Thursday, October 25, 2018

रावण को जलाने में इतने मसरूफ़ हो!

रावण को जलाने में इतने मसरूफ़ हो के भूल जाते हो,
हम सबके अंदर एक रावण है,
रंगीन मुखौटों के पीछे बेशर्म ख्वाहिशों का अस्लाह है।

रावण को जलाने में इतने मसरूफ़ हो के भूल जाते हो,
सीता हो या राम बदनाम कोई भी हो सकता है,
बस उंगली उठा कर बातों के तीर चलाना बड़ा आसान है।

रावण को जलाने में इतने मसरूफ़ हो के भूल जाते हो,
पटरियों पर दौड़ती भी एक आग है,
ये आग जो गुज़र जाए ज़िंदगियों पर तो परिवार बर्बाद है।

रावण को जलाने में इतने मसरूफ़ हो के भूल जाते हो,
हर एक पत्थर सेतु बंधन में एक किरदार है,
आंकड़ों की भीड़ में कुचल जाए जो वो भी इंसान है।

रावण को जलाने में इतने मसरूफ़ हो के भूल जाते हो,
हर उपदेश के पीछे एक कहानी है,
मैं कब कहता हूं, किसे कहता हूं और क्यूं कहता हूं, 
वो जानना ज़रूरी नहीं, समझ आए तो बेहतर,
वरना मैं कोई भगवान नहीं।।

Monday, October 22, 2018

Moonlit Darkness

Memories are like sand, they keep slipping away from you with time. However, whenever you pick up a handful again it gives you the same tingly sweet feeling. Ashok came out of his small philosophical bout finding himself standing surrounded by piles and piles of sand everywhere. The sand dunes that had brought the memories of his childhood were now meeting him after so many years like a long lost friend forgotten with time. However, what had brought him back to the real world was his present, small hand of his 5-year-old daughter Chloe tugging him towards herself. Ashok brushed his other hand in his jeans to remove the remaining bit of sand, ready to follow his daughter. Chloe was by now jumping up and down excitedly saying that the cab-driver uncle had managed to make the repairs and start the cab. Ashok and Chloe joined his wife Megan in the car, ready to make the remaining small journey onwards to Ashok’s native village.

As the cab pulled up before his old house and Ashok with his family got down, once again memories came rushing towards him like a sandstorm hitting his face. Ashok remembered how he used to run around everywhere in the house, on the roof, in the veranda, to escape from his mother, who ran after him with next morsel of food from his plate to feed him. These memories he so desperately wanted to avoid by not coming back here or was it the emotions that came with them that were alien to his logical engineer’s mind, just like sand for someone’s eyes. But, it was his wife’s wish combined with his daughter’s demand that made him finally relent almost five years after his marriage. In fact they were here to celebrate the double occasion of their fifth marriage anniversary and Chloe’s 5th birthday together (oh yes they had gotten married on the day Chloe was born and it’s another story how Mr. Forever-Alone Ashok had gotten hooked to the green eyed Megan).

A hand yet again broke Ashok’s chain of thoughts, this time on his shoulder. As Ashok turned to see who’s hand it was, he came face-to-face with a face that was about a decade older than the one he had seen last.  Both the hand and the face belonged to his childhood friend Mukesh. That time too Mukesh’s hand was on Ashok’s shoulder to support and console him as he gave fire to his mother’s pyre. All her life, his Mother had done everything for Ashok, as he meant the world to her. For all the success that he ran after, his failure to not even say last goodbye to her still haunts him.  Today she was no more part of his life and he had not been able to do anything for her all her life.  With that regret at heart, Ashok had decided over the burning fire never to return to the place that had nothing for him other than those memories and the guilt.

That was the last time the two childhood friends had met face to face. The two were inseparable souls in their childhood, living very close by to each other, they were mostly found together involved in some mischief or the other. Time took them slowly apart as they grew up to become young men. While Ashok went to one city to get his engineering degree, Mukesh went to another to become a doctor. Even though they kept in touch over phone and mails, professional commitments made the communication few and far between. While Mukesh came back to his native village to take up the long vacant position at local government dispensary, Ashok went to USA to work for an MNC. When Ashok had left after his mother’s death Mukesh had taken care of the house. As per his mother’s wish Ashok did not want to sell the house and over the years Mukesh had overseen that the house is maintained well without omitting its old world charm. Today the house was fully prepared to receive its rightful owners after a long wait. As the two friends’ wives and children were meeting for the first time, the introductions were made and the party moved inside.

Spending each day together both the families grew closer together rekindling the old friendship of the two childhood friends. When the touring family had finally shaken off the jet lag, they all went to the fort at the outskirts of the nearby city and the Purnamasi Mela (full moon fair) that was organized there just like in the childhood days of Ashok and Mukesh. After a fun outing both the adults and young ones thoroughly enjoyed they came back to continue the celebrations of the special day for the family in the evening.  Ashok opened the champagne and bourbon whiskey that he had specially brought to celebrate the occasion. The drinks were followed by a wholesome meal of local delicacy of Laal Maans (Red Meat) prepared under the direction of Mukesh’s wife Sarita.

