my words to heart and spent your entire life without a second thought on how to tame that lion’s mane! I was trapped in my lies and suffered through nights after nights, tackling a head full of prickly hair close to my face!

Before these few minutes are up, there is one thing I must tell you now.

It is about the time we fell in love, 60 years ago!

Do you remember the first letter that I sent you, asking if you would like to communicate with me? Do you remember what you wrote in reply? That you were shocked to know that a girl from a respected family and still studying in school could write what was clearly a love letter to a boy! Despite your initial scorn, you sent me twelve more letters, in reply to twelve of mine. You were intrigued that a girl was pursuing you, given the societal fabric of our times! You were excited to know that a girl had a crush on you, just by seeing you on her way to school every day. You admired the boldness with which I posted my letters to your address, praying them not to fall into the wrong hands. You wrote even more daring letters in return and kept them at the broken post box as instructed by me.

Then we decided to meet during the Durga Puja on Astami, behind the local pandal.

When you arrived, took my hand in yours and said my name, my heart leapt to my throat! Not with love or excitement, but with shock – because you were not the boy I had seen and fallen in love with. You were not the boy I had thought I was writing to.

I wanted to blurt the truth out; or claim there was a mistake and leave. But something held me in my spot. May be it was the love with which you gazed into my eyes or the tenderness with which you were telling me how happy you were to finally meet the woman of your love.

My mind wanted to scream out the truth, but not my heart. At that moment, I realised that you too had accepted me without knowing who I was! My heart repeated every words that you wrote to me, laced with honest and true affection. I was torn – did I love the boy I thought I loved or had I fallen in love with the boy who wrote those letters?

Days later, I solved the mystery. The boy whom I had seen at the first floor balcony of your house was one of the tenants of your family – the one who later got killed in the Naxal movement.

Ever since then, I have thought many times of sharing this hidden truth of my life – our lives, but each time, I could not find my voice. What was the need for you to know this, I told myself every time. But this had been a very heavy burden for me to carry all these years. Today was my last chance to share it with you.

——————-

“Ma, have you finished your last few moments with Baba? It is time we take him.”

I shut my ears as the air filled with rhythmic chants.

Bolo Hari Hari Bol.

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