Celebrating 60!

It was his mother’s 60th birthday that week. There was a small family get together coordinated by her loving son that included all relatives. A big table full of people, laughing & dining. Two chairs lie vacant & she thought how those could have seated her & her son. The stranger she married & lived with, had gone to visit his parents earlier that day. It was meant to be a routine visit. Nothing about a family get together was mentioned.

She was a part of a family group on social media where this photo was uploaded. His entire family including all relatives except them both were present. They never commented on each other’s post on the group, this was a protocol that they maintained. But from a string of chats, she gathered that this was a sudden plan that just fell in place. Something did not fit. She knew him & his parents too well.

None of his extended family had a clue about the real status of their marriage. Most assumed that theirs was a regular ‘happy family’. It had to be a planned party that he and his parents intended to keep her out of. Masking it as an impromptu plan would keep away people from questioning them about her absence. It was a way to remind her that she did not belong. For the first time she wasn’t really hurt by their behaviour.

Until then, it was just a lazy weekend without him around. She spent the whole day alone at home with her son. Cleaning the house, baking a cake with him & cooking his favourite meal, just being his mom. She spent her extra time discussing various topics of his interest like science and sports; making sure she filled in all the gaps & played the role of his father as well. As always.

Now, her mind wandered back to the various times when she would drop everything & run after the stranger she married, like a lost puppy. Completely uninvited, but with the hope of spending some time together, to feel a sense of belonging & with the hope of being accepted. How he would always walk away from her, keep her out of his plans, not introduce her to anyone, just leave her abandoned, to fend for herself. And how each time, she would try to keep a brave smiling face & deal with it all, pretending that everything was perfect, just the way it was meant to be. All those years flashed by quickly like an old movie. Tears rolled down her cheeks that she wasn’t really aware of. All the times that she had trusted & was let down. Nothing had changed & nothing would.

The sadness, hurt and tears, did not belong to this incident though. Nothing really mattered anymore. She no longer held any expectations from him or his parents. It was just a reminder to her to walk out & that too soon..

You’ve got a mail!

So, it was another ordinary day. She was busy with insignificant thoughts like what to wear, what to cook, whether to move out or continue to live with the stranger she married… While the former two were simple, the third one got her confused as always. Bored of the train of thoughts that took her nowhere, she decided to seek escape in social media. A platform that often bored her for being fake. But today would be different. She had a new message. It was from someone unknown, never heard the name before. It said , ‘Hi! Do you plan to run the Goa Marathon next month?’ It was normal for people to connect to her on running related issues. She had another life, that as a runner. She could’ve assumed, this was someone who needed help with some logistics; travel, stay, collection of the running bib or any other matter. But it couldn’t be. She had two accounts on the social media & this one, she never used for any running related  coordination. She had managed to carefully partition her life. She maintained a different account for that part of her life where she was a helpful, well connected runner & motivator. This part was where she was the really happy, confident, beautiful & carefree mother , friend & a family person. Cautiously, she replied with just, ‘yes’. She was ready to close and move on to something else, when suddenly this name turned online & she received her next message. Something that would change a lot for her in the time to come. ‘ok, see you there then. But promise, no hugs this time’

Seriously! Who was this? He didn’t need any help & then what about hugs? Not a person to forget things too soon, curiosity got the better of her. She clicked on the unknown name & a photo suddenly looked back at her. Here was a face she had seen on the running tracks before. A few cordial hellos had been exchanged earlier. He was from another city she knew. But what about hugs?? So the next message got sent. ‘what is this about hugs? What am I missing?’ An awkward silence followed, then a lengthy message. ‘ last year I was so excited after my good run, I hugged you at the finish. Felt stupid doing that as we don’t even know each other. Had been looking for you ever since, to apologise. So here is my sincere sorry for reacting that way.’ So here was a guy, who spent a year trying to find out her name & track her down for an incident so insignificant that she didn’t even remember! Sweaty hugs after a good run are not that uncommon. She was not the one to give or get them usually, but it surely wasn’t something she would make a big deal of. This guy was either a stalker or a really sincere & honest person. She decided to go with the latter & responded. ‘Apologies accepted. Touched that you took the trouble to track me down just to get things cleared. Funny that I had forgotten the whole incident until just now. Thanks to this, I will remember it for a long time to come 😀 cheers!’

