Kya Khoya, Kya Paaya?

Kya Khoya, Kya Paaya?

December 2011, Kanpur:

“So, what shall I cook for them?” I enquired over the phone.
“Well, kuch bhi! Choice toh hai nahi zyada but jo tumhe lagta hai you can manage well”, he spoke from the other end.
“O hero, hamesha ye jataane ki zarurat nahi hai ki tumhe khana banana aata hai aur mujhe nahi.”
“Phew! Summy, all I am saying is no matter what you cook, they will be happy that you did cook something.” he made a point.  

As you may have guessed, I did not know how to cook. My cooking jurisdiction limited its space to Maggi and eggs. That’s all I knew when I got married. Shahzeel, on the other hand, was quite a wizard in the cooking department.
The man had a knack for good food and a year before we got married when on an onsite to Zurich, he took cooking to another level.
They say that cooking is the art of survival, and that’s why I knew how to make boiled, scrambled, half-fry, and full-fry eggs as I can survive on eggs 24*7. For Shahzeel, his palate desires variety, so taking the matters literally in his own hands, he started drafting food early.

Coming to the story, there came a time in December of 2011, when I decided to cook something for my in-laws, as my maiden effort in the kitchen. Shahzeel was out for work, so after a quick check on the phone call, I proceeded to the unchartered territory. Now I did some mental mathematics, as deduced on a dish based on the following parameters –

  1. They (My in-laws, the Muslim, I had to say!) eat vegetables in the afternoon and meat at night, preferably.
  2. What all vegetables are at home in the crisper.
  3. What I can cook with no assistance, and a little confidence.

The above parameters made me run to the conclusion – Stuffed capsicum!

I will bake stuffed capsicum for the jury. No matter what the verdict is, I will cook this. Shimla mirch and aloo were waiting for me. So, I ran to the kitchen, and my audience followed. Why, you ask? Because sometimes it’s about the run, followed by nonsensical fun. 

 “Why are they looking at me that way! Oh, right, they are presuming, I will burn the house down.” I stood on the battling open field (open kitchen) with my audience sitting on the adjoining stairs going right to the terrace.  

The headcount stood at four – two brothers-in-law, my newly married devrani, and my MIL.

And then the cooking spree commenced. The stuffed shimla-mirch is quite an easy recipe. All you need is a tangy-spicy aloo filling, and then place it in crisp capsicum, and then you allow the magic to happen. Now, cooking is not what I excel in, but the presentation is where I shine, and I take it very seriously. Right from my home, to my limited wardrobe, to my food – it’s all about plating! So, as a final touch, I added shredded cheese on the roof of the vertical capsicum, and neatly embedded two coriander leaves as the jewel on the cheesy crown.

The melted cheese on the top made all the difference, and I was pretty happy with my delivery. I placed the green bells on a white plate and mentally rang the bell to subscribe to my effort.

Oh! The audience, you ask? So, my audience stuck the eyes on me like I was an alien who was put to work. Some left the kitchen of the sound of ‘aloo’ while some kept hanging because I was their ‘Jadoo’ (Koi Mil Gaya)!

And then we all met at the dining table as results were to be announced. There was a drum roll, and the vegetable met its audience. I kept my eyes lowered like I didn’t care, but my ears were at prime alert mode, and wanted people to be fair!

“It’s good”, came from one corner.

“Yes, pretty nice!” came from the other corner.

There were some ‘uuhs’ and ‘aah’ been delivered, but all in vain!

You see, they all were great in depiction but such sad actors. No one could pull up the act. It was like I was the Racheal who had just made them eat the meat trifle. (Reference: Friends)

Later that day, I told Shahzeel, “I won’t cook here, ever, again!”
“Kuch bhi! They liked your food.” Of course, he supports his people.
“Really?” I huffed and puffed like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs.
“OK, fine. It wasn’t the best that could have been offered, but then it’s not on them, it’s on your judgment.”
“Of course. Enlighten me on it. Won’t you?”
“We both have a master’s in business administration, and you don’t need that degree to know to learn your target audience. Known the audience! Plain aloo is a simple NO, add some mutton and make it aloo-gosht, and you get a definitive YES.”
He continued as I kept grasping the falling words from his mouth,
“Now for this dish of yours, capsicum was a great pick, but the filling could have been minced meat. Place a keema filled shimla-mirch and see them go gaga!”
“O, Lady Gaga! Tum mujhe gyaan ga-ga ke mat hi diyo! I’m done! So done!”