After dinner it was time to say goodnight, Mukesh once again insisted that his friend and his family move to his place now that they had spent these few days at their house. His house was rebuilt by Mukesh to have more modern amenities that would be more comfortable for both Megan and Chloe. Both of them denied having any such difficulty as Mukesh had kept this house too in best of conditions. Megan also loved the old world feel of this house, colorful paintings adorning its walls. It was her long-standing wish to visit India even before she met Ashok and then she wanted to visit his roots more. The mysticism and colors of India had always fascinated her, and now that she was finally in such an environment, she wanted to enjoy it a bit more in its pure form before they went back to modern life. In return, Megan invited the couple to stay one more night with them, but the next day was working for Mukesh with many patients lined up, so they had to refuse.

As the other couple took their leave for the night, Megan announced that to enjoy the beauty of the full moon night she would want to sleep on the roof as Ashok was saying they used to do in their childhood. Ashok was really not very keen on the idea and he even cited mosquitos, which was quickly repelled as a lame excuse with all the available mosquito repellents. The truth was his friend’s insistence specially for tonight had brought back some particularly peculiar memories from his childhood. Guess no matter how educated you become some superstitions ingrained in your childhood only just get pushed deep inside your subconscious but never leave you fully. Smiling over this thought, he agreed to his wife’s proposal.

From the rooftop, the surrounding scene was pretty much how he remembered from childhood days. Yes now on the side of the village there were electrical wiring going on and more houses built in modern style. However, the other side the mountain that had gone up from just besides Ashok’s house remained mysterious as ever. On top of it was the old palace that his mother used to say it belonged to their ancestors, but over time like the family that owned it the palace too had lost its glory and now stands deserted for years. No one ever really went there now. In the childhood, the hill might have looked dauntingly higher and the palace more sinister in dark but even today in the full moon night the scene still had a mystical foreboding aura to it.

The long shadows that fell from the palace with the full moon coming up behind the palace brought back some forgotten memories of one such night from his childhood. That full moon night Ashok as a young boy not much older than his daughter now was sleeping with his mother on the roof. Suddenly a howl stronger than any animal shattering the silence of the night awoke him. His eyes opened and the scene before him seemed to him like one of those shadow plays that he had seen at the Purnmasi mela last month. In this play the sky became the backdrop, and the mountain, the ruins of the palace, some barren trees scattered in that area made for the props. Then little Ashok saw the protagonist of this play, was it some kind of beast or a man Ashok could not recognize. However, its shadow drew a facial structure of a wolf like creature and his body was upright like that of a man with a slight hunch, but the overall shape and size was much larger than any man or animal he could recognize it as. This was perhaps some mythical beast, Ashok thought scared out of his wits, just as the creature jumped around from one place to other with an alarming level of agility. Sometimes he was on the porch of the palace and sometimes on one of the trees then sometimes he went out towards the mountaintop. All the time giving out that unearthly howl, a howl of agony or anger Ashok did not know, but every time he heard it, it filled him with a cold dread like never before. Ashok looked towards his mother sleeping besides him, somehow remaining completely unfazed. Just as he was thinking of waking up came the next howl of the creature that shook him to the core. He shirked and hugged his mother and hid his face under her sari as if it would save him even from the devil himself. Immediately his mother’s assuring hand came over him, patting him she pulled him close that made him feel so safe that Ashok drifted into sleep. Such a scene was played many times afterwards and every time a scared Ashok hid his face with his mother’s sari and she assuring him to sleep.

Now the times had changed and with it the scene too. Of course this time Ashok did not have his mother to reassure him back to his sleep when he was awaken by the same howl tonight. What was worse that the howl sounded much closer to home. Ashok's eyes fluttered open and he sat up in a flash. The next one came just from the corner of the roof as the creature had climbed up on it. Seeing his fiery eyes and inhuman structure Ashok's mind was paralyzed with fear, which filled him and overcame his complete being. Not just that he didn't have his mother's protection this time, it was he who had to play the role of the protector for his little girl and wife and he realised he was simply no match for this unearthly being. By the time, he could gather his wits the beast or whatever you want to call him, was upon him. By the time he could register the fact that his wife and daughter were now in mortal danger from their screams, the creature had backhanded him with mighty force that took him flying towards the roof relling. With a solid thud at the back of his head, he fast started losing his consciousness with barely enough time to hear Megan screaming their daughter's name..."CHLOE...CHLOE...NO...NO...NO"!

Cool water mixed with breeze on his face and icepack on back of his head brought Ashok back out of unconsciousness but what really brought back his senses was panicked face of his friend Mukesh over him and sound of sobbing of his wife from behind as complete terror of the situation set in within his senses. He tried getting up as fast as he could to gather some news of what happened only to be pushed back by his friend gently. He said, though it does not seem he had suffered any big damage, but a concussion cannot be ruled out so he had better take it easy. However, taking it easy was last thing on his mind, he could not bear the fact that he was did such a poor job of protecting his family and now he had lost his little girl...his lifeline forever. That thought panicked him further and he started murmuring Chloe’s name asking what happened to Mukesh. It was then he saw Megan for the first time, eyes bloodshot from all the crying and face ashen from fear made a grotesque contrast on her otherwise beautiful face. What was at least matter of some solace for Ashok was that besides the damage terror and continuous crying had made to her features, Megan seemed unharmed otherwise.

