Saturday, May 30, 2009


She was a small town girl. But she loved her city – Pune. The fun hangout joints in camp, the beautiful roads and greenery around the cantonment area… it was a lovely city, with amazing weather, and lots of friends made Rashi’s life full of fun.

She had just started college when she bumped into the tall, dark, handsome 23 year old Steve, who was pursuing MBA from another college in the city. Some of his friends were in the same college as hers, and soon, one meeting led to another, and before they knew it, they were in love.

They had been together for hardly a year, when Rashi’s parents came to know and objected to the relationship. “Beta you are too young to know what’s good for you. And that too, a Christian guy…” “So what mama, you know he is going to finish his MBA, and get a good job. He is from a good family, and he loves me.” “All that is OK, but our family doesn’t allow inter caste marriage Rashi…” “I don’t care Dad, I will marry him and only him; else I’ll die a spinster.”

Now Rashi’s was the only child of her parents, and having brought up their daughter with some much love and care, they could not break her heart, and finally agreed to the alliance. At the tender age of 19 Rashi decided to get married, she could not bear to stay away from Steve anymore. The wedding happened with much fanfare. Steve’s parents were not ecstatic either, but like Rashi’s parents, they too had given in to the demands of their son. “Kids today…” they all nodded in resignation.

Life was a bed of roses for Steve and Rashi. Steve got a great job with an MNC in the Sales & Marketing Department. Rashi became a homemaker, after she graduated. They bought a small house and decorated it with knick-knacks. Soon they were blessed with a baby boy, they named him Ashish. And he was a blessing. With his arrival, the household became even happier, the couple came closer, and money flowed in. They were having the time of their life!

Chapter 2.

Towards their 12th anniversary however, Rashi began to figure subtle changes in Steve’s behaviour. His increasing disinterest in the affairs of the house and his family, late nights, worry lines appearing on his face. Something was not quite right. “Maybe he is having an affair”, she thought once. But she later dismissed it as a figment of her imagination. “C’mon, Steve can’t do that to me”, she consoled herself, and went on with her life.

Trouble was, Steve WAS having an affair, and though he was doing his best to keep it hidden, he had a nagging suspicion that Rashi knew. He still cared for Rashi and Ashish, but somewhere the magic, the charm of his marriage had faded, and he started to feel trapped. “Typical Man”, he told himself once, but he could not help but get attracted towards the new head of PR, Ms. Sanjana Kapoor.

He was wondering when and how he would break the news to Rashi when she came to him one day, teary eyed, holding his cell phone in her hand, looking at him accusingly. Even before she said it, he knew she knew. She had read one of the many SMS’s the two had shared over the past few months, and though Steve always hid or deleted them, this was one SMS he forgot about. “Maybe it was God’s wish that she should know”, he wondered, as she said “Why Steve, why?” And all he could say was “I’m sorry, but I love her.” She broke down. Her Steve. She could not believe he could do this. But he had. And she could do nothing about it. Or could she?

She asked about Ashish and her future. He said he would give her alimony, but it was over. He was leaving. She pleaded with his parents to talk to him; they could not make him change his mind. At last she gave up signed the divorce papers and Steve left Rashi and Ashish. She felt terrible alone. Even though she was getting some money towards basic expenses, she knew she could not live on it, and needed to work. After being a homemaker for so long, she found it difficult to find a job. She managed to get a teacher’s position in a nearby playschool. With her meager salary, some help from Steve and some from her parents, she managed somehow. But the thought of future scared her.

And Ashish was in a world of his own. After 11 years of fun-filled childhood, he had suddenly grown up. He fights between his parents, his mother crying all day, his father not coming home for days… He felt cheated out of his childhood, his carefree days which were supposed to have no responsibility. He was dragged in court during the divorce case, but there was no custody battle, as the new Mrs. Steve George did not want Rashi’s child in her house.

Ashish felt like a burden. His father did not want him; his mother could not afford him. Rashi went into chronic depression. She soon started to neglect her own and Ashish’s welfare. She would frequently miss office; forget to feed Ashish, not talk to anyone for days. And Ashish took care of himself. He learned how to make basic omelets, maggi etc, travelled to and from school on his own, did all schoolwork by himself, and managed the funds while his mother withered away. Soon the grandparents agreed that it’s best they put him in boarding school, while Rashi underwent treatment for depression. He thought it would be the last he saw of her. He was wrong.

