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,
तुम्हारी
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 (http://bit.ly/DeviEmpire) 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.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Subtle Sexism In Indian Society

''Hamare chand jaise bete ki zindgi me taara ban ke chamko.........'' croons the genial diamond bedecked, smartly turned out grandmom-in-law while blessing the newest 'bahu' gleaming coyly in her 5 kg gold jewellery and 30 kg zardozi lehnga in a typical Indian TV soap.
Oh hell, how can anyone be so sugar sweet and yet be so annoying! Is she blessing the grand daughter-in-law or her own grandson? The grandson is the moon around whom the entire life of the grand DIL should revolve!
'Sada suhagan raho, doodho nahao pooto phalo, bhagwan tumhe chand jaisa beta de...'
All married women would surely have received such blessings from family elders but have you ever noticed that all these blessings, all aashirwads are male-centric? While showering their blessing on a woman, her husband or son is the actual focus of all the good wishes from our family elders. The daughter-in-law may be equally highly qualified, a professional in her own right and earning as much as if not more than their son but no, without her husband she doesn't have any identity, without a son she doesn't have life support guarantee.
And this sexism begins right at the birth of the girl. The moment a girl child is born, everyone's faces hit the floor gloomily. Then gradually the parents are consoled with a condescending 'koi baat nahi, Laxmi aayi hai ghar me'. If the girl is followed by a male child then she is honored like a brave warrior who has brought the prize catch of the 'ghar ka chirag' to the family. But god forbid, if another girl is born then the first born girl is termed 'apshaguni' or a bad omen and heaps of sympathy are piled upon the parents...'do-do ladkiya paida ho gayi, ab kya karenge bechare? (oh they have been burdened with two daughters, how will they manage now?)'
Some of the morons spew more gyan,'ek ladki ki shadi karna hi itna mushkil hai, jiski do-do ladkiya ho us bechare baap ki to zindagi hi aadhi ho jati hai! (It is so difficult to find a good alliance for one daughter, the stress of getting two daughters married reduces the life span of the unfortunate father by half)'. And mind you, such gyan is dispensed by not only the illiterates but the so-called highly educated folks from 'decent' families too.
I still remember how people feted our parents when my elder sister and I were married within a year's time without much hassles. They congratulated our parents,'aap ne to pichchle janam me moti daan kiye honge jo aap ki dono ladkiyo ki shadi pahli baar me hi ho gayi vo bhi itne achche parivaro me!' Loosely translated to English it means that my parents must have donated pearls or done some pious deeds in their previous birth that both their daughters had got married in such good families, that too without having to be 'shown' to many 'boys'. 
More recently I was advised by some family elders to go for a Ganga Snan in Haridwar after the marriage of my daughter. What the heck! Is my highly qualified daughter who is working as a senior software engineer for one of the world's best tech companies a burden on me that I need to go for a de-stressing and rejuvenating Ganga Snan after her marriage? Some of the guests and even family elders had in fact refused to accept the wedding gifts and sweets saying that there is no tradition of distributing sweets and giving gifts at the time of girls' marriage. They accepted the gifts, rather grudgingly, only when I insisted upon them but on hindsight I feel that I shouldn't have. I should have taken back the gifts since I was offending their sensibilities and forcing them to defy the ancient culture and tradition of our great country...how very inconsiderate and mean of me, really!
On a serious note, most men and women would retort with disdain that they are not old-fashioned people and they do not differentiate between their daughters/DIL and sons but they don't even realize how subtly they pass on the sexism through their words, through their actions, through even their blessings to the females of their family.
What's your experience of sexism and gender inequality, overt and covert, in your families?

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

रात की हार

Sharing a poem narrating the angst of 'night' on the plight of women being forced to stay confined to their homes when night falls. This poem was first published by the prestigious The Anonymous Writer हिंदी and subsequently by The Anonymous Writer. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome.

रात की हार

मुझे माफ़ करना ऐ ख़ुदा,
मंज़ूर नहीं अब मुझे ये सज़ा,
मंज़ूर नहीं जाना वहाँ हर रोज़।

कैसे जाऊं मैं वहाँ हर सांझ,
इंसान की फ़ितरत बदल जाती है
मेरे पैर पड़ते ही जहाँ।
सियाही से भी काले साये मंडराते हैं
माँसल शिकार की तलाश में वहाँ।

''यहाँ क्यूँ बैठी हो, ये क्या पहना है,
उस से मत बोलो, वो मत खाओ,
छह बजे से पहले घर लौट आओ।
भले घर की लड़कियां भटकती नहीं
सड़कों पे, होटलों में देर रात अकेली!''

कितना कुछ सुनना-झेलना पड़ता है,
दुनिया की आधी आबादी को
क्योंकि मेरा होना उनके लिए सुरक्षित नहीं।

तो मैं हारी, आप जीते सूरज भइया,
थाम लेती हूँ आज से मैं अपने क़दम,
क्योंकि आधी ज़िंदग़ी अग़र
क़ैद कर दिया जाये खातूनों को
घर की चारदीवारी में, रोक दी जाये
परवाज़ आज़ाद परिंदों की जहाँ,
उस दुनिया को ज़रूरत नहीं मेरी।

रहने दो आज से सिर्फ़ उजाला वहाँ,
दिलो-दिमाग़ में बदबूदार कालिख़ भरी हो जहाँ,
रात को भी लगता है डर अपने रात होने से वहाँ।

Sunday, 27 August 2017

SOUNDS OF MORNING

Every Indian house would have more or less the same sounds of the woman of the house rushing around in a frenzy to be in every corner of the house tending to the calls and demands of toddlers and adults alike.
What sounds enliven your home?

SOUNDS OF MORNING
Tick tock tick tock.....the tireless clock ticks on.
Clannnggg...wake up, the alarm calls, it's morn.
Zzzzz...wish I could catch a few winks more.
Sighhh...no way! Who would do the daily chore?

Drip drip drip...water flows from the kitchen tap.
Am hungry....the baby snuggles in mommy's lap.
Sleep more kiddo, Mommy needs to get into action.
Grrrr...the mixer grinds tomatoes to perfection.

Flap flap flap...clothes rinse in the washing machine.
Mommy, the older one yells, 'my shoes are not clean'.
Ting ting...veggies are blanched, microwave beeps.
Cough cough...Where's my tea? Man-of-the-house peeps.

Hissss...potatoes are done, the cooker whistles.
Sssss...on the hot tawa masala omelette sizzles.
Muaahh...Take care child, here's your tiffin box.
The husband calls, 'have you seen my socks?'

Ting...out of the toaster a brown slice pops.
Pick me up Mommy, down the crib the baby hops.
'Are you ready, sweetheart?' the husband calls.
'Not yet. Please take baby to the creche', she howls.