"You need to find need to get my baby back to me from that beast...” were her repeated ramblings and it again shook him out of his state of psychological paralysis. Mukesh's gentle warnings could not stop him this time. He just had to go and go now to find his little girl and bring her back even if it meant fighting the devil himself. He ignored the wooziness and throbbing at the back of his head and started to move towards his wife. He held her hand, pressed it lovingly to reassure her that he will bring her baby back, and then went forward towards the door to get out to the unknown to fight the unknown. But he was held back by hand of his friend on his shoulder, Mukesh wasn't ready to let his friend go face whatever demon it was out there alone. Since childhood, they have been inseparable souls, taking on the world together with their witty and naughty antics. Mukesh had never known love of a mother but Ashok's mother had never made him feel it and loved him equally. If in childhood stealing fruits from neighborhood, garden's and wiggling out of tight situation together never made them hesitate to leave each other's back, some years of separation or some fearsome unearthly being will not come between them today as well. Mukesh had a gun in his hand and he would hear nothing but go with Ashok on this mission. Hence, the two childhood friends yet again came out together this time to battle an unknown demon to rescue their little girl.

The mountain path was rocky and full of thorny plants, the moonlight night was helpful in seeing the path but that did not make it any easy to make the climb with no used path. No one ever came this side, not even the village cowboys with their goats so there was just no passageway marked or created, it was only their indomitable willpower to not give up that kept them climbing up despite several cuts and bruises in their hands. Ashok had taken the family sword from the top of the rack as his choice weapon that was now slinging on his back. He really did not know much of sword fighting except the play fighting he and Mukesh did around Dussehra and Diwali with wooden swords. However, he knew if it came to it, he would cut the demon to pieces to save his girl even if it took all his strength. He also knew his friend and brother Mukesh would always have his back as he did all those years back. Any other alternate narrative he just refused to let into his head.  As the two friends were going up reaching for the ruins  of the old palace the moon had started its decline towards the horizon and with it their guiding moonlight, as if with it taking away the hopes of a rescue in to the darkness of the night. But the two friends had never ever had known to lose hope and courage even when almost a dozen elder boys had gheraoed them during one of their mischief gone wrong in their childhood. The odds tonight might have been more against them but they still refused to let go of hope and courage.

They say moonlight of a full moon plays trickery on the mind, turning the sanest person into raving lunatic. The scene they found before them after reaching the palace and searching its broken down corridors and rooms was one such that can make anyone doubt their sanity. Perhaps it is also true that touch of an innocent child can turn the most monstrous beasts into an angel. May be not all but in this case it seemed to be an unbelievable truth. From all the vicious scenarios they might have tried hard to repel from their minds, the scene before them was very much different. An angelic child exploring the face of the devil himself with utmost curiosity, but what was more astounding was the beast was no more devilish but much more human like now. The eyes had no more the bloody gleam but had tears running down, the face had no more murderous villainy but was that of a man unkempt for years battling through nature's hardship lost in some unknown time and space now back to finding someone long lost through the eyes of this little girl before him. For those few moments both Ashok and Mukesh were dumbfounded, what started out, as a nightmare from hell, had now turned much weirder.

Perhaps it was the sound of old leaves n twigs crushing under their feet or maybe a new burst of wind coming from behind them carrying their scent to the man-beast, his attention suddenly turned towards the two new guests at his dwelling. Seeing them his features once again turned more beastly and the murderous gleam in his eyed returned to an extent only to be replaced by bewilderment when Chloe called out to Ashok... "Daddy..." and jumped up and ran towards him. This got the two men ready to protect her with their weapons and beast ready to pounce on them. But before the battle of life and death could start Chloe had already reached Ashok and said, "don't hurt him, he is friend!!!" This was a huge surprise for both the men and Mukesh asked her, "Chloe, what are you talking about?!" Chloe then pointed fingers at far end of the room, towards another corridor; a dead-body of another much larger beast with his head detached from his body was lying around. "That monster came here and he saved me from him...he has not harmed me, he is good, uncle!” said Chloe.

While the astonishing conversation was going on there was another silent conversation going on between Ashok and the Man-beast. Although Ashok still perceived the man-beast as a threat, but what he had seen before his eyes and what Chloe just told Mukesh, made him think. He was badly injured; gashes around his neck and chest were clear and deep, while Chloe was completely unharmed despite the ordeal. Ashok now realised that the howls and roars that they were deliberately ignoring throughout their journey up, so that the thought of those being sign of a macabre enjoyment did not make them feel hopeless about futility of their mission and fear and despair made them paralyzed to continue were actually war cries of these two deadly beasts.

Moreover, as the man and the Man-beast looked at each other there seems to be a sense of recognition coming over in each other’s minds. The full moon was almost at the verge of taking a leave for the night, the mix of moonlight, advent of dawn had created a mystical luminosity around, and in that, Ashok seeing the Man-beast found some uncanny resemblances to his own features. It was as if he was seeing himself, around 25-30 years older, much more weather beaten and toughened up under harshness of nature. It was perhaps a similar sense of recognition in the Man-beast that made him soften again or it may be due to finally his injures overcoming his supernatural strength and will power that he stumbled and fell down, trying to steady himself he took refuge with one of the pillars nearby. Ashok asked Mukesh if he could look into the wounds of this creature/person whatever he chose to call and if he could help him.