Chapter 3

His days in boarding school were the best days of Ashish’s life. He was away from the troubled environment at home, though he missed having parents like other kids. He felt a bit lonely, a bit angry to not have a regular family life. But time heals, and he healed too. So did Rashi. After a few years, finally she came face-to-face with her son. She looked better, sounded cheerful. She hugged and kissed her “boy all grown up”, but somewhere, something was missing. They did not share the same bond anymore. Was it her fault, had she done everything she could in her power to give a good life to Ashish, he could not decide. But Ashish felt distant. This woman was not his mother. He tried to be happy for her, but could not find any words to reciprocate her emotions. Rashi knew she was pretending everything was fine, but she had lost her son a long time ago.

She tried to re-establish contact with Ashish. She would visit him often and discuss his progress. In spite of her personal trauma, he was a good student with bright prospects. “Intelligent, just like Steve…” she would comment. They talked about Steve sometimes. He was married with kids, and was living in Mumbai. They spoke once in a few months, generally to check up on each other. But Ashish did not like to talk about him. He had never forgiven his father for abandoning him. He never tried to meet or talk to him and liked it that way. Not that Steve tried either. Anyway, the visits continued and the relationship grew.

One day, Rashi gave him some shocking news “I have someone in my life I want you to know about” she said. “I met him in one of the support groups for divorcees. We met and instantly connected. Even he has gone through a sad divorce himself, and he understands my pain. We have found solace in each other, and would like to get married. I hope you can find some way to be happy for us.” Ashish was taken aback for a moment. It was happening again. He was scared, for her. What if even this too did not work out?

He smiled and congratulated his mother, who instantly gauged that something was amiss. But then, it was big news, and she thought better to give him time to digest it. And he did. He knew he had no other choice but to be OK with it. He knew that somewhere his mother would not go ahead with it if she felt Ashish did not want it. He met the man, and he looked OK to him. And Rashi’s second wedding took place, with no fanfare, just a simple court marriage ceremony. Only her parents and Ashish attended it.

By now Ashish had finished school and started his engineering course from IIT Mumbai. On the other hand, his mother and step father also settled in happy matrimony in Bangalore where his stepfather had his business. Many times they asked Ashish to come and live with them, but he refused. He felt much better at a distance. He would never feel at home with them. They desperately wanted a child, and since she married and had Ashish early, she still had a chance at 38. And one year later, though with much difficulty, they finally had a baby girl they named Ahana. Ashish went to meet them and the new baby once a year, and was pleased to see his mother, happy once again, and his little half-sister growing up so fast. She was not his real sister; he was not his real father, but close enough. They extended their love and support, and he did his best to reciprocate.

Chapter 4.

It was during his final year that he started to prepare for his MBA. Just the day after the CAT exam, he got that phone call that changed his life. It was his step father. “Ashish, I’m sorry; your mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It is quite advanced and she will have to undergo intensive treatment and surgery to make it. It would be great if you could spare some time to meet her.” Ashish held on to the phone long after the call went dead. He was aghast. At the unfair games God played with mankind. “Look at my poor mom, suffering cancer after all that she’s gone through, and look at my father, who is hale as a hog, even for all the sins he has committed.” After he had finished cursing the powers, and shedding a few secret tears in prayer for his mother, he went to visit her.

When he saw her, full of tubes and needles, he realized how much he really cared for her. He felt strong emotion for his family for the first time in years. After all blood is thicker than water. He spent a whole 10 days with her, and worked double hard on his projects and exams so he could get more and more time with her. Rashi struggled with the treatment. Many chemotherapy and surgery sessions later they realized they could do anything to save her. The cancer had spread too much to be controlled, and they had done everything in their power. She had little time left.

Was it destiny that on the very same day Ashish’s most cherished dream of making it to an IIM came true, his mother breathed her last. Coincidentally he had made it to IIM-Bangalore, the very city she had made her home. With a heavy heart, Ashish completed the cremation rites. A distant looking Steve came to attend the funeral, but Ashish refused to let him disgrace his mother’s memory with his presence. His step-father stepped up in the way a father would, and joined hands with him in putting Rashi to a peaceful sleep. As always, his step dad had proved his loyalty and love for his mother, and his care and concern for Ashish. He had brought her out of a miserable past, given her a source of unlimited joy-Ahana, and a peaceful life till her untimely death. He had proved to be a dutiful husband, a doting father to Ahana, and gave support, even if mostly financial, to help Ashish realize his ambitions. And now there he was, standing next to the burning pyre, looking forlorn and broken, alone with the little Ahana, who had just started to know her mother. How will her ever explain the little princess where her mommy had gone? Ashish felt a deep sense of sympathy for him, and guilt for not spending more time with the family in the past. He wondered if he could ever make up for all the time he lost

