Fiction

Fall and fall of a dreamer

“Why do you always sit by the window and smile staring at the stars? What joy do you get from it? Your Sinha aunty suggested I take you to a psychologist in front of a room full of ladies, all from our neighbourhood,” yelled Lata, my confidant first and mother later.

Lata has always been a hyperactive child with an innate ability to stress over the smallest of things. She panicked so much that her school friends distanced themselves from her citing a very puny reason- her stress disorder is contagious.

Twenty years and two children later, Lata is just as hyper and worries just as much. Ask her why she never works on her characteristic trait, “One cannot just do away with something they are born with,” comes the reply.

For as long as I can remember, I have always lived under the well-protected shelter of my loving family. My brother- a little irresponsible, sometimes cranky and often self-centred- is the apple of my eye. From the day I was born till today, he is the face I have woken up to every morning and I would not have it any other way. If my mother showed how to walk, it was Joel (my father fancied Englishmen, hence the name) who taught me how to tip-toe. If Lata got into heated arguments every time someone called me ‘ugly’, Joel inspired me to be comfortable in my skin.

But that was a different brother I had known, times have changed now. I have changed. Lata has changed. Joel has lost himself. He no longer inspires me to rise after every fall, no longer commands me to guard my dreams. Time can be diabolical; it can trick you into believing you don’t matter to your folks. Or, in case of Joel, your folks don’t matter to you.

Adulthood has played a queer game with our family; sleep-overs have replaced family dinners, trips with friends have replaced family vacations. A ruthless urban stranger has replaced Joel.

Just like a bereaved wife finds love in the memories of her deceased spouse, I too found solace in the next best thing to have ever happened to me- writing. Writing, how can a term as simple as this  trap you into a utopian world of ecstasy? How do words weave magical traps that engulf you for eternity? I always wondered.

Before I could realize, the dream of being a writer had turned from a mere interest to a hardcore ‘dream’. No, I wouldn’t settle for anything else.

Joel might have undergone drastic changes, hormonal and otherwise, one thing remains constant- his passion for business. He loves numbers. I love words. He fancies himself wearing formals and storming into the chambers of CEOs and CFOs with his bright idea. “I have an idea that will change the face of Indian economy, it will be a path-breaking invention in the world of business,” insists my brother and Lata believes it. She has always managed to turn blind to his faults and overlook his flaws.

My day-dreaming, sitting quietly by the window and minding my own business, may have brought her shame but Joel’s loud and obnoxious claims were never silenced by our mother, because  according to her, his ideas only brought glory and good name to the family. And it is their inexplicable confidence in his ‘path-breaking idea’, sans logical backing, that has promoted the duo to take the plunge. Just like me, Jo also wants to give wings to his dreams; he too wants to go aboard.

While my days find me engrossed in preparation, nights are usually tucked under the blanket of writing. I like to borrow someone else’s plight or triumph and add color to it through my imagination.

“I want to be a creative writer, Maa. I will write fiction,” I often tell my mother with pride. Because that’s what it has been for, pride. After years of disappointment in the form of an alcoholic father, writing saved my ship. In the tunnel of darkness, my dream came as a glimmering ray of hope. It offers an escape from a life filled with futility.

My urge to write has reached the level of obsession now. I will go to America. “I will clear the TOEFl test with flying colours and apply to University of Iowa,” I thought to myself.

Not Princeton, not Harvard. I want to get into University of Iowa for two reasons: their creative writing programme tops the world charts as ‘best university for creative writing’ and Lata can afford to pay 10% of its total fees.

“Joel is breaking his head studying for his CAT exams and all you do is day-dream,” concluded my mother. On rare occasions when Joel did sit to study, Lata always sat by his side, fanning him in scorching heat and feeding him dry fruits lest he falls sick before the D day.

While his sincerity is something that the whole of our neighbourhood frowns upon, I will be elated if my brother makes it to whichever university he aspires to be a part of. Because, irresponsible or not, he is still my kin. We had shared the same womb and I still l love him.

On the day of his test he looked astonishingly calm and gave me a nod for a reply when I inquired about his paper.

“It went okay, could have been better,” explained Joel to my mother who, in her head, has already sent him to America.

