Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Progati - The tale of Progress (Part XII)

So finally it is here...... the last episode of Progati - The tale of Progress. Its been 6 months since I began and I was once asked what inspired me to write the story. I have answered that, at the end of the post. So read on...

"Progati?"
this wasn't making any sense.
"Yes, for Progati. For progress"
"Progress?"
Yes, for my progress. For Rachna's progress. Progress from that drudgery life to a better, easier and comfortable life. Progress from a world where we yearned for little little things to a world where we got everything we wanted. Progress from a world where we crushed our dreams with our own hands to a world where our dreams became reality. Progress from inside a cage to an open sky outside the cage. Marrying Nabin would have gotten me all that. My marrying Nabin was the route to our Progress, to our Progati."
Her words were interrupted by the buzzing of her cell-phone.

"Hi Nabin....... No no, I'm not at home. I'm with a friend of mine. You remember Saira..... yeah, Dr. Saira Bashir....... nothing, we are just reminiscing old times...... yeah, I'll be home soon..... Shukto, again?....... but we had it the day before......... No I..... Fine, I'll tell Paro to make it for dinner...... ok.... bye"

She put it down with an exasperated look on her face, then turned to me and said, "That was Nabin. He wants to eat Shukto again tonight."
"Shukto?"
"Yeah, it's a supposed speciality. I hate it, and he wants to eat it everyday. He hates maharashtrian food. That's why I never cook for him. We've got Paro, a girl from Kolkata to do all the Bengali style cooking for him."
"Why don't you learn Bengali style cooking?"
"Why should I?"
"Because Nabin likes it."
"But I don't"


The cell phone buzzed again. But this time, it was mine.
"Hello"
"Are there any windows?"
"What?"
"Are there any windows where you are?"
"Yes, there are. Why??
"Can't you see the weather outside? The storm is raging."

"Of Aftaab, I don't worry about a bit of rain."
"Well, my fearless Nadia, you don't, but I do. And that is not a bit of rain. So tell me where you are, and I'll come and pick you up"
"There is no need for that. I can find my way home. I won't get lost or wander away. Ok daddy?"
"Stop kidding Saira, and tell me where you are"
"I'm in the cafe near college."
"What are you doing there? Isn't afternoon too early to be dating?"
"If I were dating, you'd be with me hubby dear. I am with Rew..... er Progati"
"Did she agree?"
"What?"
"“To do the piece on tribal women"
"Oh that"
"Yes, that."
"No"
"No. Why?"
"Well........"
"Ok, tell me later, I'm coming to pick you up" and he disconnected.

"That was Aftaab", I said to her. She nodded, and said "I'm repeating myself, but you are very lucky. Nabin called too, merely to order the dinner menu. He didn't ask me where I was, or what I was doing, forget offering to pick me up", at that moment, I saw a fleeting look of jealousy pass her face. That was most unbelievable. All those years when I was cooped up at home, helping ammi with housework, reading my schoolbooks, I often thought of the free life Rewa had. I often wished that I sprout wings and fly away into the sky, freed from the bondage of my life. I often wished I could change places with her. And today she, Rewa was jealous of me, of my life. But then, did I really want to do it? All those years I fantasized about living her life. But today I know that would mean giving up on ammi'
s love, abbu's affection, and the warmth and security of my childhood. No, I definitely did not want that. My chain of thoughts was broken when she continued, "You have such a caring loving family."

"Yes"
"And a husband who cares. He is coming to pick you up. Right?"
"Yes"
"Mine would never bother. He just doesn't care."
"Do you?"
"Do I what?"
"Do you care about him? Don't answer me. Answer yourself. Perhaps he would care, if you care too. Perhaps he cares, but is too intimidated to show it."
"Intimidated?"
"Yes, of the steel willed independent woman. If she needs to be taken care of, she has to let her husband know. If she needs to be shown love, she has to show her love."
"What will that accomplish?"
"Progati"
"What?"
"You have progressed so much in life. From the days you lived in your aun't fear to the days when you were the most popular and confident girl in school. From those days to being the idol of so many girls your age. Yes, Rewa was the one a lot of girls idolised. What if she wasn't a miss universe, she was intellegent and confident and talented and wittty. Not only that, she was courageous You have progressed, but you can progress a lot more, with a little bit of love. If you have that, you'll have a perfect life. Well, as perfect as human life can be. But if you want love, you have to first give it."
She was silent, her face impassive. I had expected a battery of arguments or a stiff 'mind your own business look' or some reaction. Not this. She looked as if she hadn't even heard what I said. And then she said, "Look, the rain has suddenly stopped." We settled our bill and walked out of the cafe. The moment we stepped out, the clouds broke and a feeble sun started shining.
"It's a sign", she said.
"Do you believe in signs?" I asked, a little surprised.
"Yes. I do." She turned to look at me and said, "What you told me just now.... "
"I didn't....."

