The Time for Stories

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Ever since I've become conscious of my actions I've believed that there is a time for everything. Apart from how to say it, I must figure out when to say it. 

This has guided me around many potholes like sending a leave application, taking off early from work, and making acquaintance with somebody new. There is a perfect timing for everything, I believed. It worked well for me because I started being on the lookout for the right time.

Every time I had a need, I would find the opportunity. Sometimes it tests my patience horribly, sometimes I get rewarded right away. But over the years I've observed that there is a side to it that I never really recognized.

In this wait I sometimes miss the small pleasures of life. Because I never found the right time to send that paper in, I never got rewarded for working on it. I never found the right time to sign up for a challenge, and I never experienced the pleasure of winning, or losing, in it. The worst, you ask? I never found the right time to go back to writing, something which I love.

I wait for a story to come to me. But that's not how it works, does it? There are stories all around me. I have to take a beat from my hurried life and take a long look at my surroundings. Just a week ago I saw a woman sitting on Andheri platform, huddled together with a child who had a plastered leg. What was the story behind that, I don't know. I never asked.

I meet a taxi driver everyday while commuting to work. He has so many stories to tell. Why am I not noting them down, I don't know. Maybe because I am waiting for a non-existent right time. It will come, I tell myself repeatedly. 

It will come.
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The Dank Corner

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He stood looking at the fading green door. He knew his father was somewhere inside. He knew it was about time that he joined him too, but he didn't want to face his father just yet.

Gingerly, he forced himself to enter through the door. His eyes turned to that corner in the living room instinctively. Against his wishes he hoped that he wouldn't have to see his father sitting there. But today was just not the day of liberation. His father was in the dank corner again. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor. His head bowed down in deep meditation. 

Nandan knew better than to observe his father. He went into the attached kitchen to wash his face. It was almost time for dinner in their small faded home. Nandan looked into the kitchen sink. It was full of unclean dishes. With a heavy sigh he turned on the tap and start washing them. It was in times like these that he realized how much he missed his mother.

He missed his mother not because she was good at these things. But because he never paid any attention to what she did when she was around. And now that he has ended up doing her jobs, it occurs to him how patient she was with his father. Just when he was about to light up the stove to start preparing dinner he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye.

His father was standing motionless. His eyes were sunken graves and his face was the graveyard. Nandan took a step back from the stove. His father took his place silently and lit up the stove. The yellow of the fire was reflected in his remorseful eyes. The image of his wife in a bright yellow saree floated in his mind for a moment but he swept it away.

Nandan's father stole a look and searched for signs of distress in Nandan's face. Finding none, he refocused on making dinner. He'd already shared enough piece of his private hell with Nandan. The poor chap needed a break. After all, today was the fifth death-anniversary of the lady of the house. And the number signified something more than the sorrow it evoked.

Maybe today was the day of liberation, Nandan thought as he watched his father's expert fingers chop up the onions. He left the small area to gather his thoughts on this transformation. It was only by pure chance that he wasn't in the kitchen when his father properly smiled for the first time in five years. The smile was what made the dinner delicious. Just like how Nandan's mother used to make it.

The next day the sun shone a little brighter. The home seemed cleaner and smelled of nothing. The whistle of the pressure cooker actually made Nandan happy. And when he rushed to the bathroom to get ready, he saw his freshly clean-shaven, impeccably dressed father combing his hair. His father gave him an all-knowing nod.

On the dusty street leading from their home's gate one could see both of them walking silently. Nandan was on his way to the college. His father was on his way to finally get a job again.
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It's been tough taking time out to write. There are enough writing assignments to keep my head busy. Plus, I haven't gotten a chance to explore. This phase has been more of an introspection. The things that have come out, I swear they have scared me enough.

The timing of everything is impeccable. A post-graduation that I was really hoping would help me explore a new world is helping me do it. And obviously it's giving me some things on the side. Like, the ability to juggle a lot of tasks on the table, to start from the bottom. But while I'm on the way to being made more able, I'm realizing that I'm also narrowing down my focus area.

Previously I could have fried a pancake while looking into the phone for a YouTube video showing the trick to me. Now I need to pay attention to both of the tasks one at a time. And even then, my attention span has reduced to such a drastic number that I have started to pity myself.

One of the posters of Amazon's original series, Transparent.
Why is this post titled Transparent? Mainly because a show by this name has moved me to get down and start doing what I like. There's no direct nudge by the plot that's made me do this. It's just the overall sense of satisfaction that it gave me that made me realize that effort equals something valuable only if you take action.

I've made many promises to myself, the most devoted reader of this blog, during the five years of time that it has been online. I'm not going to shame it by making another. This is a reminder enough to myself. I should pursue my interests no matter what. Excuses don't work when we explain things to ourselves. 