Tan tadan...'meeting today', reminder her phone pings.
Trriinngg...amidst the chaos, the door bell rings.
Hehehe...madam, your maid won't come today!
Boom, bang...the last bits of peace are blown away.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Zindagi Ka Hisab

ज़िंदगी का हिसाब

अनगिनत बहस-मुबाहिसे, बेहिसाब नफ़रतें
ताने, शिकायतें, इल्ज़ामात, तशद्दुदगर्दी,
धर्म-कर्म-मज़हब-जाति-प्रजाति-भाषा-ज़ुबान
कारण-वजहें-बहाने कुछ भी बन जाते हैं।
क्या कभी तनहाई में अपने अंदर झांक कर देखा है
कि तुम कौन हो, तुम्हारी असली पहचान क्या है?
क्या कभी फुर्सत से ज़िंदगी का हिसाब सोचा है?
कितनी नेकियां बटोरी, कितनी नफ़रतें बाँट दीं,
कितने उजाले समेटे, कितने अँधेरे बिखरा दिए,
हर सुबह की धूप और चांदनी रात के बावजूद?
कब-कैसे-कितने झूठ चुन लिए सच की पैमाइश में,
कितने रिश्ते महकाए प्यार-मोहब्बत की खुशबू से,
कितने रुख़सत कर दिए अपनी जुबां की तुर्शी से?
दुनिया के शोर में क्या कभी अपनी रूह के सन्नाटे को सुना है?
इंसानियत की ख़ुदाई नेमत को ख़ुलूस से क़ुबूल किया है?
ऐ भोले मानुस, घर का पता तो मालूम है, पर अपने असली ठिकाने की खबर है क्या?





Thursday, 6 July 2017

Bheed Ka Dharm

भीड़ का धर्म 

क्या सोचा था हम ने, कि तुम वैसे बिलकुल नहीं हो,
तुम हो उन सब से मुख़्तलिफ़, उन सब से जुदा,
पर तुम तो वही थे, सड़कों पे उमड़ती भीड़ का एक हिस्सा,
पागल, अंधी भीड़ में 'मैं भी दो हाथ मार लूँ'
कह कर अपना गुस्सा, अपनी भड़ास, अपनी नफ़रत 
निकालने का मौका ढूंढता बस एक और आम इंसान, 
इंटरनेट की दुनिया का एक और वीर योद्धा,
तुम थे बस एक और अनजाना, अनदेखा चेहरा,
एक अजनबी चेहरा जो छुपा रखा था तुम ने,
धीर-गंभीर, सुशिक्षित मुखौटे के नीचे अपने,
मेरा मोहल्ला, मेरे लोग, मेरा देश, मेरा पानी,
मेरी ज़मीन, मेरी टाइम लाइन की सुरक्षा के लिए,  
अपनी सुविधा के हिसाब से चेहरा बदलते हुए,
खाना-पीना-कपड़े-संस्कार-संस्कृति-औरत-मर्द
भाषा-जाति-धर्म-अधर्म के सामाजिक द्वन्द के बहाने,
तिरोहित कर दिया मज़हब इंसानियत का तुम ने।  

पेड़ काटे जा रहे हैं, जंगल ख़त्म हो रहे हैं, 
डर है कि जंगली जानवर अब सिर्फ तस्वीरों में दिखेंगे, 
पर नहीं, जंगल तो अब शहरों में बस गए हैं, 
क्योंकि जंगली जानवर समो लिये हैं हम ने अपने अंदर,
क़ुदरत के नियमों को मानते जानवरों को कोसता है हर कोई
पर क़ानून की धज्जियाँ उड़ाता अपना वहशीपन किसी को याद नहीं।  
वातावरण गर्म हो रहा है, मौसम की हरकतें अजीबोगरीब,
प्रकृति की अति से है आज हर इंसान परेशां, 
पर दिखती नहीं हमें क़ुदरत के ख़िलाफ़ अपनी मनमानियां, 
प्रकृति की रक्षा, ये भी तो हमारा ही धर्म है,
पर विकास की अंधी दौड़ में अनदेखी हो चुकी हैं 
अपने ही वजूद को खतरे में डालती अपनी बेवकूफियां,
धर्म की उत्पत्ति किस मक़सद से हुई, याद नहीं अब किसी को,
सच तो ये है कि भीड़ का धर्म सिर्फ़ नफ़रत और हिंसा होता है, 
अपनी जड़ों को बचाने के लिए, उनकी जड़ों में ज़हर उड़ेलती हुई
भीड़ को सिर्फ़ अपने-अपने धर्म का नाम याद रहा, इंसानियत का धर्म कब का भूल चुका।  


