Can I Fall In Love Again?

Can I Fall In Love Again?

So, around two weeks back, Peppa Pig introduced vampires to Miss M, my 6-year-old. She was so enchanted with the concept, which led me to think about my set of vampires.

Now, I watched the Twilight series in 2011, back when I was putting up in Portland, Oregon, where this series was shot primarily. I remember how I got swept away – the vampires, the werewolves, and humans don’t add up, the story has its issues, I get it. Okay, fine, massive loopholes, but it still gets me.

A part of me knows the ambiance spoke to me. So my lifelong dream is to visit Yakutsk, Russia, and Antarctica someday. I have possibly seen all documentaries related to Yakutsk, and I follow its temperature on the weather app daily. Why you ask. Well, it’s just an obsession. Somethings about you, even you don’t understand.

So anytime a frame captures snow and dark as a setting, they have my attention. It may be Roja, Badla, Twilight, Vertical Limit. There is something surreal about this weather that calls out to me.

And the second aspect is, but of course, the romance. No matter how naive or intense, it sweeps under my skin. Like I said in one of my posts – There is something about winter and the feeling of love. Even though no clear analogy can be drawn, they are interconnected somewhere.

It speaks to me, and even after nine years of watching Twilight when I feel I am far more matured, the details of this movie got to me. The look 17-year-old Bella shares with Edward on a college campus, the way they talk when they hold back the urge to confess. How they both acted as a drug to each-other without knowing when and how that happened. I can understand, oh heck, I can relate.

I was 17, and he was off-limits. I never knew when I went ‘all-in’, and by the time I did realize, I did not want to withdraw. Love is not calculative. There is a spark, a connect, and no matter how alien you are, you want it to work. At 17, your mind does not follow the working function, you believe and rely on a feeling. A feel which is so surreal and powerful that it shivers every part of you. You may think I am crazy comparing a fantasy world to my real life, but it gets better…insane.

Anyhow, in 2011, my vampire-man did not watch the franchise with me, but this time I somehow got him in the loop and made him watch all five over the week, and no sooner he started to watch, tippadi shuru

“It doesn’t make sense. The girl knows he is a vampire, and then too she is falling in love with him. Ye marne kyu jaa rahi hai?” he chided.

I laughed out loud, “Look who is talking!”

“What?”

“Because at times you know you are in trouble and the other party is poles apart, and YET you decide to make that move, kyuki pyaar deewana hota hai, har khushee se har gam se begaana hota hain.”

“What nonsense? Tumhe vampires aur Musalmaano mein koi farak nahi dikhta.”

“Of course, dikhta hai! Vampires are so blood-y handsome! Even pale skin work on them aur tum itna laal-maas kha ke bhi laali nahi la paaye gaalo mein.”

“Jab dekho yehi rona. Ek hi baat. Kya khushi milti hai tumhe?” He cribbed and started walking out of the room.

I held his arm and made him sit so that he follows all of it. If you ask me why I annoy him, it’s because, after almost twenty years, this is all the drama I get!

Throughout the four movies, I heard him sniff and puff with “Isme sirf pyaar-mohabbat hi hai kya? Inke paas kaam-kaaj nahi hai. Ek ped se dusre uchal rahe hai? Ghar kaise chalta hai? Oh! Real estate investment bhi kiya hai Carlisle ne.” (Isle Esme island as shown in Breaking Dawn-1)

I had to shhh him at times and ask him to keep his reasoning hat on the side-table.

“You will love the last one, Shahzeel. There will be an epic fight on the battlefield. The wolf pack, the vampires, the Volturi…all of them will come together. You HAVE to see that. That’s so you.”

So, my man loves the battlefield and boxing rings. Not a proud confession, but he was quite a dangayi in his early years.

Finally, after a ‘thousand years’ wait for Shahzeel, the second half of the last franchise began, and the red coats steps on the frozen ground. Mysha and I sat on the edge of our seats, as we waited for the battle to begin.

Now, as Aro ripped Carlisle’s head, Shahzeel jaw dropped with Mysha and mine.

‘It’s working; the man is in the loop.’ I thought to myself. You see, I believe in being ‘sucked’ in a book or a movie. That’s how you make stories, you need to get to the ground or the battlefield. That’s the ONLY way you make others a part of your story. Those emotions should overpower and succumb you in its raw power, so much that leaves an ‘imprint’ on you.

I often tell Shahzeel that for me to write my love-story I need to get down to 17-year-old Saumya. I need to feel what she felt at that hour. Every fluttered feeling needs to be captured and encapsulated. It’s then when you bleed emotions in words. It’s been two decades when that feel left my corner, and it gets hard for me to relive that moment.

Last month, standing in my washroom brushing our teeth, I told him, “Sheikhu, to write those feelings, I NEED to fall in love again.”

Without losing a moment, he turned with a mouth full of foam and said, “Fall in love with me. AGAIN!”

“Yeah, right. ” I rolled my eyes and left after rinsing.

Yes, I know that boat has sailed. I won’t get the butterfly effect again, so when any piece of movie or book takes me on that spotlight, us waqt se ru-ba-ru karwati hai, I find the latch. It tingles, it lingers.

Sorry for the detour and coming back to the Twilight battlefield. So now the music is on an all-time high note. We three have our mouths open as Voultri and the Cullen charge at each other in vampire speed, and no sooner did they merge that he yelled with arms and voice up in the air, –

“Mahaaa-bhaaaraaat, Mahaaa-bhaaarat, Mahaaaa-Bhaaraaat, Aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa.”

I laughed at his timely pitched voice and then I joined him tapping the woooden table in front,

अथ श्री महाभारत कथा
अथ श्री महाभारत कथा आ..
महाभारत कथा
महाभारत कथा
कथा है पुरुषार्थ की ये स्वार्थ की परमार्थ की
सारथि जिसके बने श्री कृष्ण भारत पार्थ की

Mysha came under a shock. Why are these morons, my parents?

Toh mere priya mitro, is kahaani se aapko kya shik-sha milti hai?

Number ek – Desi desi hi rahega.

Secondly, and more importantly, we are the 90s kids. Chandrakanta, Chitrahaar, Ramayan, and Mahabharat are ingrained in our bloodstream. And it doesn’t matter which household we came from, we all followed these as children.

No sooner we finished with the title track Shahzeel said, “Teer se teer takrane ka mazza jo hai, wo ye bhediye aur pishaach mein kaha? Chai chai hi rahegi, mojito aatey-jaatey rahenge.”

Thirdly, and more importantly, yes, the butterflies in the tummy and feel of weak at the knees have long left my corner, but they left me rock-solid marriage, where we can sing the title track of Mahabharat in the same pitch and laugh out loud. The moment when you get each other, which are exclusively sealed for you and no one else. Feelings change; connection remains!

Mind and Body

Mind and Body

Mind and body. How co-related are these terms, how profusely intertwined, so much that you forget your inner self?

Since childhood, I have been an active child. Not athletic or birthed with supreme immunity, but active. I mostly walk 10,000 steps a day, and I have had quality walking capacity since childhood. I walk and talk on phones, I hate sitting, and due to my high anxiety levels, I am usually on-the-go! The reason my house is always clean is that I can’t sit. My ex-roommates can vouch for my cleanliness freak mode! Afterall they came up with a name for me – ‘chota battery’.

Honestly, it’s not a boon, it’s a hurdle because a LOT of work gets done when you have your mind and body aligned and focused on work, for example, writing. One needs to be physically and mentally prepared, on the desk, for that piece of rhythmic writing. I have to work to get into a focus position to work. Now, that’s the body bit, don’t get me started on the mind.

I can’t stop thinking. My mind works while I eat, talk, meditate, write, watch a movie, basically all the time! I wish I had an off button, but I have none! At a given time, during a conversation, if you ask me what I am thinking, I can talk about a parallel thought which was running in my head. It’s chaotic up here, and it makes me exhausted. My mind repeals focus. Total machhi bazaar!

Anyhow, seven years back, I thought becoming a mother will be lenient on my body, if not easy for me. I mean the majority went through this and aced it, I too will be able to do that. I thought. And then when it started, it was a mess! I have already told how nausea-infused my pregnancy was, but due to the project, home, and team shift for me, nine months crawled. Not ran, because I felt that duration.