Although in his practice, Mukesh had come across many weird cases but this patient seems to be right up there. As he approached him, only thought Mukesh had was that this was something beyond his medical expertise, the wounds seemed fatal and blood loss was constant and he had no clue about such creature and how to cure them. But as he started approaching the man-beast the same sense of recognition that had come to his friend, also came to Mukesh, and with it came memories of his last conversation with Ashok's mother on her death bed. She was weak by the time her illness had taken over her entire body. Mukesh could not listen to all her words properly and what she was saying felt to him like drug induced senseless rant of a person disillusioned while on their last breaths. She was saying that the rumours of a beast lurking in the ruins of the palace on mountain-top was true, and it was none other than her husband and Ashok's father, cursed by the bite of another such creature on a full moon night. So more he went closer to this man/beast and saw his features he realised, words were not senseless rants but hard truth, this was indeed Ashok's father living a cursed life.

Despite his own apprehensions and protests of his patient, Mukesh was able to get close enough to inspect the wounds, they were indeed fatal, gashes in stomach and other places were bleeding profusely. It was only due to his unnatural and superhuman power that he was alive, but for how long, he was not sure and even if by some freak miracle, he did survive his eyes showed how tired he was of living this cursed life.  As Mukesh heard approaching footsteps of Ashok and Chloe, he had again gone back to those fateful moments before Ashok's mother's death and words she said then. That time those words did not mean much, as he was frantically trying to save the woman he loved like a mother. Now in the dying moments of this moonlit night he remembered what she had said. Only the family's traditional silver sword had the power to free him of the cursed life but none dare approach him in his full strength on a full moon night.

The sound of something falling to the floor besides him and Ashok's hand on his shoulder brought Mukesh out of his reverie. The family sword had fallen just besides him from the hands of Ashok, as if to make Mukesh realise that it was now his only opportunity and responsibility to end this cursed life of this man and fulfill last wish of Ashok’s mother. Mukesh asked Ashok to start the journey back and he will join them soon as otherwise each moment's delay must have been making life difficult for Megan. Realisation also dawned upon Ashok on why was his best friend was telling them to move ahead. He realised his friend was trying to save Chloe from any unpleasant scene that might scar her innocent child's heart forever or  him the unpleasant act he simply didn't have the power to do even though like his friend he too now had realised that was the only solution. Death is the panacea for all.

After some difficulty, finally Ashok managed to make Chloe leave her 'new friend' in her uncle's care and move ahead with him to the waiting arms of her mom with a promise to see him soon. They were almost three quarters way down when yet another howl pierced the silence of dawn to wake up all the sleeping nature around them. First ray of sunlight falling upon the headless bodies had turned them into ashes leaving just a dark spot on the ground. As a mark of respect and honour, he pushed the sword into the ground where the body's head would have been. As Mukesh started his quick descent to meet up with his friend on the way down, he realised the past was well and truly behind them now as a new future awaited them.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Unfinished Business

Prashant was a bit anxious today for this coming meeting. Smoking his Classic Milds at a nervous speed on the stairs of his office from where he can look down upon the parking lot. A self-made man, he headed the digital marketing division of his company started in zest about a decade back with his friends. Today they command a good position in the market so there is simply no need for Prashant to feel this nervous energy before a meeting that he hasn't felt in a long time. Not even last week for the meeting to pitch for a leading FMCG giant. And today's meeting was actually professionally insignificant, atleast from their side. Interestingly what set the ball rolling for this one was another chance meeting during that last week's pitch.

His chain of thoughts was suddenly broken when he saw this Ola cab stop at their parking. Right on time he thought, his wait was finally over, a wait to resolve some unfinished business, that he has been doing for over 2 decades and not just today! Once again the edginess in his temper today came back; he needed to really get hold of himself. He was not a school kid or a teenager to be acting like this. He actually did not know if it was really her in the cab or her at all, just a guess from the time.  He threw away the cigarette ignored for a while, still burning well into its butt.

He went inside his office and told his junior that someone was coming to meet him, so bring her to the meeting cabin once she arrives. After a few splashes of water on the face, he felt ready both inside and outside to meet this almost stranger. But that composure changed when she entered the cabin and looked at him with those same deep eyes sans the anger and tears he last remembered. Even before the introduction was made, in his heart Prashant knew that the old classmate he incidentally met during that last week meeting, told him the truth. This was Anubhuti, another classmate of his but a little more than that, best friends, his crush, perhaps love too had he really known the meaning of the word at that age. But whatever names the relationship you want to give, she was the one he had an unfinished business since long and that is why this meeting today was so important to him. She might not remember him today but he remembered everything that happened between them till the last incident that changed everything forever - as their handholding had ended so did their friendship.

Prashant would've gone deep into his thought had Anubhuti not broken it with her introduction. She was senior manager in a leading content marketing platform, that was after this leading FMCG company for their profitable business. She thought that the deal was secure as she had met an old classmate in the communication department there. But then he told her that they had appointed a digital communication agency and they will only decide about going ahead with their platform if they find the agency purposeful and they will only deal with them afterwards. So here she was meeting the head-digital marketing to explain the platform and its benefits. But what she didn't know was that there was an ulterior motive to this meeting too. Their mutual friend in the company Karun knew about their friendship and had recognised them both while meeting them. So when he told Prashant about her, he was very eager to meet her and it was decided that this meeting would be set up like this.

As her presentation rolled on, Prashant’s thoughts kept going back to their school days. They were both good at studies since kindergarten, and yet enjoyed games and recreational activities equally. It wasn't as if they only spent time with each other, they had their own friend's circle amongst their respective genders. Afterall this was still mid 90s and a boy and girl seen constantly together was scandalous to many. But coming from open-minded families they never really had any hitch about being friends with opposite gender, be it with each other or others. With time though they had grown accustomed to each other more than anyone else, from sharing tiffin in the group to going back home together. His house was on the way to hers, just a block away. In primary school they had the same ‘Dai-ma’ taking them back home with other kids on the way. The practice had continued even after there was no ‘Dai-ma’’ or other students accompanying them now that they were in junior school.