 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Eid Mubarak

ईद मुबारक़ 

आया आया आया, देखो चाँद नज़र वो आया 
देखो चाँद नज़र,
देखो देखो जी, चाँद नज़र वो आया। 
शाम से ही रेडियो पे ईद और चाँद के गाने बज रहे हैं। चारो ओर खुशियों की लहर है, रोज़ेदारों ने रोज़ा खोलने के बाद बाज़ारों की ओर रुख़ कर लिया है।  
पर सकीना की आँखों में खुशियों की आयत नहीं, नाउम्मीदी का खालीपन है। परली बिल्डिंग वाली मैडम ने कुछ पैसे एडवांस देने का वादा किया था पर दोपहर को जब वो उनके कपडे देने गयी तो उनके घर पर किटी पार्टी चल रही थी और उनके नौकर ने दो दिन बाद आने को कह कर उसे दरवाज़े से ही लौटा दिया। अब वो बेटी के लिए नए कपडे और सिवइयां कैसे लाएगी, ये सोच सोच कर ही उसका जी हलकान हुआ जाता था। 
ज्यादा पैसा कमाने के लालच में शौहर जब से बड़े शहर गया उसकी भी कोई खोज खबर नहीं थी। पहले तो सकीना ने कई महीने तक उसका रास्ता देखा, फिर जो भी कोई शहर जाता वो उसको आसिफ का फोन नंबर पकड़ा देती कि किसी भी तरह आसिफ का पता लग जाये और वो जल्द से जल्द घर वापस लौट आये। पर हर बार उसका फोन बंद होने की ही खबर मिली, ना उसके घर का कोई अता-पता था ना कंपनी का। अब तो सकीना ने उसका इंतज़ार करना छोड़ खुद ही पास की नयी कॉलोनी में कुछ घरो में सिलाई-कढ़ाई का काम पकड़ लिया था। एक मैडम को तो उसके हाथ की कढ़ाई इतनी पसंद आयी थी कि उन्होंने उसके सिले कुर्ते-साड़ी अपने बुटीक में बेचना शुरू कर दिया था। उन से भी पैसे एडवांस मिलने की बात तय हुई थी पर अब तो उनका घर ही नहीं, फोन भी बंद लग रहा था, बिलकुल सकीना की किस्मत की तरह। 
पर सकीना हार मानने वालो में से नहीं थी, ईद के मुबारक मौके पे वो अपनी बच्ची की आँखों में आँसू नहीं देख सकती थी। उसने अपना बक्सा खोला और ऊपर नीचे टटोलने लगी, कहीं कुछ तो होगा जो उसके काम का होगा। आह...यही तो चाहिए था उसे, बनारसी ज़री का वो लाल दुपट्टा जो उसने अपनी सगाई के दिन पहना था। झटपट अपनी सिलाई मशीन निकाल सकीना काम पे जुट गयी। तीन घंटे की मशक्कत का नतीजा उसके हाथ में था...उसकी बेटी की चमचमाती नई ड्रेस ! गोटा लगी इस ड्रेस में एकदम परी जैसी दिखेगी मेरी बेटी! 
'कुछ भी हो जाये, मैं अपनी बेटी का दिल कभी नहीं दुखने दूँगी।', सकीना ने मन ही मन ठान लिया था। 'ड्रेस का तो इंतज़ाम किसी तरह हो गया पर सिवइयां और बिटिया की ईदी कहाँ से लाऊँ? पड़ोस की चचीजान से सौ रूपये उधर मांग लेती पर वो भी तो अपने बेटे के पास दूसरे शहर गयी हुई हैं। बुटीक वाली मैडम से इतने सारे कपड़ों की सिलाई और कढ़ाई के पैसे मिल जाते तो सारी मुश्किल ही ख़तम हो जाती, घर के लिए एक-दो बर्तन और अपने लिए एक सादा सा जोड़ा बनाने के लिए भी कपडा खरीद लेती। अब कल ही तो ईद है और मैडम का कोई भरोसा नहीं कि कब वापस आएँगी।' सकीना को अपनी परेशानी का कोई हल नहीं सूझ रहा था। बिटिया की गुल्लक भी उसने पिछले महीने ही उसके स्कूल की फीस भरने के लिए तोड़ दी थी। अचानक उसे एक ख़्याल आया और वो अंदर भागी...पिछले महीने ऐसे ही किसी मुश्किल वक़्त के लिए चावल के डब्बे के नीचे छुपाया हुआ पचास का नोट! 
आख़िरकार सकीना ने इत्मीनान की एक गहरी सांस ली! बिटिया की ईदी और सिवईयों का इंतज़ाम तो हो गया, बाक़ी का अल्लाह मालिक़। 
अभी वो खाना बनाने उठी ही थी कि उसका फ़ोन बज उठा। 
'हैलो मैडम जी, मैं आई थी आप से मिलने पर आप के घर पर ताला था और आप का फोन भी बंद था।' 
'सकीना बी, आप अभी तुरंत बुटीक पर आ जाइये।'मैडम ने थोड़ी तुर्शी से कहा। 
'इस वक़्त? क्या हुआ मैडम जी?' सकीना बी थोड़ा घबरा गयी थी। 
'आप आइये सकीना बी, तभी बात करेंगे' कह कर मैडम ने फोन बंद कर दिया। 
सकीना बी ने जल्दी से सोई हुई बेटी को गोदी में उठाया और बुटीक के लिए रिक्शा पकड़ लिया।  'ये पचास का नोट तो रिक्शा भाड़ा पे ही कुर्बान हो जायेगा, ऊपर से मैडम जी भी नाराज़ लग रही हैं, ना जाने क्या गलती हो गयी मुझ से' सकीना बी के मन में कैसे-कैसे ख़्याल घुमड़ रहे थे। 
'अरे ये क्या? ये बुटीक में इतना अँधेरा क्यों है? मैडम इतनी जल्दी बुटीक बंद कर के घर चली गयी क्या? पर मुझे तो यहीं आने के लिए कहा था! गेट तो खुला है! मैडम, शीला, रजनी.... कहाँ हैं आप सब? ये लाइट को क्या हुआ?' सकीना बी एक सांस में ही बोलती गयीं। 
'ईद मुबारक सकीना बी!' की अँधेरे में डूबे बुटीक के एक कोने में एक लैंप जला और फिर धीरे-धीरे हर कोने में शमा रोशन होने लगीं। 
'ईद की बहुत बहुत बधाइयाँ सकीना बी!' मैडम आ कर हैरान-परेशां खड़ी सकीना बी के गले लग गयीं, 'लीजिये आपकी ईदी और कुछ मिठाईयां। वैसे हम ने सिवइयां भी बनाई हैं, शायद आपके जैसे अच्छी तो ना बनी होंगी पर खा कर देखिये। और ये बिटिया के लिए एक छोटा सा तोहफ़ा, अब तो स्कूल जाती है तो नया बैग देख के इसको बहुत ख़ुशी होगी!'
'बहुत-बहुत शुक्रिया, मैडम!' सकीना की आँखों से झर-झर आँसुओं की झड़ी लग गयी। 'आप ने तो हमें इतनी ख़ुशी दे दी जो हमें आज तक ना मिली थी! और एक हम हैं जो ना जाने क्या-क्या सोच रहे थे! हमें तो लग रहा था कि इसका बाप तो पहले ही हमें छोड़ कर चला गया, अब आप ने भी पैसे देने का वादा कर के हमें धोखा दे दिया और अब हम अपनी बच्ची को ईद की ख़ुशी कैसे दे पाएंगे। पर मैडम, आप तो खुदा का फरिश्ता निकलीं!'
'नहीं सकीना बी, ये तो बस आपकी मेहनत और भलमनसाहत का ही फल है। हमें तो हर त्योहार सब के साथ मना कर  ख़ुशी मिलती है, फिर चाहे वो ईद हो, दिवाली- होली हो या क्रिसमस।' मैडम ने बच्ची को गोद में उठाते हुए सकीना की पीठ थपथपा दी। 
'आप बहुत अच्छी इंसान हैं मैडम। बस एक गुज़ारिश है, अगर आप सब बुरा ना माने तो कल आप सब अगर ईद की खुशियां बांटने हमारे घर आएंगे तो हमें बेहद ख़ुशी होगी।'
'आंटी, आप सब हमारे घर ज़रूर आना।' मैडम के गले लगते हुए सकीना बी की छोटी सी बिटिया ने भी ईद का न्योता दे दिया। 
'अरे मेरी नन्हीं परी, हम ज़रूर आएंगे। क्यों शीला और रजनी, तुम दोनों भी मेरे साथ सकीना बी के घर ईद मनाने चलोगी ना?'
'मैडम, ये हमारी ज़िंदगी की सबसे अच्छी ईद होगी...आप लोगों के साथ, वो भी हमारी अपनी मेहनत की कमाई से मनाई जाने वाली पहली ईद!' सकीना बी की नम आँखों में चाँद-तारों की रौशनी झिलमिला रही थी। 

स्याह आसमाँ में उमड़ते घनेरे बादलों की छाया थी, फिर भी,

माशा-अल्लाह, क्या ख़ूबसूरती से ईद का चाँद नज़र आया है। 
ईद मुबारक!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Letter To Her-blogathon by Women's Web



My dear,

You would be wondering why I have chosen to write a letter to you when we talk to each other so many times every day. But I consider this necessary to share something with you before we get married. We must not keep any secrets from each other, should we?
So today, through this letter, I wish to tell you the story of a young boy and his mother.