But the time I remember most is the time after giving birth. I was at my lowest then. I lost a lot of strength and blood with the placenta. For the initial days after child-birth, I was yellow! Again, something which is considered better, it was a normal delivery, but then Mysha was delivered with the help of forceps ( don’t ask me why my Gynecologist thought it was helpful), and that gave me 14 stitches.

Those stitches took their own time to heal, and the mental health refused to align with my body.

Four months! It took me four months to get my walk back. A part of me was convinced that I would never be able to walk the same way again. I talked, I laughed, I did the routine, but I was severely depressed.

I thought I was stronger, compared to most. At almost midnight on January 28, 2012, in the frigid temperatures, Shahzeel and I landed in London. We were relocating from India so you can access the mental and physical baggage we hauled on our shoulders – two homesick hearts weighed more than four life-size suitcases weighing 23 kgs each. Catering to the latter part, we took a tube from the airport to Oxford station. Now, London is known for its iconic ‘almost-vertical’ staircases. The same when gazed from the bottom, seem to merge in the sky. Yup! That tall!

And another iconic discovery we made that night at that particular London Underground was the missing escalators. To cut the story short (I know I am late), at some point, we decided to manually lift those four suitcases – one at a time – all the way up! He took one up and asked me to wait so he could come to fetch another. I couldn’t, and I shared the load by carrying two, much to his discomfort.

I vividly recall the moment of feeling that 23 kgs of weight on my hands climbing those endless vertical stairs, mentally quitting and lifting each second, till I made it to the top and thought, “Wow! I am strong. I can do this.”

And he told me, “If your lower back kills you later, don’t complain.” He was making me aware that I weighed 47 kgs then and carried 23 kgs.

I could bear challenging weights and hold planks and stayed in a small frame, and it worked for me until my daughter’s 3.05 kgs weight in my arms till 5 AM every night (walking and putting her to sleep) got to me.

In those initial months, I remember always being low on energy and appetite. I broke down multiple times, contemplating, telling myself, “I’m not cut out for this. I can’t do this. Motherhood ain’t for me.” Still uncommon and unheard, but sustaining an inter-faith marriage, that too saffron and green was easier than birthing and raising a child when there are four born every second, around the world!

A day that I will never forget happened two months after she was born. I was sitting on my donut cushion (my 14 stitches made me sit on it for long) on the stripped-brown sofa at my home watching TV when I felt the need to hydrate my body. A bottle was placed a little out of my reach on the walnut-colored center table ahead of me. All I had to do was reach out to it, and I kept thinking I need to, but my body physically refused to do so.

I felt so helpless, so ‘bebas’ at that hour! First time in my life, I was not able to bring my body together to collect water. I could not pick my hand weight, forget lifting 350 grams of a water bottle. I sat there pondering, is this what it will be now? I had hope clenched in my fist, but then time, and again, it left my corner.

I can visualize those days when I sat with her at home looking at the clock, which said 7 PM, and an eternity went by, and the clock said 7:30 PM. They said having a child will change your life, and it did, but then they did not say which way! I thought I would never get out of it, and I wanted my child to grow up fast. People often say, “Bachhe kab bade hotey hai pata hi nahi chalta”. I did not say that as I felt that time. Now that she is a grown-up, I often contemplate why I felt the other way round, and it’s pretty simple actually – What holds for one, can never be the same for the other!

I was so broken in the first year of parenting that when I bound, I glued stronger! I always claimed that I am on my foot all day long, till she came, and I could not bend to grab a water bottle.

I guess, when you fall harder, you rise stronger, and even if not ‘stronger’, you do rise. Stronger is always debatable!

Of course, your family binds you, gives you perspective, and open new avenues, but nothing makes you stand than YOU!

What I did forget at those testing times is hawa apna rukh badal deti hai.

Today as I sit in my backyard post trying some acro-yoga with her, I can’t help but reminisce the days left behind. I thought I was not cut out for her, and here we are cutting edges with our moves.

Life is so unpredictable! I thought my academic ladder and placement would be a roadblock, but, somehow it accelerated. Then, I thought that my marriage would act as a thrust on me due to its out-of-the-box quotient, but that sailed without oars. But then, something as vanilla (in plain book terms) as raising a child, drowned me and enveloped me with all possible shortcomings.

But again, life has its ways to teach you – it’s not the same for all! There is no mould to its dealings, and no two souls will deal with the same milestone the same way. That’s how humans get so many stories because they all are so different, and hell yeah, so amazing!

Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai.

Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai.

January 2010:

“Summy, let’s get you a ring”, said the man a month after we got married.
“Why? Because social etiquettes dictate so? Well, news flash Sheikhu, nothing about us in conventional”, I resisted.
“No! I really want to.”, he pitched.
“I know you want to, but you know I don’t like jewels.”
“Fine. Let’s go together and find something you like. Maybe you will.” Who knew he was in the right direction in terms of the service, the product, well, that was subject to change?

Soon the conversation led to drive to Banjara Hills, Hyderabad. As we got off the motorcycle to move to a jewel shop, standing adjacent to the latter, was a big Sony showroom.

As if God laid the cards for me. I looked up at the sky and thanked HIM for looking out for me, as always.

Taking Shahzeel’s hand in mine, I detoured towards the electronic shop.
“Kaha?” he asked, thinking I am losing track, not realizing that I had changed the track.

“We are on the same journey. Bas destination badal gayi.”

 “What?”

 “Sheikhu, what will I do with a rock? It’s just a label. My marriage is not bound to a rock. You will always be the biggest rock in my marriage, and this (looking at our clasped hands) will be our brand.” He looked at me as he tried to grasp the depth of my words.

“And if we have to invest, then why not in us – on creating something for us.” I simplified. 

Of the many things, what I love about the man is his faith in me. I led, he followed.

An hour and a half later, we were out of a Sony showroom with a brand-new cherry colored Vaio! My happiness knew no bounds. It’s the same laptop on which my first work – The balloon story – came alive in September 2010 in Beaverton, USA. 

I made use of that machinery for good seven years, and I know a diamond could have lasted a lifetime, but then the gift of shine would have not been the same as the gift of words that came my way through that laptop – an essential for me!

The stumbling-block is not about spending money, it’s about realizing the worth of money. It’s about perceiving the long-term benefit and the return that invested money shepherds. And more importantly, its about redirecting the resources to those who really need it!

Now, this is not a sudden realization. This is who I was since birth. As a child, I felt that my father worked extremely hard to earn money, and I learned to respect that. Simplicity and gratitude connected with me very early in life. I started to earn at 22, and may I add, I was blessed to start earning in big numbers, but never did I felt the need to splurge.

I hear certain people say, “I work hard, and I deserve to splurge, every now and then.” But then there are millions out there, who work ten times as hard as you do, but they are not able to figure our basic amenities. So, what does it tells us?  – (a) Life isn’t fair (b) You are privileged.

We, most of you who are reading, were PRIVILEGED to be born in a home where our parents were able to fund our education, which in return brought us these silver-gold jobs. I have invested zillion hours to ponder on the fact ki unki kya galti ki wo waha paida hue, aur hum yaha? And the answer is – LIFE ISN’T FAIR!

So now that I know that I can’t find answers before I reach HIS world, all I can do is to ensure, I do something to bridge that gap in life on earth.  And it all starts with realization!

January 2013: I barely spent a week working in Deloitte Hyderabad. Shahzeel switched company and he was expected to start with Accenture by the end of that month. As the man had time in hand to join work, he stayed with his family back in Kanpur. I was putting up with our friends, Rahul and Rakhi, in Hyderabad in the absence of Shahzeel. During a late-night conversation with Rahul, when we deep-dived into firsts – job, salary, project, he said in a solemn voice and I repeat, “Pata hai jab pehli salary account mein aayi thi toh vishwaas nahi hua. Socha, was I worth it?”

I remember that look on his face. Wo ehsaas, wo ehsaas bahut zaroori hai!

