Often in life,
We miss the right train
Often in life,
We board the wrong train,
But more often than we realise
The wrong train takes us to the right destination.
'Such is life,
All our agendas aren't necessarily the right ones.'
Utter Shit! I never really believed in this.
I had my destinations put up straight.
I knew pretty well, what I want and I was quite clear as to how to achieve it.
But then I met Meera. I won't really call her an inspiration, cause she wasn't one but she did teach me many things one way and one thing in many ways.
'Nights are Dark,
Nights are lonely
Nights steal away in itself
Secrets too many...'
And she closed her book, a hurricane of thoughts was taking over her head. It was breaking her silence. She just closed her eyes for darkness to peep in, but darkness didn't.
[ 1 ]
Breaking up and making up is quite a regular thing for us.
There are a lot of temporary people we meet,
They aren't meant to last long, but we don't really acknowledge this fact.
Until they are gone. Gone, never to return.
They don't leave this world but they surely leave our world and after a while we are okay with it.
We just move on with our lives and sooner or later, the memory too fades away.
But with Meera, things were a little different; She had some strange thing to do with memories. Any memory associated with her, wasn't easy to be faded away. I could never really wipe her off from my thoughts.
The very first memory I share with Meera is just a glimpse. Glimpse of beautiful sparkling eyes. Glimpse of lustrous rosy lips drenched in milk cream. Glimpse of curly black hair messed up quite haphazardly in a failed attempt to form a bun. To sum up all, the beautiful memory was much more than just a glimpse to me.
It was my first visit to the city. Also my last. I hadn't intended to return there any more as there wasn't anything left for me. But it wasn't maybe the case.
[ 2 ]
'Nights are beautiful
Nights are cold
Nights hold on to us
When everything falls apart'
and I smiled at the twinkling dot above.
I always had this fascination about stars. Wherever you go, just a glance above and they are there for you. Back at my pada, there were plenty along with me. They had been there for me, always. When I came to this city, I was pretty sure that they too would have followed me but when I looked up, they all hadn't. Many of my mates were missing. I had just left them back to move in this city. This city offered me much more that I had sought for, but at night when I used to stare at the sky, only a dot used to smile back at me.
June had just set in and monsoon was right around the corner, but nothing seemed like monsoon. The air was still as humid as ever and so were the people, dusty roads and hot rooftops had got people on their nerves. Nights would be calm, children on vacation had come back to attend school, and so had Meera. Meera didn't attend school. She had left it a year before. I didn't know it then. I didn't know many things about her then.
It was quite cold outside, may be it was raining somewhere. The air was calmer than usual. There was a sweet melody in it. There were no stars in the sky that day, still the sky was glittering. I was alone there, still someone was there with me.
It was Meera, I was meeting her for the first time in person.
She was indeed beautiful. Very beautiful. She too had come to terrace that day to chat with the stars, just like me. Instead she stood there dissolving her scent in the mist air, and I was getting dissolved in her.
She was at the other corner. I tried hard not to stare at her, but she was too beautiful a person to be ignored. I felt guilty of making her uncomfortable, but soon I realized she wasn't even acknowledging my presence. She was busy drinking rain, as every drop kissed her forehead and traveled through her cheeks to linger on the neckline and then get absorbed in her. A part of me craved to be that drop. Never in my life had I been so jealous of a raindrop, honestly.
I wanted to get up and talk with her, but I just could not get up. Looking at her from a distance, as she was getting drenched in the rain, was an ethereal moment in itself, and I didn't want it to end. But it soon ended with a harsh voice calling out her name. She was startled by that screech as if some one woke her up from the most beautiful dream she was chasing. As she rushed home, she left me alone, once again, with a beautiful memory of hers.
[ 3 ]
I had slept with peace, however I woke up with noise. This had become a daily routine by now, what else was I supposed to expect from a chawl. Every morning when a noise woke me up, I used to recall my agent Bala's words, 'Saheb, issey jyada sukoon toh bass jannat mei hai.' (Sir, only heaven can get more peaceful than this)
It brought a sarcastic smile on my face, typical estate agent he was.
