Monday, October 24

In delirium

I am tired… I am ill…swollen tonsillitis glands hurts, my gums are swollen, my jaws are swollen and I have a voice that I don’t love to hear anymore.

I fell asleep with my swollen cheeks rubbing against the glass window pane of my cab.

Swollen wobbling tonsillitis glands resting against cold of the glass.

A chocked throat, a blocked nose, red shot eyes, swollen glands all reach office on a cold stricken Monday morning.

They have deadlines to meet, hoards of them staring menacingly out of the various windows on a metallic laptop. Demanding their share of sick eyes, swollen glands.

The blocked head bothers about the weekend gone astray in gurgling a throat…the story that did not happen, words that were blocked. Chocked. tonsil led. I struggled with my protagonists to end a story…this way or that way…happy or sad… …end or no end.

I am floating in a antibiotic induced sleep. Dsiprin dreams. Wading into and out of some schizophrenic dream where I am writing the longest story ever which doesn’t end.

Scene 1-People mourn a dead bird in a faraway town,
Scene 2- couple smile vacuously staring into an imaginary mirror. Lights. Crackers.
Scene 3 -Doctors flash a torch into a girl's throat. " Say Aaa". She opens her little mouth and Aaas sincerely. Checks for approval.

I awoke with a rude jolt of “Kasaka Mumbai” on FM.

I envy the happy and tonsil spared voice of RJ Archana.

I pop more pills at the desk and make a poor attempt of working on mean projects. captives of my here and now. Seizing the stories lurking in the head.

I forgo the idea of a Sick Leave, save them all for a dry smooth, not blocked, not chocked, tonsill spared moment when stories find their way , when words lurk out, when keyboard types a world I can sit back and marvel at.
World I can wade in and wade out of. Sea of my belongingness. Away from the aquarium.

Till then I wade into my Disprin laden dreams.

Sunday, October 16

The guest of monsoon

Another one... the last one evoked extreme reactions, friend either loved it or hated it.. do read this one.

The rain hit against the window. Roopa liked when it rained. She could sit by the window for hours and watch the rain hit against the glass pane. The garden looked washed, the green leaves dusted till it shone, the brown of trees moist and soggy. She liked the frogs that croaked in her washed garden, the snails that appeared from beneath the soil and stuck to the overgrown, wild and rain soaked greenery, they made her 10 year old world more filled. Her guests of monsoon.

Today it was raining since afternoon. Maa was off to Nani’s place and wouldn’t be back until Monday. This gave Papa a chance to be alone. Go drinking with friends. Or go out to play cards. Or just sit around and listen to the radio loud and noisy. It saved them from squabbling all the time. Papa had left home in the afternoon. He was at Jayanto’s uncle place playing cards and drinking. Papa should have been back by now. He never left them alone when Ma was away. Although they squabbled about it, once Ma left, Papa would stay back and take care of them. Today he was unusually late.

Roopa did not look forward to the monsoon guests, a strange sense of foreboding filled her, as though something was waiting to happen. She left the window and came to the verandah where her brothers Raju and Chotu were playing Ludo. A game of snakes and ladders. A strange trick of fate. A ladder that spiraled the players up and a snake that slithered them down.

It was unusual for the two boys to be home at the time of the day when the afternoons dissolved into evenings; it was their time in the day to play their boyish games with other friends, but today, rain held them inside. Her brothers seemed strange, like two shrubs - growing up in spite of everything. Papa didn’t spend too much time at home and Maa remained busy with the daily chores, Raju and Chotu seemed to be playing parent to each other. The boys seemed to have a secret between them- a secret they would keep from the rest of the world and carry to their manhood. She felt like an intruder watching them like that as if they would guard the secret. Not being a part of their world, holding her peripheral status in their lives and games made her jealous.

She was lost in her thoughts when Jhunna came running to her. Jhunna was Jayanto’s uncle servant. Half man, half boy, Jhunna spoke haltingly and with a pronounced emphasis that bordered on sycophancy. “Didi, he intoned, Papa won’t come home today. It is raining very hard, I am leaving early today, going to my house, Papa told me to tell you to bolt the door after taking the boys inside. I also got some candles for you.

Roopa felt like crying. How could Papa leave her alone in the night with the two boys? She felt the mosquito bite on her bare legs. Jhunna had already come inside and was cajoling the boys to abandon the snake ladder game. Roopa followed him wordlessly as though acknowledging the new role of the protector thrown on her by an absent mother and a reckless father.