The fact that you made it, while millions out there struggle, is essential. It should be comprehended and come naturally to you!

I make a conscious effort to not own an elite brand, and may I say, in a way, I am proud of it! I could never get the obsession people have with brands. It’s way more money for a function that could be performed by any other basic, affordable brand. Please, no way I am judging people who own big names or demand some. It’s such a personal choice, but I just couldn’t get the attachment. More importantly, I can’t justify that amount to spend, on just a bag, or a shoe, or a designer label.

The only elite brand I ever owned was Apple! Macbook and iphone were the two products, which I bought in 2011, and used them for years to come. 

Again, my issue is not with buying brands but with the spending pattern and budget. Do you need that?

The year 2005. I set out a foot from Kanpur to do my Master’s from Delhi. Most of us have an idea of what hostel life encompasses. Every now and then, to treat myself, I used to walk to McDonald’s, South Extension. Rs. 20 worth of McChicken made me happy all day. And I vividly remember having tears in my eyes with the very first bite, every single time. Maybe it was hunger, maybe it was homesickness, but mostly it was gratitude that made my eyes shed deep-dark tears with the first bite. I always say, “If you wish to eat a pizza and you can afford that pizza at that hour, consider yourself extremely lucky. You’re blessed; you’re privileged.”

Jaise jaise badi hoti gayi, logo ka dukh aur dikhta gaya, mohtaaj haath aur failey dikhe. Aap aakhein nahi mod saktey! Ye sachai andekhi kaise ho sakti hai? It doesn’t need to come to a pandemic to have that realization to feel that people need you. That knock in your heart, that conscious knock before you spend is extremely important.

“Do I need it at this hour?”  “Does spending an extra dollar matter?” YES! It does.

This knock is specifically important for the coming generations. Children should realize that they are mere lucky to be born in a family who can afford goods and luxuries for them while many out there struggle for basics. It’s not their right! And for us, the caregivers, it’s very important to not hand them goods at the start. Don’t get Disney at your home, let them figure out a way to Disney. Showcase the stark realities of life, otherwise, tomorrow they will stand with, “How did we know? Aapne seekhaya hi nahi.”

My six-year-old is a God-fearing child who understands the heavenly books and the judgment day. She believes that she is privileged and understands that she is a zariya of God to reach to a larger audience. At four-and-a-half, she started setting out water and pulses for the birds in our backyard.

To quote Mysha, “Ye birds roz aati hai mere ghar. Main nahi help karungi inki toh kaun karega? God wants me to do so.”

The little girl has her priorities sorted.

Like her parents, she has a limited wardrobe and she aims to never over-stuff it. And what’s most endearing is that every time she outgrows a dress, she will keep it aside in a new cabinet for her younger cousin, back in India.

Based on her juvenile understanding, Mysha has never thrown a tantrum in a mart. She knows she can pick an item only, and she will never demand an extra commodity. Like this year, in May, she requested for a travel barbie. But she did wait for her birthday, that stood two months later, to receive one. Not that I couldn’t have ordered one for her in May itself, but I expect her to learn the art of waiting – for time; to practice patience.

The feel of content is indispensable to have valuable content in life. The earlier it dawns to you that less is more, the sooner you grasp sukoon! 

Now some might reason ki ‘dil nahi marna chahiye’ and to that I say, it’s not about dil marna, it’s about sabr karna. There’s a difference between them. And even if dil marna pade, toh kya? Lakho bacche pet kaat-tey hai, hum toh bas dil hi maar rahe hai na?

Just because we are privileged, we shouldn’t forget that thousands out there aren’t! I feel extremely guilty spending a dime without a wajib (valid) reason.

Imagine a world where people voluntarily shun from fazool kharach – every celebration has a monetary limit set, every wedding, every party, every spending has a question filter where we question ourselves  –  Do we need that? Is there a better utilization of this penny/dime/paisa?

Even if I would have not got married in a court, and would have not been married to Shahzeel, I knew that I would have had a simple wedding. The whole charade of massive spending on weddings is despicable. Nothing adds up there kyuki kuch bhi kar lo, kisi ko ghee kam lagega, kisi ko izzat!

And now that I am talking about this issue, let me dip a toe on vyavahar. What good will it ever do to provide vyavahar to the ones who are already blessed with abundance? Why not start spending on the ones who really need it?

Har cheez ka hissab dena hoga, both ways! On the products and deeds where you unnecessarily spent your money, and more importantly, on the needy pockets where you did not instead!

 If you believe in the afterlife and if you feel that you have to account for every spending you have ever done, then do you realize the weight of accountability on your shoulders when you would stand on the biggest court there is? I often keep telling Shahzeel, “Acha hua zyada nahi hai, hissab dena shayad aasaan hoga.”

We try to keep a check. Shayad kabhi galat bhi hotey ho, insaan hai, bhagwaan nahi. Par haan, koshish kar rahe hai ki jab uske darbaar mein jaaye toh gadit samjha paaye. Baaki, Allah malik!


The magic begins here.

The magic begins here.

1995: 6:30 PM, IST! With a puff of smoke and a blink of an eye, magic came to our world, through a screen; an adventure which we could not deny!

Some memories are so vivid, they play visuals in your head and smear warm-fuzzy feelings even in the darkest days.

At 6:30 PM, the four people in my house knew to take their positions – right in front of the television set. The prep time started some half an hour back. I remember Mummy working in the kitchen getting evening snacks fixed for Papa. Papa had this habit of coming home from work to laiya bhel. A cup of roasted Laiya (Puffed rice), a fined chopped onion, a handful of roasted peanuts, a slit green chilly, salt to taste, lemon juice, and aloo bhujiya was all it took. It was a simple recipe that had health benefits with the filling feeling. My father was greeted with a steel bowl of this delicacy, and a happy smile of my mother, every evening, without fail.

I recall how Papa’s Priya scooter made way to our colony, just in time of the show. He made sure he was in front of the TV before the animated theme song of a dancing Jeannie came to play. Sonam, my younger sister, and I used to grace our seats a minimum of ten minutes before. Not a second had to miss. The only one who had to be dragged to the pavilion was the fourth wheel, Maa – “Mummy, aa bhi jao.”

And soon my mother used to join us three on our bedroom bed, a family rebooted in their happy zone, five days a week, in flat# 26 of ‘our’ Income Tax Colony. And then for the upcoming 25 minutes, no one spoke a word as a spell was casted upon us.

A 2,000-years-old genie. Major Nelson, her master, a handsome and suave NASA astronaut. And the ever-growing adventure that took us on a ride in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

How something that was drafted, three decades back, miles away from us, swooped us to their world in those moments. Sonam and I had our backs rested on the wall, Papa took his usual lying Ganesh pose, and Mummy always sat at the corner of the bed, as her perpetual restless legs were looking for chores. All four had a different set of priorities and characteristics, but we laughed together, some showed their teeth, some clucked within!

Often you land on perfection when you aren’t looking out for one. Well, that happened to Major Nelson! The sitcom opened with him crash-landing on an exotic South Pacific island wherein he stumbles across a mysterious bottle, in 1965. Yup! That long ago, a time when a man had even not landed on the moon. 30 years after the lady in iconic red and pink attire popped off the bottle and on the screen, I met her! While gallivanting through the television channels, I landed on an image of a well-dressed woman in a blue coat. I remember thinking how pretty she was, and as I planned to switch the channel, she blinked her eyes to get a pair of shoes on her feet from a museum box, which she alleged was rightfully hers.

That blink made me stop blinking for a moment, and the remote was parked at the bedside for a tradition to unroll. It’s not that I hadn’t seen magic on screen before, but there was something surreal about this one. Both Sonam and I got hooked to it, like moths drawn to lights.

I guess Papa came into the loop when the name ‘Sydney Sheldon’ flashed on the screen as the writer-producer of the show. It’s the love of the latter’s book that made my father gave in to the temptation of watching his work on screen.

And Mummy was the last to join but made her way with evening snacks. Kabhi lassi toh kabhi bhel-puri. She made sure we were well fed and entertained. Mothers, phew!

