Memories, experiences are the best gifts that Life has to offer. Go and make memories!
“If I were you, I would check under my pillow…”
The young boy, frantic by now, had almost given up hope when he looked up at his mother, his eyes pleading for a hint…
It was his tenth birthday that day and mom had promised last night that he would find a surprise waiting for him in the morning. He could barely contain his excitement as he tossed and turned his way to sleep that night.
The next day, for the first time, he woke up without his mom being his alarm clock, without him having to ask her if she could wake up him after just 10 more minutes. He looked around alert, searched his drawers, searched under the bed, searched his cupboard and almost every possible hiding place..
Dejected, he went to mom with his most innocent helpless expression which he knew had done the trick in the past. Sure enough, Mom told him the password. He jumped on the bed and turned the pillow over and finally found his gift…
A gift which he found almost every year thereafter, neatly gift wrapped, resting under the pillow…
It was his birthday again today. He was in his thirties now. He looked under the pillow and sighed. The gift was right there.
It was a Memory box. A collection of stories. Incidents of shared love and laughter. Songs sung together, movies seen together, trips taken together. Memories, to last a lifetime. All under his pillow…
Everyone has a favourite story, a favourite memory which revolves around tea. Which one is yous?
Aaaahhh” You could almost hear the entire landscape of Munnar say it in unison, as if it had just partaken of a sip of hot, refreshing cup of tea, whose leaves were plucked just hours ago. On that Sunday morning, the scenery around the tea estate evoked that same feeling of refreshing energy. Those endless rolling, sloping, tea gardens had draped themselves in the freshest coat of green as the dew drops glistened and bathed themselves in the sparkling winter sun. In the midst of the tea gardens, the flame of the forest shone a bright orange, matching the intensity of the sun. The bees swarmed and buzzed around happy flowers as the hazy fog shook of its laziness to reveal the mountains and forests beyond. It was time to have a cuppa myself, I thought..
The tea was had just the right balance between sweetness and kadakness. But instead of that “aaaah” which usually follows a well made cup of tea, I sighed. There was something missing, the same deja-vu feeling whenever I have had tea in these last 6 months..
In a family of self-confessed tea addicts, where my uncle had even composed an ode to his fondness for tea, it may seem surprising that I started consuming tea on a daily basis only after I joined the corporate world. Though it may seem obvious, I can assure you that there is no correlation between the two..
On one of those days after I had started working, my mamaji had come to visit us. I was excited, for the simple reason that mom was bound to prepare an elaborate feast for her brother. Lunch was served, was seen and was heartily consumed. I sprawled around on the sofa, looking dazed and confused, with half droopy eyes, a reaction befitting a glorious gujjulunch. Mama looked satisfied as well, but I sensed he was waiting for something more…
As most gujju family get-togethers go, lunch soon gave way to tea time. Uncle’s lips curled up in a ear to ear smile as he took in the aroma wafting in from the kitchen. The first sip led to an almost meditative closing of the eyes, as if he was transported into a trance like state. I wondered what had mom added in that tea which otherwise did not induce any such feeling on a daily basis….
I cautiously took a sip. It certainly was different. There were a couple of elements which she did not add normally which enhanced the flavour dramatically. There was the usual slight hint of ginger and then there was fresh lemongrass and mint. It was wonderful. And it was unfair. Why was this not served on a regular basis, I demanded as I did my best Oliver Twist expression, asking for some more..
Though she always gave a roundabout answer, I guess that it was more to do with the fact that certain things are meant to be kept for certain occasions. A sort of artificial scarcity. Like when she had family coming over. Or on some special days. Or the time when she had to impress my in-laws, life imitating that silly bollywood song on mummy calling home for chai and my father-in-law’s reaction as he told his daughter “please learn this recipe and make it for us the next time you come home….”
Unfortunately that recipe was never written down and it never felt the same even though several honest attempts were made. The proportion of milk, water and sugar, the quantum of lemon grass and mint, and the brewing time – all went through numerous iterations and permutations. But again that feeling of something being amiss refused to go away. Maybe, to use a cliché, the missing ingredient was love. Or perhaps, she wanted it to remain a fond memory, undiluted by reality…
…As our leisurely breakfast continued, I told this to my wife. She just smiled and said “yes, maybe we will never be able to create that tea that your mom used to make. And even if we were to come close, perhaps, it is your mind who just wants it to remain a memory, a small little legend…”
Aaaah! Yes, indeed. The legend of my Mother’s Tea..