Jhunna took the two boys inside and started closing the windows an the door to the backyard. Atleast Papa had instructed him well. He kept his intonations floating. ‘Didi raining very hard. Water in Sahib’s compound. Sahib and your Papa can’t come. So your Papa said ‘Jhunna, you check on the children. I will come home when the rain stops. But this is the last rain of the season, Didi, it won’t stop till tomorrow morning’. Jhunna kept closing all the windows as instructed, he quickly wanted to get over with the last errand of the day to go to his home and cook for his paralytic mother. He came outside after lighting the candles, instructed Roopa to bolt the door from inside and not to open the door under any circumstances and left with assurances of coming back next day.Jhuuni also promised to inform Manju’s mother , Roopa’s friend who lived next door to keep an eye on them.

Raju and Chotu held to Roopa. “Didi, won’t Papa come home?” “No, she replied bravely. Don’t be scared. Nothing will happen.” Raju and Chotu kept hovering around her till they adjusted to the candlelight. Wind and rain kept howling outside, throwing itself against the doors and windows as though all the guests of monsoon wanted to break – in forcibly. Raju and Chotu lapsed back into another game of snakes and ladder. Roopa tried to concentrate hard on the game.

Raju had rolled the dice. The score was 3. It was a stair that took him to 21. Chotu looked crestfallen. There was no way to outsmart Raju unless he got some stairs too. Roopa felt her concentration waiver as the rain outside knocked with an abandon. Like an unwelcome intruder. Jhunni would have told Manju’s Ma to check after them but why would she bother in the rains? What was there to check anyways? They were bolted inside, what could go wrong?

Her thought were rudely jolted by a knock at the door.

“Mausi, Mausi open the door.” Roopa went numb. This was not Papa’s voice. It was not Jhunni either, nor Manju’s father. Who was this?

Raju reached 28, a snake, he slithered down to 13. Chotu was too scared to smile. Both the boys huddled around their elder sister.

With a brave voice she asked, ’Who are you?

“Mausi, Ramesh”, “please open the door.”

Roopa knew she had a brother Ramesh who studied in college in the town and went home to the adjoining town in the evening everyday. Ramesh Bhaiya had never visited them before and she had no idea how he looked. Opening the door to a stranger who claimed to be Ramesh was forbidden.

She kept quiet with the boys huddled towards her.

The voice outside grew earnest. ‘Mausi, what happened?, please opened the door’.

She uttered the unutterable. “Mausi is not at home. We are alon… and stopped midway.

The voice was silent for a minute. The candle flame flickered. Roopa glared hard at the snake that slithered Raju from 28 to 13. She could feel Chotu sobbing.

The voice became sweeter. ‘Is that Roopa, don’t worry, this is your Ramesh Bhaiya , please open the door.”

Roopa argued bravely, “Ma told me not to open the door for the strangers.”

The same sugar coated voice. “I am not a stranger, I am a guest, and I am your Ramesh Bhaiya.’

Roopa didn’t know what to say, her 9 year old mind told her that carrying on this conversation was inappropriate. And she couldn’t have a stranger, an uninvited guest of monsoon knocking the door while the three of the stayed indoors. Chotu had started sobbing and Raju looked like he wanted to sob too.

She stood there thinking what to do. She could probably open the backyard door and shout for Manju’ Ma. Would her voice carry in the rains? What if Manju’s Ma couldn’t hear and the stranger heard all the noise and found his way to the backyard. It didn’t take much, it was a narrow passage from the garden to backyard obfuscated with junk furniture yet not impossible to reach.

Yet this was her only bet. Quietly she opened the door to the backyard. The spray of the rain came inside extinguishing the candle. Chotu started wailing. She shouted for Manju’s Maa and ran inside to bolt the door once again.

The stranger cajoled her once again to let her in. Fate had it that Manju’s Ma heard the noise and came to her door guarded by her husband in the inclement weather. In places as this people lived for their neighbors.

Confusion reined at the font door, introductions were established, cross questioning took place, possible identity verification. Manju’s parents were convinced that the stranger was Ramesh Bhaiya for they called out Roopa’s name to open the door.

Roopa obliged. Ramesh Bhaiya was let in amidst the torchlight. Manju’s Maa reassured the wailing Chotu, the now clearly sobbing Raju and the petrified Roopa of the identity of Ramesh Bhaiya. Ramesh Bhaiya felt confident to light the candle. After staying around for half an hour, Manju’ parents left.

