Friday, August 14, 2009

How I Met Haseen!

Month of May is when the harsh cruel summer of Delhi starts unveiling its true colours. Trees don't talk, birds don't fly, squirrels don't dance and men run around to find cover from the fireball. All you can do is to look up helplessly at the glaring white sky and pray the God of rain to bless with some shower. But God likes to play games! It would tease for a little while, sprinkle for few minutes and just when, with the humming of clouds, the hopes will blossom in heart, you find it's all gone! In a blink of the eye every single drop of rain vaporises from the thirsty crust leaving so much anger and humidity behind.

I hate anger and run away from it as far as I can. This time I decided to escape to Home. Now, over the years, bizarre incidents have happened and continue to happen in my train journeys. Sometimes I meet old friends and find out that they have become hippies, sometimes I meet soldiers from Kargil war with breathtaking stories almost choking you with action, excitement, emotion, drama and post war trauma, sometimes there is a criminal in chains travelling by my side with weird habits of praying Goddess Durga and chanting mantras, sometimes I find myself alone with a girl in the compartment and we end up journey without even knowing names and sometimes even people have got shot! So you can imagine that in these journeys I had met all types of people you can possibly hope but then I met someone I would not have thought of even in my dreams. I met Haseen!

Now like every other, well cultured, well mannered mama's boy in our country, I avoid a direct stare at the girls. But then they say that sometimes angels descend from heaven! My eyes were unshakably fixed on her and suddenly I realized that everyone else was staring back at me. I was embarrassed but unusually the train was not crowded and I was ashamed less for my act. But gosh! Could I have helped! Had I ever seen anyone as calm, serene and graceful as her! Apparently I can find my peace even in the most turbulent emotional chaos. And I did as soon as the train started to loco mote. Unlike the still stagnant summer, now the trees started to run, poles approached, rivers passed, bridges howled and just as we ran past the Delhi border, birds started to fly. In the world outside the window there are enough wonders for my amusement. But then darkness comes and everything covers under the night leaving just trail of yellow light bulbs flashing in the distant villages and ghettos. She was sitting opposite me in the long lower berth and occasionally my eyes met hers and I always found her smiling. For some time I thought she's smiling at me and I smiled back. But soon I realized that she is not a sadistic pessimist moron like me but a happy in life person.

The good thing about train to Rewa is that people do not talk much and as the train starts to sway them they start feeling sleepy. Ten minutes into the journey and many of them would already be dozing. And the bad thing is that the nocturnal animals have to suffer all night in darkness. Thank God I wasn't the only nocturnal creature this time.

After the clock ticked 11:00 pm, the rest of the world fell asleep I grew more and more uncomfortable. I just wanted to talk to her. Sitting opposite me in yellow kurta and jeans, her curls playing around with the wind, her sparkling eyes gazing in the infinite sky may be shooting some stars and her love at first sight smile; maybe she was singing some song. I was wandering in dark narrow alleys of thoughts to come up with something to talk. When I had given up, she opened her blue VIP bag, took out a novel Erich Segal's Love Story and started reading. I had a whole bunch of novels and probability books in my bag, a diary and pen for emergency writing outburst and other stuff that could not be done with even in years of solemn pursuit for academic excellence but I acted like I am getting death bored. She smiled a feather smile and asked,
"Do you want something to read?"
I held my breath and made myself believe that it is actually her speaking and replied as calmly as I could have,
"If you have some other novel, it would be great!"

She opened her bag again and handed me over 'Godan', the classic work of Prem Chand. I had read the novel two years ago but still I looked at it in amazement as if it were some alien object and thanked her. Of course I was not interested in reading; I was rather looking for some trigger to shoot a conversation. Finally I kindled my entire dare and said
"What is this novel about? I have learnt that Prem Chand wrote about social issues but never got a chance to read his work."
She looked over me in amazement and said "Is it so? What a chance to know him then! It's one of the most amazing works in literature. You must read it. This book is about..."
Her voice was so sweet and mellow that I was soaking in every word from her lips. Even her eyes spoke when she talked. I was mesmerized again and then she smiled me back in the real conversation.
"Okay!" I smiled back. "What is your name?"
It seemed she got puzzled by the question but then she said softly
"Haseen! And yours?"
"Abhay" After a moment of silence I said "What is your book about? I really like the design on the cover page."
"Oh! It's a love story and that is all I can say right now. I am done almost 100 pages may be I will tell after finishing it." And she dived back in the pages of the Love Story.