Oh, and bravery is sometimes rewarded pretty well. That's one thing that I've definitely learned from being in an IIM.
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Somewhere I Belong

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No, that's not me in the picture.
Salman Khan isn’t even close to being the actors I’m interested in currently. I belong to those category of people who like his 90s version more. Among the things that don’t amuse me as much are long train journeys. I absolutely detest the idea of being restrained to a berth for more than twelve hours. It stresses me out. Sometimes even more than a Salman Khan Eid flick.
I had reached Kashipur in an evening train almost a month ago. When it pulled into the station I was already worried about the harassing I’d have to face by auto-rickshaws. But imagine the joy of meeting a group of men with a placard saying ‘Welcome to IIM Kashipur’ by the exit gate! I could have pulled them all into a collective group hug if there wasn’t the risk of being labelled mental so soon. Little did I know that at the same time next day I’d be sitting in Suncity Cinemas watching Salman Khan starrer Sultan with three absolute strangers.
I spent the night tossing and turning in my bed. I was too buzzed to sleep. On the one hand I wanted to get up and meet everybody there was to meet, on the other hand my introversion put an invisible handcuff tying me to the steel cot. By the time the sun rose I had decided that this was the time that I came out of the shell. By noon I’d met and remembered ten names and background stories. By evening I was on the way to catch the evening show of Sultan with three brand new friends. One of whom had arrived to Kashipur just two hours ago. And none of whom was a fan of Salman Khan.
There’s a kind of a mad consistency about crazy plans living the name. They are actually always crazy. We didn’t know that this demigod’s new film spanned three hours and would make us miss our dinner at the hostel. We didn’t know that we wouldn’t get auto to the college at 10 in the night. We also didn’t know that sometimes the mess staff served food till 10:15 as well, our hostel touchdown time. 
It took me a day to get used to the idea of living the hostel life having left the previous college a few years ago. It took me the better part of a month to get used to the idea of sweating constantly having never done this before. Though I hail from Gujarat, have studied in Rajasthan, have worked in Odisha, I have never experienced air so humid that it elicits new kinds of scent from my body.
Talking about getting used to things, there is the honking of the bus that will haunt me for years to come now. Every morning the shrill sound hits me as I’m falling over things getting ready and trying to make it to breakfast in time. It’s ironic to think that the object of my joyous surprise of the time when I’d arrived in Kashipur has changed my feeling towards itself so quickly.
Talking about getting used to things, there is the quality in the food that will haunt me for years to come now. When I bend in my chair to pick up my pen from the floor, I feel new fat wrapped around my waist. There are pants that I can swear fitted me better just fifteen days ago. Every night I sleep with the resolve of eating a little less the next day. Every night I have to face the shame of failing my previous night’s resolve. I’m jogging in circles.
Talking about getting used to things, you’d have thought that you’d get used to my loopy writing style. I know every time I start a repeating sentence you want to take that shoe off and throw it on the screen. I also know that you have made a choice to read this curiously written piece yourself, and you can choose to not waste your time reading it. But I’m extremely humbled and grateful that you’re sticking with it so far.
My time at Indian Institute of Management Kashipur hasn’t seen a lot of mornings yet. A testament of that is the fact that until yesterday I didn’t know we can call a carpenter to fix a nail for the round wall clock I’d been balancing on my window for the past month. And yet, even after being here for less than a month, I feel like home already. A major factor is the lack of any recurring complaints in my mind about anything. I’ve settled too comfortably already.

Of course that doesn’t count the kind of rough beatings I’ve been getting in the academic arena. Every time I think I’ve got the hang of things now, and every time I think that the rope I’m walking on has become friendlier, I slip off with an unexpected violent jerk. But, no complaints. This is exactly what I’d signed up for. And nothing makes me happier than deliverance by things that I had high expectations from. Except maybe the kind of happiness the Fruit Custard gives me every Thursday. 
There are times when I forget that I am finally where I’ve been aiming to be since the past four years. But the boldly painted words on the yellow bus that waits for me by the hostel gate every morning, and the small sheet of paper pasted on the lectern in all the classes that says ‘IIM Kashipur’ pulls me down to earth and reminds me that this is it.
I have managed to reach here by a little bit of old magic, but to pull through with such high expectations I’ve set for myself is a task that’s still undone. Nothing makes me happier than deliverance by things that I had high expectations from. And what I expect from my college is exactly what it expects back from me. Deliverance. The exact reason why along with our esteemed professors, a student of the sixth batch of the Post-Graduation Program was also called on the stage to light the lamp in the inauguration ceremony of the course.
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An Accidental Revelation

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Vikas had never seem to notice how rapid the breaths of dogs are. As if for the first time he saw their little bodies shaking in little hiccups. The two dogs were lying on the side of the road trying to beat the heat, their tongue lolling out.