Ramesh Bhaiya made himself comfortable on the cot. He fondled Chotu and Raju and pulled Roopa’s cheek and admonished her for not recognising her brother.

Like the responsible one Roopa fetched him water and volunteered to make tea. Ramesh Bhaiya was insistent on making an impression so he followed Roopa to the kitchen to help her with it. Ramesh Bhaiya busied himself in the kitchen while Roopa made stuff available to him.

Chotu walked over to Raju and sat huddled next to him. Ramesh Bhaiya signaled from the kitchen.

“So Raju what do you want to be when you grow up?’ “Engineer”, came a guarded reply. Raju the elder of the two was finding it difficult to converse with someone who had made them so scared not so long ago.

‘I want to be an engineer too’, volunteered Chotu, his effort to fit into an adult world.

‘And what do you want to become Roopa?’ “Police Officer,” Roppa replied shyly not used to being asked this question often.

Ramesh Bhaiya went to use the bathroom while Roopa brought the tea into the drawing room. She looked at her brothers. Chotu had warmed to the idea of Ramesh Bhaiya, an audience to his childlike antics. Raju was still some what suspicious. He looked quizzically at Roopa. For the first time she felt connected to Raju. The thread was a tenuous one. Of worry. Of fear. Yet, it was a bond she shared exclusively with him and Chotu was excluded. She had broken into their club.

Raju was lost in his own thoughts. He remembered Ma’s instructions to never speak to strangers. But Manju’s parents were sure this was their cousin otherwise they wouldn’t let him in. At any cost.

But what if they had made a mistake? He shuddered at the thought. Improbable not impossible.

Ramesh Bhaiya joined them and started sipping the tea. ‘Roopa looked beyond the candle light uncomfortably, while Raju glanced at him suspiciously.

“Aha’, gushed Ramesh Bhaiya , we are playing snakes and ladders’, in an effort to look natural. Chotu recongnised his interest in the game as his chance to abandon another lost game and start afresh, a temptation he couldnt ignore. “Ramesh Bhaiya and Chotu started a game of snakes and ladders.

Chotu rolled the dice. This time he was a 3, he happily leaped to a 21 with the stair. Ramesh Bhaiya rolled the dice too, it was a 5. Roopa wished she could be young and careless like Chotu. Not bother about who the guest was. Accept him unconditionally. And live with the implications. The implications of inviting the Guest of monsoon.

She was still torn between the person who wanted to know what she wanted to be and the suddenness of his arrival. ‘What if Manju’s parents had made a mistake, what if this self proclaimed Ramesh Bhaiya was from a gang of thieves , they heard stories of so many of them these days, last week her class mate and her sister was stopped on their way back home by somebody on the pretext of asking some address. The girls ran away as fast as they could till they reached home. Could Ramesh be from the same gang? What if, he kidnapped Raju or Chotu? What if she fell asleep only to wake up to see Raju and Chotu gone leaving a ransom note behind, Papa would scold her and Ma would strangle her, she would fail the role of protector. She strengthened her resolve to stay awake and guard her younger brothers. She whispered to Raju who was lurking around, ‘Don’t eat anything he gives you.’ Raju looked at his sister, fear in his eyes… he was right, and didi was thinking the same thing. This was not Ramesh Bhaiya.

But there was no way of telling Chotu or making him understand this. He had accepted Ramesh Bhaiya. Raju wondered what he would do if Ramesh Bhaiya tried to kidnap them or worse harm Roopa didi. Didn’t Maa say once while Roopa didi was tying Rakhi that he should be willing to die to protect his sister’s honor, what did that mean? Did it mean that he should stand in the way of anyone trying to scare her? Or kidnap her? Take her away? He made a mental note of standing guard to his sister and younger brother while rain and wind threw at the door and a candle flame flickered in the room.

He also caught sight of the bag that Ramesh Bhaiya carried, he decided to seize it incase it contained anything that could harm her sister and younger brother. He started playing with it. Ramesh looked at him suspiciously and took it back.

Both Rooma and Raju looked at him and recoiled. Ramesh retrieved a small wallet from the bag, kept it with him and handed over the bag to Raju.

Roopa and Raju exchanged glances; the room was thick with suspicion. Roopa started reciting the Gayatri Mantra in her mind , a chant she was taught by Maa for occasions such as this.

