Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Delhi to Pune

On this day, 10 years ago, I began my stint in Pune. Oscillating between home-sickness and love-hate relationship with this city, my language, my food habits, my likes have transformed. I have transformed. This poem lists snippets of my journey...

छोले कुलचे को miss करते हुए, पाव भाजी की plate निपटाता है.
5 star hotels की लड़ियाँ लगी है, फिर भी Goodluck Cafe ही जाता है.
समोसा हो, कीमा हो, या हो omelette... सब कुछ पाव के साथ खाता है.

आलू जिसका favorite हुआ करता था कभी, आजकल वह बटाटे से इश्क़ लड़ाता है.
प्याज़ पकोड़े को चाय के साथ खाने वाला, बारिश में कांदा भज्जी नौश फरमाता  है.
कूड़े को plastic में बांधके फेंकता था जो, गीला कचरा सूखे से अलग हटाता है.

Sweaters और muffler तो लाया था संग अपने. साल में एक बार उन्हें धुप लगाता है.
"पहले यहाँ भी काफी सर्दी पढ़ती थी," बोलके अपने leather jacket को सहलाता है.
Truck में लादकर अपनी Bullet लाया था इस शहर में, weekends को Royal Enfield चलाता है.

पहले भी बेझिझक जीता था वो, लेकिन अब बिंदास ज़िन्दगी बिताता है.
Sus Road को अपना address बताने से शर्माने वाला, हस्सके अपने Bhosari का पता लिखवाता है.
कहता था सबको, "भाई से पंगा मत लेना." अब भाई दूसरो के लफड़े सुलझाता है.

कबाड़ी वाले से मिलके अरसा हो गया, क्यूंकि रद्दी वाला पुराने paper उठाता है.
हर महीने Goa का plan बनाके, weekend Mahabaleshwar में बिताता है.
"जहाँ beer मिले, वही जगह है Goa," ये सोचके खुद का पीठ थपथपाता है.

जब बड़े शहर की शोर-गुल miss करे, तब Bombay की तरफ कदम बढ़ाता है.
और जब  this शोर-गुल gets to his nerves, shutter down करके दोपहर को सो जाता है.
दिल्ली का लौंडा हुआ करता था कभी, आज शान से पुणेरी कहलाता है.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The avid gymmer

Whenever I managed to show up at the gym in the 5 to 6 AM slot, on every such day, be it rainy or cold or weekend, he would be there. After almost a year of only non-verbal greetings exchanged between us, I asked him the 'how' question about his consistency.

"Two years ago, while returning home at 6 AM, I spotted her near the next block," he said. "It was a rainy morning; she and the big bag she was carrying were drenched. I couldn't resist from offering her a lift." Like an adolescent-in-love, he asked me, "Would you like to meet her?" Reluctantly, I accompanied him in the return trip.

"There she is... the reason behind my consistency," as we approached the next block, he said, pointing to a nearly 80 year old lady, wearing tattered clothes, gazing at our direction with anticipation. She hunched under the weight of her bag.

"She sells vegetables on the footpath outside my apartment and used to walk five kilometers every day, be it rainy or cold or weekend, to reach there. On any morning, if I feel too lazy to set out for the gym, the image of her dejected face kicks me out of my bed," added the avid gymmer.


Monday, January 4, 2016

The closure

“But look around! You’re just 24, and own a fancy apartment located in one of the most happening neighborhoods of Gurgaon,” Vikrant said, almost spilling a part of the beer froth he had created in the glass during his animated discussion with Rocky.

“He’s right! You shouldn’t be complaining about a mere position in the company when you have such a grand lifestyle gifted to you by your father,” added Saaqib.

Rocky didn’t say a word, but was visibly shaking with anger. Today his father did what he had been doing unfailingly since the past many years; snatched away another dream of Rocky and gifted it to his brother. The younger son of the Malhotra clan was nominated as a partner to the family business, while Rocky remained a mere salaried employee. 

