Dark clouds were looming over the horizon. The city’s skyline of high-rise skyscrapers was caught in the tight embrace of a thick blanket. The twilight zone was seamlessly taken over by the overcast sky in a mélange befitting an artists’ canvas. A slight drizzle had begun. Small droplets had formed big drippings on the tinted window panes. Seconds ticked by into minutes and minutes into hours. It had been over two hours now that the incessant downpour was pounding havoc on the land. The decibels of the prolonged pitter-patter had become audibly unbearable. A thunderous resonance reverberated through the dusky firmament. An occasional luminous flash of lightning could be sighted in the distance.
These forces of Nature only augmented the furore storming her mind. There is an uncanny, ambivalent streak accompanying the rains – the same carriers of merriment for frayed nerves also act as catalysts for nostalgia, of moments lived and loved. They had indeed cast a spell over her. As she stood solitarily in the alcove of the 19th floor of the office edifice staring at the lashing rains, a queasy listlessness permeated within her. It was less of homesickness and more of déjà senti she had been experiencing since a few weeks. She felt a queer pang of detachment from her own self. Inadvertently, her hand reached out to the drawer and scampered beneath the odd paraphernalia to find “Aparimita Aananda”. She grinned meekly holding the 200-plus paged Kannada collection. She scurried over its crisply printed pages to read a lyrical extract in an anthology towards its finale: "And so the cherubic swings of the wanderer abound Through the first showers and the strong whiff of moist soil Amidst crystal drops on buttercups and tender fronds Making a picture perfect to mesmerize one and all” She knew the contents of the published novel by rote; after all her very own words were embossed in print. It was her debutante foray into formal literature revealing the innate communication the Kodava inhabitants share with nature and its slowly waning yet significant presence in today’s world. The book was penned a couple of years back during her self-imposed hiatus for the preparation of the competitive CAT exam. It had remained in oblivion in the form of tattered drafts until Uncle Harihar got to know of it last year and persuaded her to refine the manuscripts suitably for publishing. Not only that, he also took the onus of convincing the Chief Editor of the publication house for printing a limited edition of 100 copies for trial circulation.
Harihar S. was a highly revered litterateur popular for his cultural writings in the Kodava circles. A well-wisher and close family friend for several years, he had noticed the spark in the child prodigy way back in her schooling years when she would write in magazines and newsletters. His encouraging attitude buoyed her spirits to hone her writing skills over the academic tenure. If it was not for Uncle Harihar, the book would have never seen the light of the day.
Sandhya’s family was primarily into agricultural sector and hence had no predilection towards the faculty. She smiled dotingly at her own contribution to the literati pleased at the small yet noteworthy achievement. Reading through one of its snippets, she could feel the hidden creative power unleash within her.
Coming back to the present, a sudden gush of disconcerted thoughts caught her, in their grip. The bemused lady wondered if the highly demanding professional tide in her budding years had swept her away from her roots and the underlying dreams. Was it too late to turn back and rectify what was left on the way, was she heading to a point of no return? Meet the young, debonair female, Sandhya Mandanna who was the enterprising Senior Business Analyst of Projects, Asia-Pacific Division of one of the top ranking Forbes listed companies posted in Bengaluru. She had made her second home in San Jose, the self-proclaimed capital city of the hackneyed Silicon Valley. As a part of IT bandwagon, she had long harboured the stereotyped ‘onsite’ dream while still in the capacity of a neophyte analyst. Her career spanning over half a decade had taken a steady upwardly growth in a short span. Her designation had thus become the bone of contention among her peers. What had commenced as a short-term onsite trip meant to last for barely two three months had now been morphed into a full-blown term. She was practically living out of the bag for the past one year. The sporadic departures and arrivals on the India – U.S. corridor had left her mentally and physically emaciated.