He could give up anything in the world to see a smile on her glum face again. She would dutifully come to meet him, every month. She would bring his favorite food, enquire about his well being, studies and keep staring blankly at the dusty calendar on the sour cream walls of the meeting room.
I am that son. Son of a battered, trafficked woman who saw his helpless mother punched and kicked everyday by his drug addict father. A son who bore the ugly imprints of domestic violence and abuse on his impressionable mind and parched heart. A son who killed his own father because he couldn't bear to see his frail, sick mother being assaulted by his father when she refused to go for 'dhandha' that night.
He had been there for the past nine months, in the juvenile home. He had been convicted of murdering his own father.
His father...a drug addict and peddler, alcoholic, thief, beggar, pimp and a sadistic, cruel, violent man.
The narrow alleys of their street would often reverberate with the cries of a hapless woman. Even the morning sun failed to penetrate the foggy skies to bring some cheer to the frail woman who tried to hide the scars on her body and soul, howsoever unsuccessfully, from her teenage son.
Another dark night, another agonized wail rent the air, blinded with an ominous rage the boy grabbed a sickle and hit. His father collapsed. A puddle of blood slowly trickled out of their tenement.
The boy called the police with his father's cell phone. The juvenile court sentenced him to one year term in a correction home.
His mother's droopy mouth slumped even more. Uncertainty and apprehensions about her son's bleak future made her scarred face gloomier.
He urged her to resume her work as a house maid and be happy. She feigned a smile which did not reach her hollow eyes.
After an agonizing twelve months he came home. She rejoiced briefly, then fell silent again.
That night, as she lay awake on a shabby rag unable to blink an eye, she heard someone croon a lullaby. She froze in her mediations. Then slowly turned to see her son sing the lullaby she used to sing to rock him to sleep in his childhood.
From behind the lead skies, her s(u)n was born again! The droopy mouth lifted, and then she smiled......radiant like the full moon outside.

I am the son who served 365 long days and sleepless nights in a juvenile home in the fervent hope of seeing his mother smile again. I am that son of a proud mother who has not given her a reason to stop smiling since that day. Unfortunately, I am also the son of an oppressive father.
I am also the same man whom you love so much and who is going to become your husband in a few weeks from now, hopefully.
Although I am sure that the selfless, boundless love of my mother has rid me of the scars of my tarnished past, yet if you find the slightest traces of male entitlement and superiority in me, I request you to check me there and then. If you feel I am carrying and displaying the brutal imprints of my father's oppressive behavior towards you, do restrain me there and then. Do not remain silent, do not bear it thinking I am a man and it is my right to dominate you, I do beseech you. You would be wondering at my strange request against my own self, aren't you?
But my dear, in a marriage, man and woman are equals, none is superior or inferior and hence none should impose his/her will on the spouse. It is not a relationship of master and slave so no one should control the other.
Now that I have revealed all about my traumatic childhood, criminal past and my mother's oppression, would you want to go ahead with our wedding?
Would you be able to trust me if I promise to always be a gentle man-a man who genuinely respects and cares for women, a man who would never raise his voice on a woman let alone raising his hand on her, a man who wouldn't allow even the fading scars on his heart impact his love and respect for his wife?
Even if you decide against our wedding, let me assure you that I would never hold it against you. I would still want to be your friend and well-wisher.
If you would wish to have me back in your life, that is.


Affectionately Yours

Your best friend

Author's Note: This writeup #ALetterToHer is written as an honest admission of his traumatic, violent past by a young man to his future wife. He, as a conscientious man, wants his wife to never have to suffer violence and abuse the way his mother had to suffer at the hands of his father.
Thanks #WomensWeb for initiating this blogathon in association with #JuggernautBooks to raise awareness about domestic violence and abuse.

I would want to read book When I Hit You (bit.ly/Meenabk2) by #MeenaKandasamy because it is a real life first person account of her husband's oppressive behavior and her struggle to overcome it. From her interviews and excerpts from her book it is quite evident that this oppression is not limited to any particular caste, religion or social strata. It is rather necessary for every woman to not only know her rights but also not hesitate in asserting herself when the need arises.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Not Done With Life Yet

This poem narrates the grit and resolve of a fiftyish woman whose family members are too busy to give her any time. They love her and acknowledge her efforts and sincerity towards her family's well being. They keep telling her that she must stop bothering about them now that they have grown up and are capable of looking after themselves. Despite being left to fend for herself for long hours she refuses to give up. She develops some new hobbies and interests to fight this sense of desolation. Time may be the first calamity in this fast paced world, time may not be on her side but she's not done with her life yet.
                                                                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Once again I hear the same loving reminders and promises,
We are old enough, we can look after ourselves,
Mom, you are on the other side of fifty,
You must now care for only thee.
They say I am getting on in years,
So I shouldn't bother much about the nitty-gritties,
For years I have toiled,
And must get some rest, well-deserved.

Oh, am I really getting old?
The 'well-wishers' tell me half of my life is spent,
Days, months, years are getting limited,
Gather yourself before God's messenger is sent.
Oh yeah, the morn of my life is gone,
But the dark night of oblivion is yet to fall,
So many beautiful moments yet to be lived,
So much of life yet to be seen and cherished!

Everyone's busy in their lives,
In their hectic schedules, for me there's no space,
The young leave home early for their workplace,
Go for long drives, party and hangout with their pals.
They want me to stay at home, relax and chill,
I swallow my loneliness as the bitter pill.
What if I am no longer needed by them all?
I do need myself, I do care for my parched soul.

So no more the cantankerous shouts of news anchors for me,
With the first sip of my morning green tea.
Peeping through a foggy sky, the vibrant yellow sun rays,
Pearly dewdrops on the gently undulating leaves,
I choose the velvety, sonorous baritone of Arijit,
The nazms by Gulzar and the Gazals of a mellifluous Jagjit,
Chirpy sparrows squabbling for grains,
Agile squirrels flitting on the tree branches,
Magnificent red hibiscus, fragrant mogra and roses,
I'm mesmerized by these and the gaily fluttering butterflies.

Soaking in these beautiful colors, flavors and sights,
Illuminating the darkest nooks of my soul shining bright,
Unmindful of the what, where, why and when,
Get down to work-my camera, I and my pen.
Scribbling some new verses, spinning a few tales,
Humming a melody, capturing hesitant but sweet smiles,
Under the mysterious shadows dotting a silver night,
A dark horizon lit up by stars, twinkling bright.

The pitter-patter of droplets on the misty windows,
The tiny-tots floating paper boats in the tiny streams,
Cackling lightning and booming thunder,
Stir a storm of memories-sweet, gentle and bitter.
The desperate cry of a lone warbler lovelorn,
The echo of silence on a waning, dark night,
Bring to my somnolent eyes some dreams unknown,
And set the doused embers of forgotten aspirations alight.