“I don’t even have my own room… have to share one with my moody sister,” Vikrant sighed as he fiddled with the unlit cigarette in his hand innately.

Vikrant and Saaqib were Rocky’s childhood friends, and both of them did not have a steady job. In order to sustain their high-class lifestyles, they inseparably stuck to Rocky like starved leeches.

“Do you know how much money he will make as a partner?” Rocky murmured. “A fucking two lakh rupees every month plus a share of the profit! While I, his elder brother, will have to be content with the peanuts that are thrown at me.”

The cacophony of the evening traffic filled the terrace where the three friends had gathered for their ritualistic Friday rendezvous. But, compared to Rocky’s outburst, the concoction of honks, snarls and modified silencer pipes sounded like a soothing buzz.

“And to make matters worse, dad has put up this apartment for rent, and asked me to move in with him next month! Once that happens, you guys can bid adieu to our booze fests.”

Rocky’s friends were taken aback. They exchanged glances, not knowing what to say. Vikrant placed his glass precariously on the fence and broke the silence, “But you are an independent adult! Your father cannot control your life like this…”

“You know how much my dad cares about my wishes. Two years ago I had to blackmail him by putting his gun to my head and threatening to shoot myself. That’s how he had agreed for me to move here!”

“Why don’t you do that again?” exclaimed Saaqib.

“He won’t buy that tactic any longer. And things have become so sour between us now, he would hardly care even if I shoot myself.”

The anger on Rocky’s face was apparent, but what was not visible was the anxiety his statement had drilled into his friends, which they were trying to cover behind a screen of drunkenness. Vikrant refilled Rocky’s empty glass. He downed it in three quick gulps.

“I know what I can do to get closure from my misery…” Rocky said with a gleam in his eye. “This time I will put the gun to dad’s head instead!”

* * *

“If your father doesn’t have a legal-will in place, then all his possessions will be equally distributed between your brother and you,” Saaqib stated, simultaneously using his smartphone to conduct a research on wills and inheritance laws.

As the evening transformed into night, Vikrant, Saaqib and Rocky became more determined that the threat of killing his father, Rocky had snapped at the spur of the moment, was in reality an excellent idea. Rocky would, once and for all, be free of the prejudice his father had been showering on his younger son. And, Vikrant and Saaqib would not be deprived of the addictive luxuries, they had been receiving from their friend, lifelong.

It took the three friends only an hour, and six bottles of beers between them, to cultivate the idea into a sophisticated crime-plan. Which, according to them, was fool-proof and nobody would suspect Rocky to have conspired to kill his own father. Rocky’s father wasn’t to see the light of next day.

“Where does your father usually keep his gun?” Saaqib, who seemed a bit nervous now, asked. Rocky was driving the car with Vikrant sitting next to him, holding a knife he had picked up from the kitchen in one hand and a screw driver from the car’s tool-kit in the other.

“Dad keeps his gun inside the top-most drawer of the bar cabinet. It will be easy for you to locate it after you enter his room.”

“But as per our plan, let’s stick to using these instead of waking up the neighborhood with a gunshot,” reiterated Saaqib, snatching the knife from Vikrant’s hand. The rest nodded, seemingly in a trance.

“Do you see that window... the one with a dim light on?” Rocky pointed towards the first floor of the lavish bungalow. He had parked his car away from the street light, right outside the ‘Malhotra Villa’. “Probably dad is enjoying a drink tonight. That’ll make your job easier and his death less painful; now that’s what we call a win-win situation.”

“What about your brother? Where would he be?” Saaqib asked.

“It’s well past midnight now. That dumb-ass would be fast asleep, don’t worry!”

Fishing out a bunch of keys from the glove compartment and handing it to Vikrant, Rocky signaled his friends to step out of the car. “The big one is for the lock at the main gate, and the small one opens the door. The staircase on the left side of the door will lead you to dad’s room. Make it fast and keep it clean!”