Oh, our poor little rich mind. Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Emails, Phone calls, Hashtags, Likes, trending..How much can it possibly handle?
I entered office, settled down on my desk, started my PC and opened my mail box. There was an important mail lying there, screaming for my attention. Urgent! Queries to be responded to. I started typing out my answer in earnest. Dear Sir…
…Oh Shit! Kya hogaya Infy ko aaj!” screamed my colleague sitting behind me. I looked at his screen. Infy was down 10%. “What the hell happened?”, I asked him. “Revenue guidance lowered for the next year”. “Kharidna chaiye kya?”“Pata nai, thoda research karna chaiye”. I opened moneycontrol.com and started scrolling through the ‘expert opinions’. Seemed that the reaction was exaggerated. The consensus was that you need to….
“Arre yaar! Phir se wohi rising short delivery aur out!” groaned my colleague on the right. “What! Match started kya?” “Haan, Raina out” I quickly opened a new tab cricinfo.com and checked out the Gujarat Lions batting lineup and the latest score. I sincerely hoped that they could pull this one off after a string of disappointments in this edition of the IPL. If only the batting lineup could fire…
A couple of interesting pictures on my colleagues computer on the left suddenly caught my eye. I was intrigued. “Kya dekh rahe ho aap?”, I asked him. “It’s a very fascinating article, trivia on India.” “Arre, send it to me as well, please?” A new tab was quickly opened that basically contained four little known facts about India. Iltutmish saying no to Genghis Khan, Hemu hit by an arrow and the third one was….
Beep! Beep! Whatsapp. I checked my phone. One of my friends had messaged asking if today was Seema’s birthday. Shit! How could I forget her birthday! A new tab was opened and I quickly logged onto Facebook to check if her birthday was indeed today. There were three notifications. Someone had made a smart alec comment on one of my status messages and I felt compelled to reply. I was thinking of a smart comeback and was about to post it….
“Shit! Gone Mccullum!” “Abbe! Infy 15% down!” I was momentarily confused whether I should open Cricinfo or moneycontrol. I opened Cricinfo. Caught at gully chasing a wide one outside off. Reactions were already pouring in on the site. It was timepass seeing those…
Whatsapp was buzzing again. Did you check about Seema’s birthday? Oh! I checked my Facebook homepage. It indeed was her birthday. She is going to kill me, I thought. I checked her status on Whatsapp on my phone to to see when was she last seen. Safe to wish her online first and then call her later, I thought. She wasn’t. I started scrolling through the list to check if anyone else had recently updated their status or profile picture. Vikas! My friend from school. It looked as if he was about to get married. It had been months since I had spoken to him. I pinged him and started chatting up with him for a while. Felt good catching up. Vikas then asked about Seema, who was a common friend…
Oh God! I forgot! I quickly dialled her number. No response. I dialled again. “What?” was the curt one word reply. She was furious. I apologized and wished her. She started talking about some problem she was facing. I started giving advice, my favourite pastime. I was telling her, “You need to focus. Pay Attention!”, sounding as if I was the most attentive, focussed guy that ever lived. “You should not let your mind waver….”
Just then, I saw a pretty girl walk across the door. I had never seen her before in office. Was she a new joinee? Hopefully, she had joined our department. I should go and introduce myself…
“Are you there? Hello!!”, Seema was screaming on the other line. “Haan, sorry, Boss was here”, I replied sheepishly. “ As I was saying, you need to focus, pay attention….”
Just then, my boss tapped me from behind.” Have you sent that mail yet?”….
A story about a few boys lost in a forest and their journey back, guided by fireflies and stars…
The October heat was stifling. Even at 10 in the night, the atmosphere was claustrophobic and clammy. The wind was completely listless, seemingly defeated by the sweltering temperatures. And just then, to make matters worse, the electricity decided to play truant. The building plunged into darkness and a collective moan could be heard. I could not bear the heat and climbed the flight of stairs to the relatively cooler confines of the terrace. The entire block was awashed in black. It looked like a major fault. I glanced up at the sky. Even though there was not a speck of cloud on the horizon, not a single star could be seen shining on the residents of the city. They were probably hidden behind a blanket of smog. I sighed. It was pitch black all around. Quite similar to that unforgettable night in Coorg all those years ago…
It was the summer of 2004. College vacations had just begun and 11 of us had decided to go to Coorg, which was to be the first of what was to become our annual holiday ritual. After an eventful journey, we decided to knock off the list of the must-see items one by one. Abby falls, world famous in Coorg, was the first on the list. It was at a distance of some 8-9 kms from where we were staying . We set off around 4 pm in 3 autos on a narrow road which carved through a forest lined with dense trees and coffee plantations on both sides. It was almost like a wallpaper. We stopped to lech at the scenery while one of the autos carried on. Initially, we had planned to just “see” the falls, take pics and come back since we had started quite late in the evening.