Finally he did get an opportunity. Little Ahana probably did not understand fully the implications of what really happened, but even she sensed and felt the loss and sadness, and knew she would never have mommy again. But she knew something that would make things better. After the prayer meeting for Rashi was over, and everyone had left, as Ashish was saying goodbye to his stepfather, Ahana went up to him and tugged on his shirt sleeve. “Dada, now that mommy’s gone, why don’t you please stay with me?” Ashish did not know what to say. With a lump in his throat, and glistening eyes, he picked up the 4 year old and took her in his arms. He looked at his stepfather, who said “Yes, Ashish, why don’t you. I mean you will be based out of this city only, why don’t you come home? I realize with your mother gone, you might not want to stay, after all I am your stepfather and Ahana your step sister. But if you ever wanted a home, you know where you can find us.” And without a moment’s hesitation, Ashish hugged his father and sister: he knew exactly what he was going to do. He was his Father, she was his Sister, and they were Family. And when he finally entered the house in Bangalore with all his stuff, he knew that after 10 years, he was finally HOME.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Mahira was her name. It meant “expert”. And she was. At her favourite game, the only thing she looked forward to every day. Carrom!

It started when she was 6… with much older brothers who had no time for her, and a mother battling with chronic depression and uncontrollable outbursts of rage, she had no company except the old small carom board that her siblings had long discarded. And she liked it like that.

They were not very well off, and lived in a small apartment in Sunshine Housing Society in Mukherjee nagar, Delhi. The only person she really loved was her father, a old looking man defeated by the trials of life. Not only because he was the only one who gave her hugs and got her toffees, but because he used to play carrom with her every evening!

As the years went by, she got a better hang of the game. By 8 she could defeat all her family and friends, by 10 she was fighting off 15 year old champs. No one talked about Mahira's beauty, or her performance in school, but they all noticed her talent at one of the most popular indoor games of the country. And she swelled with praise.

It did not go to her head though. She worked hard, and deserved the praise. At just 12, she was taking part in all local and inter-school sports championships, and rarely came home empty handed. If only people gave more importance to Carrom, she thought, I would be no less than a Sania Mirza! She was almost obsessed with her carrom board, playing with it while eating, watching TV,… Her family did not understand her craze, but did not care much. As long as she was getting decent grades at school.

Finally the day came. Every summer the local Sports club celebrated sports day and held various competitions for children of all ages. Last year, Mahira managed to reach the finals for Carrom, but lost her last game. She had never been more devastated. Since that day she swore she will not lose again in this competition. She practiced more, challenged as many friends and relatives she could find to a game, and worked on improving her concentration skills and hand dexterity. It was all worth it, for that week in June when she would get to finally prove her mettle to all. She had managed to win the initial matches and now was gearing up for the finals to be held that weekend.

She went to the old sports room in the neighbouring apartments where the competition was to be held. With 3 children, her family could not spend on a big fancy carrom board with accessories for her, especially when they had other important expenses towards the brothers. So this was where she came everyday to practice. She had made quite a lot of friends there. An otherwise shy girl, carrom was her only source of friends. They were all impressed by her abilities, and loved to play with her. No one minded losing to her; she was a sweet, fun-loving girl passionate about her game, never haughty and always quick to help the learners. They all looked forward to having her around, and were even gunning for her in the competition. Since the people of Megha Apartments knew and trusted Mahira, they even allowed her access to the room unattended.

When Mahira reached the room, she found it the door wide open and a few lights on. It was a large hall, with some table tennis equipment, and lots of tables for indoor games like scrabble, chess, pictionary, carrom, cards. There was an adjoining room for squash, and 3 huge lawns outside for cricket, tennis, football and badminton. It was a Friday afternoon during summer vacations, so a few 8-yr-old kids were playing table tennis inside (or trying to). Mahira smiled at their efforts to keep the ball on the table, and went on to occupy her favourite table with her favourite board.

Suddenly she heard some noise. There was a small toilet in the corner of the hall, near the carrom tables. It was hardly used by residents, as it was dingy and smelly. The servants, watchmen, drivers etc occasionally used it. At first Mahira dismissed the noises to be that of some servant using the toilet. She was embarrassed to hear the noises, which she thought were not her business. But soon when they turned into apparently painful moans, she could not stand it any longer. Emboldened by the 2 boys playing TT (she was not alone in case anything WAS wrong) she slowly made her way towards the half open door of the bathroom, to see the most shocking sight of her life.

