Wednesday, 22 November 2017

तुम कब लौटोगे?

जब से रुख़सत हुए तुम अमावस की उस काली रात
मुड़ कर एक बार भी ना देखा तुम ने,
एक आलिंगन के साथ वादा किया था कि
लौट आओगे पूनम के चाँद से पहले।
ना जाने कितने चाँद ढल चुके,
रोशन ना हुआ अब तक ईद का चाँद मेरा!
क्या दीदारे-यार ना होगा अब कभी?
रुख़ बदल चुका इस दास्ताने-मोहब्बत का,
तुम कब लौटोगे?

मैं कोशिश करुँ क्या, एक बार फिर
कि खोल सकूँ वो जंग लग चुके ताले,
मुद्दतों से जो कभी खुले नहीं,
वो चरमराते दरवाज़े
जर्जर हो चुके जो इतने सालों में,
मेरे मन की खिड़कियां
जिनमें किसी ने झाँका नहीं एक अरसे से,
ख़ुशनुमा यादों पे लगे जाले बुहारने की
कोशिश करे क्या ये दिल, तुम्हारे लिए फिर एक बार?

क्या याद है तुम्हें अब भी
वो छोटी-छोटी घंटियों वाली नेमप्लेट
इश्क़ के रंगों से उकेरे थे जिस पे
तुम ने एक दूल्हा दुल्हन
और मैं ने, नाम हम दोनों के?
वो अब भी वहीं लटकी है, अकेली,
बंद दरवाज़े के बाहर,
उन घंटियों की मौसिक़ी भी अब खामोश है,
इंतज़ार में तुम्हारे।

मुझे आज भी याद है वो पल
जब एहतराम किया था हरसिंगार के पेड़ ने
पहले दिन हमारा इस आँगन में
ख़ूबसूरत सफ़ेद-नारंगी फूलों की बारिश से,
मानो दुआएं दे रहा हो,
महकता रहे सदा गुलिस्तां तुम्हारा
इनकी मनभावनी खुशबू सा। पर अफ़सोस,
वो हरसिंगार अब नहीं रहा,
बिलकुल हमारे रिश्ते की तरह।

हाँ, उसका उजड़ा ठूँठ अब भी है,
सूखा, मुरझाया, ग़मज़दा,
गोया बसंत में भी पतझड़ का मारा,
बिलकुल मेरी तरह।
हाँ लेकिन, उम्मीद का एक पत्ता बाकी है,
मेरी साँसों की तरह अब भी,
पूरी ताक़त से लड़ते हुए तूफ़ानों से,
कि शायद वो बिछड़ा हमसफ़र मिल जाये
पीछे छूट गए तन्हा राही को।

पर कितनी देर और?
कितने मौसम बीत चले, बरसात के साथ
इन ग़मगीन आँखों का काजल भी धुल चुका,
मौसमे-बहार का इंतज़ार करूँ तो कब तक
जबकि पतझड़ मेरे जीवन का हिस्सा बन चुका है?
कड़वी ही सही, पर हक़ीक़त यही है
कि रुत बदल रही है और ना जाने कौन से पल,
उम्मीद का वो एक आख़िरी पत्ता भी ढह जाए, क्योंकि
एक कमज़ोर शाख़ से ज्यादा कमज़ोर होता है एक तन्हा दिल।

तो फैसला अब ये है कि, तुम हो ना हो,
कमज़ोर ना पड़ेंगे अब कभी ये दरो-दीवार,
ये खिड़कियाँ बंद ही रहेंगी अब, तुम्हारे लिए।
हरसिंगार फिर महकेगा, पर सिर्फ़ मेरे लिए।
कोई उम्मीद तुम ना रखना अब
कि राह तकती रहेगी दुल्हन आख़िरी दम तक
आँखें बिछाए तुम्हारे इंतज़ार में, क्योंकि
नेमप्लेट पे धुंधलाते तुम्हारे नाम की तरह
वजूद मिट चुका होगा तुम्हारा मेरे मन के कैनवास से,