At that time, I followed several sitcoms – The Three Stooges aired at 5 PM, Dennis the Menace at 5:30 PM, Silver Spoons at 6 PM, Bewitched at 7 PM, but I Dream Of Jeannie(IDOJ) at 6:30 PM took the cake. 

Because it was not a sitcom, it was a tradition. When I look back at my childhood, the memories adjoining this cult sitcom are one of the happiest ones. It’s a souvenir of a family coming together as a unit to spend some quality time to laugh at the antics thrown by Barbara Eden as Jeannie, turning life topsy-turvy of her alliances!

Larry Hagman as Major Nelson was the one who had my heart, 25 years back. The man’s decency and charm stood out. Bill Daily as Major Healey was a close second, a perfect companion to Nelson in comedy and screen presence.  

Even though the sitcom ran from September 18, 1965, to May 26, 1970, on NBC, it made its presence on Sony Entertainment Television (SET) for a mere one year. I remember how heartbroken we were when SET stopped casting the series. I sat through 6:30 PM-6:40 PM hoping and praying that they had made a mistake telecasting Different Strokes (another American television sitcom). My mind knew the answer, but the heart denied. On that heartbroken moment, I did write and post a letter to SET asking them to reconsider their decision as it was a lifeline for people at my home. You may call it desperation; I call it persistence. A heart wants what a heart wants. But then, the network wants, what a network wants. And sadly, they wished to discontinue the series, and they did.

My eyes parted ways with ‘I dream of Jeannie’, but it remained in me for years.

2020: I thought it was the ripe time to introduce my 6-year-old daughter to the world of ‘Jeanie in a bottle.’ As I said, this sitcom is not an ordinary one, its a tradition! A tradition that needs to be passed down. As I rewatched the series with her, I released how much I have changed over the years. I don’t feel the comedy I felt back then. I don’t laugh at those silly jokes anymore. I am an evolved, an upgraded version of what I was 25 years back. But then a part of me remains. The moment Mysha splits into a laugh on Jeanie’s antics, I laugh reminiscing my time with my family.  

Even though my favorite character has changed from Larry Hagman (Major Nelson) to Hayden Rorke (Dr. Bellows) as I now see an actor for acting rather than the screen appeal. Hayden was no means a one-dimensional actor; he bought a lot of depth to his role with impeccable comic timing. Maybe his real-life homosexuality had something to add to his persona on-screen.

Now, I read the actor for the background story. Who knew Larry Hagman was battling the start of a long addiction to alcohol while shooting for the historic sitcom? His fight with his private demons was so consuming that he did not want to be a part of the show. Had it not been Barbara Eden’s insistence, the producers would have replaced him. I wonder if anyone could fill his shoes as the electric chemistry between the two leads led us to feel reality in a fantasy incantation land.   

What enticed me the most about Barbara Eden is the fact that the woman was 34 when she started with the pilot episode. Also, she was carrying her first and only child in that year, and producers found clever ways to cover her belly. I must admit, the makers did defy stereotypes of the 60s, and the show was truly ahead of its time, in terms of casting and bold premise.

Even 55 years from the day it aired on television, it gets me and the millions out there. The lack of lyrics and rather unusual music of the theme track makes it’s a perfect mood lifter. My daughter and I still run at the beats of the opening music and God willing, someday Mysha will run with her offspring on the tunes of a Jeannie in a bottle.  

That is the magic of a good sitcom. It takes you into your world and makes you feel like an insider. You get so involved in their story that you forget yours for those moments. And then years later, sitting miles away from your home, you find solace watching IDOJ, not because of these characters, but what they made you feel in that era! I still remember that 12 and 8 year old Saumya and Sonam watching a Jeannie, believing in magic as it unfolded at our tiny home, Monday to Friday at 6:30 PM, IST!

Ctrl-Alt-Delete

Ctrl-Alt-Delete

2002: Most of Shahzeel and my story was written! Right from June 2002, we started writing to each other over emails. Emails that ran pages to form an array of emotions. We shared an email even after a phone call or a physical meet in the college. All that could not be spoken in physical space, was expressed over the virtual space. Those emails encapsulated our time together in the initial phase of knowing each other. Funny that even after attending the same graduation college, we absorbed and discovered most about each other, and a part of ourselves, through those words and sentences in a written format. We safeguarded those emails over the years. It was our fixed deposit of the time spent together, something which fetched our interest and compounded to a relationship. 

2005: We left our family homes for our respective MBA colleges, and we carried our data with us. It helped us come out of the stormy days when the feeling of missing someone got to us, we found comfort in those words. 

Now, as a person, I am super organized with my work, and I love details – in my thought process, my home management, and most of all, my writing. I label, color-code, compartmentalize every product and services, in physical and virtual space. I am addicted to sticky notes, and I use them often to deliver a one-liner, impactful message. One of my biggest possession is my letter and greeting card stack, which holds every letter and card that came my way right from the time I was conceived. And I have made sure they all are sorted based on the sender and time stamp. They are my absolute pleasure stack, something I love to revisit, time and again. 

The above paragraph may have told you what written words mean to me, so you can imagine what those childish emails written by us meant to us. 

Fast forward to 2013: We were married for four years, and over the years, we kept hopping cities and countries, and so did our data – from a floppy to a CD to several laptop hard drives to our personalized external hard drive. And then one fateful day, as luck may have it, someone somehow cleared the hard drive and poof! The data was LOST! GONE! GAAYAB! 

“Summy! Where are those emails?”, he cried.

“I don’t know. I seriously have no idea. I think we have a copy. Did we not? I don’t know. I don’t” my repetition of a few words made him realise my regret and denial to accept the reality that it was gone. 

After ten seconds of pause, he continued, “I don’t care how you do it. Go back to 2002 if you have to but get me those emails. Write to me again.” 

I remember his resentment. His equal obsession with those written moments surfaced. I recollect us falling in disbelief realising that we lost our initial years that were preserved in that data. Over the years, we dusted the bygones, accepted the real, and moved on. 

Last lap; August 2020: We have a six-year-old younger version of ourselves (Mysha), and putting up at Melbourne. Yet again, one fateful night, Mysha’s water bottle slid over my laptop, kept on my bedside table, to have a conversation. The next morning, I found the laptop in tears. It wasn’t complaining, just dripping. On further analysis, I came to know that the sipper had banged its side on the laptop, and so the latter CRASHED! The motherboard rescued, but the hard drive succumbed that night. After several futile attempts, I started ‘gadit’ – kya gaya? kya baccha?

“No! No! No”

 “What?” he asked.

“I had my book on this laptop.”

“You do have a copy of it somewhere on the cloud, don’t you?” he looked at me, demanding a logical answer. 

I dodged my eyes with, “I think so.”

 “Summy”, he read my eyes and continued, “How stupid are you? You have to back-up every single time.”

 He could have passed on more gyaan but terminated at the sight of my wall-banging guilt. 

Oh! So, the book, you ask. Yes! There’s a book! A book of mine that made a start three years back, picked, parked, reignited, and the story is ‘my story’ but as you can imagine, it’s going real slow. I have said it time and again, I can only pen when I am wrapped with emotions. I need to feel what I felt at that hour, and it’s not easy to drive two decades back. And I got to admit the other, and a more valid reason is – I lack the discipline to pen a book. It’s HARD! PERIOD! 

None the less, it’s my 50 pages of blood and words, and working or even sniffing it made me feel alive. 

So post collecting myself, I recollected what all I could have possibly lost and started fetching copies of data. Once I started, the universe started along, and I was able to collect part of my work from last saved copy on google drive; found a chapter I sent over to the husband over Gmail; a snapshot of a page I sent to a friend over WhatsApp. I still have to assemble to assess cumulative loss as my laptop is still non-functional, but I did adjust to the news.

Very late in my life, I learned the art of patience – to accept what’s thrown at you because you don’t have control over a situation. One should learn to absorb and move on because life is meant to be seen from a bigger lens. But that momentary lapse will hit you, no matter how prepared and patient you are! The written word loss for a writer is a brobdingnagian monstrosity. Digging from your past to present it on a paper requires a great deal of homework. Those black alphabets on white paper challenged me to the hilt, and suddenly in a blink, they fizzled! More than the time consumption, even if I recreate my work, the magic touch of that last moment is lost.