A new friendship had blossomed at the most unlikely situation.

Somewhere in her real world, outside the beautifully painted social media account in which life looked perfect, things began to look different. A hope started to emerge. Maybe there was a life waiting for her outside these four walls, away from the stranger whom she lived with. Maybe she needed to give herself another chance!

 

Order in chaos

The papers were stacked at her desk tagged ‘urgent’. They were not given to her in a neat pile. This had distracted her. So she undid the clip that held them all together, rearranged them to a perfect set before clipping them back. She could now review them peacefully.

Once home, she had to shift the urn just a bit to an angle so that it looked perfect to her, at the corner of her living room. The cushion cover did not complement perfectly to the rest of the shades of green that her room was now in. She couldn’t find the right one & this was giving her sleepless nights.

She wondered if anyone ever noticed her urge to have things organised in a particular way. Not everything in her life was in a perfect order. She didn’t want them to be. But there had to be some order in the chaos. Like the hairclip or scissor lying carelessly on the dining table, a place they certainly didn’t belong.

But these were only the smaller problems in her life. The larger ones were lurking around. Things were uneasy, life was uneasy.

Then it happened

Three years of training & hard work came to an end. Results of confirmation were awaited. What started as ‘understood silence’ between them, translated into spoken words. They were few, but conversations happened. She knew through him about his family. His father had a failed business & mom a small job that kept their kitchen running. The only son of his parents, at an early age, he realised his responsibilities. Everything banked on this job confirmation. There was no fun in the process for him.

Opening up to him was easy for her. There wasn’t much of a story there. A regular family, siblings’, fun, vacations etc. This job was just a career for her & her life didn’t depend on it.

He called her sometimes. The calls though, were few & far in between. But there was closeness in the space. He lived in the far end of the town in the very big city. She lived in the suburbs on the other side of the city. Meetings were rare. But they never missed a chance if they got one. Sometimes to exchange notes & other times for reference books.

She was pretty & guys asking her out was common. She liked that he wasn’t pushy. He never flattered her with compliments. He sounded real. She knew this job confirmation meant everything to him. He had worked very hard. She hadn’t done as much. In fact she could wait to get her chance, she wanted to see him move ahead. Finally, it was the day of results. Both were nervous. Both for him. But he didn’t know it yet. Internet was still not used widely & people had to go personally to find their results. They decided to meet & check it together. Scanning the various lists put up, they finally found his name. She was so eager that he get through, she had forgotten all about herself. She jumped & hugged him. Their first. She could’ve kissed him too. That’s how happy she was. Then he stopped the mini celebration to check her name, she did not make it. This however made no difference to her celebratory mood. So they went on for a small celebration. A treat at a local juice stall, as this is all they could afford.

He was always the smartest in the pack. In the very first year, he had won the best trainee award. It was a prestigious one. More so, because it was also the 100th year of the Firm where they worked. She remembered the day it was announced, the entire office clapped for him. She glowed with pride as if she had made some personal contribution to that achievement. He always got the best clients & best work throughout. The firm would’ve been glad to absorb him with a fat raise & promotion too. She thought about all this while sipping her juice & jokingly told him, ‘maybe they will directly offer you partnership to the firm as you are the best they have ever had’. It was a happy moment. His difficult past was soon to be history. Jobs & a good pay would now come easy. His parents would be proud. He smiled for a moment, then looked her into the eye. She sensed something. He paused a bit, then smiled again & said, ‘I don’t know what the firm will offer, but if ever you offer me, I’m ready to be your partner for life’. It was a proposal, more of an offer. It happened slowly. It took its time of three years from glances, to silent walks to few conversations and then this. Just the way she liked it, slow and strong.  It was now official, they were in love.