A keen eye behind the lens of the camera,
An unsated heart expressing itself through the blue ink,
Nimble fingers tapping on the laptop keyboard,
Treasure the moments for posterity, strum a new spirited chord.
I may be getting old, but I am not done with life yet,
I may be alone but blissful is the still young, expectant heart,
My time may be limited but my soul is soaring free,
And to feel alive again I need just myself, only me!


Thursday, 22 June 2017

A Letter To Her-Blogathon

My dear friends,
I still remember how your tear filled eyes had pierced my heart! I was furious, really furious.
~~~~~~~
Your snooty and overbearing husband had always treated you with disdain for your bare minimum education and rustic appearance. You had borne all his abuses, taunts and jibes stoically although they caused you immense pain. You didn't complain, you accepted it as your destiny. You loved your three children and hoped things would improve when they grew up and stood up for you. You served all of them quietly and patiently from dawn till late night only in the hope that some day your husband would relent and acknowledge your contribution to the family. As an inexperienced. naive young newly wed woman I had seen how you sacrificed all your desires and even health for your children but you broke down the day your 14-year old son also called you foolish and senseless. You cried your heart out to me that you were ruined. But you tried to find a justification saying it was perhaps because you were not so educated and also because of some shortcoming in your upbringing of your children that he had spoken so insolently with you.
~~~~~~~
You had met me as a new bride, the wife of my husband's friend, a sweet, simple and homely girl from a small town. You were quite shy and spoke very less, almost only when you were spoken to. To be honest sometimes you appeared to be a little low on self-confidence too. I could relate to you since I was also from a small town although I was quite well-informed about social-political-economic issues and could hold my ground in any discussion and debate. You seemed to be under the shadow of your husband and preferred to remain on the sidelines. Many a times we would be engaged in intense discussions and unnoticed by anyone you would quietly retreat into the kitchen. A year later you became the mother of a lovely daughter and then gradually it became more obvious. The husband's veiled but snide remarks about your incompetence in running the house and how he had to engage a cook apart from the regular house help because you were unable to manage the chores on time would hurt you no end but you would keep mum.
And then one day you asked me a question.
You were staying with me for a few days when my husband and her husband had to go out of city for some official work. While our daughters were busy playing and we were watching a movie-a typical boy-chases-girl kind of stupid Hindi movie, you asked me if my husband beat me! I was aghast when you confided that your husband-a handsome, suave charmer and a management grad-hit you at the slightest of mistakes. And then you mumbled in a choked voice that it was perhaps your fault that you were not a city smart woman and were not able to come up to his expectations. You felt this was the reason he was forced to raise his hand on you.
~~~~~~~
You were a bindaas girl, a smooth talker, jovial happy-go-lucky mother of an infant. Yours was a love marriage and you both looked so much comfortable doing household chores together and helping each other in looking after your son. You would be cracking jokes, teasing your husband, even pretending to beat him with a stick in jest. You were the most perfect couple in our group of young couples. Nobody would admit it but many of us women were a bit in awe of the easy camaraderie you shared with your husband while our husbands would act snooty and superior to us.
Then you guys moved to another city for better future prospects.
Two years later you came back and met us all. While you still joked and laughed I could see that your smile didn't reach your eyes. You looked unhappy and stressed but kept up the pretense in front of your husband and son. The next day when we were alone, 'I'm going to commit suicide' you blurted out suddenly and burst into tears. Shocked to the core, I held your heaving frame to pacify you. Your husband had ostensibly fallen for a young student but was refusing to accept it. When you confronted him he claimed that the 20-something girl was like a daughter to him and in fact wanted you to accept her like that. Sniffing your tears you revealed to my utter disbelief how your husband had also forced you to go in for an abortion some months ago because he wanted to undertake the responsibility of that girl.
~~~~~~~
I was enraged every time you guys cracked up narrating your husband's misdemeanors and assaults-physical, mental and emotional. Yet I tried to help you tap your inner strength and find reason for staying on in your marriages...its women who are supposed to bear the responsibility of keeping the marriage intact and family together, don't they?
Little did you all know at that time that this was my way of self-help, my way of gaining inner strength to deal with my own skeletons, silently, hiding my tears from you.

When I tried to calm you down telling you that your son was just a child and he didn't actually mean to hurt her while deep inside I knew the son had already imbibed the venom of male superiority and entitlement from his father.
Just as my husband had from his family elders. He kept his money out of my hands as per the well-meaning advice of 'don't be too generous with your money before your wife' by his uncle. If I asked for money and he was not in the mood, he refused to hand over his wallet like a 'biwi ka gulam'.

When I tapped on your trembling hands to pacify you telling you that things will improve with the passage of time, inside my heart I was relieved my husband only shouted at me, he didn't hit me. He was embarrassed at his inadequacy in English and forbade me from conversing with him in English. He was overawed by my debating skills and confident speech before other men and would silence me with an arrogant snub 'you are so stupid', even in public. Yet I should not complain since he never raised his hand on me.

When I heard of your husband's infidelity I was so glad my husband didn't have a roving eye even if he had a nasty tongue. What if he didn't shy away from hurling a plethora of expletives and profanities at me for the slightest hint of disrespect for the 'daamad ji' from my relatives, what if he would taunt me that even my parents wouldn't let me live in 'their' home if I dared to leave 'his' home, what if I fell into depression, my confidence was shattered and I suffered from a deep sense of insecurity, he was my husband and Indian marriages are meant to last till eternity, right? I consoled myself that he cared for me when I fell ill, he took me out for movies and shopping specially after his bouts of anger and shouting. He doted on our daughter even though he had yelled continuously at me for days when the baby developed some complications in the seventh month of pregnancy and the doctor had warned us about the baby's well being at birth while mandating complete bed rest for me. He had a right to reprimand me for not ensuring the well being of 'his' child, didn't he? He loved me, I made myself believe!
When you cried that you wanted a divorce from your wayward husband, I asked you to think of the happy moments, the special moments you shared with him. I asked you to think of your son's future before taking any drastic decisions. Society doesn't treat 'abandoned' and divorced women kindly. You don't have any financial security, how would you manage your life if you leave your husband, I had asked you.

Inwardly, I repeated the same advises and questions to my own tormented heart.
You drew strength from my words.
I drew strength from your forbearance.
You all stayed on in your marriage.
So did I.

Did we do the right thing? Are we happy today?
Perhaps yes, perhaps not.

But should we advise our daughters, sisters, friends, colleagues to be as tolerant, as adjusting, as compromising as we had to be if they, god forbid, ever face such situations in their marriage?
Certainly not!