A young guy with a stubble, dressed in trousers and shirt, head tilted towards the ceiling, eyes closed, moaning away, was shaking his hand vigorously near his waist, holding on to something Mahira could'nt see properly. And then it suddenly came into view, as Mahira let out a gasp, and the man let it go in a fright… Mahira had never seen ‘it’ before, though she knew about it. She did not understand what was happening, but in a second she felt sick: she knew something was not quite right. She ran out of the door, the guy running out after her shouting “Please don’t tell anyone!!”

And Mahira ran. Ran like crazy. Faster than P.T. Usha! She ran and ran till she entered the gates of her apartments. She looked back to make sure that crazy guy was not following her. He wasn’t. She was relieved. She ran farther to her doorstep, rang the bell continuously till her flustered mother opened the door, ready to give a piece of her mind to the person who was disturbing her afternoon siesta. But Mahira did not have time to listen to yet another scolding from her mother. She ran up straight to her room (thankfully she did not have to share her tiny room with her brothers), and collapsed on the bed. Never the religious type, even on the eve of any match, suddenly she started to chant all the prayers she ever knew, to ward off the evil she carried with her from that room. But to no avail. Even after 15 minutes she was still sweating, breathing heavily, unable to forget the scene which was playing in her mind over and over. She felt sick, but had nothing in her stomach to puke out. Her mother came to her room and on finding it locked, started banging on the door and shouting “What happened Mahi?” But Mahira did not reply. She just broke into quiet sobs, not knowing why she cried, why she felt guilty, when she had done nothing.

She did not emerge for lunch. She did not go out in the evening. When 7 o clock came, they all asked her to come out and go for the final match. But she was petrified of entering that room again. What if that guy was still there waiting for her? She opened the door and mumbled something about not feeling well. Her parents checked her temperature… she was running 100 degrees fever. They decided to let her rest. She was glad that she developed fever, and could avoid the match. She stayed in her room all that week, going out only to use the bathroom or have food. Her parents could not understand her behaviour. They assumed she was just unwell. The boys were glad to have the TV all to themselves. They were happy to get rid of their kid sister who was more of a pest to them. The mother was happy to have one less mischievous child to run after, and the father was sad, to see his little princess so glum. He tried to talk to her a few times, and cajole her to play a few rounds of carrom, but she flatly refused. She was distant and awkward with him. In just a few days they had grown apart and he would never know why. Finally he gave up and went back to his own bleak empty world, alone. And Mahira never played carrom again.

Over the next few weeks, Mahira took up studies with full frenzy, forgetting about everything else. Though everyone was happy to see her dedication towards studies, there were some who missed the passion Mahira had for her game. Especially her teachers. “Mahira is doing well in math, Mrs. Sharma, but she has lost total interest in carrom… Do you know what happened?” Ofcourse I know what happened, Mrs. Mehra thought, she has finally grown up and over her silly obsession and realised that studies are the most important thing.

And so the chapter of Mahira and her carrom was closed. Most people regarded it as a passing phase, a sign of growing up. Her mother was happy the child was not spending all her time on games, and took up this opportunity to hone her home-making skills. After all who wants a sports woman at home, cooking and homemaking are more important skills than anything else.

And Mahira forgot about carrom and spent all her time helping her mother, studying, and occasionally taking a walk in the park. She stopped meeting the few friends she had. After a few days of asking about her, they also gave up. She was afraid to see other people, she was afraid they could see the guilt on her face, that they could look at her and know what happened that day in that room. God knows what torture she went through to avoid looking at or talking to people at home or in school. She kept to herself. Spent all her time in her room, slept fitfully at night, haunted by the dark room with the evil man. Her reticence went unnoticed, since she was usually shy around people.

This went on for a few months, after which they shifted their house to Ghaziabad where they had finally bought their own house. With a change of scenery and people, Mahira finally found the courage to forget that incident and move out of the house and make friends. They cycled around, played various sports and hung out at the happening spots. Her family was happy to see her old self once again, though no one dared to mention the C word again.

And Mahira was happy as this place had no sports room. She never told anyone about that incident, or that she played carrom. Maybe she would find the courage to tell someone some day, maybe after a few years she would forget about it completely. Or maybe she would one day be able to look back and laugh at the incident. But for now she was at peace, having laid her demons to rest. She was free from that room, that man, that moment, forever. Now I never have to play carrom again, she thought, with a grim but relieved smile.