Monday, October 20, 2008

With A Little Help From My Friends

The envelope is frayed at the edges. But the contents are intact – a letter, a page from the college magazine of Thapar Institute, and a paper with the lyrics of a song…With A Little Help From My Friends.

From one 15-year old to another, the song came signifying the truth of their lives. It is always with a little help from our friends that we have gotten by…

The one who took the pain to select not one but two beautiful cards (one of them HAD to be a Hallmark card…she has always been the Hallmark girl…I am the Archies fan) along with a gift that I couldn’t have loved better, the gift of books, and send it a whole 3 days in advance.

The one who asked an unsuspecting me what my favourite quote was and designed a special magic mug for me…to remind me constantly of the magic of our friendship.

The one who lit up midnight with a birthday wish sung in her lovely voice, like every year…year after year.

The one who self-confessedly forgets most things but remembered to wish me at the start of my day.

The one who wished for things to work out well…that wish, that hope and the reassurance that came along with believing in those words were the essence of the what a birthday is…as you looked back on the years of existence you realized you wouldn’t have had it any other way but you wondered if you would have the privilege of saying the same thing some years down the line…suddenly you knew you would…because it wasn’t your sole wish.

The early-to-bed one who hits the sack at 10 PM but stayed up till midnight to send wishes my way.

The one whose call was a heart-warming assurance that not much has changed between us although so much has…after all the ones who care for each other care regardless of what they call each other.

The ones who called through the day…the warm comfort that came with the calls knowing that they hadn’t forgotten and maybe you meant more than you thought. The ones who tried over and over until they got through to you. The ones who fished out your lost phone number just to be unable to reach you. Yet a message meant just as much…they were thinking about you.

The ones who kept promises at the cost of time, crossed the town to get to places they thought you’d love, brought you your favourite flowers in boisterous colours so the cheer crossed over into the next day, brought friends along so it was the more the merrier, took so much care of you that you wondered if you had known these people only for so long…some ties continue from the past birth. The ones who gave you the gift of their time and company.

The ones you missed even as you had a good time. The ones you would have liked to see there. The ones who always fill the space, either with their presence or with their thoughts.
The ones who kept a midnight snack ready for you as you put your feet up while staying over for the night and as you chatted late into the night about common interests, things that matter…sometimes about things that don’t matter…what mattered all the while was the camaraderie.

As the first day of a new age closes, one only feels gratitude and joy, affection, aspirations for the future…after all, our aspirations are our possibilities.

And they will be achieved…with a little help from my friends…because…

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tears In Heaven

I was a thought. In the mind of a young man. In his heart, he always knew the thought would materialize one day…because he had already chosen a name for it. And sure enough it did…the universe brought him his thought…it was called Anupama.
I turn 24 tonight at midnight. And as I face the mirror tonight, to accuse, to defend and to finally judge the figure that stands in front of me, there will be evidence presented of what was won and what was lost to aid the judgement. And the balance might not tip in favour of a clean chit. That remains my greatest apprehension as I enter the courtroom of life tonight.
For tomorrow, a new year, a new age and a new life will begin. And tonight it will be decided if this form will enter that life scot-free to commit more crimes or if this form will go to the gallows and tomorrow will be rebirth.
If there is conviction, there will have to be correction – in the way one speaks, thinks and lives. Fewer words, saner thoughts, a more careful treading of the path of life…but is that living at all.
In fear…
Of getting hurt…
Of being misunderstood…
Of opening up to the wrong people…
That is a cell of a life from where there is no redemption even if one digs for eternity. It is the mind that needs to be opened for escaping from this prison. It entails taking risks – with thoughts, with people, with life. It entails being true to oneself before anyone else lest the regrets of a lifetime suffocate you in the enclosure one has built for oneself. It entails getting out of all sorts of comfort zones, having the courage to say “I was wrong. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way” and moving on with the lesson. What it really entails is choosing between the safe cocoon of a manicured and perfect life and the wild world.
I would choose the wild world any day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
Because that is what the young man’s thought was. It was a child of fearlessness and it was brought up to be that way. To betray its purpose is to kill the thought. It is to bring the young man tears in heaven.
People are there to love and to be loved.
They hurt and get hurt, but the heart was given the power to feel the pain because it was a very real possibility.
Words are there to be said (as a friend told me yesterday – its what you don’t say that REALLY gets you in trouble)
They lead to misunderstandings, but they are there in turn to be cleared, not to eclipse relationships.
Life is there to be lived, not waited upon for it to get better.
It goes awry sometimes, but that’s where the adventure is.
The choice is ours to choose between the adventure and the glass cabin that we make life out to be, safe and watching from the distance. The real thing is to get in the game.
I am the adventurer…and I am here to live.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Ring Of Life

The lazy December Sun removed the black coverlet it slept under and as it yawned, the first rays of sunshine peeped into Firozabad and hesitated to announce the arrival of the day. It was a new day in the December of 1985.

These were also the sunrays of hope for two families in Firozabad – Isha brought joy to Mr. And Mrs. Sinha, then childless for 11 years; Asha brought another bread earner to a five-member family of Bangle makers. And both began their journey towards their destiny…

Isha started growing up with the entire household dancing attendance upon her at every instant. Asha was another burden on a family already struggling to make the ends meet. There was no food in the house on most days and not enough clothes for the baby. So, there she was – a hungry, naked baby – whose only purpose was to grow up and get to work.