तुम जब तक लौटोगे।

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Battle With Self

The letter had just been delivered. Neha picked up the yellow official envelope with trembling hands.
She had been pining for this day for years.
Neha was born in a small village to poor peasant parents. She was the third born, a daughter after two brothers. After her birth, the family's fortunes turned upwards suddenly. Their almost barren fields started rewarding them with bumper crops year after year. The poor farmers, who once struggled to feed their children two square meals in a day, were now flush with enough funds to send their three children to a good school in the nearby city. 
The English medium school and hostel life refined the rustic manners and language of the siblings and honed their co-curricular skills too. Her brothers were good in studies but Neha turned out to be an exceptionally confident speaker who was also bestowed with a powerful voice. She had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and was feted by her teachers and classmates alike for bringing laurels to the school in inter-school debates and elocutions. She performed equally well in studies and sports and won awards as the best student almost every year.
Then tragedy struck.
Neha was delivering a powerful speech in the morning assembly when she happened to clutch the mic in her hand and boom! Sparks flew all around and she started writhing in pain...the mic had electric current leaking through it and had struck Neha. She was rushed to a nearby hospital in the Principal's car where the doctors revealed that she was not only burnt partially due to the electric current but unfortunately she had also lost her voice and the movement in the right side of her body too. They expressed hope that she would regain strength and movement in her body with proper treatment and physiotherapy but there was no certainty how much time her recovery would take.
Her family was devastated with the crushing news. They were quite proud of her achievements and had pinned many hopes on her. Her brothers had by then passed out of the school and were studying in professional colleges. They rushed to be with their sister but had to leave after a few days. The parents also needed to go back to their farms but Neha's mother refused to leave her side. She stayed back to look after her darling daughter who had just entered her teens and was in quite a fragile state, physically, mentally and emotionally. 
Physiotherapy, medicines, speech therapy, nutritious diet were to continue for months. The school extended all possible financial and moral support, her classmates kept visiting her to cheer her up but Neha's silence didn't break. Her friends and mother would keep talking to her, pepping her up so that she would utter a few words. Her family prayed incessantly for her wellbeing. She tried her best too, but no words came out. Nor did the movement in her hand. It upset her mother to see her normally chirpy and active daughter struggling to speak and move on her own. Neha had fallen into severe depression and would keep staring into nothingness for hours.
Her doctors advised her to gradually start using her left hand so that she may regain some of her lost confidence. Her teachers would come and read out her lessons while her friends would bring notes for her. Bit-by-bit Neha began to get up and sit on her hospital bed. One day she gestured to indicate that she wanted to eat food herself. The next day she picked up her text book in her left hand and started reading. Her doctors, nurses, teachers...all were overjoyed at this tiny sign of her getting onto the path of recovery.
A few months later, Neha went back to her school. Her voice had not returned but some movement in the right side of her body had. Her teachers advised her to apply for disability certificate so that she could get certain exemptions in academics. Neha refused politely. She was determined to prove that she was quite capable of managing herself well despite her multiple challenges, most importantly to herself.
She would drag herself up the stairs, climb down slowly, write slowly, fumble in asking questions in the newly learnt sign language but still tried to complete her work herself. She would read and watch the inspirational tales of high achievers who had refused to get bogged down by their disabilities. Years passed but her struggle with herself didn't cease. Her doctors, in the meanwhile, informed her about a new implant which could bring back some of her speech. Neha and her family were overjoyed when she spoke her first words in years. She had crossed one more post! 
The turning point in her life came when she met the new district magistrate who had been invited to inaugurate the new auditorium in her college. He was a physically challenged person with limited movement in his body just like her but was extremely articulate and confident. He spoke at length about his personal challenges and how he overcame them to become an IAS officer. She was greatly impressed by his grit and determination as also his self-assured demeanor. This fortuitous meeting inspired her to attempt the highly coveted civil services examination.
She started preparing for the extremely competitive examination in right earnest but was disappointed when she realized that her writing speed was not enough to cope up with the newly revised pattern of examination. Her coaching institute faculty encouraged her to practice writing long answers but one day Neha was so upset that she just threw away her pen and notebooks and started crying in frustration and desperation. 
A strong hand tapped her on the shoulder. 'You have come this far only on your own strength, Neha. How can you put an end to your journey like this? It has just begun.' His mentor's angry voice poured into her ears. 'No sir, I can't carry on like this any more. I give up.' Neha cried bitterly. 'So many people look up to you for inspiration, you can't let them down, can you? And how about failing your own self? You had set out to win, didn't you? Then how can you allow yourself to cry and accept defeat without even trying?' The district magistrate who had kept in constant touch with her and had become more of her friend, philosopher and guide over the years, chided her. 'This struggle is not just your own. This is the struggle of many more challenged people like you and me. Get up and get going girl.'
Immensely shaken up by his reprimand, Neha stood up immediately. She wiped her tears, picked up her pen and notebooks, arranged them neatly on her study table, bowed to her mentor gratefully and resolutely began her studies once again. 
That was the last day she cried.
Today was an exception. Her eyes were moist but these were tears of joy today.
She had finally achieved the dream of her life. She had become an IAS officer, a true inspiration for many. A mentor for many people with disabilities like her, just like she had found her mentor that fateful day. Silently she thanked everyone who had lent their strong shoulders and supported her in her struggle-her family and friends, her teachers and her mentor. She thanked her disability; for drawing out the ocean of strength and grit she didn't know she had. 
She had won the battle with herself, finally.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Tum Laut Aana Jaldi