I left that Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda conversation and thought they would have loved Rachel’s meat Trifle because to quote Joey “Custard..good, jam..good, meat…GOOD!”

Anyhow, raat gayi, baat gayi.

Par raat phir aati hai, kabhi kabhi baat bhi le aati hai!

2013, Kanpur

It was a day before Eid and we were at my in-laws. Everyone at his place was observing rozas which was to be followed by an iftar party at my in-law’s place. Bhin-Bhin prakaar ki dishes prastut ki gayi dastarkhaan pe. As I sat around the round-table eating assembly, I glanced at dallops of greasy delicacies. Even though I am not a huge fan of deep-fried items, one dish caught my eyes, and took my breath away! Gujiya!

Someone was a mind-reader to get the gujiyas. To meet my bachpan at his aangan was a blessing in disguise, something I was not expecting! Mujhe holi ke rang dikhane lage aur ang ang khil utha.

Without saying a word, I checked with Shahzeel who sat right across me, “Kisne banayi gujiyas?” Aakhon hi aakhon mein ishara ho gaya!

 He pointed to his Chachi who sat on the other end of the conference.

“Main sadke jawa teri Chachi pe.” I mentally subscribed to her entry and gave her my approval stamp. Not that she needed one, but we all are gyaanis and hum gyaan and stamp baat-tey rehtey hain!

While everyone got engaged in the prayers, I kept playing luka-chhipi with the crisp, flaky, khoya stuffing pie. It called out to me with, “honto se chhoo lo tum” and I couldn’t agree more.

I could envision the khoya melting in my mouth bringing my childhood with it. No sooner than his family advanced to khajoor and water, I placed my hand on the gujiyas. I couldn’t wait for someone to offer me that as it could have taken light-years in the gujiya waiting-world.

As I advanced for a generous bite with the sweet memories, a dash of salt met my taste buds. This isn’t khoya. It’s, aaaaah, meat!

“Kya khoya, kya paaya” cried my heart. Those people had replaced the sweet memories of khoya with paaya, I mean keema.
My rejected eyes met his, dripping with happiness, “Ullu banaya, bada maaza aaya!”
I somehow gulped down the meaty pie. Aisa laga maano, mere meethe sapno ko khured ke kisi ne uspe namak chidak diya. Mujhe aag lagi aur kisi ne uspe apne lambe meaty haath seke.

Later that day, he checked with me, “Kya hua Summy? Bahut armaan they gujiya ke, achhi lagi?”
“Shimla mirch mein keema daal do, gujiya mein khoya ki jagah keema daal do, tum log gaajar ke halwe mein ghee ki jagah bong ka saalan kyun nahi daal dete?”
“Not a bad idea! As I said, it’s about the target audience, the right fit. The right food for the right people.” He smiled.

There are so many discrepancies we have faced on both the ends. The filling might change to attend to the taste buds on either side by then when you let it grow on you, it makes you, your own! It’s about acceptance and opening to the horizon to other flavors. Of course, you crib at first, as zindagi ka mazza khatey mein! 

Running Through The Finish Line

Running Through The Finish Line

“Are you saying I should wear S?”
“Why not? You can!”

On Saturday, I went shopping with my husband after leaving the little one at her friend’s place. Parents know what weightage the second half of the preceding sentence carries. And the agenda of the mall visit was Swarovski clear even before I hit the accelerator of the vehicle. It was about him – the man of the house! Because the man has dropped 15 kgs and attained 32 waist size and the lowers in his wardrobe screams 38!

Since 2002, when I met him, I have never seen him wear anything beyond baggy clothes – jeans, shirt, t-shirt – all of it! And once we got married, I witnessed a huge weight gap mounted between us. I stood at 42 kgs while he rested at 92! When I started gaining some weight, he competed with me and gained some more. It seemed like we could never reduce the gap between our weights.

Somewhere over the years, we both got complacent, and he stood at what he was. Nothing works when you don’t work for it. It will stand tall, maybe pile on a bit more! And then this year something triggered in him, and he started to run. Initially 500 meters mein hi praad nikale jaa rahe they but slowly the meters culminated to kilometers, and so did his stamina to run. Over the months, he started completing the half marathons. It tore him, it shook him, and the ground, but then the satisfaction he puffed after the finish line made the whole deal worth the effort put in!

The man now stands at 78 kgs (He was at this weight in 2002) and then yesterday, for the first time in his life, he wore S sized shirt and skinny jeans. As he stood in front of the mirror of the changing room, he kept looking at himself – from left and then right, from up and then down!