Anubhuti broke his wandering thoughts once again, as she asked him a question on what she was just explaining, thinking he was not really paying attention, a classic case when a customer is simply not interested. But Prashant had already done his background research on the product and answered it to her satisfaction that he understood what she was explaining. Once again this took Prashant back to those days when due to his distracted nature and slow handwriting he missed class notes and he would go to her house almost every evening to copy them from her. An exasperated Anubhuti seeing him being distracted and slow would herself take up the copy and copy the notes for him, so they could just get on with some play before it became dark and he had to go home with his aunt downstairs talking to her mom. More than her though this evening ritual had become an irritation for the boys group Prashant was part of. He would miss their evening cricket and football matches and they really started teasing him for his friendship with her. After all even though liberalisation had opened the economy for a few years now, minds of people were still closed about a girl and boy being close friends. Murmuring taunts of P loves A could be heard in the school corridors whenever they met or just stood nearby coincidentally. Even his best friend Pradeep who wholeheartedly supported them had actually indicated that he at times felt left out, specially when he would share more food with her in his tiffin and not him!!!

After completing her presentation, Anubhuti asked him if he found the product interesting and how would he like to proceed further. At this Prashant realised, that even before he had gathered his thoughts on how to deal with their unfinished business, this meeting had come to an end. Now the nervous energy before the meeting was again back in Prashant. Despite being a communication professional for over a decade, suddenly opening up and talking at a personal level was not his forte. He tried stalling her stay by apologising for not offering her coffee or tea before and asked if she would like one and they can discuss some nitty-gritty though he had got everything completely. But she politely refused as she was not really big into drinking tea-coffee and also had a personal commitment approaching. But she said would be happy to discuss way forward or any doubts he had over email if he needed time to sort his mind out. Prashant realised that she was actually in some hurry but also that his lack of concentration had miffed her. He realised she hadn't really changed much after all these years, still very perceptive about others thoughts. She could specially read him like her text books and yes getting irritated easily was something of a weakness they both shared. Both these qualities perhaps were instrumentals in what eventually happened between them.

With time he had grown more attracted towards sports as with many boys of that age and he slipped in rankings, no more 1-2 between them anymore. She held on to being top of the class almost unchallenged then. But that didn't really bother him, atleast not more than the fact that now in junior school class they couldn't sit together due to difference in roll numbers and sitting arrangements between boys and girls in the class. But whenever he got to spend time with her it made him really happy, he even enjoyed playing girly games with her just like the sports he played with the boys. Memories of games they played brought a silly smile to Prashant's face even today. As little kids they played so many scenarios of husband-wife with her toy kitchen set and his bag, of course they had grown over those with time but there still was an unexplained intimacy in their games like antakshari even when they played among group of friends.

By now Anubhuti was rather frustrated, she had been standing silly before this guy with her hands extended for a parting handshake and he was lost in his own world. She withdrew her hand and said a semi polite bye; thinking to herself, clearly this was their last meeting. Even if they do get this client, of which the chances she thought were slim, she would request TL to assign some other manager to this account. She wouldn't be put through such disdain once again, big client or small. How ironical it was that when she first saw him, she actually felt she knew him, a long lost friend perhaps he reminded her of. It was now the turn for her chain of thoughts being broken when he called her standing from his desk.

Prashant realised this was his last chance, if nothing but of just a closure for what had happened between them all those years ago. Things for which he felt truly sorry, and since years he has been trying to find her just so he can get that one chance of redemption. So to prolong their time together, Prashant asked her if he could accompany her downstairs till she gets a cab or something as he was going down as well to get a new pack of cigarettes. Although she said it was not at all necessary as her ride was already there, she did not object to him walking down with her, opening doors for her with complete civility and attentiveness missing so far.

For Prashant, his birthday was never something he really wanted to celebrate in a big way, only 3-4 close friends, including Anubhuti were invited at his home with his family celebrating it all together. That year though leading up to his birthday, things were not very bright, they had grown further distant somehow. Half yearly results saw Prashant slip beyond top 10, and the taunts regarding them together among peers had grown sharper. What was worst is that he felt these things had made her cold towards him and that made him bitter. However, as his birthday drew near he invited her as always and she too accepted happily. For once he thought things would be better between them from now on.

But as things turned out that birthday and the day after, it ended up being the worst, one that changed many things in his life, including a resolve to never celebrate his birthday ever again. That day the weather like his mood had turned cloudy and gloomy and things became worst as the day rolled on. The drizzling that had started since morning kept making return appearances and that made it difficult for his friends to appear for his birthday. What was worst for him that even Anubhuti hadn't come who lived the closest. It was almost 8 o'clock, late even for ending such a party in those days and he hadn't even cut the cake despite everyone in his family asking him to. Finally he had lost all patience and just went out to call her from her house. It was big step as a kid his age going alone out at that late time, but he did not stop for anyone as tears and anger threatened to spill out.