Sleep engulfed the children in the room.

Roopa saw a horrible dream; she was walking with Raju and Chotu back home from school. Ramesh Bhaiya stops them and asks them to take them home. When they refuse and start running, he chases them. They run a good half a mile when Roopa discovers that Chotu is not running with them any more. She and Raju look back to see that Chotu is standing with Ramesh Bhaiya and waving to them. Ramesh Bhaiya is laughing like the villain in a movie they saw some time back.

Roopa keeps shouting Chotu’s name but he refuses to come. Roopa woke up with a start and heard her name being shouted couple of times. It was Papa’s voice. He was standing at the door. Sleepily she stood on the stool and opened the door. Chotu and Ramesh Bhaiya lay on one cot while Raju slept on the floor.

Papa came inside the room looking visibly guilty. He looked at Ramesh Bhaiya in amazement who got up sleepily.

‘Hullo Mausaji’ how are you?” Papa smiled at Ramesh Bhaiya, “Hullo Ramesh, when did you come?

Raju looked up from the bed and smile languidly at his sister, Roopa smiled back. Chotu did not stir in his sleep. Roopa noticed the rain had stopped. She went to the garden.

The guests of Monsoon had arrived.

Thursday, October 13

The Noise within

Another one of my stories...read on.
Thoughts of Ma depressed Rajesh. There was so much he wanted to do for her, so much he wanted her to have, be part of, share with him. Here he was in Bombay, at the centre of the busiest city, part of a self absorbed urbane crowd that constituted the country’s largest working population. He was negotiating his life at a call centre job that forced him to wear a cheerful tone each time he spoke into the phone ‘You have dialed “talkfree” services, this is Rajesh, May I help you?” A 24x7 job that made him stuck at the bottom rung of the corporate hierarchy, making him one of the 1000 odd people who were disposed to wear a cheerful tone and help anyone who cared to call at talkfree.

Maa was still there in the old house at Allah bad. At her typist job. Clack Clack clack clack ……she used to type late into the night to keep a job so that he and his younger brother could go to the best public school in town. He had not yet grown over the noise of Maa’s typewriter. Back in college, his friends complained of the railway station being too close, the noise of train interrupting their young dreams….Rajesh knew what they meant. The typewriter’s indifferent Clack clack stayed with him through out his MBA days. The clack clack was recently getting replaced by the ring of the phone. Clack clack giving way to the beep peee peee. The telephone rang in his mind long after he left office. And was followed by the script. ‘Hi this is Rajesh from Talkfree services. Can I take a minute of your time? (a pause) I represent one of our client organizations XYZ which is providing free credit card for you and one more person….phew.”Sir we would be pleased to deliver the card to you at no extra cost…” and it went on like that.

He had targets to meet. He had to sell so many cards … “How was he ever to achieve these numbers by calling nameless faceless people?” If he had it his way he would not have sounded so cool about it or so distant. This mattered. More than anything. And he would look it. He would have barked into the phone.
“Listen, I am Rajesh Sinha from Allahabad, working in talkfree trying to meet some targets so that they promote me, your buying a card would help me meet my unattainable and impractical numbers and I shall get there fast. And before you hang up on me, you self conceited son of a bitch… … I have a mother in Allahabad who sits and types letters at a lawyer’s firm for peanuts. She does the clack clack wordlessly waiting for her son… to come and retrieve her from her assembly line existence. She has been waiting like that for the past 15 years… for something to happen….and you… you privileged guy with the car and the wife…you owe it to me to buy my card and more.

He would have done it if this were a Hindi cinema. And pulled crowds. But that was another time, another space.

‘How is the day looking, Rajesh’? gushed Maya. She meant, “How far off are we from our monthly targets, you ass? He wondered how Maya could go on with life with a name like that. But Maya was Maya… An illusion. Every bit an illusion .Every moment a mirage. The heavy hair, the dark eyes, the telling looks, a nymph like figure and a husky voice that was part measured part insouciant. With her prowess and her ability to move things on the phone Maya was geared for better things at talkfree. She was a process leader currently all set to become a manager. So when Maya spoke, it paid to listen. Rajesh hated her…. or hated all that she stood for….or all that she had and he didn’t …and all that mattered in the world of grabbing attention of an indifferent guy in a split second. Maya gave a monologue for the next 15 minutes. “Remember Rajesh, the number of cold calls you make will be the keey “, she could make key sound like a very big deal. “And get a commitment from the guy to call up when he is free, that’s the second keey.” He tried hard to concentrate as this Colaba bred kid who didn’t know what a murky law firm in Allahabad looked like kept opening the esoteric lock to telecalling.