Anyhow, yesterday as I started from the debris of my shattered scribble, getting them in a place – collecting, sorting – pulling the leftovers from the cloud, emails, external hard drives, and a small pen drive which I found in a tiny pocket of my gadget bag. I scanned the Pen Drive and found a folder label as – Education, which carried copies of all the certificates from my school to my Masters. Everything seemed normal until I landed on a hidden folder labeled – ‘Don’t Delete’.

I was reunited with 17-20 years old Saumya as only she believed in those under-cover antics and names. As I unlocked the folder, the folder unraveled my past and flashed it over the screen – the origin of my love story! The chats, the letters, the emails, the whole written world with the date, and the time stamp came alive, seven years after I believed to have lost them.  

It took me a moment to register how the universe works. The data which I thought left my corner was always at my corner, disguised but right there, waiting to be fetched. There’s a time to everything and if it belongs to you, it will find you, even when you aren’t looking for it. Even though the future in form of book is still to come, my past caught up with me, and may I say, it’s exhilarating! 

When I read what I wrote at 10:30 PM on July 12, 2002, I laughed! We both were morons back then, who had no idea what world encompassed, but now, almost two decades later, we have somehow drafted a realistic world with the core intact – pagalpan wohi hai, bas junoon ab nahi hai!

My two biggest learnings from this whole lost and found episode was – 

  1. Laptops will crash. Hard drives will accidentally wipe off. So please keep backing up your data. Make several copies, if required. Even then, if you lose it, accept it. It’s a part of life. 
  2. Universe has surprises in store for you, but those gifts will only be presented to you once you accept the role and rules of this universe. 

Khuda Hafiz, Abba!

Khuda Hafiz, Abba!

Such is life! 

July 24, 2020: 13 months of painful, wreckful fight ends here. 

In June 2019, Abba, my father-in-law was detected with cancer. Shahzeel, my husband and I located our base from Melbourne to Kanpur to be with him and then in November 2019 we came back to Melbourne to reboot our life and our daughter’s studies. While leaving Kanpur he told me, “I have to visit Kanpur to be with Abba in every three months, Summy.”  

I nodded.

At the mid of February this year, he got his tickets done for Kanpur for the start of March. Enters Corona. As destiny may have planned the virus shut the borders two days before his flight could take off. He was left helpless but the fact that the borders will open soon kept us hopeful. And then hope slowly left our court as the world came to a standstill. Unfortunately, Abba’s life did not. It depleted and came to a halt. 

I don’t need to explain how cancer breaks a family’s heart while it plays with the victim’s anatomy. So many people have dealt with it, on a personal level or at a distance. We went through the cycle with Abba. Chemotherapy extended his life to an extent but it comes with its own set of side-effects and limitations. Four months back Abba became immune to Chemo and that ended the therapy abruptly. 

Abba’s body was left to battle the malignant growth without shield. For the last four months we have seen the struggle ascend. Right from blood transfusion, to bed sores, from stomach infection to allergies, from diaper-reliant, to being in almost vegetable stage, we saw the long-lasting aggression of cancer. But the worst was ‘karaahana’.  Jab Abba ‘Aaaah’ kartey toh mera ghar haul jata tha. Sitting miles away Shahzeel video called his place for 2-4 hours a day. He asked his family members to keep the phone on his father’s side. As Abba rested with eyes shut, Shahzeel absorbed his father with eyes open. 

Kabhi dua padhta, kabhi dua karta, kabhi unhe dekh ke muskarata, kabhi do aasu bahata, par atoot shidadat se dekhta rehta!   

Shahzeel being Shahzeel prayed and prayed. I have seen this man lying on janamaz and make it his home. Jab dua nahi karta toh ussi 4*4 ki janamaz mein simat jata. Rota, bahut rota kyuki ro uske saamne jo aapko de sakta hai. In times like these, you come closer to Lord and fall on the ground to beg, kyuki insaan ke fitrat mein hai maangna. Dena uske haath hai par bheekh mangna aapki zaat mein hai – insaan ki zaat!

It was a 13-month long fight for our home. At times I wondered why it lasted so long as at a certain point, Abba’s ordeal and grief was beyond our control. Dil dukhta hai jab ilaaj nahi milta. Remember how your parents cried before you did when you encountered little pain, the story stays the same when the roles are reversed. But as time progressed, I got the answer. HE gave us time to digest, to absorb our loss. We started at a point when we were shook with the news and he prayed “Ya Allah, mere Abba ko sehat de, mere Abba ko theek kar de” but as the days progressed and we knew what we are dealing with and where it was progressing it went to “Ya Allah, aafiyat ka mamla farmaye.”, and then to a point where we begged HIM to listen and make Abba’s transition to the other world smooth.  

 Last Friday, as Shahzeel was about to commence his Juma ki Namaz the news came to our home. And even though we were prepared and prayed for this, understandably he cried with “Abba gaye. Mere Abba chale gaye.” Tears rolled and he started walking. I followed him without talking. He needed his space and I social distanced myself at home. He may not need me then but I needed to be there. Finally, when I got hold of him, I hugged him to convey. 

Shahzeel, Abba ko kya din mila? Juma, wo bhi namaz se pehle, taaki tum hamesha ki tarah unke liye maang lo. That too it’s the month of Hajj. he had to leave, we wanted to, requested and now we have received.” I told him in what he believes. 

In just a matter of moments he gathered himself and sat on his Janamaz. And for the next two hours he did dissolve himself there. He read, he cried, he begged, and he prayed. As for me, I sat there, right behind him for hours together, like humsaya. We didn’t talk, we hardly do. After 18 years silence works best for us.  

One of the worst hardships for today’s people is to bid adieu to their loved one via technology. No human contact is challenging people’s sanity. In 2012, when we were putting up in London, one phone call from my father told me that my Dadi left for thr heavinly abode . I vividly recall registering this news while looking outside of the window as I saw a big red bindi (the one my Dadi wore everyday) fade away. Everyone has their own journey to cope up with pain. People might walk a mile with you, but then you are left to cover your journey ahead, alone, your way!

We knew Abba had to leave and we wanted so but not being able to attend his last riots hit Shahzeel hard. My husband is the eldest of the three brothers and two of the them were back home. When I made a futile attempt to explain that his brothers are there he said, 

Mere baap ko mere kandhe ki zarurat nahi hai, Summy. Waha unke do aur ladke aur bahut aadmi hai kandha dene ko. Ye sawaab Allah ne mujhse cheena kyuki mere ek hi baap they aur mera kandha us farz se mehroom reh gaya.”

Last year, as we stayed six months in Kanpur, Shahzeel performed every single duty a child MUST perform – tan, man, dhan se. I remember and I quote, “Even if I spend every single penny I have, and even if I quit my job to serve him, I am fine. Allah ne chaha toh hamari zindagi padi hai, dubara se shuru karenge. Mere baap ke paas nahi hai. Is aadmi ne apni zindagi hum bachhon mein daal di, ab hamari baari.”

He might sound like an extremist but then that’s who he is – highly devoted, courageous and astonishingly rooted!        

So, on Friday we went to Abba’s funeral online. Right from the time his lifeless body was kept on the courtyard, to the prayer assembly, to the time he was laid to his final destination, we glued our eyes to the screen as his brothers made sure that their bada bhai doesn’t miss their father’s last riots. 

And I saw Shahzeel break and reboot several times as he kept explaining me the proceedings. When the men picked up Abba’s body for the last walk, he said “Ab mere Abba gaye.” When they wrapped his face in kafan, he exclaimed, “Gaye Abba” and when they finally placed him in the soil bed and placed the last plank of wood slab, I whispered, “Khuda Hafiz, Abba. Khayal rakhiye, phir milenge.” 

Shameel, the youngest of the three brothers, cried the hardest. The moment he took hold of that video call, he bawled staring at Shahzeel stating without words, “Bhai, ye kya ho gaya?” Something in him tore beyond repair. Being the youngest, Shameel is the khurchan of the family. I remember when I met both Adeel and Shameel for the first time. In November 2010, after almost a year of my wedding, I visited my in-laws place for the very first time. Shahzeel and I were in the US at that hour and after a long haul we landed on the destination – Kanpur. On the railway platform, I saw two tall men, one smiling, other uncomfortably hiding. 