My day often started late, being a writer I had a lot of time at leisure to just do nothing. The publishing house for whom I worked had given me a lot of time in hand to work on my story, thus most of my day went by just roaming around the city catching up small conversations with strangers and getting a bite of their lives. There was so much to learn from this place. Everyone had a story to tell, yet none of them had time to hear it once for themselves. Though I was a stranger, I never felt like one. Although I didn't know anyone, I never really felt lonely. In a way, I often found myself as a part of their story and they a part of mine. Sometimes I missed home, but most of the times I didn't. Slowly but truly, I was falling in love with the place and even more in love with the people!
Since I was quite new to the place, hardly anyone knew me there, except for some oldies with whom I used to spend evenings listening to radio and some kids around the place. One such kid was Veer, with whom I had an instant connect. He was unlike kids of his age. I got to know he is Meera's brother when their mother got him to me for tuition. Only then I got to know that Meera had left school since their mother could not afford educating both.
Meera's mother was a charming woman in her late thirties. A couple of years elder to me, however she looked prematurely aged, thanks to tons of make up she applied. But her eyes were still young, just like her daughter, full of life, yet dark and deep. I could instantly conclude where Meera got her cute dimples and beautiful long hair from. I never asked about Meera's father, neither did they mentioned him ever. When I first met her, I thought of her as a strong, though illiterate, independent single mother. It was later when I ran into her at Bala's place that I realized who she actually was. I hate Bala for the disrespectful way he spoke to her and later about her. Yet I thanked him for giving that family a room to stay away from the filth where she was brought up and also where Meera was born. That day I also realized Bala is not just an estate agent, he deals with many other things as well. This was my first rendezvous with the dark secrets of the gloomy corridors.
My first day of tuition with Veer was quite brief. He was a student most teachers would love to hate. He wasn't notorious, he was cold. He wasn't dumb, but his smartness was in all together different matters. I soon realized that he had no interest in studies, but I was more interested in teaching him, maybe only because he was Meera's brother and Meera had come along with him for the class that day. That day I saw her more closely. She was at one hand distance from me. I was tempted to touch her, to feel her. Her skin wasn't white but it wasn't dark either. Her skin beamed with flawless vibrancy, emitting exquisite radiance. That day, I noticed a mole on her chin, every detail of her face was beautiful, it kept me hooked on to. Her eyes were dark, deep, as if there are a lot of stories hidden inside. I wanted to read them all. I wasn't really bothered about the class as I was lost in her eyes.
She was just 12, I was double her age, precisely more than that. Still she sensed my thoughts, my risque thoughts about her. I couldn't help it and I didn't try it either. The more her scent mingled in air, the more I was losing myself in her. I was simply looking her in the eyes, dark, deep and mysterious, and they hypnotized me. She caught me staring and smiled back.
I lost my heart!
I had already started day-dreaming and then my dream broke. It was Veer, he brought me back to the class.
Next day, Meera didn't come. A sense of guilt ran through my veins. I wasn't able to meet Veer's eyes. I was pretty sure that Meera would never come over. That night I could not sleep as well. A moth was flickering around the dim table lamp on my desk. My eyes were fixed on him, and my mind wandering over Meera. There was something mysteriously beautiful about her. Every time I thought of her, I felt exalted. I felt divine.
She smelt of rose,
Her skin radiating gold,
Oh! I so wish
If I could just kiss, all of her.
As I penned down the last word, guilt engulfed me. I asked myself, 'Is it right for me to fall for a girl half my age?'