The river bed looks celestially beautiful on rainy days. I always find myself dumbfound by the enormity of the river post a washout. The banana trees that the storm has uprooted look scary. The droplets follow a chain- from the tip of a larger leaf falls into a relatively smaller one and so on- as if the storm had conspired with them, as if they had known it would happen. As if they had rehearsed for the aftermath.

My groggy eyes cried for sleep but how can I rest when my dream university has just sent me their acceptance letter:

“Dear Jiniya,

Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that I offer you admission to the Universtiy of Iowa for the class of 2017.

Your thoughtful application and remarkable accomplishments convinced us that you have the intellectual energy, imagination and talent to flourish at UoI…”

Since 2 o’clock I have read the letter like a zillion times still the fact that my dream university thinks I am just as capable and deserving has not sank in yet.

“They will wake up at 9 in the morning. In the pretext of tea party, I am going to surprise them with this news.”

Staggering through rocky lanes and muddy isles, I finally reached my den and climbed up to my room.

“Tomorrow will mark the beginning of a new life- no more haunting memories of my alcoholic father beating me to sleep, no longer hiding behind bushes to save myself from the embarrassment of being yelled at by him- tomorrow will be different,” I assured myself.

I thought I would see no one at home as I had overslept but to my utter surprise, Joel is home and so is my mother Lata. His look suggests he has just won a lottery worth millions of dollars and Maa is staring at him like he is some Bollywood actor. He is happy for something unknown. She is happy because he is happy.

“Maa, Joel, could you guys please sit down for a tad bit? I have something to tell,” I said, suppressing my grin with great effort.

“We have something to tell you too, you will not believe what just happened.”

“What? Is it very important or should I go first? Maa, whatever you both say”, I said.

“I cannot keep it to myself anymore so I am going to go first. No, I think I will burst into tears. Joel, why don’t give your small sister the good news.”

“So…”

“So..? What Joel”

“I received an email from University of California last night. Their New York campus has accepted my application. Jiniya, I am going to New York. My ideas will finally see light of the day.”

Although it felt like a mighty blow to my stomach, I was genuinely happy for my big brother. This good news brought along the sad realisation that my dream has now been overshadowed by my big brother’s. I knew my dream has to slip out of my palms and I must watch it go, silently. Helplessly.

“Since University of California has a very high fee structure, I have decided to sell this ancestral house and shift back to your grandpa’s. Joel will use all the money for his fees, the surplus amount will be covered by bank. I have already spoken to them,” revealed my mother. I could not believe what I just heard. My father has left nothing and my mother is planning to sell off the only piece of land we have ever owned to pay for his tuition fees, what am I left with? How will I pay for my university degree? What about my dream?

Nothing? Nothing.

“You can sit at home and write and once I am big and famous, I will help you get your books published. I will go to all the publishers in town and show them your work, till then take care of Maa. Be home and continue writing. You write well,’ said Joel. His happiness knew no boundaries and I did not have the heart to upset him. I was a giver, will always be.

“So what were you saying? What have you got now,” asked my mother.

“Naah…Nothing much…I mean nothing serious. I had taken part in the alumni writing competition and secured 1st position in it,” I lied. I had to.

“See, we always told you you’re gifted, didn’t we?” asked the mother-son duo in unison. “Yes you did, you sure did.”

“You had applied for UoI. What happened?” Joel asked, reluctantly. “They rejected my application.”

“Don’t lose hope, write at home.”

“Yeah”

“You won an award for your story. Which one was it for?”

“Fall and fall of a dreamer.”

I slammed the door and disappeared into darkness.

 

 

 

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Fiction

8-8-8

On a sunny morning Jiniya is invariably filled with zeal and her energy reaches its brim within minutes of waking up. As if the first ray of sun that touches her freckled face infects the half-hyper half-curious child in her with ardent zest. Zest to chase the only purpose of her life- fulfilling her semi-broken dreams.

Average looking with a visibly bloated face, Jiniya has always dreaded looking back at bygones. “I feel naked,” she had told her mother once. Her face is a blank notebook, neither exhibits the volcano that may have erupted within her nor does it show any signs of joy.

But she has her off days, especially when clouds dance aimlessly in the sky and hover around the mighty Sun. “Just like emotions, clouds and raindrops exude weakness. I feel powerless,” asserts the plain-faced marketing officer.

She is her 9-year-old self on damp days, as she would often jokingly call a rainy day, it magically draws her back to the golden days- days her mother thinks are testament to how lively and bright she had once been.