“Hello Bhabhi”, cried the younger one while the older one held on to his reserved nature. The two men drove their bada bhai and me to their home. I remember how Shameel made a quick soup for me once we stepped at home as I was impacted by seasonal change. Life is made of small details and I reminisce by dipping my toes in those moments. 

I look back at Shameel as that 22-year-old who stood in front of the stove stirring the soup in a pan, making sure it doesn’t get stuck to the bottom. Friday when I saw him break down reaching out to his elder brother on the phone, my eyes met a man in that boy, a man who lost his father and craves for his brother. We can’t hug him, we can’t pat his back, just watch him and say, “Nahi Shameel, Abba ko dukh hoga.”

Such is life!

You plan and plan and plan and then HE acts. Our plan was to make Abba visit Australia. He did not visit us in the US and London and this time he was all set to visit us in Melbourne. I remember his excitement with our garage door here. It’s a remote-controlled wooden door and he gasped in excitement when he saw it first. 

“Shahzeel yaar ye darwaza dekhne aaunga zarur.”

Wo aaye nahi aur ab Abba ke ghar ka darwaza mitti hai. Jaha se zindagi shuru ki, wohi chale gaye. 

Saturday morning, we were thinking how Abba would have opened his eyes in his new home, new world. How his new life will be now? 
“Abba se sawaal jawaab shuru ho gaye hongey. 7’*3’ ki kabr mein adhera hai par Khuda ki mohabbat kabr mein bhi ujala kar deti hai. Ab Abba ka asal safar shuru. Jaane wale ki duniyavi rishtey toot jaatey hai par aulaad ka farz nahi. Apne Ma-Baap ke liye padhtey rehna chahiye, unki gunaho ki maafi mangna. Hamari is zindagi ka sawaab unhe us zindagi mein bhi milega.” pitched Shahzeel. 

My daughter and I lost our grandfathers in the same year – 2020! Only difference is that my Dada lived a full life and was 92 and her Dada’s retirement was just about to start and was 62!  

Earlier this year on a separate conversation Shahzeel said, “Summy agar kal mujhe kuch ho jaye toh please mujhe mere ghar le jaake dafnana. Kam se kam koi meri kabr pe faatiha (verses from the Holy Quran) toh padhne aayega.

Witnessing Abba’s funeral on Friday, I promised Shahzeel, “Baaki USKI marzi, par agar tum mere se pehle gaye, I will ensure you rest near your father. You people deserve to be together.”

Life moves on and so it will. I haven’t cried and I will not. I want to celebrate his life and I will but then once I will reach in-law’s home (God knows when) I will break as no one will come towards me with a huge smile and place a hand over my head saying, “As-salamu alaykum! Mashallah Mashallah, khair se aa gaye tum log.” 

Shahzeel will meet his father once we reach Kanpur. Even after an address change, we have a place on earth where he can unearth his man and I know even from his grave, Abba will say, “Aa gaye tum. Bahut intezaar karwaya, beta.”

Meet the in-laws: A lot can happen over coffee

Meet the in-laws: A lot can happen over coffee

December 19, 2009; Noida:

“Just take him to a nice place. Have a civil conversation. He is a nice man, just don’t over speak. Take it casual.”, He laid it down in plain terms.

“Will you stop making me nervous? I will handle it.”, I asserted.

“I know you will. But first impressions last. Also, you are dressed in salwaar-kameez na?”

“He knows I wear jeans, right?”

“Of course. But we will slide one thing at a time. Let’s not overwhelm them, no?”

“Fine.”

“Summy. We got this.”, he comforted.

“As-salamu alaykum”, a voice caught me from a distance.

“Sheikhu, I think they are here. Bye.” I slid my phone in my bag and contemplated my next move.

Should I do the aadaab bit – the traditional respectful response of greeting? Or how about basic Namastey? Let me take the high road and do the Indian thing – I will press my hands together and so I did. With a bow of the head and folded hands, I was no less than Ms. India at that hour.

And standing in front of me was a frail man, almost 6 feet, with salt and pepper working for him then. We had been introduced via photographs but that was our first live meet – a tête-à-tête. He smiled as his eyes met mine. I tried to shrug-off my nervousness as I walked towards him in a pink kurta and white chudidaar.  

The female standing behind him demanded courtesy too so I folded my hands in her direction as well.

“Kaha baith saktey hai”, he asked.

“Chaliye. Bas 5 minute ki walk hai yaha se.”

I walked with them and in that short duration to the café, I felt the ease. He was a smooth talker, chuckled often, and even with a slight hunchback, his pace matched my walk.

“Aur beta, kaise ho tum?”, He tried filling words in silence.

“Theek hoon Uncle.”, I tried to keep it short.

“Abba. Aaj se Abba kehne ki aadat daalo.”, he smiled and demanded.

That was my first meet with Abba, my father-in-law.

I got married to his son in a court nine days before. Shahzeel signed the papers in Delhi and left for Hyderabad. I stayed back in Noida as my last working day happened to be December 16th. I was flying out to Hyderabad on December 20th morning. And a day before my flight I was asked to prepare for a test – meet the in-laws!

As fate may have it, my in-laws came to NCR to meet a ‘rishta’ for my brother-in-law and they thought of meeting me as well.

“Chalo, lage haath badi bahu se mil le.”

So the badi bahu found a bada café for Abba and Amma.

As we entered the café, my in-laws were greeted by a cluster of young boys and girls of NCR. While some played guitar in their booth, some laughed their hearts out, some were experimenting with hookah, while some were happily soaking themselves in their beverages. We took a table at the corner and the server quickly came to take an order.

“A cappuccino for me. And..” they caught a look of each-other before saying in unanimous tone, “chai!”

The server took the order and proceeded to do the needful.

I remember the pieces of the conversation. I remember how I was mindful of what I said. I remember how both the parties projected and placed their best foot forward. We were glued by a man who was sitting miles away from us, waiting for that call where we could have filled him up with details, once the meet was over. The first meet is always difficult as it is new and you expect the unexpected. My meet with the in-laws was biryani meeting pulao. The common factor that could have acted as raita was missing. So we tried our best to put the pieces together, kyuki biryani ho ya pulao, dono ka apna hi zaika hai!   

Soon the server graced us with his presence. Gently he placed a big white cup with a bigger foam heart on top. I knew all that love was to come in my direction. As the distinctive red-brown color beverage stared at me, my in-laws stared at the enamel colored bone china set. Several tiny bits of cans and kettle came to play, a cup of tea was so far away!

Every time a person comes out of their comfort zone they sense resentment, nervousness, and exclusion. I sensed that panic and offered my help but Abba denied respectfully. It dawned on me that even they were trying to march on unchartered territory. After maneuvering their way and assembling their tea as they sipped, I caught the contempt. After all, the kadak chai lovers couldn’t handle English tea!  

The meet was less about the conversation and more about the observation. We kept sipping our beverages softly while exchanging comforting smiles in an impromptu circumstance.

As if the assembly bit was not enough we were soon slipped a bill quoting 832 in bold digits. Now, this was a very sensitive issue. As I was the host, I should have run for my wallet and laid the numbers there. In fact, I sprinted to my pocket at the sight of the bill but the thought of being misconstrued overpowered me. They weren’t my friends that I would have recommended: “Let’s split!” And before I knew, Abba took charge of the situation. He paid the bill, and the tip for his cold assembled tea. May I say, I loved the cappuccino!

30 minutes. This all happened in a quick 30 minutes. As we walked out of the café into Sector 25, they took my leave and asked, “So ab kya karogi?”

“Zyada kuch nahi. Soch rahi hoon mehandi lagwa loon. Kal Hyderabad jana hai.”

He laughed his heart out, “Acha hai, khush raho.” Both of them placed their hands on my head and kept waving until I lost sight of them. It took seconds for me to fathom that I met my new family.