[ 4 ]
It was September. The clumsy by-lanes of Mumbai, now washed by rains were blindly decorated by chart-papers, glitters and flashy halogens. The streets were dressed in festive colors, so were the people. The festival was in and it was evident from the smile on everyone's faces, old and young alike. Back at our pada too, we celebrated Ganeshotsav. We too brought Bappa home, served him for days and parted with him with a promise to welcome Him back again the next year. Here in Mumbai, as Bollywood said it right, every thing was on 70 mm wide screen. I had never seen a celebration on such a huge scale. It wasn't just large, it was enormous. I was quite fascinated by the pandals, the decorations and also the Idols. God was one, but its style was different in every pandal, and each one was unique in its own way.
Bala was the chief sponsor of the event at our chawl. Money flowed in from every house and so did the sweets and prasad. Some spent wholeheartedly, some by default while some with grudges.
Veer along with his older mates got busy with the preparations to welcome our very own Elephant God, but Meera was nowhere to be seen. Nor could their mother be located. I had a class that afternoon with Veer, which he bunked. I caught him behind pandal, all alone painting thermacol sheets in black. I joined him, maybe just to kill time or maybe I was sneaking in his life. Either way, he allowed me to.
It was a lazy afternoon, we didn't talk much. Neither about studies, which was supposedly the only common topic between us, nor about anything else. Not even cricket! We were simply doing our job, painting the sheets black.
Black had always been my favorite color. For me, it signified depth. Most people called it inauspicious, however I loved it. I love the sense of darkness, the calmness, the sincerity it carries. It was that enchanting color which would not just envelop you in itself but will merge with you and paint you in itself, without you realizing.
Being a writer, I got a little philosophical there. I started seeing Meera in the color. Knowingly or unknowingly, I started painting her with every stroke on the canvas, her black hair, her kohl-ed black eyes, her beautiful black mole. Black looked beautiful on her!
Veer was probably reading my thoughts because he once again woke me up, 'Sir, its black, don't get drowned in it'. For once I felt, he wasn't just talking about the color.
Startled, I continued on coloring the sheet. I felt like a child caught stealing candies. A minute later, his mother called up for lunch and he got up to leave. I too left along, leaving the incomplete sheets behind.
As we were heading up, I asked him, 'What did you exactly mean?'
I wondered whether he knew something, which I was probably shying away from. Also, it gave me a clue that there's something this boy wants out from me.
He smiled slyly at me. He didn't answer instead invited me home for lunch. Meera wasn't home. Mother was. Trying not to sound nosy but concerned, I asked them about her whereabouts, as casually as possible. She gave me quite a vague reply which intensified my concern. I wasn't convinced with her response, Veer was silent through this conversation. I didn't inquire more, but I did sense something fishy. And hence, I was bent on knowing what it is.
Although I didn't know much.
Although her mother told me, she is good, somehow I wasn't convinced,
She is fine.
Something in the discomforting air around that little flat lie told me that things aren't fine. They needed me but they weren't even able to ask me out for help openly. Also, I had no clue how I would be helping them. Back then, I also wasn't even aware how bad the situation was.
As I was leaving, Meera returned. She looked at me for a brief moment then looked down and walked inside. My eyes followed her. That day, her eyes were shallower than ever, the dark circles around her eyes were evident. I wondered if she had cried. She had applied makeup that day but it wasn't making her look beautiful. She had worn a nice dress, but she wasn't comfortable carrying it.
Veer accompanied me to my room. We exchanged no words, my mind was pondering over Meera. God knows what Veer was thinking, but he sure was. There was something constantly running on his mind ever since the moment we were coloring sheets, having lunch and even while we were heading to that corner flat of mine, a couple of blocks away from his.
Finally silence broke, 'You like her, dont you?' Veer asked bluntly. I had no answer. I wasn't sure and he was probably fearing my uncertainty.
'Take her away, tonight... this place is not good, please...' He continued. Tears had clouded his eyes. His voice had started shaking. My heart broke for him.
Before I could say anything, he hugged me by my waist and started sobbing. He was worried and he was scared of something even he didn't know. Maybe he had heard something or had seen something kids of his age shouldn't have. Probably, he discovered something which was being hidden from him all this while. Whatever it was, it had got me equally perturbed.
