Tag Archives: brother

Stars: Candles of our Childhood

Stars. Hot balls of illuminated gas millions of miles away, results of narrow cosmic chances.

The same stars, due to these enormous distances, appear as pinpoints of twinkling light. And so distant these stars are, that the light that left them eons ago, reach us now. And in that way, looking at them is like peering into the past. But that is not the only way stars make us look back in the past. Some of us travel time in our own ways.

When I first wondered why stars existed, I was perhaps six or seven, enjoying my summer vacations at my grandma’s house. These were times of the mid-90s, and there was less pollution than there is now. Moreover, there were frequent power failures in Mumbra. As irritated as we were due to the extreme May heat, we were helpless. This was the time when color televisions were still not that popular, but I was still happy that there was a black and white one at my grandmother’s house. In my house, however, the only electrical appliance of note was a cassette tape. But these were useless boxes during power failures. My cousin and I were little, and not too comfortable playing in the dark, so we would often sit surrounding a lit candle after sundown, and this would really annoy the adults, because our shadows were proper hindrances to their chores. Consequently, the candle would be placed atop a small wooden cupboard. This was still manageable for us, as the light wouldn’t hurt our eyes now. We would sit in the candle-lit room till power resumed, or till the only source of light flickered away and extinguished, after which we’d run to the kitchen. It had the only emergency lamp in the entire house, but we avoided it out of fear of being scolded.

Just before one of these unpredictable power failures, our mothers decided to take us to the building terrace. They told us we would enjoy the cold evening breeze, though I knew the enjoyment was more theirs than ours. Part of the terrace has a sloping roof, with one half of the slope descending toward the rest of the terrace. We liked it immediately! Due to its smooth tarring, we could slide and roll on it. We enjoyed so much that we didn’t realize that the lights had went out. About half an hour later, tired of climbing a slope rather steep for our age, my cousin and I sat at its base, reclining and looking up at the sky. It was a beautiful sight! The waning moon hardly disturbed the darkness of the rest of the sky. I knew my cousin looked up, too, because we both were quiet. Being the younger one and looking up to me for knowledge, he asked, “How does the sky have so many stars?” I was as clueless as he was, and regarding his question carefully, I looked up again. Indeed, there were a huge number of them, so many that I had never seen so much starlight in one go.

“I think these are candles”, I replied.

“Candles? Why would someone light candles so high up?” he enquired.

“Simple. When there is a power failure in grandma’s house, we light candles so we don’t get scared. In the sky, when there is a power failure, God lights candles so that those living there don’t get scared”, I said.
“What is moon then?”

“It is the largest of the candles.”
I looked at the moon to escape the discomforting ambiguity of my answer.

“A candle?”

“Of course, or why would it become smaller every day?”

“But it becomes larger too, sometimes. And look at its shape. I don’t think it is a candle.”

“It appears to be a different type of candle.”

“Why don’t we have a candle like the moon?”

I was growing irritated, not because of my cousin’s questions, but because of my own inability to answer them. I remained quiet. At the same time, I was curious, too. Were these really distant candles? How did they last all night? They would flicker, but why wouldn’t they get extinguished? And why would someone light so many small but only one large candle? I continued to wonder, while reclining at my new favorite place in Mumbra. We drew imaginary lines between stars, forming patterns, mostly letters in our names. We wrote in different styles, inventing many of our own constellations in the process. For reasons I was not yet familiar with, I felt at peace looking up. The sky had a quiet way about it. The soft breeze had put my cousin to sleep, but I wasn’t really sleepy. We remained till power resumed, and our mothers took us away.

At times, when I look up now, I find myself remembering that night. I smile at the how stupid my answers were, at my lost innocence. I try to recall the patterns we created, but I am largely unsuccessful, perhaps because I cannot find many of the stars that completed our patterns. It saddens me, but it is not difficult to not think about it for long. We live busy lives now, and we have other things to worry about. Not that our childhoods were not busy, but somehow it was far more enriching and gratifying. It was easy to be curious about something as commonplace as a night sky filled with stars.

Stars. Hot balls of illuminated gas millions of miles away, results of narrow cosmic chances.

And it is because of one of these chances that we exist, and are capable of wondering.

(Image Credits: Marc Van Norden. Click here to be redirected to the  original image)

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Death of the Dilemma

Should I go, or should I not?”

It must have been one of the rare times in the history of humanity that a person was confused between entering a building and climbing up to the third floor, or not. Most people need just the first step to convince themselves. I needed three floors. For precisely 7 minutes, I stood there and kept tackling my thought. I would not let go. My eyes remained fixed on the third floor window all the while. I turned around and left the compound. I could not take myself building so much suspense for me. “No big deal! I haven’t been there for over a year. Doesn’t matter if I did not go there today”, I explained to myself while on the way in an auto rickshaw. My other self kept quiet. My phone rang. It was Mom, who said that I had to collect some jewelry from an aunt and deliver it to another aunt in Amrut Nagar.