This was his assembly line existence. Not too different from Ma’s. A job that made him leave the 750 sq.ft matchbox that he shared with a struggling actor from Allahabad and a coworker from talkfree .A quick walk to the station and taking the up the 8 00 clock local from Mira Road to Dadar. The noise of train engulfing the clack clack of his life. The salty human sweat mingled with cheap talcum powder around him in the second class compartment. Hands pushing him ahead. Hands holding him back. Crowd to crowd. Man to man. Odor to Odor. Once he reached Dadar he and his room mate would stand in a queue behind 100 people like themselves for a shared taxi to Prabhadevi to the office.

And after a non-descript day of calling people only to be hung up and being filled by the sight and sound of Maya, having a bland dabba lunch and insipid coffee, they would take the same route back home.

A 24x7 job priced at Rs1.5 lac per annum. A major portion of this went into paying for the matchbox existence at Mira Road, the remaining to hold oneself in a self absorbed city where everything came at a price, the rest was sent to the waiting widow at Allahabad.

Somewhere Rajesh, MBA from Allahabad University, knew life was slipping away, that his life would be a struggle between the noise of clack clack and the sound of beep beep, the latter engulfing the former. Dreams of a house in Bombay… dreams of bringing Maa here, of seeing her relieved of the burden of widowhood and responsibility would remain wistful thoughts. What was worse that he didn’t see a way out of this cobweb.

The other guys at home seemed so distant. Prakash, the struggling actor obviously had little worries. Son of the Chief justice of Allahabad high court; life had donned as a 70mm screen and he was enjoying it. The coworker Vimal too had only himself to bother about; nobody carried the burden of past, the clack clack of a typewriter like he did. Prakash and Vimal insisted that he loosen up, tried taking him to the restaurants, the cinemas. Sometimes they took him to a local joint for drinks as well. Prakash used to joke about girls with him.

On a rare occasion Rajesh had dated a colleague .Seema.She read the books he had read. Seen the movies he had seen. Smart and grounded, she was someone you could talk to. Rajesh had a pleasant evening with her but didn’t know how to take it forward. Seema too had appeared distant for some time. Maybe it was because once Maya heard about it; she would ensure Seema had a hard time. He was hoping to ask seema out again.

It was a Friday evening; people were leaving office a little earlier than usual. And then he heard the sound of claps coming from canteen. Some crap Birthday celebration, he thought until Maya crooned from the canteen.” Guys come and share the cake, Seema’s engagement. Rajesh felt a sharp pain within. A pang, similar to the pain he felt when he saw Maa going to the law firm. A pang, close to what he felt when he didn’t get through IIT. But this pang was illogical. Made no sense. He had barely known Seema. Yet the pain gnawed.

He held himself and came out of the office. Vimal was standing outside the gate smoking at the local tapri. He signaled Rajesh.

Whats up? Have you seen a ghost?”

No… he whimpered. “Then?

“Nothing, leave me alone”

“Aah, let me guess… Maya screwed you?”

Nope.

Then? Nothing, and then he blurted softly, Seema got engaged.

So, did you have a thing for her? I mean I thought it was just a cup of innocent coffee
Yes… no… yeah.

C’ Mon, Rajesh what do you expect, we all knew she is a practical chick and she is getting married, you were not seeing her, listen you didn’t even know her, now what the hell are you upset about?

Yeah…true… he didn’t know Seema, he didn’t love Seema, there was nothing…yet there was a sense of loss.

Vimal insisted Seema was no loss and in retrospect he was right, you can’t lose what you don’t have. And you can’t have what you can’t afford. However there was enough reason to go and drown oneself in music or better alcohol.

And in no time Rajesh was dragged to a nearby pub Bliss. Bliss was one of Vimal’s favorite. Rajesh never visited pubs because he thought they were for rich blokes like Vimal and Prakash and not people like him. Anyways music did little to drown the clack clack that haunted him.

The pub had everything.. Enough music, enough smoke and enough booze to drown, float, soak, and forget the odors of the day, the noise of drudgery. Bliss lived up to its reputation.