As a toddler, Isha disliked milk and would make every attempt to avoid that glass of milk every night. Soon she discovered a way that saved her the trouble of downing that liquid and yet remain the apple of everyone’s eyes. On the pretext of having milk in the garden, she would take the glass and empty it the nearest rose bush. Somewhere, not very far, a hungry wallowing Asha would have just cried herself to sleep.

Soon, it was time for Isha to join Kindergarten. She liked school, they taught such fun things there – poems, games, craft and colouring…she loved colours. Asha had grown up too by this time…watching her two sisters join the glass coils together in the flame of Kerosene lamps to form bangles and her mother, colouring and polishing the bangles. She would watch her mother for hours…Oh! How she loved the colours!

When she joined Primary School, Isha turned out to be a very bright and active student. She would score well on all the exams. In addition, she started training to be an athlete. She liked to run…she liked that swiftness. She would run so fast she felt like she would start flying any instant. In no time, her coach took her to an inter-school athletics meet and she won the first prize in the 100 metres race. The Chief Guest awarded her with a Gold Medal strung in a Blue Ribbon, she was showing it off to everyone the rest of the day.

That day was also the day when Asha made Bangles out of one whole glass coil all by herself – 312 of them. She had aligned them, joined them, painted them Blue and then polished them all by herself, sitting in the same crouched position for 2 days. She was fast, her mother had told her. Today, Asha had fulfilled her purpose…the family would get an additional Rs. 3 for the glass coil that Asha had completed. She was showing off the bunch of bangles to her siblings the whole day.

Isha was a sturdy child and remained so while she was growing up. But she would get a bad bout of cough and cold every time the season changed. Her mother would prepare some Kaadha* for her and she would be alright in 2-3 days. Asha would keep coughing too…now and then…but nobody ever noticed. The cough would subside by itself and Asha would get back to work.

Asha’s cough got worse and often she would be in bed for 3-4 days away from the Kerosene lamp and the bangles. She would feel better soon and get back to work. The bangles continued to be made and sent to Bangle Sellers in the City Market. She could not afford to be away from work for too long.

Even as Isha was about to graduate from college, her parents were receiving alliances from prospective grooms, all asking for their beautiful and talented daughter’s hand in marriage. One of the alliances, which came through family friends, was from an Engineer settled in Canada. Isha’s parents thought it would be a good match for their daughter and invited the boy’s family over to meet Isha. The rendezvous went on till late in the evening at the end of which the alliance was finalized. The marriage was to take place within a month as the groom was flying to India for a very short period. That night, Isha went to bed blushing deeply and dreaming of life in Canada.

Asha was on a bed in the Government Hospital that night. She had coughed up blood that afternoon while working. She had been coughing very violently and almost constantly of late. The doctor asked her mother some questions, drew a blood sample from her left arm and returned some time later to announce that Asha was suffering from Tuberculosis. Asha sobbed herself to sleep dreaming scary dreams.

On one hand, preparations for Isha’s marriage were in full swing; on the other, Asha had been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks then. The shopping for the marriage was almost complete with only accessories remaining to be bought. So, Isha called up 2 of her college friends to accompany her. They arrived in the City Market to buy fancy footwear, trinkets and bangles to match her ensemble. They went to the Bangle Store just before leaving and started to look around.

Isha was to wear a Blue coloured Sari for the reception and she picked up a dozen Blue-coloured bangles. She felt the glass to check if they were strong enough. In a hospital room, a grim doctor felt Asha’s dropping pulse. Isha held them against the light to see if the colour was consistent…the blue sunrays filtered through the glass and fell on Isha’s face. The doctor checked Asha’s eyes but they were dull, devoid of all light. As Isha was checking the bangles for size, she heard the musical jingle of the bangles. The doctor heard Asha’s laboured breathing. The bangles were perfect! Isha decided to buy the blue-bangles. As she handed the bangles to the shopkeeper, one of them hit the counter and broke into pieces. Asha stopped breathing. Isha picked up another similar bangle, paid for the bangles and walked off. Meanwhile, another girl, another bread earner was born somewhere in Firozabad who would make more bangles.

They were two children, born at the same moment with the same stars in their horoscope…one died uncared for in a Hospital bed; the other followed her destiny to Canada. They were two children, connected by more than their stars, connected by a fragile glass ring…the ring of life.

*Kaadha: A medicinal preparation of herbs that relieves cough

Approximately 20,000 children work in the glassmaking and bangle-making business in Firozabad. Children as young as five work for eight hours or more in the dark rooms of their homes. Girls are usually involved in the first step of the process called “aligning”. They use kerosene or gas to apply heat to the ends of the bangles, staring into the small flames for hours and breathing in the gas fumes. The boys work mostly on the next step of the process, called “joining”—using gas or heat to complete the round shape. They, too, spend hours sitting in crouched positions, working with flames and breathing in unhealthy air. Together, the families turn the coils into bunches of bangles. Each coil makes 312 bangles for which a family earns 2.25 rupees—just five US cents—for aligning and joining.