He turned to me, who stood behind him engrossed catching the marvel look on his face, mentally figuring to put them down into words later (most writers do that, I guess),
“Summy, does that look okay? Do you think I can wear S?”

The judgment in him was two-layered:
a) He could not believe he could fit in small size and skinny jeans. While he rocked that S size in adolescent age, he has never worn skinny jeans in his entire life.
b) Even at an age when he could have fit in those skinny jeans, he opted for baggy clothes because they felt familiar to him. It is always easy to slip into familiarity.

I smiled as I proceeded in words, “Shahzeel, you can wear what you want. Familiarity is always easy, but how about trying new? Try it, feel it, shun it if it’s not comfortable but do try. You were always worth it, but now you have earned it! It makes all the difference!”

And try he did! There was a time I did feel he will break into a song,
“Aaina mujhse meri pehli si surat maangey!
Mere apne meri hone ki nishani mange”

So my Anupam Kher did pick the two pairs of skinny jeans and four ‘S’ sized shirts and had a contemplating moment standing in the payment queue while heading for the card swipe.

“To buy or not buy, that was the question
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of fitted clothes,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And slip right into it.”

I barged to address the unsaid burning soliloquy in the man with, “Even if you think it won’t suit your body type or you might run out of this size in months, it will always be something you will look back on. Trust your instincts, Shahzeel. 2020 was a different year, and let’s end it differently with a better wardrobe and some fitted memories.”

My speech was followed by the card swipe though I would have loved a standing ovation from the people next to me, in the queue and the counter. Never the less, no sooner had I come home that I saw him getting in his new clothes because practice breeds familiarity!

Yesterday as we went for cherry-picking, he got the chance to showcase his jalwa, alas, his brother’s video call made perfect halwa! Adeel and Shameel kept telling him, “Kya haal bana rakha hai Bhai? Kuch lete kyun nahi? Itne kuposhad mein lag rahe ho!”

I told myself I can’t change the Jawed clan. Health and weak are two separate entities, but then I know who they are, and I know what they went through earlier this year. They saw their father shrink and dissolve over 13 months, and it’s still raw.

They even laughed about it with, “Agar Abba tumhe dekh lete na aise Bhai, toh covid mein bhi Australia nikal lete kyuki unhe lagta unka beta bhooka mara jaa raha hai!”

As I said, I have been with him for almost 20 years, and even I haven’t seen him in this shape, so the brothers feel the heat, but they haven’t seen the effort put in to acquire this shape, and that’s okay as love comes in all sizes.

2020 was a year humans lost the race; these three boys lost their father, but Shahzeel ran until his pre-decided completion mark. He has attained it, and I pray he retains it!

Daud mein hamesha mehnat lagti hai, par agar niyat tagadi ho toh insaan manzil paa hi leta hai, kabhi jaldi, kabhi der se hi sahi! 🙂

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh.

November 20, 2010: Shahzeel and I were making our first appearance in his place as a married couple. With the help of signatures, we were married by law, in December of 2009.

As we were flying six to eight miles above the sea level and crossing the largest and deepest of the world ocean basins, I fumbled my bag for the notepad and a pencil. Side note – You will always find these two in my backpack.

He looked at me as I drew a chart diagram on paper with lots of branches. “Now, write the names of all your Aunts and Uncles, cousins and relatives. “, I demanded.
“You need my family tree? Why?” he asked as he quickly started filling blanks on the top of the branches.
“Why? Because I want to address them by name, and they need to know that I am great, not good.”
“Aaah! How very considerate of you.”
“I know! Also, you people use an abundance of oil in food and ‘z’ in names. So I want to get used to the zsa-zsa-zsu.”
“And now we are back to you! Highly racist!” He said as he handed the paper with a big tree on it.
“I know, right?” I smiled back at his soul-sucking stare.

After 16 hours of flight time, we were at his home. We were there to be a part of Sadaf-Adeel’s wedding (Shahzeel’s younger brother), and it was a wedding to remember. People came to see one bride and got to meet two! Ek pe ek offer!

Some people were happy as they got the juice and gossip for a whole year. I was the odd-one-out, and they wanted to access my haav-bhaav! And yes, I take a lot of pride and bhaav, and I love pao! Well, I need to mention that bit, and it rhymes. Some were unhappy as Shahzeel ki shaadi ki daawat nahi mili, and you know how it’s daawat, sajaawat, mehmaan-nawazi that matters back in our country.