But when we reached the site, apart from other tourists who were standing on the bridge posing in front of the falls, our friends who reached there first were nowhere to be seen. “Yaahooo” we heard from somewhere up above! “Yeahhhhhhh” sounded another war cry. And we saw them. Four of them were climbing towards the falls. Testosterone and sense of adventure had prevailed over good sense. How could we stay behind? And so off we went as well! After an hour or so of reaching the top, bathing and frolicking under the falls like Liril soap models, we decided to come down. Not that we wanted to, but the fading light forced us to think rationally for a change. After lots of slips and slides and scratch marks, we finally reached the bridge. It was now pretty dark and we quickly walked out to the road. But there was just one auto standing! The other two autos had left since it had gotten quite dark and it was dangerous, we were told. Those were comforting words indeed. Three people decided to go in the one auto and said they would send autos if they could find any. The auto started and the lights from the auto, bobbing up and down, disappeared into the distance. It was now completely dark. Luckily we had a couple of torches but what could two torches do against an army of darkness! Our hearts sank. The thought of what lay ahead now hit us with full force.
Most of us were terrified, I have to be honest. We had never experienced something like this before. We formed 2 groups of 4, each one with a torch and started walking, slowly. The night was absolutely still. We were walking in eerie silence. The thud – thud – thud of our heartbeats could be heard. Fear started manifesting itself in ways only fear can as it gradually took control of our senses. It numbed the ability to think rationally. Even the most harmless noises sounded scary. Every time the leaves rustled and the wind blew through the trees, we stood still and flashed our torches wildly. The road which just a few hours back seemed so serene now took on a sinister shape. The silhouettes of the tall trees seemed to hide something or someone, waiting and watching.
The first 20 odd minutes everyone walked in silence, alert to the slightest movement or sound. Gradually, the distance started whittling away. As no untoward incident happened, the confidence started returning. The mind freed itself a bit from the vice like grip of fear. We found our voices. A few lame jokes were cracked and we allowed ourselves to laugh a bit. It was at that moment we saw it. An illuminated tree. As if someone had hung 100 min light bulbs on it. As we inched closer, we realised it was full of fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight. We smiled and our fear seemed to melt away. We stood there for a few seconds marvelling at the sight, soaking it all in. Our pace now quickened and a few of us even started singing. The road inclined upwards and we looked up at the sky above for the first time. It was full of bright twinkling stars. Stretched out as far as the eye could see. Millions and millions of them. We city folk could never experience such simple delights. We looked behind. The tree of fireflies was still illuminated. We saw the stars above which illuminated the sky. It was a glorious sight.
It felt as if we were almost halfway between the fireflies and the stars.
The next hour we were enjoying ourselves. We reckoned we could not be too far away now. Suddenly, we saw a light from a bend on the road. Some 200 metres away. It seemed like a small shop. That was it. We just ran. Usain Bolt would have been proud. We reached the shop and saw each other’s faces for the first time after close to 2 hours. Relief was evident on each of our faces. We laughed, more out of relief than anything else. We knew we were never going to forget that night ever…
..I smiled and then I sighed. There were no fireflies to illuminate things around here. Only the the dim light of candles flickering and dancing through the windows..
That Monday began like any other day. The commute, the pushing, the rushing, the haggling, the usual. The boy was tired about the usual, the normal, the routine. He was tired of responding “the usual” when someone would ask him what was happening. And he was tired of having nothing new to say when anyone asked him what’s new! But he was powerless to do anything about it which, truth be told, frustrated him even more.