Let's raise our daughters as strong, confident, assertive and financially self-sufficient individuals, not just a girl whose sole purpose of life is to get married and serve her husband as her God. Let's give them the confidence that they are not 'paraya dhan' and that their parents' home would always be their home even after they get married-a home they can come back to at any time, without any hesitation or fear of being unwelcome. Let not the fear of 'what would the society say' and social stigma shackle our girls. Let's empower them with the wisdom to differentiate between love and possessiveness, between genuine concern and blatant domination, between appreciation and jealousy, between advise and abuse. Let the women take their own decisions judiciously...when to give in and how much to give in to save their marriage and when to stand up, for themselves, their self-respect, their sanity, their health and their life. Let's tell them that silence is not always golden, and so is not domestic violence-mental, emotional or physical. It's better to speak up loud and clear than remain stuck in an abusive marriage. It's better to shame the abuser than be a victim and suffer in silence.
It's equally important for us to choose our words carefully with our sons too so as not to instil in them the sense of male entitlement and superiority.
We must remember to raise our voice for our daughters-in-law and sisters-in-law too if they are a victim of violence in our own homes and extend them moral, emotional and even financial support to fight the oppression.
Lastly but most importantly, if any of you is still being oppressed, stand up for yourself. Raise your voice for yourself first, then only you would be able to help anyone else. Please know that it's never too late to achieve freedom and happiness. So get rid of your inner demons, speak up and seek help.

May the force be with us, and every other woman!

Author's note:This is a fictional account of the life of four women who chose to keep quiet about being abused by their husbands in order to save their marriage. But it reflects the plight of many hapless women who continue to tolerate similarly abusive relationships and suffer domestic violence silently for years, for the fear of social stigma, lack of emotional and financial support, for the sake of their children as also for the fear of being alone in their old age.
It's been written as a #LetterForHer for the blogathon by Women's Web in association with #JuggernautBooks to spread awareness about domestic violence and abuse.

I would like to receive and read the book When I Hit You (bit.ly/Meenabk2by #MeenaKandasamy because it's important for every women to know and make fellow women aware that it's no longer ok to let the skeletons of abusive marriages and domestic violence be hidden.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Power Puff Girl

''Why are you late again, Amma? You know I have to go to my mother's place today but you are not bothered! Don't you know Mummy waits for me every Monday?'' Sheena questioned her ageing cook breathlessly.
''Sorry Didi! I know you go there every week but some urgent work held me back. Don't worry, I will finish all the work quickly'', Amma tried to mollify Sheena. ''Didi, there's a good news! I have fixed the marriage of Preeti.''
Amma had been working for Sheena for around fifteen years now. Preeti, her daughter was barely ten-year old when she accompanied her mother to work one day. Sheena was aghast to see the tiny girl sweeping the floor. ''How can you make your daughter do jhaadoo-pochha? Why don't you send her to school?'' When Amma expressed her inability to pay her school fee and allied expenses, Sheena had offered to pay all her expenses on the condition that she would concentrate only on her studies and not work as a maid in anyone's house. Amma had agreed reluctantly for the sake of Preeti's education even though she didn't want to take any undeserved favors from her employers. Preeti had turned out to be an excellent student often securing a place among the top five students of her class. She had a melodious voice and was good at dancing too. She often won her school awards at various inter-school competitions. Once she had even enacted her favorite cartoon characters-the Power Puff girls in a fancy dress competition at school and won the first prize too. Soon her school offered her a scholarship under the economically weaker section quota. Her excellent results had fetched her sponsorship for higher education and helped her complete her masters in computer applications.
Two years ago she had acquired a well-paying job in a reputed software development company and a few months ago they had invested in a small 1-BHK flat in an upcoming colony nearby. The down payment had been made from Amma's savings and the sale of their humble tenement. For the balance amount Preeti had taken a housing loan from a bank.