There were hoards of pubbers that night. Small middle aged men who were probably school buddies together. They were laughing out loud and laughing lots. At their own dreams, at life, at who they had become, and who they had failed to become.

Another corner had a group of giggling girls, some call centre crowd, drowning the script of the day in the smoke of the night.

In the smoke his eyes caught Maya’s, she was sitting with the an ex- colleague and drinking into the night, she blew a kiss at him. This woman believed in 24x7.

And then suddenly he saw her. Exquisite, like poetry. Flowed like a dream. One of the most beautiful woman he had set his eyes on ever since he became part of this madness. She sat on the other side of the table opposite a suave looking guy. But that was a minor detail.

As the night kept floating around him Rajesh altered between two worlds, too noises one the clack clack within and the other a more pleasant one, a mellifluous voice that belonged to this woman.

Why was she walking over to him? Oh my god, this woman is actually here. She whispers something into Vimal’s ears. Vimal gets up and goes away. What was wrong with that bastard? How could he leave him and go away?

And who is this woman? Strange. Leaving the guy like that and walking here?

In another moment they were talking. Her name was Nisha. She worked for an airline. She lived in Colaba, she was a thorough bombaite, daughter of a hotelier. She loved this pub and the songs that played here. This was the first time Rajesh had met someone so beautiful, someone so free and someone so untouched. She smiled easily and laughed wildly.

After a while she complained of the smoke over bearing her, he suggested they walked outside; he liked women who were delicate and needed to be taken care of.

They left Bliss and walked outside together. She wanted fresh air and so they huddled into a cab and headed to Worli sea face. As the FM played old Hindi songs conversations became easy.

They sat together at Worli sea face as the calm sea purred in the vicinity. He told her things. Things about a job that sucked, of a boss that sucked more, he told her of a town, of the river, of the home, of the law firm, of the mother who didn’t complain, yet waited. Of weight of expectations, the burden of obligation, of failing them and she heard. Nisha was a great listener. Comes with the job he guessed. They kissed at the break of dawn. He hugged her tight. Strangely, neither the noise of typewriter haunted him, nor was he plagued by the beep beep. There was the sea purring in the distance, smug at the lovers, the birds chirping and everything else drowned out.

And then he heard a loud noise….”bastard get up, what the fuck is wrong with you? You drunk pig.”

Vimal was holding Rajesh by the collar; they were on the steps of bliss.

“We spent the night here. Mr. Romeo as you drank the whole night, kept blabbering about buying a house and getting your mother here.” And who the fuck is Nisha now?I thought we were celebrating Seema.”

Rajesh looked up bewildered. He looked at the watch, it was 4: 30 a.m. He got up to his feet and together the two dragged towards the railway station. To take a train to Mira Road. To be able to take a train back to Dadar. to his assembly line world. To the sound of clack clack giving way to beep beep.

Monday, October 3

Destined to guard.

A story...read on...
I stay at 8th floor, C block .Railway Colony. Off Carter Road. Bandra.

The place, they say, is an old Apartment, at least that’s the feel I got when I came here the first time. I traveled through West, Satara to Thane, Thane to Bandra, at the back of the truck. The last journey from a village in Satara to a district in Bombay and then from the district in Bombay to a Colony in Bandra. To meet my fate …the fate of a door in the Sharma household. That was the last time I saw sunshine. But forget that, this is not my story.

It is the story of the Sharmas. I live with the Sharma family or that would be half the truth. I live in the Sharma household. I am not even supposed to live. But live I must …till I die. Again, I am sorry, this is not my story…it is the story of Sharmas.

So this is Sharma Household. Family of Vinod Sharma…Vinod is a nice man. He works for a manufacturing Company, worked as a shop floor supervisor when he came to C Block, Railway colony and then became a manager. He is a nice man. Ask me …how do I know? Well… I can say. The first time he held me…I knew. Trees know. We have so many people coming and taking shelter. We can tell.

He came here with his parents and two sisters. 8th floor, C block was a rather small place for a family of five. But they were a nice family and never viewed it otherwise. It must have been better off than staying where they did. I used to catch snatches of conversation between the mother and daughter on the merits of C Block over their earlier existence.

The mother and the daughters slept in the master room while the father slept in the little room next to the kitchen. Vinod slept in the living room that opened to the master bed room. And I stood guard to the master bed room.