He sighed and braced himself for another routine monday. But then he received a call just as he reached office. On hearing, his expressions changed completely, as if all color had been drained from his face. His dad had collapsed and could not move, his mom told him. Considering the disease which afflicted him, he panicked and rushed back. On the way, terrible thoughts plagued his mind and he was unable to shut them out. He reached home and saw his dad lying sprawled on the floor. He was in obvious pain but still managed a smile. They rushed him to the hospital where the doctor informed them that he would have to be operated after two days.
The next two days were long and painful. His head was a minefield of emotions. All sorts of thoughts toyed with his vulnerable state of mind. Thoughts on fate, faith, karma. Why put his dad through so much agony for close to ten years when he has not done anything to deserve that. And then he thought about all the things he always wanted to do with dad and if he would ever be able to do it. Watch Wimbledon. At Wimbledon. Travel to Ladakh. Gardening…. he gravitated from pain to anger to helplessness in an endless loop. He tried to distract himself with reading, friends, TV. In vain.
But curiously, his dad, who was the protagonist, smiled through those days. He was jovial with everyone who visited him and never once did complain about the pain or his fate.
The day of the operation was nerve wracking. Time moved at a snail’s pace. After close to three hours of surgery, his dad came out. His face still showed a feeble smile. After the initial relief, the boy was gripped by worries of ” what next”. His dad could see that his son was worried. Even angry. That was when he decided to tell his son words which left an indelible imprint on the his mind.
“I am facing this situation which you or me can’t reverse. Either I can face it with a smile or be sad and despondent about it. The choice really is very simple. And if you can’t reverse the situation, there is no point in thinking about the why and how of it. We tend to cling on to the past more than necessary and not move on. We have to face it positively and do the best we can. Leave the rest to God! He has plans for everyone. It’s important that you stop thinking about it and return to a normal routine. That routine, however mundane is the best way to get over this and watch things fall in place, slowly but surely. That will make me happy as well”
It seemed as if someone had waved a magic wand and a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders.
The following Monday arrived. It began just like any other day. There was the pushing and rushing to catch the train, there was the haggling with the autowallah. There were the hundreds of mails to be replied to. It was the usual. But he smiled. Because that monday, he was grateful for the usual. His dad was right! It was a much needed diversion. The usual never felt better. Nothing new never felt so good…
The train jerked to a stop. The boy awoke, startled. The old lady opposite him smiled and told him “station aa gaya beta!” He rubbed his eyes and saw the honeymoon couple stacking up their luggage. There was another elderly couple which he hadn’t seen the night before. Were they Mr. and Mrs. Bakshi? He looked around. Seema was nowhere to be seen. He looked down the narrow aisle. She wasn’t there! Had she gotten off at the earlier stop? But he remembered her telling him last night that she was going to Kathgodam. He could not believe that it was only last night he met the girl. Last night …
..The air was warm and dry when he got off the auto at Old Delhi railway station the previous night. 10.10 pm, his faithful Titan watch told him. He checked the giant electronic screen hanging above the entrance to the station . Ranikhet express to Kathgodam. 10.40 pm. Platform 8. There was still time enough to grab a quick bite at Come Sum restaurant.
When he reached the platform at 10.30, the train had already arrived. He checked into his seat A3 20 and stepped outside to do his customary scan of co-passengers on the reservation list stuck on the side of the door. He had this weird fascination for on-the-road love stories, especially on trains and himself wished to be a part of one! Perhaps that’s why he liked Jab we met and Dil hai ki maanta nahi so much. But he realised that some things happen only in the movies. The laws of probability fail in the real world. He quickly scanned the list.
A3 17 – Maya Srinivasan – 62.
A3 18 – Shilpa Singh – 25. A small smile.
A3 19 – Prabhjot Singh – 26. The smile disappeared.Probably a newly wed couple off on their honeymoon to Nainital.
A3 21 and A3 22 – Mr. and Mrs. Bakshi, an elderly couple in their forties.
He sighed! Somethings are not meant to be. He climbed aboard and sure enough there was the honeymoon couple and the old lady. The Bakshis were nowhere to be seen. The Ranikhet Express let out a loud hoot and the journey began. Maybe the Bakshis were boarding from a different station.