“Amrut Nagar?”, I confirmed and mother responded in the affirmative. I was returning from the same location. It was the same place where I stood under that building, lost in confusion. In no time, I was going back there, a box-ful of ornaments in my hand. “Sometimes, all you need is a sign”, my other self gave back a long-pending reply. Quickly, I delivered the box to my aunt and looked at the remnants of my deliberation about my visit to an old friend’s house.

When I say ‘friend’s house’, it would hardly appear to be a matter to be so perplexed about. But it DID matter to me. I had not been there for more than a year and five months (Yes, I kept a track of the time). All this time I had avoided that place as much as I could. There had been many such moments when I had stood and stared at the third-floor window, wondering if I should go upstairs and meet my second family (I would call them this). Every time I would return, just explaining to myself some way or the other. And all this was for a reason.

It is said that people with true friends are lucky. While I don’t really doubt this saying, I believe that there is hardly a person as fortunate as the one who is also loved by his/her friend’s family as one of their own. My friend’s family loved me dearly, and I realized my superior luck very soon. It was only a matter of time when they were my mother, my father, my brother and my sister. The only wrong thing that they did was they lived right next to my ex-girlfriend’s house. When I was planning to marry her, my second family tried to help me. In return, they were banished by their own neighbors. And then, they banished me. The only thing more painful was that they never said it to me by themselves. It was a long day, I recollect.

It only took a phone call to my present girlfriend to end this mental disarray. She encouraged me to go and meet them. When my mind was waist-deep in confusedness, she de-cluttered it in one moment. Some people understand what calms you down more than you can ever understand. I walked away again, but this time, I wanted to buy something to eat. When I get worried or nervous, food helps me (and maybe, this is one reason I am turning so fat now). But I did not want to eat alone, so I bought some shawarmas for them and a huge pack of chocolate for my friend’s little son. While returning, I watched daylight fade, and since I was walking in Mumbra, surroundings began to lose visibility as there was no power, not even on the streets. I reached the building and was on the stairwell without a second thought. As I stood in darkness on the third floor, the heat of freshly-prepared shawarmas warmed my fingers , as I continued to gasp out of exhaustion. I did not want to change my mind midway, so I ran as fast as it was possible for me. I knocked the door and waited for what I felt was an enormously long minute. The door creaked open, and lights began to glow. Power had resumed.

The Entrance

The Agony of Age

Around two months ago, on August 25, 2013, my sister gave birth to a sweet girl. She brought with her, a truckload of joy and happiness. Such an angel, the little girl. I believe all infants are more angels than humans. They know nothing bad, they do nothing bad, because their thoughts are pure. My niece is too young to think, right now. She recognizes me, though, sometimes only sleeping in my lap or when I pat her. She also recognizes my mother, and smiles looking at her. Most of all, she is able to identify her own mother, even by her voice. I feel the little girl is now understanding the world around her. She cries sometimes, mostly when hungry. It seems that she has concluded somehow that she will get food once she cries. All this when she is just about a couple of months old. I wonder how I used to be when I was that young. I am sure, I was not as smart. Children, these days, are much smarter. My mother tells me I had Jaundice when I was born, and they kept me in the hot afternoon sun to “cure” me. When I wailed for food, rarely opening my eyes because the sun was so bright, my mother stood at a distance and cried for me. She knew I was hungry, but she could do nothing. I guess I did not get a chance to be as smart as my niece, because I was busy sunbathing.

The Cradle

I am in the twenty-fifth year of my life now, and it has been one fine ride, so far. Of course, there have been difficult times, but they have only helped me understand the true value of the good times in this journey. But the biggest difference between the then-me and my now-me is perhaps my ability to choose between what is good and bad. I have understood that like all humans, by default I am programmed to make mistakes as I grow up. Perhaps, this is what helps me learn things.

I wonder what it would be like to not be able to think, to be like an angel, to just cry and get food. I am not that old, and would like to believe that I have a long way to go. But the agony of age will catch up. Responsibilities will continue to pile up. Looking at my niece, I wonder how was it for me to know nothing bad, to do nothing bad, to have thoughts that are pure. Or to have no thoughts at all.
However it was, I guess I will never find out.

The Murmuring Old Man

“Write a composition on ‘An hour at the railway station.'”

“What the hell! Again?!”