Sometimes I wonder… if they ever knew that there was a sixth member in the family….a door to the master bedroom with eyes towards the bed room, a door that was not supposed to live, but live it did ….till it died. What would anyone do if they thought their bedroom door had eyes? That it stood as a mute testimony to their life, It felt happy at their joys and wept in their sorrows. That it had its own stories, that it missed a village in satara,missed being a tree, missed its sunshine, missed the rains, the birds that took refuge, the fruits it bore, but that is my story. If anyone knew their bedroom door had eyes they would… I shudder to think.

I must stick to Sharma’s story, for that’s why I live, that’s how I live. Through Vinod. As a door in a Sharma household, stripped of any identity as a tree in a village. This is Sharma’s story.

Vinod Sharma would get up at 6 in the morning and finish his morning ablutions, take a cold water bath and go out in the morning to fetch flowers for his mother’s pooja. Amma would get up before Vinod came in and complete her ablutions. By the time Amma finished her Pooja, Rinky and Pinki the sisters would have made hot steaming parathas and chai for the family. The whole family would sit together on the floor and have the breakfast together before Vinod left for office.

Vinod was a conscientious man. He gave his meager salary to his mother every first week of the month. Amma saved more than half of the salary for Rinky & Pinki’s marriage and spent the rest on the family.

Amma and Papa had few responsibilities, getting Rinky and Pinki married off to conscientious boys and getting a bride for Vinod. And then they wanted to go off to their home in Gorakhpur and stay there. Vinod, like the good son he was tried hard to find alliance for his sisters.

There were people who come to “see” Rinky. Amma would make the bai wait back and Rinky would be clad in red saree, made to fetch tea after few minutes of small talk. Pinki, the taller and the slimmer of the two sisters had strict instructions not to show up. After an audience of some 5 minutes Rinky would be asked to go inside.

And I was to play the door….my role in Sharma household. Guard to their inner secrets. I had to keep the taller, slimmer Pinky captive. When Rinky huddled to me, trying hard to catch snippets of information between her family and her family- to-be, I had to filter information... give her what she should hear, absorb what she should not… like a patriarch. I felt her bridal dreams as she stood there, anticipation and disappointment thumping in her young chest.

And then one day after series of facing family to be … Rinky got married. I was festooned with pink… and the whole household reverberated with Rinky and Pinki’s laughter. I missed Rinky when she went away and so did Vinod and Amma and Papa. I knew Pinki missed her the most. For her Rinky was the friend of her virginal days…Rinky’s marriage made Pinki more lonely…more forlorn and more beautiful. It did not surprise anyone when Pinki’s hand was asked for by one of the eligible bachelor’s in Rinky’s family… I knew what our beautiful Pinki did to him every time she raised her Kohl and love laden eyes to her name. Pinki’s marriage happened within six months of Rinky.

Maa and Papa slept in the bedroom while Vinod took the smaller room. I still stood guard. Destined to guard….consigned to hold fort…away from my own…leading life through Vinod. His state was not too different from mine. Like a tree he had to first create a world and then like a door guard it from the rest of the world.

His marriage was the last of Amma and Papa’s worldly responsibility. Minu came home. Vinod’s bride Minu.The light eyed high spirited Minu, the exuberant, lovely, girlish Minu. Minu reminded me of the creepers who grew around me during the rains. The creepers who tantalized the trees. Minu was the creeper in Vinod’s life. The creeper in my consciousness’… my life through Vinod.

Minu and Vinod took the master bedroom while Amma and Papa shifted to the smaller room. I stood guard to Vinod and Minu cuddled in the first gush of love, like a lover myself in the throes of lovemaking.

Minu won over every heart. She was a balm to Ma’s arthritic knees... a friend to Rink and Pinki…why she even bought me a nice Ganesha to adorn on my bare chest…my creeper Minu.

For Amma and Papa life was lived, they wanted to go back to Gorakhpur on their fed souls. I remember the last time Amma stood against me…one hand on her bending ailing back another on me. I stood like a forceful son….like I wanted to reassure Amma of being the ever faithful son.

“I stood by my promise Amma” .Still remember the evening when Vinod was away for to a friend’s place. Raju Baba was on his way to the world. Minu had labour pains in the afternoon. My perceptive Minu saw danger lurking in the corner and called up Rinky. She also readied herself for the hospital, a chore she and Vinod had practiced over the last few weeks. But before she could reach the bed, she fell at my feet. And I sat vigil to her pain until Rinky came.