"Stop. I guess I needed to be told what you told me. All through my journey of progress, I have done things only for myself. I have never given back. And looking at you now, so happy and content, I realize what I have been missing out on. I don't know if I can have all that you do, but I sure can give it a try and hope to be successful.", there was a change visible in her manner. A feeble one, but a change nevertheless. The way she spoke, the way she looked, the way she carried herself. The cold stiffness seemed to be receding, and a warmth was seeping into her demeanor. Just like the clouds breaking up outside and the sun shining through.

"I am sure that you would."
That was when Aftaab's car turned around the counter, and we said our goodbyes. I walked to my husband's side, whose face relaxed when he saw that I was fine. Before getting into the car, I turned back and looked at her. She was walking towards her car, on the other side of the road, on her way to progress.

The inspiration to write Progati was a line that someone once said to me. It went something like "People are not always what they seem. You can't judge a person based on a few interactions. Its only when you know everything, including circumstances, do you really require why and how people are how they are." I don't remember when and how I heard this. But one fine day, I just remembered it and Rewa and Saira were born. My current mood has severly affected my writing. I guess thats evident. But the end is generally what I hand in mind. Finally, do give me your comments. How did you find this tale? Good or bad. Nice or Rotten. Whatever you felt, honestly...

Monday, October 24, 2005

What the HELL is wrong?

They say when you talk about it, it reduces.... they say when you write about it, it lessens..... They say it about pain, what they don't say is how difficult it is to pin-point the exact cause of your pain.......
They say when you really fight it out it loses. They say when you engage your mind in something it goes away. They say it about boredom. What they don't say is exactly how tough it is to put up a fight, when you just don't have the strength. When this overpowering boredom hits you, you just don't have the will to engage in anything....

Thats how I am feeling now.... irritated at no particular reason, majorly bored, and just not upto anything. I am passing my life away. Not living it..... Mechanically going through the chores..... I feel like a zombie.... and I feel like a bird in an invisible cage..... who doesn't know what stops it from flying away. It beats its wings against the cage and again, till its wings are injured and it doesn't even know what injured them.

I'm gonna spare you guys the torture of having to read the list of my woes. Why? Cause the list is empty!!! Yeah, even I don't know what's bothering me. But something sure is. And I can't seem to find it. The worst part is that it is visible. My defenses have weakened. The brilliant show of pretense I could keep up is losing its brilliance. The troubled insecure soul behind the facade of cool and composed has started to emerge. Probably that's the root of my problem. The pretense that everything is ok. I guess I've started believing in my pretenses. And therein lies a conflict. Probably its time I take charge once more.

I had promised myself i will not take another break in Progati. But I have. And this is not the first promise I have broken. I am too soft with myself. Probably I should get as harsh with myself as I am with others. I don't seem to be able to write anymore, or read a book without taking a break, or listen to good music, or play SuDoKu, or even cook round chapattis. Probably I have lost the ability to enjoy. I don't find anything interesting these days. Not books, not painting, not movies, not music, not TV, not blogging, not even eating!


I am growing distant not just from everything, but also from everyone. Everyone I care about, everyone I love. I seem to well, just be in a different world. Probably I don't belong here. Probably I belong in an asylum.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Progati - The tale of Progress (Part XI)

A fortnight and a lotta bloggeratti excitement has passed since the last episode of Progati. This one is longer than the last, and probably the penultimate episode of the story. But then again, knowing me, its probably not! For those who need a refresher course:
"Mrs. Krishnan was helping me research for a debate once, and she handed me an article to read from. It was good, and had some useful points. And when I saw the author's name, it was Sumangala Krishnan. Mrs. Krishnan was the author! She said she loved to write and seeing her work being printed had been a childhood dream. That's when she went on to suggest that I take up writing too. She said I had a flair for writing. I was about to dismiss the idea as a waste of time and energy. After all, what could I gain from writing for a few magazines? But then, she showed me the magic hole. She said that the fee she got for her work was being put in her son's education fund. I was surprised that this work paid. At a time when you have no money, any money is good money. So I went home, pulled out an old essay, refined it and gave it to her. She sent it to some magazine, and it was published. I got 50 rupees for it. And those 50 rupees were like a treasure for me. I paid Rachna's library fee with that money. Ever since, I've written scores of articles and short stories in magazines. I guess even you have read some of them"
"Yes, I have. I have read more than a few", the fact was that I had read all of them. In school and college, I could read only a few of them, and since I idolized her so much, I wanted to read each and every one of them. So after I started teaching, I scanned the library archives to read all her articles. And that took a long while. A lot of her work had been published.
"Yes, a lot of articles were published."
How so, I was wondering.
"They had to be. I wrote what the readers wanted to read. I wrote what the magazines wanted to publish."
"What?"
"Yes, I had a strategy"
"Oh", that was all I could say.
"Every week, I would pick a magazine and read the last five six issues from Rachna's library archives. That gave me a fair amount of idea what the magazines published. And the most useful page, was the reader's feedback page. Most people don't read that page when they read a magazine, but for me it was the biggest source of information. When I had my finger down on the pulse of the readers, I'd dish out exactly what they wanted to read. So you see Saira, I've always been a writer for the readers. And that is the reason I can't do the feature on tribal women."
"What??? Oh!!!", I had almost forgotten about that. I was so engrossed in her story. But I already knew she wouldn't do that. I was sitting there to hear her story.