As his friends disappeared inside the dark ground floor of the bungalow, Rocky sat in an attentive stance – with one eye on the rear view mirror and the other on the street ahead. The locality was one of the poshest in Delhi, inhabited by only the rich and the famous who had very well adapted the practice of minding their own businesses. There was an eerie silence in the neighborhood, one which was occasionally shattered only by the utterly old watchman blowing his rattling whistle during his ceremonial round.

* * *

Taking into account the scenario, it was obvious for Rocky to get startled by the knock on his car window. Standing outside the car was his father, sporting a brown shawl and with reading glasses perched upon his bald head.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Rocky was hit by this imminent question as soon as he rolled the window down.

“I… err… I was planning to come home, but then changed my mind.”

“What! At this hour! Have you been drinking again?” said his father as he opened the car door and stepped inside to snuggle up in the seat next to Rocky’s.

“I am not liable to answer your every question, dad!”

“What did I do wrong while raising you? I would have been grateful to God had you possessed even a fraction of the courteousness your younger brother exhibits!”

“Dad, please! Don’t start harping praises about Anuj. One can exhibit only that amount of courteousness which is directly proportional to the amount of money and love you shower on him.”

“Oh, so it is about that! Look at yourself… do you really consider yourself adept of stepping into the shoes of the partner in my organization? You have to earn a position like that with hard-work and trustworthiness, son!”

“I have always tried my best to meet your expectations, but fallen short. Dad, accept it… you are just too blinded in the love of your ‘better and more capable’ son, Anuj, to ever notice my flawlessness!”

“Am I? Oh, am I? Which son of mine was pushed to the best and the most expensive college in town, purely based on my contacts? Who of my two sons received a car of his own as soon as he asked for it? And what did you do? …dropped out of college and toiled around with those loser friends of yours!” Rocky’s father clenched his fist around the gear stick to control his hyper state. “Till her last breath your mother warned me that I was spoiling you, but I never listened to her.”

“If you really care about my well-being, then why do you want to snatch away the apartment from me? Why do you want to keep me deprived of money?” Rocky asked in a bid to divert his father’s attention away from the gate, lest his friends would step out.

“Because I am aware how your loser friends are fleecing you. You are nothing more than a hen who is laying golden eggs for them!”

Rocky heaved a sigh and shook his head in frustration. He didn’t like anyone, especially his father, preaching him or pointing a finger at his friends. More than that, he was done arguing for the day. He sneaked a glance at his watch, followed by one at the window of his father’s room. Fifteen minutes had passed since his friends had entered the house! What were they up to? Would it be a good idea to send his father back home into the preying arms of Vikrant and Saaqib? But what if he raised an alarm on noticing the unlocked gate and open door?

After a moment of consideration, Rocky typed ‘ABORT PLAN. FLEE FROM BACKDOOR’ in his mobile phone.

“Years ago your mother had found some strips of an unknown medicine in your college bag. On consulting the doctor we came to know that you were addicted to abusive substances, but your aloofness prevented us from confronting you.”

Rocky looked at his father in awe!

“The stress owing to this broke down your mother and killed her eventually. I may have been wrong in my way of dealing with the situation, but I restricted the flow of money to you in order to stop your addiction.”

Rocky again read the message he had typed, addressed it to Vikrant before clicking the ‘send’ button. No sooner had he done that, a gunshot reverberated in the vicinity. It prominently came from his father’s room. In a reflex Rocky turned towards his father but, to his bewilderment, found the seat next to him vacant. His father was nowhere to be seen!

Rocky was so dazed that he did not see his friends rushing out of the house, running towards him with waving hands and barging into the car. He had to be shaken awake from his unnerved state and yelled at before he could start the car and flee from the scene with Vikrant and Saaqib.

A lot of questions were pounding inside Rocky’s head: Where did his dad come from in the middle of the night? Subsequently, how did he disappear into thin air suddenly? Whom did his friends shoot?

* * *

Vikrant turned towards Rocky and started narrating the episode in excitement, “We had attacked your father with both our weapons, and were pretty sure that he was dead. But the old man was more stubborn than we had anticipated.”