My interjection was valid, even though it was just in my thoughts; our teachers had probably ran out of ideas about topics to write essays on. I may have been wrong, but any student writing essays on the same subject every year since 3 years would feel the same as I did. I mean, how come something at a damn railway station could possibly be worth writing about? I used to travel from my school in CST to Mumbra every day. I couldn’t control my urge to get on a train after barely 5 minutes, such was the monotony. Trains were only slightly better. Except huge crowds, high decibel quarrels and the never-ending blabber of office-goers (I couldn’t afford a walkman in those days and mobile phones and MP3 players were only objects of fantasy, so I learnt to endure), there was hardly a single thing worthy of being described in words. I would still try to imagine being a youth who had nothing better to do than observing a railway platform.

Fortunately, I do not have to any longer do that. I do travel over a long distance each day (Ambernath to Vikhroli). Railway stations are pretty boring still, apart from some few instances. I ended up writing my first blog post about one such instance. But there was another one which left a far deeper impact on me.

It was the month of Ramadan and like every year, I decided it was better to get off at Mumbra (a station right in the middle of my journey) for evening prayers. It helped me being on schedule and making sure prayers weren’t missed. It is the time of the year when I suddenly become very spiritual and religious. I rarely get so worried about these things otherwise. And I admit, it is a shame. I was standing on the platform one evening, waiting for my usual Badlapur train. Like every day, there was nothing interesting happening and I fiddled with my cellphone. There were 3 trains to halt there before mine arrived, and the first one just came in.

“Kya yeh Badlapur train hai?” (Is this the Badlapur train?)

I looked at the source of the voice. It was a man, a very old man. He must have been in his 80s. I noticed his clothes – he wore a torn-and-stitched-numerous-times kurta-pyjama, with a torn waistcoat on top of it. The only bit of cloth on his frail body that was not restitched was his prayer cap. He had a small beard which seemed to have lost a lot of hair. I noticed he was murmuring something, and paused to inquire once again.

“Badlapur ki train hai?”

“Nahin, baba, Dombivili ki hai” (No, old man, this is a train to Dombivili), I answered.

“Shukriya! Khuda aapko iski Jazaa de!” (Thank You! May God reward you for helping me), he said.

He had a rough voice, may be because he had cold. He coughed intermittently and cleared his throat every few minutes. He carried a little bag on his shoulder, but it did not seem to contain much. He had a cane that helped him balance himself. Between coughs and clearing his throat, he kept murmuring inaudibly. I couldn’t help notice that all this while, he kept looking straight ahead, with his staff helping him stand. I realized he was blind.

I kept the phone in my pocket and I felt it was better to help him find a place to sit. He did not want to, though. “Saara din toh baitha hi rehta hun bheek maangne ke liye…” (I keep sitting the entire day while I beg), he said in his rough voice. I left him alone and watched him from a distance. He kept murmuring, and other people watched him, too. Though he wasn’t begging now, some individuals came forward and offered him alms. I went to him and kept a ten rupee note in his hand. He said ‘Bismillah’ (I begin in the name of God) and took the money and put it in his waistcoat pocket.

The Badlapur train arrived, and I helped him get in through the crowd, all the way inside. I asked a commuter to get up and let the old man sit. He readily obliged. I stood near the old man and tried to absorb the pushes that the old man would get from the crowd. He sat and continued to murmur. After Kalyan (a major station) passed, most of the crowd got off and I got a seat right beside him. For the first time during this entire journey, I looked at him closely. I knew he was very old, but he looked even older now. His face was a maze of wrinkles, his eyes did not exist, and he had no teeth. And he kept murmuring. I tried to listen what it was, and as soon as I did, I was really amazed. The man was praying.

When we reached Ambernath, we spoke properly for the first time. I asked him where he lived, to which he mentioned a very distant part of the town (I cannot clearly remember the name). He told me he lived with his wife and sister in a small hut. He had no children and the children of his sister had thrown her out of the house. Since there was no one else to look after them, the blind old man had to resort to begging. But after every few sentences and some coughing, he would state that God has been kind and he was thankful that he could still pray and earn.

“Khuda ka shukr hai, kuchh na hone se toh behtar hi hai!” (I am thankful to God that this is better than nothing at all), he said, with his smiling face looking into the nothingness in front of him. I helped him board a rickshaw and paid the fare beforehand. That was the least I could do for him. As I bid farewell to the old man, he held my hand and said a small prayer, a prayer I could not hear but feel. My eyes were dampened a bit. I felt sad – Not about this old man having to work at this age in this condition. I was sad about myself. I felt sad about the world.