She recalled the day’s events – the Project Proposal meeting with a world-class bank client had ended amicably in their favour. Her team had been overtly successful in winning the $10 billion investment project which could pave a strategic alliance in the near future. Bidding of this prestigious project was a major milestone for the organization and a synonymously significant breakthrough in Sandhya’s career as well for associating with the same. Suddenly, out of the blue, the vibration of her mobile disturbed the stillness in the frigid cubicle. Without any further delay, she advanced to pick the most anticipated call from home. “Yes Amma. I am fine. Everything is alright here. You needn’t worry. Haven’t I managed all these months? I can take care of myself Amma.“ snapped Sandhya in a high-pitched falsetto voice to hush her mother’s squabbling over her wellbeing on the brink of being paranoid. She tried her best to pacify Amma’s hysteria thus ”The project proposal which our team was working on from past few months is finally approved today. It will take me at least two more months to return Amma. But I am going to talk to my head very soon to let me operate from Bengaluru.” Amma heaved a sigh of relief on hearing the assurance and mumbled a tepid monosyllable. When the conversation from the other end thinned even more, Sandhya almost screamed “Tell me Amma. Is there something you aren’t telling me? Anything to share? I hope everything’s alright there!” Finally, when the elderly lady broke her silence, her words seemed to resound in Sandhya’s ears as pearls of wisdom transcending across ages, miles and years into a different world altogether bringing her much closer: “Sandhya, it’s simply that your Appa and I long to see you – our only child. Professional commitments are alright at their own place but definitely not at the expense of other priorities. You had undertaken it as a short-term onsite assignment! And now see how you are stuck insideout in the grind of your rut job. I say, don’t you have a life left outside it? It’s high time you set your priorities right. It is this equilibrium which will take you long way ahead.” Her evincing words pierced through Sandhya’s conscience as a sharp-edged sword. Moreover, they were a clear manifestation of her own thoughts as well. How come Amma had so vividly described what was going on in her mind. Was it telepathy? “Yes Amma. I know what you are saying; but I am too entangled in this professional humdrum. I am striving to move out of this web created by none other but me. I want to slow down and look within. I want to do all those things which I missed out in all these years of tasteless scuttle. I..I.. Oh!!! Amma. How come you gauged my thoughts. I miss you so very much.” Amma was now in slight tears and changed the conversation to a lighter note: “We miss you too. And yes, a good news for you. “Aparimita Aananda” has got short-listed among 45-odd stories by the Karnataka Kodava Sahitya Academy this year.” Sandhya was now all excited and exclaimed exuberantly “Wow!! When and how did this happen? I was not even aware of it!” Amma continued jovially “Actually, Uncle Harihar had nominated your book for the prominent award last month. He told me to keep the news under wraps and to share it with you later. Perhaps, he was all the more confident than us that it would be shortlisted. The Academy has sent a letter in your name informing that the results would be announced next month.” By now, Sandhya was highly elated and replied “That’s indeed nice Amma. Such a kind gesture by Uncle. I will meet him once back in India.” Amma went on to inform her about some trivial domestic details before hanging up. Remembering of the bygone good-old days, tears swelled in Sandhya’s eyes. She could contain herself no longer. A remote tear descended from her eyes leaving a trail on her pale visage. An ephemeral childlike thought crossed her mind – she imagined herself letting loose to blissfully soak and drain her tears in the rains. Indeed, people have their own ways of connecting with the nature and the self.
After a long bout, the rains finally subsided. Putting her fleeting thoughts on a back-burner, she waved weekend goodbyes to her team-mates and tucked her hand-purse to rush towards the elevator. She had already been late by two hours. It was 9:30 p.m. and she had yet to buy herself the customary Burger which she would relish on such late nights. Cooking at these odd hours after a tiring day was obviously out of question. Luckily the fast food joint next to her service apartment supplemented her pining for a quick supper before heading for a good night’s sleep.
Over the weekend, Sandhya found herself in a jubilant mood reconnecting with her old buddies mainly IIM batch mates who came over for a cuppa of coffee. The inanimate apartment turned into a rollicking playhouse as jokes, laughter and light banter bonded the camaraderie after a long break. Somehow good friends can always start off from where they have left years before!!! The next day, they planned a sortie to the nearby places including a small hill-town drive, an amusement park and a nature trail. The retreat amidst the shadowy canopy of trees, wildflower outgrowths and the cool sprinkling waterfalls had managed to revitalize her mind and body alike. It had taken her down the memory lane to the quaint quarters of her hometown, the idyllic Coorg which would be a pastoral delight in the month of Shravan. Her close chum, Neha Shah who was studying for a MS degree preferred to stay back at her place over the night. They had a ball reviving shared secrets and catching up on each others’ lives.
On Sunday, Sandhya found herself attempting the traditional Kannada culinary preparation ‘Bisi bele bath’ for the brunch. “Hey dear, I didn’t know you were such a good cook. Now whenever I feel the craving for home-food I know where to go. It’s simply awesome!!!” slurped Neha as she helped herself to another dollop of serving. Sandhya was rather astonished but also pleased on hearing the praise. Neha continued in an excited pitch: “By the way can we meet next week? The Indian Literature Society of San Francisco has organized a two-day workshop on short-story and creative writing themes. The events also include latest book reviews, poetry gatherings and audio-video documentaries of famous writers. You have always been a literary aficionado! What say?” Sandhya recollected for a split second about the pipelined activities for the next week before nodding self-effacingly. After Neha left, Sandhya kept speculating as to how much life has to offer. One can pursue so many creative pursuits in one’s lifetime – writing, painting, photography, learning a musical instrument, travelling in unexplored places…the list is endless. It’s finally up to us to lead blissful lives; to find solace in things we enjoy doing the most and which make life worthwhile. Her drab lifestyle was nothing to bemoan about; it was all too natural; nobody has escaped the tedium of a mundane job; everyone has to undergo it for survival, competition and financial security but finally how you utilise your personal time is what matters the most. We spend so much of our time in office work, struggling to keep abreast with deadlines and earn good appraisal ratings. And somewhere in this rat race, we take the self, family and friends for granted. Ironically, it is they who deserve most of our attention and time. It is with them that some of the best moments are shared and cherished!