मेरी नयी कविता जो अभी कुछ दिन पहले ही The Anonymous Writer हिंदी पर पहली बार प्रकाशित हुई है।

तुम लौट आना जल्दी 

मौसम की शायद आखिरी बारिश,
मधुमालती के गुलाबी सफ़ेद फूल
और मासूम कोपलों पे अटकी नन्हीं बूंदें
मानो अपने अस्तित्व की रक्षा के लिए जूझती हुई
तेज़ हवा के झोंकों से।

ढलती शाम का सीला धुँधलका
और फ़िज़ा में उमड़ती यादों की महक़,
और मेरी
कुछ साझा यादें।

उकेरी थीं चंद ख़ूबसूरत लकीरें जब हम ने
अपने भविष्य के नक़्शे पे
अपने प्यार के सुनहरे दिनों की
उम्मीद में।

फिर जाने कैसे नासमझी का अंधड़ चला
और अहम् के कंक्रीट पे
गलतफहमियों की मीनारें चुन गयीं।

वो भी साँझ का ही वक़्त था
मग़र एक गर्म तपती शाम।

ढल चुके सूरज की
लालिमा अब भी क्षितिज पर विद्यमान थी
पर गहराती रात की कालिमा पेड़ों को निगलने लगी थी,
बिलकुल हमारे स्याह पड़ते रिश्ते की मानिंद,
बिलकुल हमारे प्यार में धीरे-धीरे घुलती कड़वाहट की तरह।

बारिश तो नहीं, पर नमी उस रोज़ भी थी
मेरी आँखों के कोनों पर ठहरी।

शायद अटका हुआ था एक क़तरा तुम्हारी पलकों में भी
पलट कर ढक लिया था अपने सतरंगी दुपट्टे से तुमने उसे
तेज़ी से उतरते अंधियारे ने
अपने अंदर समो लिया था जिसके चमकीले रंगों को,
वैसे ही जैसे फीके पड़ रहे थे रंग
हमारे रिश्ते के।

फ़िज़ा में फैली गर्माहट के बावजूद भी
ठंडी पड़ रही थी भरोसे की आंच,
डगमगा रही थी प्यार की नींव।

जुबां ख़ामोश थी,
शब्द बेसुध हो गए हों मानो।
कहीं कुछ दरक रहा था,
बिखर रहा था
कांच की किरचों की तरह।

पर क्या?
और क्यों?
जवाब ढूंढ रहे थे हम दोनों ही।

अहम् के मकड़जाल में उलझे,
अपने प्यार के अस्तित्व को बचाने की कोशिश में
असहाय, असफल।

थरथराती उंगलियों से छुआ था मैं ने दामन तुम्हारा,
सतरंगी दुपट्टे की दीवार के उस पार
देखूँ तो, क्या चल रहा है लरजती आँखों में तुम्हारी।

सूनी आँखों के खालीपन में भी इक तूफ़ान उमड़ रहा था
अनुत्तरित सवालों का,
अनबूझे जवाबों का।

गर्म रेत की ज़मीन पर भी
'पहले तुम बोलो' का अभेद्य हिमालय अटल खड़ा था
हमारे बीच।

'ज़रूरी नहीं सब कुछ सहेज कर रखा जाये,
कभी-कभी सब कुछ ख़त्म कर देना ही अच्छा होता है'
एक सदी से लम्बे अंतराल के बाद ये तुम्हारे आख़िरी शब्द
और सब कुछ इतिहास हो गया,
हमेशा के लिए।

पर क्या वाक़ई?

मैं तो आज भी वहीँ खड़ा हूँ
तुम्हारे पलट कर जाते क़दमों की छाप अपने दिल पे संजोए,
तुम्हारे लौट आने की उम्मीद में।

नम है आसमां आज भी,
पर मेरे अंदर तो आज भी सूखा पड़ा है,
एक नयी शुरुआत के इंतज़ार में।

तुम हो नहीं यहाँ,
मैं जानता हूँ ,
पर जहाँ भी हो,
लौट आना जल्दी।

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Dark Hound

It swam with the gentle breeze.
Just like the undulating pendulum,
of a grandfather's clock.
But without the monotonous tick-tock.
The dark head swung back and forth now.
Against the rays of silver moonlight.
Bottomless and faceless.
Square and noiseless. 