It felt like a lightning strike when upon reaching her doorstep he found the door locked. He felt betrayed, she had gone out but not for his birthday, it was not that she got stuck in rain. Atleast she could've shown up just for a minute when she was going out with her family, he thought, but no why would she waste her time. The idea of her giving no importance to him broke barriers of his anger. Just as he would've made a fool of himself by doing something rash in the middle of the road, his best friend Pradeep's hand was on his shoulder calling his name, saying sorry that he got stuck with rain and muddy road.

Prashant was shaken out of his reverie finally by Anubhuti saying her ride was here. Shocked he realised they had already reached the building gate and a Honda City car was approaching them, driven by a smart looking guy of their age. Anubhuti smiled at the guy and turned to Prashant and said thanks for your time Prashant, you need not worry now as my husband is here to pick me. Even though we did not reach a deal today, look forward to a positive outcome of our meeting. With that she opened the passenger side door and sat in the car that had already pulled up before them.

As they drove away a stunned Prashant realised he had blown away his chance of closing the unfinished business just like in all those days till their school session was over after the fateful next day of his birthday. That day he had cornered Anubhuti at the first chance he got and had harshly asked what was so important for her that she missed his birthday. He thought it was her ego that was coming in between them, while infact it was his own bruised one that was making him so angry to notice that she was already tensed about something. He didn't even wait for her reply, and slapped her across her face – a slap that had come from sheer frustration and anger. It was first time he hit a girl and that too Anubhuti. She stood stunned; her beautiful eyes that always had expressed joy of her heart only had tears of hurt, anger and disgust in them. Seeing this change was the first strike for him, what came next were her words that cut him deep. She said, listen Prashant, I don't think we can be friends anymore. You have broken everything. There is no need to worry about attending each other's birthday anymore, as let us not call each other for them. No need to come to my house anymore, I won't bother you either. Saying this she stormed out of the empty class and school. Somewhere deep down Prashant regretted slapping her, the guilt of it still pained him and made him promise to himself never to hit a girl again But that time his ego didn't let him go after her or apologize or talk to her in days to come. His ego didn't even let him go towards her house for a long time.

As the holidays progressed, he started missing her. The feeling of guilt also crept up but not enough still to overcome his ego and allow him to go to her house and talk to her. But one day his aunt brought news that broke the barriers of his ego. Anubhuti's family had moved out of town as her father got transferred somewhere. She was surprised to know that they didn't even meet once before going away and Prashant was clueless about all this. Hearing this Prashant ran out of house like mad only stopping before her doorstep. This time there was an even bigger lock on the door, indicating a permanency to her absence.

That night after his father came home for his weekend and Prashant was lying on bed with him, he told him everything that had happened as his father was more of a friend than a strict father and he could speak anytime anything with him. His father listened to him patiently as always, he was soothing in his approach but did reprimand him for his behaviour. In the end he asked, do you love her? Prashant was still much young to realise the true meaning of that word, but through his emotional turmoil he felt that if his father said so then it must be it. He assured him that he will help him find her if she didn't contact him, and once they were of age, he will arrange their marriage. A flutter of hope that those words had kindled in him remained unfulfilled till today. His father had died much earlier than he came of age, just about a year after this incident. The hope had over time turned into a deep regret that he had lived all these years.

It wasn’t as if Prashant stopped living or he never fell for a girl once again. But he never stopped his quest to find that one chance to meet Anubhuti and express his regret for what he happened between them. But today when the chance had finally come, he blew it once again. The rekindled hope of closing an unfinished business and seeking redemption after so many years had finally died forever.

Monday, January 1, 2018

नया साल मुबारक।

आज फिर वक़्त हमें उसी दोराहे पर लाया है,
जहां कुछ छूटता है, कुछ मिलने के वादे के साथ।

बारह कागजों के जो पुलिंदे हमने सजाये थे,
वो कटके बिखरने को हैं, घड़ी के हाथ।
हाँ, एक और नया पुलिंदा तैयार है, चंद कागजों और कई कसमों के साथ।

मगर इस दोराहे पर तो हर बार यूँही आके मिलते हैं,
कुछ ख्वाब, कुछ उम्मीदों,  कुछ वादों के साथ,
जो बदल गये टूटे, अधूरी, झूठे अल्फ़ाज़ों में,
उगते सूरज और ढलते चाँद के साथ।

फिर से तैयार हैं हम वक़्त का एक और सफर तय करने को,
अपने वजूद को तारीखों का मोहताज करने को,
हाथों में लेकर जाम, इस घड़ी के नाम, आप दोस्तों के साथ।।

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

रंग बदलते हैं! (Colors Change)