I also started turning pages of Godan, remembering all the characters, Hori, Gobar, Dhania...The circumstances in which they were living, the poverty, the migration of Gobar to city etc. I remembered it all very well, so well crafted is the greatest creation by the legend! I waited patiently for her to finish the novel. After an hour she closed the book. By the emotion on her face I could tell that the novel moved her heart deeply.

I turned towards her "So how was the book?"
"It's amazing!"
"Any punch lines?"
"Yes, yes, love means never having to say sorry."
"Sounds great!"
And then when I would have least expected, she started telling me the story. I was looking in her eyes and she was looking into mine and she told and she told. I heard her like a disciple following the sermon by his Goddess. I can still remember the gentle emotional pitches, fragrance of love and sacredness in her voice. It was like a soothing music. It was like a beautiful morning. It was like the scent of the first rain! When she completed the story I could say nothing but,
I was so moved that I decided after returning to Delhi reading Love Story would be the first thing I will do. I was floating in an endless ocean of emotions and the rising waves would quiver me within. She sensed that I needed a moment of silence and she respected it. But then, I fell in grave silence. Probably the way she told the story reminded me of things I had not spoken of in years. Would tonight be the night of change in my life? Would Haseen be the angel for me? I knew I was thinking way too far but what if I dare to do? What if I let myself loose? What if I finally free myself of the inherent notion of being a good person who would hurt not a fly? What if I tonight I decide to live life more beautifully even if it is at the cost of a little hurt? I knew I wasn't thinking too far. This is the thing I have been waiting for my entire twenty one years of life-to be finally free of myself created silence. Suddenly the train stopped. I had no more courage to look in her eyes again. I silently stood up and stepped down on the platform and stared at the sky. It was dark but I could see the clouds.
"God please don't rain tonight!" I whispered.

From the platform I bought Coke, some Haldiram's sweet and aloo bhujiya, mineral water and a chai. I boarded the train and as I reached my seat Haseen said,
"Abhay! Can you bring me a chai please?"
"Sure Haseen! And this is for you." I handed her over the sweets.
"Just..." Obviously I was fighting for words to fill in but she seemed to understand.
"Okay, thanks!"
I refused to take the money she offered and brought her another cup full of hot refreshing chai. Few minutes after the train started to move she opened the box of sweets and offered me. I also opened all the Coca Colas and bhujiyas and we ate it all happily, exchanging nothing but smiles and random chit chatting. She told me a joke or two which I later forgot. We revealed our business in studies and future plans in brief. She was awed when I told her that I am from IIT but then I was able to convince her that it is not what it all seems to be. She told that she was doing MBA from some college, which I again forgot, in Lucknow and kept bragging that it's nothing compared to the standards and students of IIT. I heard her humbly and accepted all her appreciation in simpers. She questioned little more of me and I answered little more of me. Then I asked her about her interest in novels and she explained her hobbies of writing, singing, dancing, painting and reading. Somehow we were able to form a very cosy bonding and friendship within an hour of talk in which I was mostly being flattered with all that I am and I am not. But she was so beautiful that I could have spent all night like that. I wished it not to stop. The sun not to rise another dawn. The whole world just to be here, forever!
Then she asked me of my interests and hobbies.
"Mostly, writing is all I do."
"What do you write?"
I just used to pen poems then and so I replied
"I love poems. Would you do me a favour?"
"What?" And then she asked something that really moved me.
"Write a poem for me!"
"What! Why?" For some reason I freaked out.
She smiled and calmly said "Like you brought me the sweets!"
Just as you would imagine divine angels from fairy tales to speak. I couldn't refuse. Now without the help of Microsoft Word, thesaurus and Concise Oxford English Dictionary, my job became really tough and challenging. But I managed to write a little poem of eight lines in forty minutes. All the while she kept silent and carefully read my face and working. I handed her over the paper, she glanced at my bad hand writing and it took her ten minutes to understand it.