 Soon enough I called Shahzeel and the man picked it up within a ring, “Kya hua? Kya bole? Kya poocha”

Post filling him with details, it was followed by, “Hookah bar le gayi thi kya? Mere bechare Abba..kya soch rahe honge.”

“Aur mera kya? I was the only one in salwaar-kameez in a café.”

“Par sabse pyaari tum hi hogi.”

“Shahzeel Jawed, cholbey nahi.”

“Haha, see you tomorrow morning.”

That night, my two friends accompanied me on the streets of Sector 25. It was 9 PM and we were still figuring out mehandi wala. I decided to get 100 bucks worth of heena on my hands. In my defence, I wore 300 bucks of red kurta at my wedding in a court. I remember sitting on the roadside step-stool with a dusky man pouring thick heena on my petite hands. My hands were freezing, thanks to Delhi ki sard raatein and uspe heena ki saugaatein. The two boys, my dear friends, stood on either side talking about the pattern and designs they could not comprehend. A few days back, they underwent the pain and wondered in the lanes of Lajpat Nagar finding just the right chooda and bindis for me.

As I found a pattern which I liked for mangalsutra for a meagre price, my friend exclaimed, “Take a better one. You earn so well!”

“Chooda, managalsutra ya designer lehenga shaadi nahi chala sakti, niyat chalayegi.”I protested.

“Toh phir le kyu rahi hai?”

“Shauk mein. Par budget mein. Kal agar shaadi na chali toh relationship mein investment ka dukh hoga,  monetary investment ka nahi.”

That night, we had one last dinner together in Delhi. I could not believe I was leaving the city, as it always had my heart until I found my love for Hyderabad. Early morning, the next day the solicitous two dropped me to the airport. I towed my suitcase towards the entry door and vividly recall holding on to my black puffy jacket before parting ways, “Ök Boys! My vidaai is here. I will see you both soon.”

I said goodbye to Delhi and I knew I will carry those five milestone years in my heart and I still do.

As I landed on the arrival gate in Hyderabad I saw my husband standing there – The new world awaited me.

That mehandi left my palms after two good hand washes but the effect of marriage remained.

Now as I write, I reminisce about the first meet with my in-laws. The setting was off-beat but there could not be a perfect metaphor for my marriage. Everything seemed disparate, daunting, and required work and understanding but if you are open to your surroundings, they open up to you, kabhi jaldi, kabhi der se hi sahi!

I didn’t ask for this but it was sent my way and honestly, after 18 years of S&S and being married for 10, I could not take it any other way!

A lot did happen over a coffee, that day. Our relationship brewed, and the aroma lingers.  

High Heel te nache.

High Heel te nache.

Traditions. While some have come a long way, some you want to carry along your way!

June 14, 2018: “Abba, main ye lungi.”
Ye?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

An hour earlier to this conversation, Abba and his three bahus – Saumya, Sadaf, and Amreen – were maundering on the streets of the Naveen market, Kanpur. Chand raat, an eve of Eid ul-Fitr, had decked the town like double-decker Chandani Chowk. I have never been a shopaholic, and the introvert in me detest the sight of the crowd, yet I was there, standing with all of them, finding peace within me while my devranis stooped at the very sight of each bling placed on shacks. They wanted choodis and clutches, bags, and bangles while I wanted space and air, sleep, and peace.

Even though I say I wanted to stay aloof, I assure I am there with my girl squad for one primal reason – Every home has its own story, and if you try, you become a part of their story.
Pata hai Bhabhi jab hum chotey they hamara poora ghar Ramzan se pehle shopping kar leta tha Eid ki, lekin sandals, wo nahi khareede jaatey they. Ek dastoor tha ki Chand raat ko hi wo lena hai. Aap keh saktey hai ki wo ek riwaaj tha“, Sadaf told me excitedly one day back on Chand raat in 2011. It was the first for us two as bahus.

And so she continues to do that even after marriage. Amreen, my baby devrani, abide by one tradition – to shop, and it’s not exclusive to Eid. She does shop 365 days a year, and I, the eldest and a recluse join these ladies because of riwaajriwaaj of sisterhood, riwaaj of laughing when we experiment with unusual. Their high spirits get to me, and I swear they remind me of kids who came out of Munshi Premchand’s Eidgah. Kisi ko chuski peeni hoti hai, toh kisi ko bhuddhi ke baal khane hotey hai, ek main hi hoon, Miya Hamid ki tarah chimta dhoondhti phirti hoon.

So on that fateful night, as Abba insisted that I buy something for myself, I kept walking down the lane until a black beauty caught my attention. Standing in a showcase was a pair of 4 inches stiletto heel with a black exterior and a red bottom. They were tall, sleek, ready to be worn, and called out to me. Now before I get to the pair of beauty, let me get it straightened that I have never worn a heel. Couldn’t; can’t; won’t! My all-time favorite wear is chappals followed by sports shoes, so much so that I have pleasured my foot with chappals on international flights too.

So when a comfort-over-fashion person like me walked in a high-scale showroom trying heels, everyone followed.

And then I came face-to-face with the heels followed by a six-feet lean man leaning toward me.

“Abba, main ye lungi.” I said while facing towards him.
“Ye?” Abba squeaked while trying to hold his emotions. He took a short walk with his humpback and hands tied at the back. He looked at those heels from left and then from the right; then he looked at my feet, from left and then right. He mentally got all permutation and combination into consideration while I witnessed his discomfort forming words.

Then I did what I do best – I took the lead and put words to better use, “Mujhe pata hai mujhe heels pehan-ni nahi aati. Main gir jaungi, do-chaar daat toot jayenge, par Abba the heart wants what the heart wants.” I smiled and looked at Shahzeel, who was standing outside eating chana jor garam. Well, mulla ki daud masjid tak.

“Miya Shahzeel ko tumne 16 saal ragad liya beta ji par ye heels do minute pao mein nahi tikaa paogi. Samjho meri baat.”, Abba understood my metaphor.

I still couldn’t keep my eyes off it, and then Abba did something he often does as a father, something I don’t approve of as a parent. The core difference between Papa and Abba is – Papa has been a disciplinarian throughout his life. No means no, something which I take a notch higher while parenting Mysha. Abba is lenient, which at times beautiful, is used to advantage most of the time. Anyhow, this very characteristic of him made him talk to the shopkeeper two minutes later, “Nikalo beta, 5 number, beti sahiba yehi pehnengi.”

Before I could react, Sadaf and Amreen almost pushed me on the brown sofa and started analyzing the shoes at the display. And then the moment came, the black beauty found my some-what toned feet. The heels were slightly slid on my feet till it clicked and then zipped by a golden hook at the back, it had found it’s place.

As I stood, I finally matched Shahzeel’s eyes. I could have given bird’s eye view on some products as “aaj main upar, aasmaan neeche.”
Everyone had an expression to convey their feelings.

Shahzeel, “Lene do mui ko, jab giregi tab poochunga heroine ko.”
Sadaf and Amreen, “Jach rahi ho, Bhabhi.”
Abba, “Achi bahut hai jab tak bachi raho.”
Salesman, “Ab ye Didi le lengi. Aaj commission achi milegi.”

And then the haggling started.
“Babu ji, aap design dekhe, buckle ki chamak dekhe. Iski polish kabhi nahi jayegi.”, said the smart salesman.
Beta ye baal na aise hi safed nahi hue. 13 saal ki umar se dukaan-daari kar raha hoon. Customers ko sheshe mein kaise utarna hai ache se pata hai. Meston road mein meri dukaan hai, ye raha card, kabhi aa jana kuch leather products lene.” Abba will also be a dukaan-daar first.

So after a good uthayi-patak, what started at 3,500 came down to 2,500 bucks, and I know we still provided a decent margin. But Abba put up a good fight with his street-smart attitude.

Much like Hamid, I got my chimta ulf heels home. And the moment I opened them, everyone clapped in its honor. I wore them and gave a beauty pageant walk with people on both sides waiting to hold me if I fumble, but I survived.