किसी को पसन्द हरा तो किसी को केसरिया, छुरे पे मगर सबके धार है तेज़,

नापसन्द है उन्हें बस मेरा सफ़ेद कुर्ता, लाल रंग से वो चाहते हैं इसे रंगना।

शुक्र है लहू पे रंग कोई चढ़ता नहीं, वरना बदल देते उसे भी वो मेरे नाम पर,

अस्पतालों में होता ये नया तरीका खून के मिलान का।

किसी को नापसन्द है मेरा खाना तो किसी को मेरा पहनावा,

होती है मेरी लाशों का ढ़ेर लगाकर उनकी संस्कृती की रक्षा।

किताबें वही हैं, बातें वही हैं, बस ऊपर जिल्द का रंग है बदलता,

मुझ काफ़िर का सर कलम करना ही है हर धर्म की शिक्षा।

कहते है विकास हुआ है मानव समाज का,

मगर उन्हें अब भी किसी की रोटी तो किसी की बेटी छीनने से फ़ुरसत नहीं।

दौर है आजकल पुरस्कारों का, किसी को देने का तो किसी को लौटाने का,

बस मेरे हाथ आया है ये पत्र तिरस्कार का।

कौन ग़लत, कौन सही, ये प्रश्न बहुत मुश्किल नहीं,

युगों से खिंची है सुर्ख़ लकीरें मेरे पटल पर, इसके जवाब में।

पूर्वजोँ की शक्ल में आँख, कान और मुँह बंद कर दिए मेरे,

स्वतंत्रता बस नाम की, गयी नहीं कहीं मनसिक परतंत्रता।

हर प्रश्न पे शब्द पत्थरों के मानिंद फेंके गए मुझपे कई हर ओर से,

सहिष्णुता के नाम पर है व्याप्त, ये कैसी असहिष्णुता।।

Saturday, August 29, 2015

राखी (Raakhi)

प्रभात के लिए तो राखी का त्यौहार ख़ास था। उसे हमेशा से ही राखी का बड़ा शौक था, जब भी वो अपने दोस्तों को इस दिन रखी बँधवाते देखता तो उसे भी दिल करता की उसकी भी कोई बहन होती जो उसे भी रखी बाँधती। 
पंद्रह साल पहले इसी राखी के दिन आख़िरकार उसका ये इंतेज़ार ख़त्म हुआ। तब से हर साल उसके लिए तो जैसे इस दिन की ये रीत बन गयी थी के वो अपनी बहन के लिए गिफ्ट्स के साथ-साथ राखी भी खुद ही खरीद लाता था। हर बार की तरह दुकान पे दुकानदार हो या रखी खरीदने आई बहनें, सभी उसे हैरानी से देखते, मगर प्रभात को कौन क्या सोचता इसकी सुध ही कहाँ होती आज के दिन। 

खरीदारी कर घर की ओर वापिस चलते-चलते प्रभात को पंद्रह साल पहले के वो दिन याद आ गये जब उसे लगा के जैसे भगवान ने उसकी सभी प्रार्थनाओं का फल दे दिया हो। उन दिनों उसकी माँ की तबीयत कुछ खराब चल रही थी तो पिताजी उन्हे डॉक्टर के पास ले गये। शाम जब प्रभात की माँ घर आई तो वो तुरंत उनसे लिपट गया और पूछने लगा आख़िर उन्हे क्या हुआ? उसकी माँ  ने उसे बताया की तेरे पिताजी कल रिपोर्ट लेने जायेंगे और डॉक्टर से पूछ आएँगे तब बताउंगी। अगले दिन प्रभात इसी बात से परेशान रहा के न जाने उसकी माँ को क्या हो गया था। शाम को जब पिताजी ऑफीस से आए डॉक्टर से मिलते हुए तो एक बार तो उसका दिल किया की वो सीधे उन्ही से पूछ ले. मगर प्रदीप को उसके पिताजी का गुस्सा मालूम था, बिना बात कोई भी सवाल-जवाब और ज़्यादा बात-चीत उन्हे पसंद नहीं थी। 

रात के खाने के बाद जब सोने से पहले माँ प्रभात के कमरे मे आई तो उसने तुरंत पूछा के डॉक्टर ने पिताजी से क्या कहा? माँ ने मुस्कुराते हुए उसके सिर पे हाथ फेरा और बोला, बेटा तुझे बड़ा मन था न के तेरी भी एक बहन हो, तेरे पिताजी को रिपोर्ट्स देख डॉक्टर ने कहा तेरी बहन आने वाली है। ये बात सुनते ही प्रभात की तो सारी नींद ही उड़ गयी, वो खुशी से उछलने-कूदने लगा। किसी तरह उसकी माँ ने उसे शांत कराया के इतनी रात शोर करने से उसके पिताजी की नींद खराब होगी और बिना बात उसकी पिटाई हो जाएगी। 

प्रभात ये सब सोचते-सोचते जल्द ही अपने घर के दरवाज़े पर पहुँच गया, वैसे भी वो कौन सा बहोत दूर गया था।  सबकुछ तो उसे मोहल्ले की दुकानो पे ही मिल गया था।  राखी, चॉक्लेट,और नया मोबाइल हेडफोन, सब समान संभाल के प्रभात ने डोरबेल बजाया। उसने माँ को पहले ही बोल रखा था, दरवाज़ा वो ही खोले। यूँ तो उसकी बहन को पता ही था के सुबह-सुबह वो कहाँ निकला है, फिर भी वो गिफ्ट्स उसे पहले से दिखाना नहीं चाहता था, सर्प्राइज़ एफेक्ट का मज़ा तो अलग ही होता है। 

घर का दरवाज़ा खुलते ही प्रभात की नज़र उसकी माँ के चहरे पे पड़ी, उस पल दो पल में वक़्त कुछ देर ठिठका और फिर पंद्रह साल पहले पहुँच गया। 

वो पहली राखी थी जिस दिन प्रभात यूँ बाजार से खरीदारी कर घर वापिस आया था। उसकी माँ कुछ दिन पहले से हॉस्पिटल मे थी पिताजी के साथ। प्रभात तो बस इसी इंतेज़ार में था के कब वो लोग घर वापिस आएँगे उसकी बहन के साथ। उसने तो ये भी ठान लिया था के इसबार वो रखी मिस नही करेगा, कुछ दिन इधर-उधर ही तो होंगे तो क्या हुआ आख़िर अब उसकी भी बहन है। यही सोच वो बहन के लिए खिलौने और राखी लाने सुबह ही निकल पड़ा था। 