I was counting the days to go back to the USA, as we did put up at Beaverton at that hour. I had marked the calendar with ten days, and I was crossing each day out. Shahzeel’s house offered acceptance and warmth, but the extended family and the reeti-riwaaz, and more than that, the ever-so-flowing libaaz was pinning me down.

And to top that, Abba decided to throw a reception for Shahzeel along with Adeel. Shahzeel and Saumya became +2 with Adeel and Sadaf on November 27, 2010, on stage. When I asked why, Abba said, “Beta, shaadi tumne apni marzi se ki, reception toh mere liye kar lo. Shahzeel mera sabse bada ladka hai aur tum is ghar ki pehli bahu.”

Wo bhi theek hai – kuch mera, kuch unka! That’s what makes a home operational. I did not understand a LOT of things like I wish Abba did not buy 40K worth of fish-cut lehenga for the reception. I would have put that cash to better use because it was a dress for a day, and it still lies closed in a suitcase, back at in-law’s home. But Abba stated, “meri dono bahuein ek jaise kapde pehnen-gi. Kal ko kisi ko malal na ho ki maine bhed-bhav kiya.”

Ab unhe kaise samjhati ki 40K meri jholi mein daal de, malal kya, Malala ki kasam, main aapko lakh lakh duaein doongi!

When Abba checked what I wanted for that amount, I said with full conviction, “Cash, 500 ke note mein.”

He laughed and then asked, “Sahi batao beta, kaisa lehenga chahiye.” I can’t blame him; he did not know me at that hour, so he assumed I was making a joke. If only!

Now, as he tossed aside my fact as a joke, I suggested he bought how-so-ever Sadaf desires. As Sadaf dreamt of a perfect ceremony like many others so she picked the one she liked, and she picked one for me too, the same. I felt guilty for being added to her day, but she was happy that she had company.

So came November 27, and the reception was done and dusted. People got what they wanted. They made the comparisons between the two women up the stage; we kept sitting like we are in a museum, fully- amazed. Some came and handed some vyavahar, and took mental notes for the later discussion on weekend ka vaar! I did not know I had a burning writer in me on that day, but I knew I would scribble it out, if I may!

I looked at them from the bird’s eye view sitting on the stage and kept counting the boxes on the rug below, fully engaged. It was a long day, but it did end. Nothing about it was phenomenal, albeit chicken soup on the menu made every unpleasant detail washable.

But readers, the best was still to come! Once daawat and aao-bhagat were done, my mother-in-law shared a ride back home with nayi-naveli + albeli bahus. While Maa and Sadaf sat behind in the car, I took the seat next to the driver. It was a ten minutes drive, and we were exhausted and quiet at 2 AM. I simply wanted to slide in my paijamas and jump out of that 10 kgs of labaada, and just when I thought it was all done, Maa said something sudden,

“Ab dono bahuein, tum dono ek-ek gana gao.”

I wanted to look back at her with a glare saying, “What did you say, woman?”

I kept quiet and let it slide and shut my eyes and smiled with “Log bhi kuch bhi boltey hai”

Within ten seconds, a melody met my ears, “Ajeeb dastan hai ye, kahan shuru kaha khatam.”

Sadaf toh shuru ho gayi aur meri hassi maine kaise roki, “Koi mere dil se poochhe.”

Thankfully she knew one stanza of that song, and that made her continue till we were home. And as the car reached the nukkad of his home, I thought, “Waha shuru, yaha khatam.”

As the vehicle came to a halt, I hurriedly got out of it, and Maa chimed equally quick, “Arey Summy tumhari baari.”

“Kabhi aur sahi.” I smiled at her while my heart said, “Jis din divorce dungi bhangra karke gaake sunaungi.”

My in-laws were just started to getting to know me, and I did not want to scare them off, so I fought all my natural instincts.

That night as Shahzeel and I were about to go to bed I asked, “Toh tum log bahu-o se gana gawane ka riwaaz bhi rakhtey ho. Wah Taj!”

“And that’s who you are – racist! Highly racist! Ab chup-chaap so jao aur Khuda ke waastey agle kuch din apna ye roop unhe mat dikhana, let them know you! You might need a family tree, but it’s them who will spend a lifetime to know your roots. By God, zeher ho tum, ZEHER.”

And as he turned to the other side of the bed to sleep, I hummed, “Ye manzile hai kaun si, na wo samajh sake na hum. ta-na-na-na-na-na! “

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.”