“Are you hundred percent sure that it was my dad who was present in the room?”

“What makes you ask this silly question, Rocky? Of course it was him,” replied Vikrant. “After attacking him, we scavenged for money and valuables from your father’s closet.”

"That was a spontaneous master-stroke which I introduced into the plan,” Saaqib added with a smirk on his face. “With this stroke, not only did we lay our hands on some riches, but also succeeded to paint a false coat of burglary motive on the killing.”

“Was there ample lighting in the room to ensure that none of you made any mistake in identifying my dad?”

“Rocky, what’s wrong with you! We clearly saw your father’s face… before and after killing him,” exclaimed Saaqib.

“Finally when we wrapped up the loot and were about to step out, I saw your father’s fingers move. Since he had seen our faces, I drew out the gun from his cabinet and shot a bullet to his heart. Under no circumstance could we take chances, you know,” Vikrant concluded the story.

Rocky drove on unabatedly. He had ultimately attained closure by getting rid of the heaviest shackle of his life. Perhaps his father too achieved closure by speaking his heart out to his elder son tonight. If everyone achieved what they had wished for, why did Rocky have to blink profusely to withdraw the drop of tear that had formed in his eyes?

* * *

Monday, November 30, 2015

From the heart...

कुछ शामें बचाके रखीं थी, यारों के साथ पीने के लिए...
काफी पैसे कमाके रखें थे, बाद में आराम से जीने के लिए... 

जाने कब मेरी ज़िन्दगी से निकल गयीं, वो बचाई हुई हर एक शाम।
यार दोस्त भी ग़ुम हुए, पीछे रह गए सिर्फ पैसे और जाम।


कॉलेज-टाइम की वो रातें याद है यारों...
जब होता था कमरा खचाकच भरा और बोतलें खाली।

आज भी हर रात को महफ़िल जमती है मेरे घर में... 
बोतलें तो भरी हुई है, पर आज कमरा  है खाली।

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Why my father reprimanded me on Father’s Day?

It was unusual for my father to call me on a Sunday evening, more so because I had already made the customary weekend phone call to him and my mother earlier today. A tad bit worried, I muted the TV before answering his call.

Father: Couldn't you do even this bit?

Me: What?

Father: If you didn't have a photograph of us together, you should have asked me for it. I'd easily have clicked one from my old album and sent it through WhatsApp to you.

Me: Dad, you’re not at all making any sense to me!

Father: Since morning today, all my friends have been proudly flaunting the lovely Facebook wishes their children have posted for them. The posts displaying a picture of them together with their son or daughter, and my friends tagged in those.

Me: Oh... that?

Father: Yes, that! And I thought you are a good writer.

Me: Wait! Now what does it have to do with writing?

Father: All their children have written such emotional lines about their father in these posts. Hear this one… Verma’s son writes, “The greatest gift I ever had came from God; I call him Dad.” How touching is that!

Me:  Such quotes can be found aplenty in e-card websites. But, that’s not the point… when on earth did you start caring about such things?

Father: Ever since you have urged me to open a Facebook account and gifted me a smart phone. Now I feel that I was better off without them.

Me: But dad…

Father: Please do not ‘but dad’ me! I felt so out of place when everyone was discussing those posts and I had nothing to flaunt in my Facebook wall.

Me: You know how much I hate PDA, dad!

Father: Now, what’s that?

Me: PDA… err… Public Display of Affection. Also, Father’s Day is just a western concept promoted by the likes of Hallmark and Archies to increase their sales.

Father: You had said the same about Valentine’s Day, but so often I had seen you sneaking out of the house with those red and pink cards during your college days.

Me: Err… that's a different thing altogether!

Father: Only when it comes to doing things for your parents, your enthusiasm fizzles out!

Me: Sorry dad. I did not comprehend that a Facebook post would mean so much to you. Can I make up for it by writing a nice Father's Day wish and sending it via WhatsApp to you now?