On a train which departs so late and is scheduled to arrive at 5.10 in the morning, passengers usually wait for everyone to settle down and go off to bed early. As if on cue, Mrs. Srinivasan raised the middle berth, made her bed and retired for the night. The honeymoon couple couldn’t take their eyes off each other. And they sure seemed in a hurry to reach their hotel. After 10 – 15 minutes, they climbed to their respective top berths. The boy glanced at his watch. 11.27 pm. Ghaziabad came and went but there was still no sign of the Bakshis. He too was feeling a bit drowsy now. He could feel his eyes telling his mind to sleep. The eyelids slowly began to droop …
…Suddenly he could smell a whiff of perfume. He shrugged off his sleep and looked up. It was at that moment when he saw the girl. She was about 5″4, hair straight and slightly curved at the edges which dangled delightfully just below the shoulders. Sharp face, high cheekbones, bright eyes. She was wearing a white Kurti and light blue denims. She came and sat just a few feet away from him. She couldn’t be Mrs. Bakshi. He was wide awake now.
She pushed her luggage underneath the seat and turned. She caught him staring at her. He quickly looked away, and had this sudden urge to open his rucksack and find something which he himself wasn’t aware of. She pulled out a book and started reading. Of course, that’s what he was looking for as well! A book! He took one out ever so slowly and pretended to read. He stole a quick few glances at her but was careful enough not to overdo it. Just 3-4 glances every 15 seconds. She seemed engrossed in the book and did not look up even once. She was indeed quite pretty. In a span of 5 minutes, he thought of 500 ways to initiate conversation and all those cheesy corny pickup lines he had read about. He finally settled on one and was about to speak when she giggled. For the first time, he noticed the book she was reading. Three men in a boat! The funniest book he had read thus far! He smiled. This was his chance.
“Ah! Finally! I was wondering how long it would be before you laughed or giggled! When I read that book, I used to laugh every 2-3 minutes!” The girl looked at him from top to bottom and replied with a straight face “and I was wondering how long it would be before you realise the book you are supposedly reading is upside down! Unless of course that is a special trait you have!” At that moment, the boy wished he could disappear into the bathroom and hide there till the morning. He was tongue tied for a moment but said “umm..oh..yaa..some sharp eyes you have! My mind was actually preoccupied in something else “
“Lame explanation! But I think I know where your mind was preoccupied as well”. There was added emphasis on where.
“Well, you have a sharp mind as well then”
The girl smiled. “By the way, the book you are reading, ‘the case of exploding mangoes’ is also very interesting.”
And that’s how it started. A discussion on books and favourite authors and common books.
Her name was Seema Bisht. A common surname in Uttarakhand he felt. Indeed, she was born and brought up in a place called Lansdowne in Uttarakhand. A lovely hill station. He had not been there but he knew a lot about the state since he had already been there a half a dozen times. An honorary citizen of the state, as his friends jokingly called him. This was his seventh visit to trek across the Kuari pass. She had already been there, done that. In fact she rattled off a list of must do treks. And the discussion veered onto places travelled, treks completed and favourite sights. Interspersed with humorous anecdotes and stories. So far so good! Somewhere in the distance, the train whistled loudly…
She had done her M.A in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. He was even more impressed. And the discussion took on tones of latest trends. Movies. Life in a small town vs life in a metro. He felt good. But she stifled a yawn! She said ” I think we better sleep. Will see you in the morning! Good night.” The boy wished time could slow down and reluctantly wished her good night and dragged himself to sleep. But as soon as he hit the bed, he wished time would hurry up. He couldn’t wait till the morning…
…but today morning she was nowhere to be seen. He asked Mrs. Srinivasan. She also had not seen anyone wearing a white Kurti. He got off the train and looked around the platform. No luck. He now checked the passenger list of his entire bogey again. There was no one called Seema Bisht! He was confused. He needed a hot cup of tea. He took a ten rupee note from his front pocket and was about to pay the vendor when a note fell to the floor. It was white in color and he opened it. There was a cell number on it with the initials S.B! Seema Bisht! She must have slipped it in when he was asleep. Whenever you are confused or frustrated, ek garam chai ki pyali always helps. In one way or the other. He quickly dialled the number. “The number you have dialled does not exist. Yeh number astitva mein nahi hai.” He dialled again. Same response. What the hell was happening! And just then, someone tapped him from behind…..
…The boy awoke, startled! Mrs. Srinivasan was tapping him from behind. She smiled and said, “station aa gaya beta!” The boy looked around. There was the honeymoon couple. And an elderly couple who were probably the Bakshis. And of course there was no Seema! She was a part of just a strange but wonderful dream. He smiled, got off the train and checked the passenger list once again ….