And now Amma-her mother so excitedly told Sheena about Preeti's marriage.
'Oh great news Amma!' forgetting her annoyance Sheena asked her about the groom, his family, profession, wedding date in one breath, She was quite fond of the girl who had blossomed into a beautiful, smart, career-conscious yet a very grounded and sensible person. She had been insisting upon her mother to quit working and look after her failing health. Amma had left all her part time jobs in other households but continued her cooking job for Sheena's family. Over a period of time they had developed a strong fondness for each other and Sheena had started relying on her more like a family member.
Promising Amma all help in making the wedding preparations Sheena left for her weekly visit to meet her ailing mother.
After her father's demise seven years ago her brother went abroad to pursue his dreams. Since then her septuagenarian mother had been living alone in her sprawling home on the other side of the city. Initially her brother used to visit her every year and reiterate his promise to take mother with him but soon all the promises were forgotten and so were his mother and sister. When her mother fell sick a couple of years ago and had to be hospitalized for a week, Sheena wanted to take her to her own home so that she could look after her 24*7 but her husband seemed rather unwilling to take on the responsibility of the ailing old woman. In very clear and concise words he told Sheena that her mother was the responsibility of her brother only, not theirs. Sheena could visit her off and on but couldn't bring her home. A distraught Sheena called up her brother to return to India but he shrugged off all responsibility suggesting that she could be moved to an old age home if Sheena was unable to look after her. What left her aghast and completely disgusted was the not so subtle hint by her brother to sell off their family home so lovingly built by their parents for their children. He offered to even come down for a few days and help her find a good old age home for the mother and buyers for their home. An obnoxious glint of greed in the eyes of both her brother and her husband at the prospect of holding thick wads of currency notes in their hands sickened her to the core. She spoke to her mother and together they resisted the attempts to sell off their family home which still reverberated with the memories of their father's joyous laughter.
That day she heard the last from her brother. Her husband had also distanced himself from her. They remained husband-wife only for the sake of their children. Now the entire responsibility of her mother lay with Sheena only. She managed both homes with the support of Amma, a couple of full time house helps in her mother's home and her own teenage children but of late she had been finding it difficult to travel to the other side of the city every week, after all she had also been getting on in age. But neither her mother's traditional mindset nor her husband's pettiness would let her bring her mother home. In fact sometimes her mother remarked rather ruefully that Sheena shouldn't have sacrificed her own marital life for her sake. She should have 'adjusted' and made a fresh attempt to win back her husband. Sheena was perplexed by her mother's reaction, she was moved by her love for her daughter at the same time, yet Sheena had stood firm in her resolve that her mother won't go to an old age home at any cost.
A week later, Amma approached Sheena gingerly,'Didi...'.
'What? Need something Amma? Money? How much?'
'No Didi, you have already given many things. I just wanted to ask if you would come to my house for Preeti's engagement next week? It will be an honor for us and she will be so happy too if you join us to bless her.'
'Oh why not! I will definitely come Amma. Preeti is like my daughter too. But tell me Amma, what do you plan to do after Preeti's marriage? You'll be all alone after she leaves.'
'Yes Didi. I was thinking of going back to my village where I have my brothers and their families. I have not been in contact with them for long but I thought what are families for if not to support one another at such times? I had invited them for Preeti's engagement and marriage too but yesterday only my brother called up to inform that they would not be coming. I am so disappointed Didi. It's my only daughter's wedding and there would be no family elders to bless her on her big day.' Amma blurted out gloomily.
'Oh but why do you want to go back to your village and be dependent on your brothers who don't even value you any more? You have your home here so you should stay here only. Besides, Preeti will always be near you even after her marriage so don't worry at all, Amma. I will be there on the day of engagement.' Sheena patted her hand reassuringly.
As the day of Preeti's engagement approached closer, Amma immersed herself in the preparations, shopping for gifts for the groom and cooking sweets and savories for the guests.
On the D-day, Sheena arrived early to help Amma in the preparations. Her small flat was daintily decorated with buntings and fairy lights. Preeti was looking ravishing in a rust colored anarkali suit.
The groom and his folks arrived soon. They were greeted with a traditional tika and welcome drink. After exchanging the usual pleasantries the engagement ceremony was performed, gifts were exchanged and then everyone settled down to partake Amma's feast.
Chomping down a kachori with hot cardamom tea, the groom's mother looked around the flat,'The flat is quite nice. Have you purchased it recently, Preeti?
'Yes aunty. This is our home.' Preeti said proudly.
'How much did you pay for this, behanji?' Preeti's future mother-in-law prodded Amma.
'I had some savings and sold off our tenement too for the down payment, for the rest we took some home loan from the bank and Preeti is paying the EMIs.' Amma replied with a glint of pride in her eyes.
'Oh you're paying the EMIs with your salary, is it so Preeti?' the MIL sounded a bit annoyed but looked pensive. 'So what are your plans, behanji? Where do you intend to settle down after Preeti's wedding?' she queried sweetly.
'I will be staying here only. Earlier I had planned to go to my village but after so many years in the city I don't think I will be able to adjust in the village.' Amma didn't want to disclose the real reason behind her decision to her new relatives so soon.
'But how would you manage to live all alone? You are getting old and Preeti was telling me you don't keep good health too. You need someone to look after you in your old age.' she dripped sugar and honey in her concern for Amma. 'Preeti, wouldn't it be better to look up a decent old age home for your mother. You must spare time from your wedding shopping trips for this important task, beta.'
'Old age home?' Preeti was aghast. 'But why aunty? Amma is not going anywhere, She will stay here only. She's perfectly capable of looking after herself. And I will be here to care for her in her illness and old age.'
'But she wouldn't want to be a 'kabab me haddi' between her daughter and son-in-law, would she?' the MIL persisted as the others looked on perplexed about her real intentions.
Sheena felt she was watching a replay of her own life, the only difference being the other characters. She was immensely disturbed and annoyed with the lady's obnoxious demand but had kept quiet till now as she didn't wish to interfere in the family matters of Amma lest her objections should cause any rift in the alliance. But to her utter shock, Preeti's groom and his other relatives had also kept mum as if in tacit agreement with her MIL.
'My mother would never be a 'kabab me haddi' for me, aunty. How can you even suggest that I should send her to an old age home? She has toiled her whole life to educate me and secure my future. Now when she needs me the most, you're asking me to desert her! I can never do it, aunty.' Preeti replied in a firm but polite voice.
'You don't worry about me, bitiya. I am strong enough to take care of myself. I will go to the village and live with your uncles. You can live in this flat peacefully with your family.' Amma tried to pacify a visibly upset Preeti.
'Live with uncles? Uncles who have refused to even attend my wedding! No way Amma. You are my family and will always be.' Preeti declared emphatically.
'But bitiya, I don't have much life left. I don't want you to sacrifice your happiness for me.' Amma turned to Sheena, 'Didi, please make her understand...' her voice trailed off gloomily.
Now she must intervene even if only for Amma's sake, Sheena realized that the situation could go out of hand if Preeti remained adamant. 'Preeti, you should not speak with your MIL like this. You are getting married in this family and you should learn to adjust with them. Don't worry so much about your mother. Amma can live with me or my mother. We all can sit together calmly and find out an amicable solution.'
'Learn to adjust? Learn to leave my mother all alone in an old age home when she needs me the most? Learn to pander to the greed of these vultures who are so shamelessly preying on the only home my mother has? And why? Just because they think I am a fatherless, helpless girl who needs a man to survive in this big bad world but look at this man...he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong, he doesn't have the courage to raise his voice against his mother. I am sorry to be rude but Sheena aunty, I am shocked you are advising me to learn to adjust, you who fought tooth and nail against your brother and husband for your mother! No Sheena aunty, there's nothing to talk about. I can not adjust to this extent and I will not!' Preeti's face was red with fury by now.
'Hey girl, how dare you speak about your MIL like this? I will not tolerate this kind of arrogant behavior after marriage. Teach her some humility and politeness, behanji. As it is I have not demanded any dowry considering that you are a widow. But if she's paying the EMIs for this flat, why shouldn't my son and Preeti enjoy the benefit of living here after marriage? Even otherwise it is going to be theirs after you, isn't it? And let me also warn you behanji, if she continues such senseless and insolent behavior in future too then this marriage will not last long as my son will not tolerate any nonsense from her!' Preeti's MIL threatened in a dark undertone.
'Thanks but no thanks for the warning, aunty. I will not trouble him at all. I refuse to marry this nincompoop, spineless son of yours who doesn't seem to have a tongue in his mouth.' Preeti's voice had suddenly become absolutely calm now.
'Don't you dare to break this alliance girl. Nobody will marry you after this day. You will remain a spinster throughout your life. You will spend all your life alone with only your ageing mother for company.' The callous and selfish woman wrung her hands in desperation at losing the prize catch and cursed Preeti angrily.
'Don't you worry about us. We have been alone and we will be alone but we will be free. Free to hold our hands and lead our life with dignity and on our terms, free to look after each other, free to fall asleep peacefully without any greedy and cantankerous MIL  breathing down my back. Please leave now. Goodbye.' Preeti threw the gift boxes and banged the door shut behind the offensive woman and her relatives who quietly picked up the boxes of sweets and gifts and left in a huff.
Sheena gazed at this new Preeti with a sense of pride and amazement at the way she had fought for the honor of her mother. She cringed at finding the echoes of her mother's traditional mindset in her own advice to Preeti to 'adjust' to the obnoxious demands of her MIL. The realization that these orthodox ideas were deeply entrenched even in the so called 'emancipated' and 'empowered' women like her hit her hard. She resolved to be more careful in her conversation with her teenage son and daughter so as not to let the slightest traces of these 'culture and traditions' seep into their impressionable minds.
She rushed and embraced Preeti in a tight hug,'Thank you Preeti! Thank you for showing me the mirror. You really are a true Power Puff girl, for yourself and for all of us. May your tribe increase, girl!'