Father: Don’t bother… now it’s too late! Just remember to post something nice and touching on your mom’s Facebook wall on Mother’s Day. I can bear this insensitive attitude of yours, but she gets hurt easily. I will email you a photograph of her with a 10-years-old you in her arms.

Me: But mom doesn’t even have a Facebook account! 

Father: So, create one for her. What can be a better Mother’s Day present than that? By the way, there’s one thing I have been contemplating to ask you since a while now…

Me: Please go ahead…

Father: Is everything fine between you and your wife? I've never seen you both wishing and thanking each other on Facebook for the ‘lovely companionship and years spent together’ during your wedding anniversary and other special days. All your friends and cousins do so!

Me: Goodbye, dad!

Monday, March 2, 2015

पैमाने ढूंढ़ता हु...

वजह नहीं मिलती यार से मिलने की,
तो बहाने ढूंढ़ता हु।
साथ बैठके जो खनकाए थे,
वो पैमाने ढूंढ़ता हु।

ज़िन्दगी को उँगलियों पे नचाते थे,
दूरियों को पल में मिटाते थे।
उन फुरसत भरे लम्हों के,
आज ख़ज़ाने ढूंढ़ता हु।
… साथ बैठके जो खनकाए थे,
वो पैमाने ढूंढ़ता हु।

Nirula's का बड़ा bill, टूटा हुआ दिल,
Exams में 40% लाने की मुश्किल।
इन problems को जहा fix करते थे,
वो कारखाने ढूंढ़ता हु।
… साथ बैठके जो खनकाए थे,
वो पैमाने ढूंढ़ता हु।

Birthday bumps के दर्द से बचने के लिए,
Extra jeans पेहेनके college जाना।
आज Whatsapp और Facebook के wishes में,
लम्हें वो बचकाने ढूंढ़ता हु।
… साथ बैठके जो खनकाए थे,
वो पैमाने ढूंढ़ता हु।

मौका नहीं मिलता यार से मिलने का,
तो पुराने अफ़साने ढूंढ़ता हु।
साथ बैठके जो खनकाए थे,
वो पैमाने ढूंढ़ता हु। 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The finger

I did not turn my head around! Through the rear-view mirror I kept looking at the black jeep which had stopped a few feet behind my car. As the driver stepped out, my pulse started racing. The guy was about six-feet tall, bald and with muscles bulging out of his tight, black t-shirt. With a contemptuous look on his face, he started walking towards my car. I double-checked the locks of the door and quickly rolled up the window. Clueless about what I could do to save myself, I sat there like a rock with a prayer on my lips…

Today was definitely not my day! Suchi had planned tonight’s dinner a month ago with a stern warning thrown at me, “You better not let me down this time, Aadi! My parents will be in town only for an evening before they fly off to the USA for a year.” Instantly I had blocked the calendar on my mobile phone and I had also emailed my leave request to the boss. But as fate would have it, today was the day my company’s key client, whose account I was responsible for, chose to visit us and negotiate the next contract.

“Trust me! I will be back by evening, sweetheart.” But this assurance wasn't enough to calm down Suchi. I am sure she felt that I was deliberately avoiding the meeting with her parents as I never had high regards for them. And why would I? I was never respected by them just because Suchi and I had eloped two years ago, shattering their dreams of acquiring an NRI son-in-law. But this time I had no intentions of shying away from meeting them. In fact I had prepared myself to face them, half-heartedly though, just because I did not want to hurt Suchi’s feelings.

The client’s flight landed late owing to the notorious Delhi fog. And thanks to that delay, I was here sitting in a meeting with them till eight o'clock in the evening.

“Aadi… can you at least return home by ten o'clock, so that we can go to see off my parents at the airport?” Suchi had called up during my meeting, and her tone clearly reflected that she was trying her best to not shout at me and maintain decorum, perhaps because her parents were sitting at an audible distance from her. At nine o'clock when I asked my boss to excuse me from the dinner-meeting with the client, he did not take it too well. “What can I say? …it’s your decision. But I am sure you know that opportunities like these seldom knock at the doors of junior executives like you! And such obliviousness from your part might also affect your appraisal,” he said looking away.