I cuddled him, wiped his tears, took his little hands in mine and assured him, 'She'll be fine, don't worry.'
[ 5 ]
Clouds had gathered overhead. There were no twinkling dots that night. It was cold. Downstairs, it was bright, gatherings were noisy and the eve was peppy. Preparations for Ganesha swagat were in full swing. Up here, It was dark. I was lonely and the night was gloomy. It wasn't raining yet the air was wet. It was clumsy, I wasn't liking the darkness, and I didn't want to go downstairs. The only nice thing about that night, that moment, was Meera. We hadn't planned to meet, yet we met. I knew she would come, so I came. She knew I would be there, so she came.
She came up but she didn't look at me. Instead, she went straight to the edge of the terrace and rested herself there, staring into the dark skies above. That hinted me to come over and start a conversation. I did. Her palms were rested on the edge.
I placed my hands over and was about to say something when she blurted out bluntly, 'You too look at me the same way people out there do, whats the difference?'
I was taken aback by her stark statement. I felt offended. Something in me killed then and there. I looked down, I was unable to meet her eyes but she made it a point to look straight in my eyes, the eyes I admired most were cutting through me. I I thought I was that hero who was there to save her from the evil but her words got me out of my self-proclaimed image of her knight in a shiny armor.
She was much mature than people of her age. Her words told me, 'Listen, I don't need your help, if that's what you are planning to do. Long back, Bala uncle helped my mother and we are still paying him off.' She had a point there but I wasn't there to help her expecting a favor in return. I was there just because I thought I should be. I wanted to be with her, simply.
'I love you Meera' The words made way through my lips.
She smiled back saying, 'You aren't the first one to say so, please don't expect anything, I don't have anything to offer you.'
'I don't want anything from you. All I want is YOU.' This time I looked straight in her eyes and she was shying away hopelessly.
'This isn't right, you are wasting your time. We aren't meant to fall in love.'
She was about to move when I held her by hand, my touch got goosebumps on her. When I looked her in the eyes, I found a little tear trying to spoil the beauty of her face. I wiped it off with my finger. Her skin was soft. Soft as silk. I could not take my palm off her cheeks and neither could I hold myself back from bringing her face closer to mine. I was about to kiss her but I controlled myself. She didn't. A drop landed on her lips, then another on her cheeks. One on mine and soon it started raining.
The night wasn't silent but we were. We weren't speaking yet shared a million words. She smiled at me, the same smile I had seen on her face when I had seen her for the first time. The same smile which had killed me a million times when I had seen her dancing in rain. Sweet, innocent and honest. Smile only and exclusively for me. That moment on, that smile was mine. She was mine.
I wasn't sure if this was right. She was too young for me, precisely I was too old for her. I had a sleepless night. And so did she.
[ 6 ]
Bappa arrived with songs, dance and merry processions. Everyone was happy, including me. My eyes were searching for Meera in the crowd, I wanted to seek His blessings with her. But I could not find her. I could not locate Veer either to ask about her whereabouts. I went to their flat looking for a clue, only to find a lock. I even tried asking neighbors but none of them had any idea. I started feeling uneasy.
It was time for aarti and people had gathered around in the pandal. I was sitting there alone, waiting for Meera. Instead, I met Bala. He wasn't looking happy to see me, but he came up to sit besides me.
He came straight to the point, 'When are you planning to leave?' I was confused, our agreement wasn't due for in another six months. I had plenty of time to plan out my departure. Also, the very day I moved in, I had a word with Bala about extending my stay if required and he too had no issues then. I wondered, why all of a sudden, in a festive mood, he popped up such a question that too in such a serious tone.
I replied saying, 'Once my work here is done.' as coldly as he had asked me.
'Saheb, a tenent must not dream about owning the house.' I sensed hatred in his tone. It was not just any statement. It was a threat. He was not talking about the room anymore. He had set it straight for himself to kick me out of the area, or the city maybe. I feared it, cause by then, I was pretty aware of how influential Bala is. And that scared me more. But for Meera, I was ready to face it all. I so deeply loved her.