Most stories would end here, with an end that said, ’and they lived happily ever after’. Would that be their end too?

Two much to be true

She trusted him crazy & wanted more of him. Four months were to end soon. He had been assigned his next job already. It involved a month long stay another city. A prestigious client & an important job. So this was it, they would part soon. Would he care to call? But they hardly spoke, why would he call her? Would he miss her too? She felt insecure & uncertain.

His last day at the clients office, good byes were told, he seemed happy. Happy to leave, happy to move on. He came up to her, looked her into the eye & formally held up his hand asking for a hand shake. ‘Bye’ he said with a smile that drew his lips to one straight line. Not sure if it was a smile or just an expression to hide every other feeling that was within. They shook hands, she forced a smile back at him & wished him well. That’s it, it was over. Was there some sadness she saw there? She couldn’t say. No more long walks, no more evening coffees, no more sun sets at the cabin. But she knew it all along. It was just an assignment & it was meant to get over. She felt empty & longed for more time with him.

He was to leave with his team the next day. She was still waiting to hear about her next assignment. Late that evening she got a call at her residence. It was from office. This happened only in cases of emergency. One member of the team to leave the next day had fallen ill. They needed urgent replacement & she was the closest fit. It was a request to travel for a month at such short notice. Her joy knew no bounds. Another assignment together, so soon. Being the most judged one & the last choice for any project, worked in her favour after all. She was overjoyed, but spoke casually. Hmmm, ok, if you insist, I’ll do that for you’ll she said.

That call was immediately followed by another. This time it was him. He found her number from the office records. Have you travelled this far by train ever? He asked her. The office will provide some advance, but don’t forget to carry some of your own cash for emergency. Click. Rrring. ‘It must be cold there unlike our city. Don’t forget to pack enough woollens’. Click. Rrring. ‘Do you know your way around the railway station? I’ll meet you outside near the display indicator, else you’ll get lost, it’s a huge station’

She was too excited to spend another month with him. His calm mind recollected that she had never travelled by a train ever & that too a day long journey. She smiled goofily. Three consecutive calls meant that he cared for her. Why would he do it otherwise? He thought through things & this was the kind of person she would want by her side forever.

She felt safe knowing he would be there & so she slept peacefully that night. Next day was a big one. Rushed to work to pick important files, documents, tickets etc. and then went back home to pick her luggage. She had packed her best office clothes & some casual wear too. The train was at midnight. She hailed a cab & went to the station.

Her smile was plastered on her face through the month. This was the best time of her life. Was she in love? Well, she still didn’t think like that yet. But she loved what was happening to her.

Was this all just coincidence or did destiny have its own plans for them both?

Destiny served on a platter

They were trainees in one of the best reputed Firms in the Country. Assignments were plenty with Clients spread all over the country. Teams were formed as need arose, with one or sometimes two trainees in a team along with Managers or other seniors. There were 20 freshers and another 15 senior trainees. What were the chances that they end up in the same team? One in 30 or maybe lesser. The most challenging assignment got the best team combination. He would be the first choice for any good assignment, as he was smart and intelligent. She was intelligent too, but was perceived to be easy & not so career focussed.

The client was new & so was the work. The job required a team of 4 junior trainees, who could impress. A first time for the Firm to show their capabilities in a different and new market. But yet it happened, they were picked for the same assignment. The intelligent & the vivacious. Most assignments lasted not more than a couple of weeks, but this was to go on for 4 months.

Hmmm, 4 months of him she thought. They had never spoken much. She was talkative & he seemed to like silence. The client department they were to report to, was large. But within few days she knew them all by their first names & a thing or two about their families too.  When they would gather around to celebrate small milestones like a birthday or anniversary, she fit in like one among them & did not stand out like an outsider.