Raju Baba took his first steps standing against my large bare chest. The naughty Raju Baba. The brat… children were different when we were young. Raju Baba took the little Sharma household by storm. Barely out of his diapers Raju Baba took a whole pack of crayons and smeared by proud white chest with his childish graffiti. A fatigued Minu picked up the boy. Later that night Vinod took a sponge and soap water to smear off Raju’s misdeed.

Did Vinod hear my helplessness that night? The agony of being trapped in a door and living through vicarious acts.. Can’t say but next day the painter came and painted me dark brown. When children happen you have to change yourself…I guess.

Raju had started going to school when a weary Minu got pregnant a second time. I hoped for a little girl this time and so did Vinod. Raju needed a sister. This time Minu was perfectly normal. Daughters I thought were always more accommodating. Lovely, they called the daughter. Angelic and beautiful just like my Minu.

Our lives revolved around Raju and Lovely. The school, the cricket matches, the dance classes, the report card days. They grew out of knickers and pigtails into unsure teenagers wanting affirmation from the world.

And they entered adulthood. In their own rebellious ways. Minu and Vinod had not practiced for the adulthood. It was different in their times.

I thought Raju played the music too hard and slammed me harder. Did he know there was a patriarch lurking within? And lovely spent far too much time in front off the mirror. She and Minu always fussed over what she wore. Can anyone tell this girl she looks very pretty with clothes on as well?

Youngsters these days….. Minu and Vinod were off to Nasik some day for some Puja. Our Raju got a bunch of friends and had a party. They made a complete mess of the place. Loud blaring music… my Raju boozed and smoked that night…how can he?

But it was nothing compared to what lovely was upto. I knew the way she looked at Raju’s friend that love was brewing.”. So next afternoon when the maid went away and Raju was off with friends, Lovely got him home. That was the only time I slipped in my duties off guarding the family secrets from the outsiders.. the duty of an inanimate door. I slammed against myself, thanks to the August weather. My bolts loosened…yet Lovely went on the forbidden path…youngsters these days…..

Things change…Raju got through Engineering and went off to hostel. Lovely looked lovelier as her childhood kept giving way to matured youth. A letter arrived from Gorakhpur. Amma’s touch…was gone. Amma would never touch me again. But things move on…people are not destined to stand rooted to a place and guard like me.

Like Raju moved on to the States. I hear his letters when Vinod reads them aloud to Minu and Lovely. Stories of a life that filled the whole household now truncated into a letter. Then an e-mail. And then a picture on the desktop.

Lovely moved to States as well. Another life reduced to an e-mail and phone calls. The house looked empty; I had nothing left to guard. Vinod took retirement from his job. Life for them was left to walking in the park, watching TV, an occasional e- mail or a phone call. That’s about it.

The children kept in touch but people don’t come down for small things from the States. Minu’s arthritis, her dark circles, her increasing BP all of them were small things. As if the whole world was waiting for the big thing. And then it happened.

One morning, Vinod didn’t get up.

Vinod…. Vinod…Minu kept shouting but Vinod wouldn’t listen. I kept screaming, slamming against the wind. Vinod…. You liar… I have not lived yet…you cant go away. But Vinod did not listen…he had lived his life and he didn’t care about mine.”

Raju and Lovely came over. A quick cremation and a simple discussion. My Minu bowed her head down. Her life being lived she would accept her part in her children’s future, their lives; she would go to States too.

They locked the apartment and left. Discussion of selling it was too painful for Minu. That was for another time another day….when memories turned sepia…and so I stood guard to an empty bedroom in a locked apartment…a life marred by a lock.

I had been like that for the last so many years…until last week when a key stirred the lock. From what I hear of the conversations between the labourers.The house has been sold to someone…and it was up for renovation.

A young man in his thirties is looking around the house with forlorn eyes… “Raju….my Raju… that’s my Raju. He looks so wonderful. Yes, he has come to claim me.” Raju looks at me…Is there a flicker of recognition…does he recognize the surrogate patriarch?

Raju has a small chat with the labouers. Next day the boy who smeared my chest with crayons gets the door pulled down and orders an axe in the middle of my heart.

“Do you see blood coming out Raju? Did you see the father dying? ”The men worked for 4 hours and made a lovely wine cabinet for Raju to take back to States to his family.

somewhere in a small village a tree died. somewhere in the City a door was pulled down.