Distracted in the seminar of an Ad campaign, Alia was completely lost. Her empty eyes watching a Baya Weaver build her nest outside the window, made everyone notice her disinterest. “What you upto?” irked her boss as the seminar ended, leaving Alia tensed. Embarrassed, she returned to her desk.
The day ended, she took her bus as usual. At the square, she often spotted a man, seemed in his late 50s, bright skin neat clothes, always smiling. He parked himself at the roadside in front of those small eatery outlets and used to weave Kashmir (Cashmere) shawls while sell them too. Watching him she always commiserated.
At home, her parents were quite distressed for her marriage. Being 31 and single was like a misfortune in India. Looking at herself in the mirror, she saw an average looking, not so charming woman. Clearly she hated that sight; it reminded her of all the failures and rejections, moreover propelling her to hate her life. Having rejected by 6 men now, she was low on morale.
As a child her dreams of a fancy career lost grip because her parents wanted her to be highly qualified and working with the best, wealthiest MNCs.
“Alia wake up dear, you are running late for office”, said her mom drawing the curtains. Alia opened her eyes just to face another day. In the evening she needs to be home early as her parents had arranged a meeting with some guy.
(In India, arranged marriages are quite a drama, the guy with his family comes to meet the girl and her family, where they talk and discover each other).
“Wear that peach dress today, you look pretty in that”, commented her mom. Alia replied with an okay and left for work. While on the way she again saw that man at the square entwining colorful wool.
Quietly preparing lunch, Maya seemed upset, worrying about her daughter’s future. “Don’t lose hope Maya”, Anil said to her. They both thought marriage was the ultimate step for their daughter’s happiness.
At work, Alia’s colleague Bella asked her about the assignment completion, to which she stumbled, inkling a no. Failing to submit the assignment on time, she felt like a sin to ask for an early leave.
Trembling, she walked into the Boss’s cabin, “Yes come in.” he said while shutting his computer and before she could ask, he himself told her that he needed to go home immediately due to some urgency and that she may also leave by 5.
“Fine sir, I will finish my work and leave by 5”, she agrees. Putting on his blazer hurriedly he leaves. What an escape she felt.
While on the bus, relishing the gust of the wind blowing her hair back from her forehead, she spoted that man, he seemed troubled today, there were no buyers seen around. "Poor guy, he worked so hard for his living, life has forced him to live this way just like it has forced me," she immediately related to him and felt compassionate.
She comes home to smell great food. “Hey go get dressed, the guy and his family will be reaching soon”, Maya shrieked. “By the way, the guy’s name is Aryan, isn’t that a royal name?” she mentioned. Alia gave a fake smile and headed to her room.
Dressing up she seemed quite apprehensive. Wondered, "Will anyone ever like me? Is there anyone who will make up for all these lonely years?" She takes a long breath, and prepares herself for yet another episode of formality leading to rejection, that’s what she believed.
A knock on the door alerted Anil and Maya while it dazed Alia. Aryan enters posing a gentleman with a pleasant smile. He and his family received a warm welcome. Alia gets introduced, she tried to smile being shy and hesitant.
Aryan’s dad asked him to take Alia out to spend some time alone so that they cpuld talk freely and get to know each other. Aryan with a hopeful gesture asked Alia for a walk outside, to which she nodded while getting up.
“So what do you do Alia?” he questioned. “I work with an Advertising company”, she replied. “Well I work for a software company, it’s kind of a boring job you know, so I have to necessarily keep my life happening”, he chuckled. Alia simpered while still walking.
“Ya, I mean I have to keep up with my passion and invent my joy, you see, this way I assure myself that my life is great and I am loving it”, he added impressing Alia. “Oh that makes me ask you, what’s your passion Alia? What is that one thing you can live for?” he asks while walking. Actually stunned, she pretends to think; puzzled to answer she realizes he has walked ahead of her.
“Whoops! Where are you lady? What happened, did I annoy you? Oh I am sorry to ask you questions out of syllabus, haha!”, he giggles walking back to her. “No, no I am fine”, she tells. Paused in perplexity, she continues walking with him while he tells her more about his childhood and aspirations.
His zeal patently reminded her of her own childhood, she recollected how she had declared to the world that she wanted to become a Travel Presenter, hosting shows along with travelling was her dream job. She remembers how she used to practice talking in front of the mirror, influenced by those ‘Travel and Living’ TV shows. She considered herself the happiest because she dared to dream then.
Assuming that childhood aspirations are meant to be forgotten and one has to grow old to have serious goals and ambitions, she let those memories disperse and travelled back to the moment in present.