"You need a strategy Saira. You always need a strategy. And once you have it in place, you can get absolutely anything."
"Strategy. I've had no strategy in life. I owe everything I have to serendipity."
"Well, I don't I got everything I have after a great deal of planning and careful execution. Even Nabin."
"Nabin?"
"Yes, him too."
"How did you...."
"How did I? It wasn't easy. But it wasn't impossible. When I started college, like all the girls I too was besotted with Nabin. He was the perceived God. Wasn't he?"
She took a break at this point, signaling the waiter was a refill of the coffee mug. "
You have been sitting here for so long, and haven't had anything. What would you take?"
"Anything"
"Please refill my mocha, and a latte for my friend", she told the waiter and calmly turned to me "You don't agree?"
"I said anything was fine. I'm not too particular about my coffee"
"Not that. You don't agree about Nabin being perceived as a God?"
"No.... I don't."
"No?",
her single raised eyebrow could put a tele-vamp to shame.
"No"
"Why not?"

"Because God, is too big a title, and anyways, this is my opinion. I'm allowed to have one. Right?" I didn't want to get into a debate with her. The temporary lull had passed away and the rain was picking up momentum again. I wanted to go home, but I also wanted to hear her story. Getting into a debate would mean I get to do neither.

"Well, yes... but I saw him as a God then. He was far too above and I knew that to reach him, I needed a strategy. I observed him for a while, him and his friends, specifically his girl friends. He was always surrounded with those who were awed by him. All the girls he hung out with were pretty lasses. Spoilt little daddy's girls. Not one of them could converse intelligently for more than ten seconds. I guessed that that perhaps that was the reason he was so easily bored of them. That's when I decided my strategy. I was going to be this intelligent, independent woman, who is not awed by his looks, brains or social status. But before that, I had to get him to notice me. That's where the big debate helped."
"So you see, it was serendipity"
"No Saira, it wasn't. Not one thing in my life do I owe to serendipity."
Her voice was cold, devoid of all emotion.

"But how is that possible?"
"I arranged the debate. I befriended Sumita, the cultural secretary of our college and planted the idea of the debate in her mind. That is how I knew all the topics before hand. I prepared both sides of all the topics for fifteen days. I had to reach the finals. I had to face him in the last round. You see, I knew that the winner of last year gets a direct entry into the last round. So once I made it through the semi finals, I would be in front of him. And he would notice me."
"Oh...." I was speechless, that someone could go to such an extent.

"After that things were easier. He had not only noticed me, he was impressed by me. All along the next three years, I made sure that I was in every debate, in every sports event if Nabin was there. I always treated him with a cool regard. Not like a friend, just like a known acquaintance. I guess he had never been subjected to such treatment. He was intrigued. I knew he respected me, he was impressed with me, but that was not enough for me. I wanted to marry him, but I didn't know how to bring that about."

Our coffee had arrived. The fresh brewed coffee aroma reached my nostrils and I suddenly realized I was hungry. I glanced at the counter and scanned the menu display. Club sandwiches seemed tempting, and I asked her if she wanted them too. No, she said. She was trying to reduce. I asked the waiter to get one for me and turned to her.

"But you did bring that about."

"Yes, after graduation I was looking for a job and there was none coming by. So, I went and asked Nabin if he had a job suitable for me. He had just started working for his father and I told him that the only jobs available without any references were of secretaries and clerks. I knew I had the caliber for more challenging work, and if a reference was what it took to get it, I'd prefer getting a reference on my own rather than anyone else. Little did he know then that no one else would give me a reference. He gave me a job, and a good one at that. I worked very hard there and that's when we became friends. That's when I delved a bit deeper into his psyche and understood him a bit more. That's when I realized he thought that I was this intelligent, independent and steel-willed lady who could take care of herself. When Rachna's admission into a medical college did not come through for money, I was shattered, I was heartbroken. I broke down in front of Nabin, saying that being independent and intelligent doesn't pay. That I should have looked for a rich husband to support us rather than trying to support us on my own. That this world did not respect intellectuals, all it cared was for outer gloss. The words had their effect. Nabin went on to negate everything I said, trying to control me. Saying there were people who respected me and he was one of them and that whatever I had done was the right thing. And then I said you are saying all this just to console me. And he said no, I really do like you for what you are. That's when I said, if that is the case, will you marry me, and he said yes. So we went ahead and got married."

"But why did you ask him? Did you love him?"
"No. I did not. I married him for Progati"