She was always conscious of his presence around her. In a crowded room, she observed that he would look for her & choose to stand somewhere close to her. He seemed comfortable & at ease when he saw her within a certain radius around him. If she moved to another place, he would too, always keeping her in sight but never looking directly at her or making any attempt at conversation. Silence to her was usually awkward, but somehow she understood his silence.

They never spoke much. This silence let her observe a lot. She saw that he would adjust his lunch time in a way so that they could eat together or that he would silently get an additional cup of coffee from the pantry & leave it on her table sometimes. When she worked late, he would loiter around office even if he was done for the day. He would then get up to leave as soon as she would start to wind up for the day. That way they could take the same elevator down the nine floors of the office building. He would wait till she got a cab. It was rare to find one late evenings, so they would walk up to the station together to take a train to their respective destination. It was a good 20 minute of walk in silence. Initially she would work late just so that he wait up for her. Soon it became a routine, to leave together every evening, no matter what time it was. They stopped looking for cabs in a fear that they might find one. They enjoyed the long & silent walks. The weather in the city late evenings was always pleasant. Both didn’t know what the other was thinking. They would just walk, their arms occasionally brushing against each other. This made them smile softly.

The Client office space was in the best location of the city. It was a business district in the old part of town. At 9 Floors, this was easily one of the tallest structures around. The corner cabin that was temporarily given to the consulting team overlooked the sea. There was nothing beyond, but just sea water till the horizon. One evening both of them were reconciling some important data, they were lost in records for some hours. The rest of the four member team had left for the day. A lot of time had passed and when they were alone, he looked up & said, ‘beautiful’. She was taken aback as it didn’t sound like what she heard. And she was right, he was referring to the sun that was setting behind her at a distance. The scene was indeed beautiful like a painting. Two of them in a lone cabin at the far end of the city watching a beautiful sunset by the sea. At a time when there were no smart phones, this was one picture that got framed in her mind forever.

The silent friendship

It was a very rainy day in the city. Most offices closed early, because people had to travel far to reach home. Public transport could get affected due to the downpour. But these were young people, they loved to hang around. It wasn’t just another office day after all. The centenary celebration of the Firm they just joined was exactly 2 weeks away and preparations were on in full swing.

Much against her wishes, she was chosen to perform on stage in a play. A play to mark the big occasion. She was no actor, but the choice was obvious. Woman in the office were few & she was pretty. Prettiest amongst them atleast. She also had a personality to go with it. So when they wanted a female lead, it was her they chose. She was a fresher & it was her immediate Managers request that she couldn’t deny. The other seniors were quick to judge her. She is all drama, can never make it big as she is not focussed on her career, they said. Free spirited she was, so she took up the challenge & put her heart into it, just like she did in everything else.

Practise was on in full swing inside & the rains poured with full force outside. Soon it began to get silent as most offices closed for the day. All floors in the office building were now deserted. Just 10 young guys & girls practising in a room on the top floor for the upcoming event. When on a break, her mind drifted. She thought of him. It was obvious he wouldn’t take part in any of the performances. He just didn’t fit on stage. But she wished he would be here in the same room. She smiled at the thought. How silly of her. Why would he come here, he had no business after all. So late in the evening, on such a rainy day. Her mind kept going back, she wished he would come at least to see her. But it’s not like they were in love or even good friends. He seemed to be a practical person, why would he waste his time here.

Then all of a sudden, a gush of cool and heavy monsoon air filled the room. The sound of the raindrops got louder than before. Everyone turned to look at the door as it opened. So did she. He spotted her first. As their eyes met she smiled her best smile ever as it came straight from her heart. He turned to greet the rest & acted casual, as if he belonged there as a part of the group and at that odd hour. Why was he here? Had he heard her thoughts? Did he like her? She blushed. Was this love? For if it was, she didn’t know it yet.

The first time they met

All 20 of them were fresh recruits. They were all freshly out of college, young & enthusiastic, ready to give it their all & rise in their career. A young and chirpy crowd, but for one. He stood out from the rest. Not like a black sheep, but like a diamond among rocks.