No amount of scoffs or invectives could hold back me at this hour. If this is what I get in return of putting in my long hours, weekends and sweat for this company, I was better off being in my boss’s bad books than sacrificing any more hours from my personal life.

It being a Friday night, the streets were packed with an ironical combination of people (like me) leaving from work late, the BPO executives heading to work and the ones who had set out to party for the weekend. To add to the traffic woes, the City Municipality had decided to dig up one side of the road near my office to repair a pipeline. Precariously maneuvering through the infuriated cars, I managed to cover barely five kilometers in an hour. Sharp at ten o'clock my phone rang…

“Do you have any idea what the time is, Aadi?”

“I am on my way… the traffic is really bad today.”

“You always have an excuse ready at your fingertips! I am not even sure if I should trust you. If you didn't want to meet them, you could have simply told me!”

The auto rickshaw in front of my car refused to budge, and the black jeep behind my car kept blaring its horn at me.

“Suchi… you are putting unfair blame on me now! I did not refuse to meet your parents… but I can’t set aside my job for them!”

“Of course you can’t… you are always prompt in dodging all social contacts with my family in pretext of your job!”

 “Suchi! I am sure the flights would be delayed because of the fog, and we can make it in time to drop your parents at the airport. Now, if you let me drive peacefully I will try to reach home in half-an-hour,” saying this I disconnected the call.

I tried to swerve my car to overtake the broken-down auto rickshaw, but the incessant honking by the jeep behind my car didn't stop. Clubbed with the just-concluded argument with my wife, this behavior by the driver of the jeep was enough to tick me off! I rolled down my car’s window, put my arm out and gave him the finger before zipping out of my lane.

In an attempt to reach home quicker and pacify my wife’s temper, I decided to take the albeit longer, but lesser used route. The street lights were quite dim here, and the only human beings you could spot were an occasional group of rickshaw drivers huddling around a bonfire. Since I wasn't too familiar with this route, I strived to keep track of the directions. As I slowed down to ensure that I did not miss the next turn, my eyes fell on the rear-view mirror and I realized that a vehicle had been following me ever since I had diverted from the main road. On a closer look I realized that it was the same black jeep which was honking behind me, and the driver of which I had abused indicatively.

Was the jeep driver following me? Perhaps I was overreacting. To check if he was really on my trail, I accelerated up my car and took a few impromptu turns. But to my horror, wherever I went, the black jeep followed. Now I could feel my heart thumping against my chest and a trickle of sweat flowing down my forehead. Oh no! Had I ruffled the wrong feathers? Looking at the make of the vehicle, the owner certainly seemed to be an influential or powerful person or possibly both. That was it… I had to lose him from my tail or hit the main road again where there would be other people to save me. With my foot pressed hard on the accelerator, I just sped through the unknown lanes without paying heed to directions at all, till I hit a dead-end.

I did not turn my head around! Through the rear-view mirror I kept looking at the black jeep which had stopped a few feet behind my car. As the driver stepped out, my pulse started racing. The guy was about six-feet tall, bald and with muscles bulging out of his tight, black t-shirt. With a contemptuous look on his face, he started walking towards my car. I double-checked the locks of the door and quickly rolled up the window. Clueless about what I could do to save myself, I sat there like a rock with a prayer on my lips.

The knock on my car window shook me up, but I gathered some courage to look towards his face with a fake but dramatic ‘I-am-not-scared’ expression. With an evil grin on his face, the bald man gave me the finger, walked back to his jeep and drove away!

As I was trying to come to terms with what just happened, the notification tone of my mobile phone made me rake for it in the darkness. ‘1 message from Suchi’.

“I called a cab for Ma and Pa and they have left. Please don’t bother to leave your WORK behind for such trivial occurrences of my life!”

The mobile phone clock showed eleven o’clock and I was stranded at an unknown spot in the middle of nowhere. The only picture remaining in front of my eyes was that of the bald man giving me the finger.