On that day, she slipped into a maroon-coloured pajama and requested her privacy be uncompromised with. Jiniya flipped through the pages of the book she was reading a couple of days back but couldn’t recollect the plot now.

And before she could keep the book back to where it belongs, she dozed off.

“Why are you coming home this late? Why did you not take an Umbrella?” enquired her mother who has long given up on trying to ‘infuse’ life in her daughter.

“Sorry, I know I should have informed you. Mom, I got drenched. Can I stay over? I have to leave for work early in the morning,” asked the 9-year-old in her.

“Your brother and sister are on my bed, don’t ask me why. They call it ‘cosy’ or something similar to that. Will that be okay,” Jiniya’s former ‘bosom friend’ asked hesitantly.

Jini assured her mummy that wouldn’t be a problem as the hall room was empty. One blanket. One pillow and she will sail through the night.

A thundering sound came from inside, as if the worn-out house had begun to crumble and will crash on their heads in a matter of few minutes. “Oh! Your daddy will never change. He is such a light sleeper that even an ant’s movement wakes him up.”

He staggered his way out of the house, each step a battle in itself. Daddy, despite the wrinkled forehead and saggy cheeks, looked concerned. With great struggle, he lifted the dirt-clad towel to rinse off rain water from her hair.

“My old man has really grown old,” she thought to herself as her kohl-rimmed eyes gave way to a teardrop.

As a juvenile, she had taken immense pride in her father. She would break into an innocent grin every time someone said she has inherited her father’s pointy nose or his soft curls. Her father had always been a man of few words and did not have even an iota of talent in showering love. He said the kindest of things wearing the bluntest expression imaginable to mankind. Like this one time when she had topped the class and he did the unthinkable. He brought her close to his face, combed her messy hair in clean plates and said, “You make me proud. I was the happiest the day you were born,” he said without a sparkle in his eyes. Not even a brief smile yet what he said  went on to live with her forever.

“How did you come home? It is pouring badly. Why did you not go to your place?” asked the concerned father who was happy as well as astonished to see his independence-seeking daughter standing at his doorstep, seeking shelter.

“Daddy, My house is situated at a distance of 8 minutes from our…your place. Anddd…my office is situated at a distance of 8 minutes from your place. So I came here, since it is the closest,” said Jiniya, awkwardly.

He gazed at her. She has known this gaze for eternity yet not been able to formulate a fitting response for it. The gaze of hopelessness, he wants to say something but he wouldn’t.

Every time he gave her that gaze, she looked away. She never bothered to ask what it meant, he never felt the necessity to explain.

“Here! Come to my room, sleep with me…This hall room cannot keep you warm.”

“Okayy”, she said, perplexed. She was right, she will never understand her old man.

With great effort he lifted his right hand, clutched it to her left palm and started moving towards the room. Each step reminded her of the times they went to school together and she would tell him tales of what had happened the day before.

Sure he was a man of few words but never forbade her from talking endlessly. He felt a sense of inclusiveness in those stories. He knew he was a part of whichever world she was living in.

“Go get the maroon-coloured blanket from my cupboard. It is the thickest of all,” commanded her old man.

She slept in no time as she had been working the whole week without any break.

He ran his cold fingers around her head.

“Don’t smoke baba (he lovingly called her, sometimes). Your heath has deteriorated.”

“I always see you smoke, at times standing at the balcony of your office, at times at the backyard of your house. Is something bothering you? Baba. Baba. Tell me.”

“I know you are unhappy but you are too proud a woman to accept that. Your eyes don’t twinkle anymore. What is bothering you, baba? Why do you smoke? Don’t”

She woke up like she had been battered in her dream. Reluctantly, Jiniya lifted the book from the edge of her bed and placed it on the table.

Despite screaming out a couple of times, Maa wouldn’t come. She walked to the kitchen and opened the window.

“You had always been worried for me Daddy, stop it now. You are old, rest well there,” she said looking at his tomb. Ten years have passed by but his last words still ring in her ears. Like his death has been a joke, a game, that he had always been around. Watching, crying, lamenting. Always around.

She wiped the corner of her eyes and reached for the cigarette. Then threw it away. No, she wouldn’t. She cannot. Her Baba has asked her not to.

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