She was independent & fun loving, talked easily & a favourite among all. Her eyes fell instantly on him. She was no attention seeker, but also was not used to being ignored. People liked her & spoke to her. But he seemed distant & not interested. He got more attention in being quiet than she did in all the conversations she made with people.

Something drew her towards him. She wanted to know him better, to be his friend. To stand by him, because it felt like he was alone. She kept glancing at him, wondering why he was the way he was. Maybe she was being intrusive, maybe he was happy being alone. Its then she noticed, his occasional glances towards her. Not with the turn of the head, just a glance with his eyes. That of approval & acceptance. A small curve in the lips that could be a smile or something that said, yes you are my friend. Now she was happy, she had not 19 but 20 new friends.

In her I see God!

After my graduation, I took up a course in Chartered Accountancy (CA). For this we had to spend three years working under a qualified CA along with studying & giving our exams (articleship). I was just out of college & quite young. The CA office was located in the other end of town from where I stayed. Like most Mumbaikars (people living in Mumbai), I would take the local train & travel for an hour to reach my place of work. There was a direct train from where I stayed to the place I worked, but the frequency was just once in 20 mins. One particular morning I happened to miss this direct train. This meant that I would be late by 20 minutes for work. In a rush to reach office, I decided to take another train in the same direction, get off at a station midway & then take a connecting train to the final destination. This effort would save me 10 minutes. (The entire calculation must’ve taken me just few seconds then.)

Mumbai is a crowded city & many times you miss your trains just trying to wade through the thick traffic of people. To get the connecting train at the next station, I would have to climb up a bridge & cross over to the immediate next platform. Both the platforms were separated by two railway tracks. One track had trains going south & the other going north. I realised that if I have to push through the crowd, climb the tall bridge & reach the other platform, I would never make it on time & would miss my connecting train as well. I was already very late.

I chose the easier, faster & illegal (yes illegal) option. I decided to jump down from the platform I was standing on, cross both the tracks & climb up the next platform. This process would take me less than a minute. In a city where time is more important that anything else, many people risk their lives & do that. Well, there was really no risk. All you had to do was to make sure no train was approaching. The idea of being greeted by an upset boss made this decision very easy. Jump..run..Climb… so simple.. (That’s the thinking capacity at the age of 20!)

So here I was clutching my office bag on my side, wearing perfect formals, with my entire focus on the time & the railway indicator flashing the time for the next train. And then I jumped. Crossing the first track was really easy & must’ve taken me 3 seconds. There was a real narrow gap between the tracks, just enough so the trains don’t collide, but broad enough for a lean person like me to stand. Just as I was to cross track two, I saw the north bound train approaching at the bend. I had no choice but to wait for it to pass. Just then, out of nowhere, a lady appeared next to me. I was really nervous (because I was late & also on seeing the train) & didn’t look at her face, hence I have no recollection of what she looked like. She asked me if this was my first time crossing over. I nodded yes, wondering why on earth was she trying to make casual conversation at a time like this. Then she pointed to a brick & asked me to step on it & stand straight. ‘DON’T MOVE’ she said. I wasn’t in a position to apply my mind or argue & hence just followed her instructions without any real understanding as to why she was doing this. Then suddenly out of nowhere, a south bound train came speeding on the other track. Here I was, standing on a brick on a narrow gap & in between two speeding trains going in opposite directions. I froze like someone had cast a spell on me. One small move & I would be blown into pieces. I continued to stand there even after the trains had passed, when the lady (she probably snapped to get me out of the hypnotic state) said, ‘now you can go’. This entire thing must have happened in not more than 20 seconds.

When I finally moved & turned to thank her for saving my life, I saw there was no one there. I looked ahead to see if she had walked on, then behind & there was no one there too. I quickly crossed over & got lost in the sea of people moving to catch their train & then went on with my life. But, alone I was in my thoughts, wondering if she was really ever there or was she an illusion. Maybe she was GOD!

Yes that was the last time I ever attempted crossing the tracks ever. 😀