Aryan had to go now. Exchanging warm gestures, they left. It was expected that they both would have a few more meetings to decide about each other. Alia’s parents were very hopeful this time.
Next morning, she skipped breakfast and packed food for lunch, noticing that her mom was happier than usual. While on her way to work, she slightly blushed thinking about Aryan and expected his call.
Her phone rings, it’s her mom, in a very low and sad tone she tells that Aryan’s mom had called up and it’s a NO from their side as Aryan thought you both were not compatible.
Little discouraged she keeps listening to her mom when the bus stops at the square, she happened to spot that man. He was observing a shawl and suddenly just flings it away in irritation. This time Alia’s compassion drove her to have an encounter with him.
“Mom, hold on, I will talk to you later”, she hung up getting down the bus and walked straight to the man. Looking at all the wool displayed there she asked, “How much are these shawls for?” He looked at her with a pleasant smile and replies, “Oh which one are you talking about, young lady? They are all priced differently”.
“The wine colored one”, she replies.
“Aah that one”, he said while lifting it, “it’s the finest closely woven pure wool with Tibetan floral design, it will cost you only 1000 Rupees”, he explains.
“Well that’s cheap, isn’t it supposed to be expensive?” she inquires and strongly driven by her compassion begins solacing him.
“It must be difficult, weaving wool and doing crewel work all day, than selling the items here in the sun, it’s not at all fun right? Just to earn a little money each day, some days may be nothing”.
“Well.. I actua-”, he begins to answer but gets interrupted by her.
“I know, I know all this must be so frustrating but you have to work for a living and for your family, right?” she conjectures.
Amused by her words he asked her to sit down pulling a workbench in front of him.
“What’s your name young lady?” he asks friendly.
“I am Alia, I drive past this square daily and I watch you here making these pretty shawls, working all day, but today I saw you throw your shawl away”, she said.
“Yeah right, yes I am so pissed off today. (lifting that thrown shawl) See this, I have been trying the Arrasene embroidery on it since a week and some or the other pattern goes wrong resulting in the whole sequence to be imprecise, so irritating, I expect perfection in my work”. Alia is confused but keeps listening to him.
“So answering to your earlier speculations lady, no, I am not frustrated. No, I am not compelled to do it”, he smiles confidently, picking up a shawl, feeling the design and texture of the soft fabric he reveals, “I learnt weaving from my mother back in Kashmir, she used to weave and do embroidery. I used to sit beside her and began learning this art then eventually it became my passion. It gives me immense joy fondling with those soft colorful threads and try creating exquisite designs”. He asked her whether she knew what passion was.
“Well, I own a small dairy two streets from here, my son looks after it and we earn fine for a living. So I am here, yes on the roadside, selling, umm rather living my passion. It adds meaning to my life”, he recounts.
Alia gets totally conquered and heart warmed, as if she found her own treasure. Sunk in his own mania, he tells her, “Your passion defines who you truly are. I feel in this fast practical world, your passion is the only thing that keeps you connected with yourself”, he pauses. “God, I am so sorry, I am just prattling on”, he laughs at himself.
“No! You did not talk gibberish”, she replies overwhelmed.
“In fact I am very grateful to you sir, thank you thank you so much”, she said with a tremulous voice. He is clueless, still smiles.
Alia gets up, buys the wine coloured shawl from him and intends to leave, “Thank you for the beautiful shawl, I will always keep this with me, it will remind me of my passion”, she said with teary eyes, holding the shawl close to her heart.
“God Bless You”, he replies contented.
Alia walks across the road and catches a bus home. She was happy but highly restless, eager to reach home.
As soon as the bus reaches her locality, she rushes, enters the house wheezing and starts looking for her mom’s diary. Detecting a contact she immediately calls up on that number.
“Hello, is that you Aryan?” she asks with uncertainty.
“Yes Aryan here, who’s it?” he asks.
“It’s Alia”, and she pauses breathing deeply.
“Look I am sorry, I can expl-”, he begins, “Stop! No need of it”, she tells him. There’s silence on both ends.
She sighs and speaks up, “You remember you asked me about my passion? I didn’t have an answer that day, today I have”.
A twinkle arises in her eyes, “It’s travelling! Yes travelling was and is my passion Aryan”, she says with a shaky yet joyous voice, making Aryan smile at her innocence.
Saying goodbye she hung up.
Today, again she wanted to scream and declare to the world about her dreams.
Why am I compelled to choose one of the two paths in life, both leading somewhere? Why to just get married to complete the so- called agenda of a presumed happy or successful life? Why can’t I just choose a third path actually leading nowhere but taking me to my true self?
She was now awake, won herself back… and…
And She Chose Her Own Life…..