Thursday, 11 May 2017



THE SHE TRIP

''No means no! How can I leave everyone behind and enjoy all alone Surekha? I have never done that and I will never be able to have fun without my husband and children.''Ankita protested vehemently.
''This is exactly why I want you to come this time, my dear! You'll learn to enjoy without them too. Don't they go out without you, to movies, to hangout with their friends, to have night outs and also outstation trips?''a visibly upset Surekha retorted.
Ankita and Surekha had been best friends since school times. They had gone to management college together and had been placed in reputed companies. They would work hard through the week and party harder with their girlie gang during the weekend. They shared all their secrets, their first crush, their infatuations, their first love, their breakups, their squabbles with parents and other friends. They had their own moments of disagreements and fights but they always made up within a few hours. Both of them got married within a couple of months of each other and then Surekha and her husband picked up some lucrative jobs in MNCs and had to move abroad. Ankita had bid farewell to her childhood friend with moist eyes. During the initial years,they had kept in constant touch through emails and video chats sharing their joys and sorrows, rewards and reprimands, gains and losses. But gradually the different time zones and the ever increasing pressure of family and work did them in.
Ten years hence, Surekha had returned to India for an year-long stint with an international enterprise known across the globe for its commendable work in the social sector. The first thing she had done on landing in India was to look up her long lost friend Ankita. She was still her usual naughty, chirpy, chatty self and had almost immediately become pally with Ankita's children. Her own son was studying in a residential school in America and she was sure that her husband would take good care of him.
Whenever Surekha returned from her travel across the villages of India, she would narrate anecdotes from her amazing experiences there. It filled Ankita with a sense of wonderment how her friend who had never travelled to the rural India during her childhood or youth and had just returned after a long sojourn abroad, found her visits exhilarating. She never complained of dust and pollution, water and electricity shortage. Rather she seemed to be enjoying her work and interaction with the less privileged sections of society. She also seemed to enjoy the beauty of bountiful nature that city dwellers were deprived of. She had recently been on a women only trip to Rajasthan and had signed up for another trip to the magnificent hill state of Himachal Pradesh. She wanted her BFF Ankita to accompany her on this adventure trip which she had been so vehemently refusing.
Surekha had noticed how stressed out Ankita appeared everyday. Her husband Arun had to travel frequently for work which meant that the responsibility of looking after their children, their studies, school functions and illnesses, household chores and shopping, parents and relatives had to be undertaken by Ankita singlehandedly. She had recently been promoted to the position of senior manager and client meetings and presentations would often require her to stay in office till late. Even during the weekend she had hardly any time to relax as she had to catch up with the week's pending tasks. Of course she had house helps and cook but she loved to fulfill her children's demands for their favorite pasta and parathas herself. It was not that her husband did not help her when he was home, but he was never home enough. And even when he was, visits of relatives and friends and outings with children only increased the demand on her already sparse time.
This lack of any 'me' time had started taking its toll on her body and health yet she failed to realize it or rather she refused to accept it. It was only when Surekha pointed it out to her that she hesitantly admitted that she had been feeling constantly fatigued and mornings often saw her just forcing herself to get up from her bed without the strength to move her aching body. Surekha was trying to make Ankita realize that she needed some time out from her hectic schedule to unburden her constantly occupied mind. She was happy with her children but she still needed to get away from the daily rut and do things that she really enjoyed. A short break from her hectic routine was what she needed at the moment.
''But what about children? And their school and studies? And home? How would everything be managed? Arun would never agree.''Ankita said gloomily.
''First you have to convince yourself Ankita, that you want to go. Everything can be managed and I am sure Arun would not say 'no' too. Call him up, right now.''Surekha insisted.
After the initial hesitation and reservation, Arun was quite enthusiastic. He suggested that he would take a week off, it would give him also some much needed respite from his living-out-of-a-suitcase monotonous work life and he would be able to spend some time with the children. Children threw some tantrums but when Arun cajoled them and promised not to be overly strict about their food preferences and sleep timings, they came round too. Akthough Ankita was still skeptical about his ability to manage home and hearth, yet she decided to take up his offer bracing herself for a tsunami in the home on her return.
It was with a heavy heart that Ankita bid goodbye to Arun and her children. She was sure she would miss them so much that she wouldn't really be able to enjoy her trip even though Surekha was going with her. After greeting the fellow travellers hesitantly Ankita settled down in her seat while Surekha went ahead to have a word with the trip manager. Intending to catch up on her reading, she dug inside her capacious bag to take out her favorite author's latest novel that Arun had taken care to buy for her when her hands hit upon something...oh her favorite bar of chocolate! Must be her kiddos' handiwork...how she loved them for such tiny but loving gestures! She picked up her cell phone to call them up and sank her teeth into the sinfully yum gooey chocolate, her comfort food. She had barely said hello to Arun when strains of some beautiful melody filled her ears. A co-traveller had had started strumming her guitar and very soon a couple of women matched notes with their soulful voice. Surekha smiled knowingly to see her friend relaxing finally and joining in the Antakshari that was the logical outcome of the all pervading happy mood in the bus.
Two stopovers and seven hours later they were welcomed by the elderly owners into their beautiful homestead with the magnificent view of the lush green valley. Morning sessions of yoga and meditation, trekking, bird watching, interesting anecdotes of the hospitable owners, late night coffee and chit-chat sessions with the jovial Surekha and the lovely fellow women in front of the cackling flames of the bonfire, badminton, scrabble and an occasional round of rummy, sometimes just wandering alone along the forest trails.......Ankita didn't even realize how five days just flew by. Network connectivity was not so easy to get in the resort located deep inside the forest yet Ankita had been able to call up home everyday. Initially anxious and jittery as to how the kids would be managing without her, she felt guilty for having left them alone to fend for themselves. She was also a little jealous when they told her excitedly how much fun they were having with their Dad but she was surprisingly glad too for this golden opportunity for the kids and father to bond together. 
As they bid adieu to their genial hosts and clicked a few more pictures, Ankita felt inexplicably happy and rejuvenated. No, she had not been selfish in taking up this trip without her husband and children. As the bus hurtled down the long winding hill roads Ankita ruminated over the last few days. She had been herself after such a long time...she had excitedly chased butterflies and climbed trees to pluck fruits just like a child, she had even amazed herself when she was able to give an impromptu Kathak performance with perfect precision. Her chats with Surekha would stretch into the nights yet she had fallen asleep without a worry and woken up refreshed. Perfect strangers at the beginning of the trip had quickly shed their inhibitions and shared their joys and worries about juggling career and family, bosses and maids, fun and freedom. Most of them had become good friends within the five days of togetherness.
As she alighted from the bus and bid goodbye to her new friends promising to keep in touch, Ankita felt a strange lilt in her voice and spring in her feet. ''When are we going for our next trip?'' she asked gaily as she hugged Surekha tightly and thanked her for compelling her to let go of her guilt trip and go for the she-trip. 

#DelhiDiaries

This story was first published on my Facebook page and has also been published by Women's Web.

http://www.womensweb.in/2017/04/the-she-trip-short-story/

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1823811054537517&id=1481103312141628&substory_index=0