He felt like wanting to do something for them, but time was running out. He pulled another gear and drove forward. Almost immediately a biker cut in front of him and scratched the front of his car in the process. The shock made both of them stop dead. The bike looked undamaged, but there was significant dent in the beauty of his car.

Vikas got out of his car seething with anger. The traffic had paused for a moment and started swerving around them to keep moving on. They were a speck in the universe. But that didn't seem to occur to him when he saw the deep gash on his car. The biker had gotten off and was looking at the scratch from inside the helmet.

Vikas turned towards the biker and started yelling. A lot of anger was glowering inside him, threatening to take over his sanity. He couldn't believe how loud he was. He wouldn't have believed he had the capacity of shouting himself hoarse. But that day, in less than a minute of spewing acid, he could feel his throat choking his words off.

Adding to his astonishment the biker took off his helmet to reveal a small aged man looking extremely morose. The man seemed at a loss of words. He looked at the damage and shrugged dejectedly. He looked at the owner of the car and extended a hand to placate him. The biker seemed so sad that a tear escaped his eyes.

A great sadness filled the Vikas. All his anger was washed down in the sorrow. He had worked hard to buy this car, and that dent would take a lot of time to get fixed. He wanted to break down. But this accident wasn't the reason. He was sorry for yelling at the biker. He knew what mess his own life was in, let alone this biker who must have had his own problems.

The biker stood rooted to the spot. The owner of the car took two steps away, cleared his throat, waved the biker off and got inside his car to leave. The biker was a little astonished. He took a deep breath, got on his own bike and left quickly. The episode was over.

In ten minutes the owner of the car had learned a lot of things. Vikas had gone through an emotional turmoil he couldn't explain. He sighed deeply, and got out of his car. He bought a bottle of water and walked over to the dogs who were still panting in the heat. He could swear after ten minutes of slurping cool water their breathing was calmer.
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The Iyers in the Train

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Painting by Bijay Biswaal
(Click image to enlarge)
Every time I board a train a few parallel thoughts race in my head as I scan my fellow passengers. My mind quickly forms opinions about the people inside based on how much they respected the space of others, and how well-arranged their luggage is.

The auntie fanning herself with her soiled legs sprawled on the opposite seat topped my list of people I didn't want to talk to. But as soon as I reached near her she shrank back to let me enter. I automatically smiled at her. My opinion of her had changed instantly.

I stowed my bag away and took a long look at her. She looked well-dressed. A beautiful and crisp saree with a tired face. She was traveling with her husband who sat in a side-lower berth. They looked like they could be Iyers, and I named them so. 

Mr Iyer was busy scanning the man occupying the rest of his berth. He was smiling indecisively. But before he could open a conversation, Mrs Iyer called him to attention. She was ready to serve the dinner. 

Mind you, it wasn't even six in the evening, the train hadn't even moved from the source station, and the Iyers were ready to eat.

The train began moving as Mrs Iyer fished out a box of rice. She divided it into two neat piles, taking her time doing so. On the piles she poured dal. And on each pile she put a pickle. With utmost care she got up and walked over to Mr Iyer to hand over the pyramid of bhaat. Mr Iyer smiled at himself and dug in.

Mrs Iyer returned to her seat and watched him shake side-to-side with the motion of the train. His short white hair were screaming with joy. His shoulder bumped into the man encroaching his berth. But all Mr Iyer saw was his dinner. I could almost feel my stomach grumbling. And that's when it hit me.

Painstakingly I could see my parents in another train eating their dinner together. The Iyers seemed to be of the exact same age. The calm, adjustable Mrs Iyer was actually the opposite of my loud, panicky mother, but somehow I could see them through another perspective. The similarity grew so strong that it started bothering me.

I watched them finish their dinner. Mr Iyer got up, carefully, and went to the trash bin to deposit his paper-plate. Mrs Iyer followed him after he'd returned from this brief excursion. Making use of her absence, Mr Iyer turned to me and asked about my seat in broken Hindi. I understood what he needed. 

He must be looking to swap his upper berths to lower ones. Fortunately I had one lower berth on my name. I happily agreed to swap. 'Happily' is too small a word, actually. In that moment I wanted to believe other young men like me swap their seats for my parents too. Does Karma work that way?

Wanting to do more, I helped set up the bed for both of them. Mr Iyer eagerly helped Mrs Iyer into the lower berth I'd cleared and with a very satisfied smile climbed into his middle berth without further ado. He thanked me in a raspy voice masking a cough. 

I climbed up into the top-most berth and wondered how much similar the life of my parents is exactly. If there is no differentiating line, I wanted them to be as comfortable as the Iyers. It's then when I picked up my phone and called my mother. After three rings I was connected.
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