Later that day, my six-year-old came and sat next to me. He looked at those heels at the corner of my room.
“Mummy, aap ye heels pehan ke chal payengi?”, he sounded curious.
“Kyun? Tumhe lagta hai tumhari Badi-Maa buddhi ho gayi hai?”
The boy did not respond but smiled and kept looking at that footwear.
Affu Bhai, ek promise raha, jis din tum dulhan laogey, main muh-dikhayi mein yehi 4 inches ki heel dungi apni bahu ko. Sahi hai?” I questioned.
The boy smile broadened as he ran out of the room.
“Aur suno Affu Bhai, make sure tumhari Cindrella ka pao 5 number ka ho!”, I yelled as he left.
Haye mera sharmila banna!

Several times I have tried placing those heels on my feet, but that walk has been painful. I’m sure you all have something you love, you own, but you can’t utilize it. It’s just an obsession with possession.

So every time I take them out, feeling resurfaces. The black beauty and I share a moment, maybe a picture, and then off it goes in its bag on the shoe shelf.
It’s an expensive, uncomfortable love affair. So what if we weren’t meant for each other, pyaar ek tarfa bhi hota hai. I loved them, still do. I wish they accepted my feet like their own. When I give them my feet, they reciprocate pain, but I have gained good memories with them.

At least, I have a future planned for them. I am keeping it for my future-bahu-to-be, you know the one with feet size 5. Why? Because some traditions you design along the way!

Abba had this tradition of accompanying his bahus, and one day, God willing, I will walk with mine – in high heels, maybe!

Back to Kinder. Back to Basics.

Back to Kinder. Back to Basics.

“Mysha, you never fill me with the details of the school. Never. ” This was my persistent complaint over the years.

My ever-so-talkative child turns mute at a place where she is not supposed to. Whenever I check about the on-going in the school, she doesn’t fill time with words. Our walk from her school to our home, which is not more than five minutes, is filled with nothing more than silence and her amateurish acrobats. I always felt I am missing out on the school details – what’s going on there – until three weeks back! Bhagwaan jab deta hai, chappar phaad ke hi deta hai. 

More than a month and a half back, we saw everything closing down, level by level. First the entertainment units, then personal services, followed by amusement parks, auctions and open houses, public playgrounds, international and domestic travels and finally a place which is a blessing for parents more than children – schools. Honestly, I asked Mysha to sit at home much before the administration asked us to. It was March 10th when she last saw the grounds of her school.

After assessing the situation and realizing that the lockdown could stay-put for months, Mysha’s school decided to open for the second trimester but not physically. So they had their grand opening on WebEx calls instead from April 15th. The first time I heard the combined sound of ‘WebEx call and Prep students’ it felt unnatural – no symmetry, no co-ordination.
“How is this possible? Aren’t these children way too young to be seated and entertained for six hours in a conference call, 25 students together with a teacher? I mean how?”

But then like every good thing, you don’t discover until you experiment. The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us but then it has opened new avenues and jargon for everyone. Words you didn’t hear and work that seemed impossible in bygone days are the new normal. Every day we are getting a hang of new technology and terminology as we are working our heads around it.

So then on April 15th, Wednesday at 7:45 AM, hell broke in this house. Both my husband and I dragged our daughter out of bed. While one of us brushed her teeth, the other picked out her clothes. While one ensured she peed, the other ensured to run to the kitchen to get her a piping hot cup of milk. And while we both worked at the lightning speed, often bumping into each other, we witnessed the star of the show was missing. After a minimalistic search, we found her on her bed, wrapped under layers clinging to her hot water bag. And then I lost it, “Mysha. Uthooooo. Time ho gaya, beta. Roz kehti hoon tumhe time se so lo, par nahi, tum subah hi sona.”

 

After the initial hiccups, at sharp 9 AM, the class started. As Mysha logged on to WebEx, while I sat beside her, she and other munchkins were greeted by their teacher with “Good Morning Prep.”
“Good morning Miss M” roared a cumulative voice of enthusiastic burrow holders.

Initially, this 9 AM – 3 PM timetable took a toll on my back, schedule, and time management but then I streamlined. The breakfast, lunch, and other chores of the house all are maneuvered based on this frame of WebEx calls, aka web of calls.

The silver lining is that the children got into a routine. Their time is compartmentalized into subjects. Even subjects like Mandarin, PE (Physical Education), Robotics comes to your home. We take the video calls in the backyard for those PE sessions. While some children practice catch with their siblings, some get hold of a parent, some are lucky to make it a family session while some make a pact with a wall. Everyone is dealing with their baggage.

Life has provided me another opportunity to be at school and this time it’s booting with an advanced version of me. I can sit with her in her classes, and guide her the way I wanted to. And in times like these I am revered by the working parents because as I am fighting to hold up the fort, I see the struggle much more rigid where the parents can be heard taking official calls at the background while children work. There are children who are raised by single parents, children who have three if not more siblings at home, and then there is one girl who is been dropped to school on a requisition as her father has an outdoor job and the girl can’t be placed at home.

There are days when I laugh with them. Like the other day the students were asked to draft a sentence saying “In my home, I see *which so ever family members stay with you*. Mysha had a smaller sentence thanks her family size; so it went as – In my home, I see my mum and my dad. Other students drafted similarly but then there was one precious soul who read out hers – In my home, I see my mum, my dad, my baby sister, Ashar, Amal, Joyce, Raina, Mysha…. and she counted all 25 students in one go. She had my heart at Ashar; the moment that little girl started calling out her classmate’s names, I couldn’t help but applaud. She realised that we have started dating each-other through these calls. You could hear the parents guffaw from the background while the kids clapped for the beautiful-thoughtful girl. These moments make my day.

What seemed uncanny at one time is life in today’s world. It’s a routine. Every morning these 25 students come to my world through a screen. With them comes the baggage – their parent(s), sibling(s), pet(s), their homes and backgrounds, their language and accents, their taur-tareeka, and their voices. These tiny ones empower me – they tell me I am not alone, they tell me that we all are struggling; they tell me that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

One particular anecdote comes to my mind. A happy, curly-hair, blonde named Anna pops on our screen making funny faces. I remember most of the students by their features than their names. Last week as their writing session geared up, something in her broke and then I heard the class teacher break the conversation with,
“Anna, what’s wrong?”
Both Mysha and I lifted our heads which was drowned in the former’s writing and I swiped the screen fast to get hold of Anna’s window amongst the 25 popping heads.

By the time I found her, the malaise had discovered the passage from her heavy heart to her big blue eyes. “I….I….I….can’t get it. You…you…are…going…too…fast.” Sob-sob, sniff, and sniff. Her lips trembled and her cheeks went red as she stifled.
“It’s okay. I am sorry. I will be slow.” said Miss M.
“Miss M,…I…I…can’t…write….a question mark.” Anna’s downpour continued as she poked her fingers in her eyes.
“No problem. Breathe Anna, breathe. You take your time” Miss M assured the girl with gentle slow words.

As I saw her rubbing her eyes, I felt water tinkle on my cheeks; her pain spoke to me. She did not have help and got lost in the session. After all, it was a question mark! It’s in the name and it’s hard to make.
While Miss M gave Anna instructions to breathe, I followed the slow breathing too to unburden a heavy heart while Mysha wiped the salty water off my cheeks.

That’s the thing about humans. They need humans to survive. They speak to others with emotions.

Have you ever thought about being alone in the world? Like being the only soul on the planet (for some reason) much like Wall-e. I have. In fact, I have a whole story in my head but scribbling it on papers itself will make me isolated. And this is coming from me! I am the biggest introvert I know – I love my home, my time, my isolation but then I do need MY people. Thoda companionship ka tadka zaruri hota hai!

A time will come when the clock will be set straight! We all will be back in life which we called a routine in the past but then who knows what’s on the other side of the horizon? Deduced from my behaviour, even though I wince at the sound of WebEx calls and school coming at home, I’ll miss these tiny souls and their collegial approach. I detest having tea while listening to them but then looking at them working collectively makes me hopeful and, really happy. They have taken me back to Kinder, back to the basics – in the state of life, in the art of living.

2020 is a disparate year! It will go down in history as a year we all gave in our all, did the unreal, and lived life more alive than ever!