I wasn't going to sit there, playing around with words. I was about to ask him directly where Meera and her family is but then thought otherwise. I was sure that he won't tell me the truth. But he did. Rather I got the answer. Minutes later, I saw Meera coming out of a car. Bala's car, to be precise. She passed by us but didn't see me. She ignored me, simply. Bala and Meera headed together to seek Bappa's blessings. My heart broke. Blood rushed in through my veins. I felt betrayed.
Gathering my dissapointment, I stood next to Meera for prayers. Anger surfaced in Bala's eyes. I didn't bother. I looked at Meera's small face, she was smiling meekly. I saw disappointment in her eyes. The spark had gone. It saddened me more. Together we took blessings, together. After aarti, I hinted her to meet me upstairs. I was not sure if she could make it but somewhere, somehow I knew, that she would come and she came.
'I told you, we are not meant to fall in love.' She choked.
'What's the deal with Bala?', I asked disgusted, 'Can't we just elope, away from the filth, from the dirt, from Bala?'
'I wish I could but I was sold to him years ago.' I could not believe my ears.
Aghast, I looked in her eyes. Searching myself. All I could see was grief, sadness, despair.
'Even if we elope, he'll find us and kill us. Both of us. I can't let my fate kill you. You deserve better. Please try and forget me.' She tried hard to hold back her tears but they didn't listen.
'We are leaving this place. Now!' I commanded.
'We can't. I can't leave Veer and mother back here.' She pleaded.
'Did he hurt you?' I asked worried. 'Physically? No' She replied.
Though physically intact, I could see how emotionally drained she was. She asked me to leave the city. I wasn't ready to. I didn't.
She hugged me for the last time before she went down, saying she must leave before anyone comes looking for her. That was the last I saw of her.
[ 7 ]
'Nights are Dark,
Nights are lonely
Nights steal away in itself
Secrets too many...'
And she closed her book, crumbled page from my diary was still in her closet. A hurricane of thoughts were taking over her head. It was breaking her silence. She just closed her eyes for darkness to peep in, but darkness didn't.
They were alone in the house. It was the ninth day after Ganesh aagman. She hadn't seen daylight since.
After much emotional turmoil, she mustered up courage to raise her voice, 'I don't wish to marry you.' Sadly, her petition went in vain.
Irked, Bala kept his glass of whisky aside, gave her a pitiful look and grunted 'Oh! So you want to stay with me without marriage? No issues for me.'
Scared, Meera pleaded, 'Please leave us. For Gods sake, please.' Again in vain.
The more she cried, the more he grunted. He was enjoying her helplessness.
She was crying. She was helpless but dignified. The thought of committing suicide did cross her mind once but she composed herself. Her life was precious than his ego. Much more. She even thought of killing Bala but she didn't want to paint her hands with his blood.
That night, she sneaked off that house. Bala was too drunk to realize. That night, I thought she would come to me but she didn't. Somewhere deep, I knew that she wouldn't.
That day I realized how much of a coward I had been. I wanted to save her but did nothing. I confessed my love but failed to stand by it and safeguard it. I had failed as a lover.
It was the last day of Ganeshutsav. Meera was nowhere. I received a call from Bala. It was not out of concern but out of anger. He held me guilty for her disappearance. I wasn't really shocked. Veer and their mother too were missing. Deep in my heart, I knew they would be fine. But then, nobody knew the truth, except for Meera.
[ Epilogue ]
They could not keep in bondage,
Freedom her wings carried.
She was destined to fly off one day
And that's exactly what she did.
I miss Meera.
I never went back, looking for her. I know, I can find her and we can be together.
But I don't want it that way because she didn't want it that way.
The day she left, she answered all my questions..
Yes, she loved me. Her love was pure, innocent, just like her and that's the reason she left me.
If only I could love her that way.