"Would you read it for me?"
"What!" I was totally out of words, out of expression and out of everything I had previously known. After my long confused quiet she said
"Please! I can't understand the emotion behind lines unless I hear them."
Of course it was true. I have been abstruse writer and sometimes after a month I myself can't decode my cryptic writings. And then I did something I can't imagine. I read it to her, flowing in the words, the emotions, the expressions, the pitches and whispers. The eight lines didn't seem all that short. An era passed by. In those ten minutes the howling, the fluttering, the sound of gush, the snorts and noises all fell mute. It seemed that there are only two people in the world. And when I finished Haseen took a deep breath and said
"Thank you Abhay. It's the most wonderful gift I have ever got!"
"You are welcome Haseen." I couldn't conceal my smile.

We talked some more into the night and she fell asleep after a while. I was living the most beautiful dream and I wished to live in it longer but I didn't know when the night draped me into the hymns of sleep.
It was 6:30 or probably 7 am when she woke me up
"Abhay! My station has come I am leaving."
"Okay" I said.
"Bye" and she left.

When her words actually reached my brain, in a split second my sleep vanished. I said "what!" I still can't say if I was dreaming or awake. Then I realised that it was actually Kanpur and she had taken away all her bags. Suddenly all the last night, the Serendipities and A walk to remembers flashed back in frames in my mind. I found my sandals and ran onto the platform. I could still see her leaving but the signal turned green and the train started to move. I couldn't think, I couldn't wait, I couldn't run, I choked but I could hold no more and I screamed
"Haseen! What is your number?"
She turned towards me, her hair curls fiddling with the wind, her eyes sparkling, and her face more blissful than ever, her grace glowing like the morning light. She turned towards me, the train gained pace, I stood still but she was far too away. I realized it was too late.
She screamed "Thank you" She smiled, turned back and left! And forever Haseen disappeared into the crowds.

After a fortnight I returned to Delhi, ran into a book store to purchase the Erich Segal’s Love Story, read it and cried all night long.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Era

In last five years my home has become a sojourn for me. Now and then I have to find time, quite often steal it, to be back to the place which was once all mine. Life gets busy as you grow up, time turns elusive; things change. But there are memories and characteristics of the era you have lived in which you never forget. There are dimensions of that time, good or bad, that get lost. Some leave trail, some prefer a silent exit.

This July when I was leaving home for Delhi, it was probably one of the rare times when I felt like 'am leaving home'. It has become a business in all these years but this was the season of rain with, if not dark lowly clouds, clear blue skies in the daytime, a shower in the evening and splendid starry nights-bright and young! But emotions have no value in the money driven professional world. Emotions have their place in closed closets, heavily locked so as to not let any human sign of feelings escape the door of terribly lost personal worlds. And so at night, I moved out of my house with blessings of father and mother, seated on back of the bike of my brother and there galloped the black horse, driving me to the railway station.

We tore the world of silence, apart, riding on the lonely countryside road, cutting the farms, through the smell of rain, greenery of trees, against the fresh bathed wind and strong stink of rotting flesh probably a dog who met its fate under screeching tyres of truck. And we rode past all that is and was. My brother sensed my melancholy mind and as we passed by some men sitting by the road, he started this conversation

"These people who sit by road side with beedis on one hand, don't mosquitoes bite them?"
"Probably they don't breed in open lands."
"Or probably beedis keep them away."
"Probably they don't come close due to stink."
We shared a light laugh.
After a few minutes I quipped
"It's actually wonderful you know."
"What is?"
"We would be telling stories to our next generation about our time when people used to sit by the road side in dawn and dark to produce colourful excreta. And they would wonder in awe where all that era has disappeared!"
"May be we would have fables about sharing beedis at night!"

We shared a big laugh, at the thought of what would it be, almost losing balance of the bike and in a few minutes there I was in front of the station with memories of my era to escort me to Delhi.