We keep cribbing about the absence of little things in our lives and behave as if God has been unjust towards us. We pray to God and thank Him only on special occasions. But there are people who never forget Him, who have much less than what we have and are still thankful for whatever little their fate allows them to hold on to. Every idle moment, that man prayed. Despite being old and unable to see, he thanked God for keeping him able enough to feed his old wife and sister. He never complained. I am sure these moments in my life would have made a great composition for my school. It made me believe that may be not an hour, but a few minutes on a railway station or a train are worth living, not just writing about. I never met the old man again and I do not know what he prayed for me. But whatever it was, it made me a better human being.

Thank you, God.

Beggar

Image is for representation  purpose only.
Image courtesy: muslimtune.com

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Alina

How does a teenager feel going to his/her native place after 13 years? Most would not remember anything from their past (of course, they would have been too young then). But being gifted with a good memory, I remembered little details about my childhood in Kanpur – like being hit in the face by a plastic cricket ball while sitting on sky blue pillows near the store room window, the pane of which was wooden and spiky at places, enough to drive a three-year-old to use a blade to slice the protrusions. At four, I was too young to interpret the problems a family faces when it shifts from a place like Kanpur to a place like Mumbai, that too without money. Deep in hardships, my parents made sure my sister and I got the best possible education, food and shelter. As time passed, the situation turned better and better and 13 years later, I was able enough to take my entire family back for a visit (I worked while I was still studying).

My entire khandan waited there for us when we reached, and in the moments that followed, there were hugs and tears of joy. I looked in awe, the number of people I was related to, some that I never even heard about. In one corner of the house, a little girl stood and kept looking at me. Not glancing in her direction purposefully, I could feel her gaze not moving elsewhere. I made eye contact and went to her and asked her name. She smiled, revealing her rodent-esque front teeth. The size of her eyes decreased and her petite nose wrinkled at the sides. The next second, she hid her face behind the curtain along her side and whispered “Alina.”

“How old are you, Alina?”
(No answer)

“Will you not answer?”
(No answer)

“Well, do you know who I am?”
(A slight nod behind the curtain)

“Looks like you don’t want to talk to me?”

I left the conversation, hoping I didn’t scare her or that she was just shy. For 2 more days, she would just stare at me, smile and do nothing else. On the third day, she sang “Agar tum mil jao, zamana chhod denge hum…” (If I have you, I will leave the world) for me in front of everyone. Her voice was sweet and the diction was remarkable for a 4 year old child. While all laughed at her hand movements that accompanied her singing, I was astounded. No one realized what she was singing, except me. I was red-faced. A girl, 12 years younger to me, was singing a love song for ME! After the song was completed, she came to me and kissed my hand. “She has shock value”, I said to myself.

At the end of the week, we had to leave, and when the day came, her smile diminished. While I was about to leave for Mumbai, I went to her room and found her hiding her face from me again. Perhaps, she had heard me entering the room. I lifted the blanket from her face, with her little hand resisting my force in vain. She had been crying for hours over this little separation that was about to occur. I wiped her tears and her swollen eyes looked at me, crying even more, but making no sound. I kissed her forehead and wrapped my arms around her to embrace her. No longer able to contain the sobs trying to escape her little mouth, she cried her heart out.

“Please don’t go!”

“I have to, my dear. You know that your brother studies, right?”

“When will you be back?”

“Very soon, I promise! But you don’t cry, or my promise will be broken.”

She stopped crying immediately. I left with my family for Mumbai and talked to my mother about how popular I was amongst cousins, to which she simply replied by saying that it was so because I was the eldest of the brothers.

I love my big brother

She is eleven now, and her parents have brought her to Mumbai for the treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer. I met her thrice in a span of one week, and the third time, she could barely move due to weakness from her chemotherapy session. She waited for me the entire day, despite knowing that I leave from my office in the evening. No sooner she saw me, than she stood and gave me a tight hug. She is much taller now, and her head reaches my chest, on which she rested it as if it was the world’s most comfortable pillow. I asked her to sit or lie down, but she wouldn’t let go for another 5 minutes. I helped her stand, her legs too weak to do the job. On the side of her neck was a recent biopsy wound, about the length of my index finger. The area around it was still red, which prompted me to ask whether it was hurting. She shook her head and complained only of the smell of the medicines she was prescribed. I sat her on the bed and caressed her cheeks. She asked if she could borrow my phone to play Angry Birds. I readily gave it to her, but she returned it seconds later. Upon being asked the reason, she said that she wanted to talk to me. We had a long chat about everything from her education to my love life. Her keenness was astounding! As I was leaving, she kissed my cheek and said that I was the world’s best brother. Not many times do I find tears so difficult to hold back in my eyes. I took out my handkerchief and pretended to wipe sweat from my face.
It was me who was hiding face now…