The two days of repose had ended. Plaudits were pouring in for the team already basking in the glory of bagging the project. Sandhya had scheduled a meeting with her reporting manager requesting to curtail her onsite stay. The one-to-one discussion with her manager had turned into a polemical bickering since she was a crucial resource needed for the execution of the project. She justified her decision to work from Bengaluru citing reasons of family concerns and tentative matrimonial plans. After a couple of days of scrutiny and alternative resource checking, the manager acceded to her request. She could leave U.S. after three weeks to operate from Bengaluru centre after delegating her assignments to the team. Her joy knew no bounds on hearing it; she hurriedly called her parents to convey the good news. She had already begun to feel in her own country. That night, she was so overwhelmed that sleep too eluded her. The repeated tossing to and fro in the bed made her wake up way earlier than her alarm setting. The dawn was just around the corner. She brewed a cup of instant coffee and made herself at ease in the balcony. It was awe-inspiring to behold the first sightings of the rising sun. The Maple trees next door had shed their golden-tan leaves to create a riot of colours in the neighbouring alley. As she saw the nature’s wonders slowly unfold into a new morn, a tranquillity set in the atmosphere. The momentary reminiscences of the carefree days gave her a ground to vent her feelings. “How calm and restive had those years been! We were not that economically well-off but at least we were complacent in whatever little we had. Appa gave me the best of education even at the expense of taking loans. I moved to Bengaluru for higher studies specifically for pursuing my management from the much-acclaimed IIM. Coming from a small picturesque town of Coorg to an overcrowded fast city like Bengaluru hadn’t been easy for me. Indeed, life has moved far ahead. Today, materialistically I possess everything at the fingertips, yet I own nothing. Sometimes, less is indeed more!!!” The sun had risen fully over the distant horizon. She promised herself to take stock of her rambling life devoid of creative pursuits. It was yet another weekend of unwinding from the hectic schedule. She took a quickie catnap before going to Neha’s place for the literary marathon. Her friend was indeed right. The workshop was a pleasure trove of boundless energy as modern literature superseded everything else. She underwent a training session for enhancing her short-story writing skills. A handful of distinguished veterans also read out passages from their latest offerings. Complementary books and CDs were distributed for promotion. Over the next few days, Sandhya darted through the assigned tasks at hand and held brief interactions with her colleagues for the handover of her responsibilities. In between, she also managed to do the last minute shopping and attend the team outings. Alas! Her extended stay was coming to an end. She was looking forward to new beginnings and revived spirits which she had recently experienced. As the international flight landed at the BIAL in the wee hours of the morning, a sense of emancipation sunk within her. Her homecoming was of a literal sense; she avidly correlated to her past which she had left behind in the mad-rush of restlessness. The warmth of the country beckoned her. She spared just a day of rest in Bengaluru before leaving for Coorg. The expressions on Amma’s and Appa’s faces were full of gusto on seeing her. She had so much to tell them and so much to listen in return. She spent the next few days virtually cut off from her mainstream mechanical life. While at leisure, Appa handed over a carefully preserved Sunday tabloid to Sandhya. He prodded her to see some interesting material in the supplement on books. As she whizzed past its pages, she paid a perfunctory glance at the literary reviews column. Her novel had been under the scanner of an eminent panel of jury. There was a mixed-bag response – ranging from appreciation and admiration on handling the subject to brickbats on blatant cynicism. But, all in all, its 4-starrer must-read tag clearly garnered public attention. As an enthusiast newbie, she quickly made the paper-cutting for future reference. The felicitation awards ceremony was to be held during Dussehra festivities at Madikeri’s Cauvery Kalakshetra. She had personally visited Uncle Harihar to thank and persuade him to join her family in the gala event. The meet was a conglomeration of the who’s who of Kannada literature and Sandhya found herself positively involved in its pulse. The literary walkthroughs and vivacious vernacular discussions of contemporary writings found her being pulled in its eclectic current. Even when the grand moment of announcing the winners approached nearer, she remained her own composite self. She couldn’t have cared less. She had rejuvenated what was her core strength, what she enjoyed doing the most - the passion of writing! Amidst, much fanfare when her name was proclaimed as a potential novice winner in Creative Writing category, she almost jounced back. In those few minutes of adulation she lived the moments of a lifetime. Her musings hadn’t been futile; she fathomed the power of words which she had always admired; they had indeed taken her to where she truly belonged. Undoubtedly, for Sandhya the journey of thousand miles and words had already begun!!!