She had woken up in the middle of night,

As if struck hard by some silent foe, 
Terrified, and sweaty at the brow.
She stared, as if hypnotized,
At the queer contraption.
'Is it a ghost?
Is it a robber?'
She wondered in consternation.

'Mom', she tried to call.

The parched throat refused to oblige.
'Brother', she tried to nudge.
Paralyzed arms declined to budge.
'Would it pounce upon me',
she panicked, 'and attack my loving kin,
snoring softly,
Oblivious to the fangs of death closing in?'

The seven-year old shut her eyes tight,

Wishing the monster to go away,
Disappear into the piercing moonlight,
Longing for it soon to be day.
'Ghosts are not real, it's just a dream
Soon the nightmare will be over'.
She pulled over her face, the sheet cover.
'It's not so scary now as it seemed'.

Sunlight filtered through the pristine sheet,

Peeped through her shut eyes.
'Wake up, you sleeping beauty',
Mom kissed the little princess.
She sat up with a jolt and looked around.
'Has he vanished? It's not yet Vesper's nine!'
Her brother's black tee flailed on the clothesline.
Oh no, so this was my ghost, this was the dark hound!

Image courtesy: wikiHow

Saturday, 9 September 2017

My Feisty Warrior Woman

She picked up the cleaver and sliced the hand slithering inside through the metal bars. The robber's fingers fell on her bed, a puddle of blood slowly staining the pristine white sheet. The robber's hand had disappeared but his shrieks still rant the still night air. She trembled with repulsion at the sight of blood, yet she managed to pick up her sleeping children-thankfully unaware of the bloodbath-with firm hands. She peeled away the blood soaked bed sheet and mattress, threw a clean sheet on the bed and carefully laid the children on it.
It was the pre-independence era. Her husband was a senior employee in the railway department in a town in Multan province, now in Pakistan. Whenever he had a night duty, he would send home a peon at night to bring his glass of milk. But that night the peon was on leave and hence her husband had drunk milk before leaving for his night duty. The robber who had been observing the daily routine of the man-of-the-house for some days, obviously didn't know this. An hour after the man left his home, the robber knocked at the window just as the peon used to do and asked for the glass of milk. The woman was startled to see a new face and realized immediately his ploy to make her open the door. Keeping her cool she tried to shut the window. The robber punched the wooden door and tried to break it.
The woman swiftly picked up the razor sharp cleaver from under her pillow and with a swish of her wrist, the man's fingers were slashed.
She had always been like that-bold and brave yet calm and collected-even in her teenage years.
A free bird, once she had stealthily slipped outside her home at dusk when females were not allowed to step out. As she strolled along the narrow alley, she heard some strange guttural sounds from the stable in her neighborhood. Unafraid, she slipped inside and called out who was there. A man was trying to unfasten the cord around the neck of a mare. Startled by her call, he challenged her with a knife but she was not to be terrified. She picked up a stick and beat the thief with it forcing him to abandon his plan of taking away the mare.
In an era when women hardly ever went out alone, she would boldly travel without her husband from Lahore to Quetta and later from Delhi to Bombay (then) even taking her six children with her.
It was during one such travel that she was threatened by a goon inside the train and her thick round bangles were snatched. Undeterred by his threats, she slapped him tight and took her bangles back. On reaching home her children narrated her brave act to her family members. While some lauded her bravery, some elders scolded her for being so audacious and putting her and her children's lives in jeopardy for a couple of gold bangles. She retorted nonchalantly that the bangles were not even gold, they were brass bangles worth hardly a dime and that she had in fact kept her gold bangles safe in her tijori. When she was questioned by the shocked elders why then she bothered about the brass bangles, she replied with pride that it was just a matter of her self-esteem...nobody dare mess with her and get away so lightly.

She was truly an inspiration for women in her own family as well as others. My Nani, Mom and Maasi-all are strong women in their own unique ways yet reflect the influence of her mighty legacy, her genes in many ways.

She was my great grandmother-fearless, firebrand and feisty-a true warrior woman.

When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve-year-old girl, Aremis. Check out this new historical novel Empire ( with a warrior woman, Aremis at the heart of the novel. 

Author's Note: This post is my tribute to my great-grandmother as part of the blogathon about #WarriorWomen by #Women'sWeb in association with #JuggernautBooks.