घर के अंदर आते ही प्रभात को उसके पिताजी नज़र आए, तो उसकी तो जैसे खुशी का बाँध टूट ही गया। राखी के दिन ही उसे बहन मिल गयी, अब तो उसका नाम भी वो माँ से कह के राखी ही रखेगा, पिताजी चाहे कुछ भी कहें। दौड़ के वो अपने माँ-पिताजी के कमरे में गया अपनी बहन से मिलने और उसके लिए लाए खिलौने दिखाने। 

मगर प्रभात को क्या पता था के पिताजी को उसकी बहन के नाम पे ऐतराज़ हो ना हो, मगर उसके होने पे ऐतराज़ ज़रूर था. पंद्रह सालों से प्रभात की राखियों और गिफ्ट्स का इंतेज़ार उसकी बहन नहीं, उसकी माँ की सूनी नज़रें ही करती है।

Roman Script: 

Prabhat ke liye to Raakhi ka tyohaar khaas tha. Use humesha se hi Rakhi ka bada shauk tha, jab bhi wo apne doston ko is din rakhi bandhwate dekhta to use bhi dil karta ki uski bhi koi bahan hoti jo use bhi rakhi bandhti.

Pandrah saal pahle isi Rakhi ke din akhirkar uska ye intezaar khatam hua. Tabse har saal uske lie to jaise is din ki ye reet ban gayi thi ke wo apni behan k liye gifts ke sath-sath rakhi bhi khud hi khareed lata tha.  Har bar ki tarah dukaan pe dukandaar ho ya rakhi khareedne ayi aur behne sabhi use hairani se dekhte, magar Prabhat ko kon kya sochta iski sudh hi kahan hoti aaj ke din.

Khareedari kar ghar ki or wapis chalete-chalte Prabhat ko pandrah saal pahle ke wo din yaad agaye jab use laga ke jaise bhagwan ne uski sari prarthanao ka fal de dia ho. Undino uski maa ki tabiat kuch kharaab chal rahi thi to pitaji unhe doctor ke pas gaye. Sham jab Prabhat ki maa ghar ayi to wo turant unse lipat gaya aur puchne laga akhir unhe kya hua? Prabhat ki maa ne use bataya ki tere pitaji kal report lene jaynge aur doctor se puch ayenge to bataungi. Agle din Prabhat isi baat se pareshaan raha ke ja jane uski maa ko kya ho gaya tha. Shaam ko jab pitaji office se aaye doctor se milte hue to ek baar to uska dil kia ki wo sidhe jake unhi se pooch le. Magar Pradeep ko uske pitaji ka gussa maloom tha, bina baat koi bhi sawal-jawab aur zyada baat-chit unhe pasand nahi thi.

Raat ke khaane ke baad jab sone se pahle maa Prabhat ke kamre me aayi to usne turant poocha ke doctor ne pitaji se kya kaha. Maa ne muskurate hue uske sir pe haath fera aur bola, beta tujhe bada man tha na ke teri bhi ek bahan ho. Tere pitaji ko reports dekh doctor ne kaha teri bahan ane wali hai. Ye baat sunte hi Prabhat ki to sari neend hi ud gayi, wo khushi se uchalne-kudne laga. Kisi tarah uski maa ne use shaant karaya ke itni raat shor karne se uske pitaji ki neend kharab hogi aur bina baat uski pitai ho jayegi.

Prabhat ye sab sochte-sochte jald hi apne ghar ke darwaze per pahuch gaya, waise bhi wo kon sa bahot door gaya tha. Sab kuch to use mohalle ki dukano pe hi mil gaya tha. Rakhi, Chocolate,aur naya mobile headphone, sab saman sambhal ke Prabhat ne doorbell bajaya. Usne maa ko pahle hi bol rakha tha, darwaza wo hi khole. Yun to uski bahan ko pata hi tha ke subah-subah wo kahan nikla hai fir bhi wo gifts use pahle se dikhana nahi chahta tha, surprise effect ka maza to alag hota hai.

Ghar ka darwaza khulte hi Prabhat ki nazar uske maa ke chahre pe padi. Us pal do pal me waqt kuch der thithka or fir pandrah saal pahle pahuch gaya.

Wo pahli rakhi thi jis din Prabhat yun bazaar se Rakhi ki khareedari kar ghar wapis aya tha. Uski maa kuch din pahle se hospital me thi pitaji ke sath. Prabhat to bas isi intezaar me tha ke kab wo log ghar wapis ayenge uski behen ke sath. Usne to ye bhi than liya tha ke isbar wo rakhi miss nahi karega, kuch din idhar-udhar hi to honge to kya hua akhir ab uski bhi bahan hai. Yahi soch wo behen ke liye khilone aur rakhi lane subah hi nikal pada tha.

Ghar ke andar ate hi use pitaji nazar aye, to uski to jaise khushi ka bandh toot hi gaya. Rakhi ke din hi use bahan mil gayi, ab to uska naam bhi wo maa se kahke Rakhi hi rakhega, pitaji chahe kuch bhi kahe. Daud ke wo apne maa-pitaji ke kamre me gaya apni behen se milne aur uske liye laye khilone dikhane.

Magar use kya pata tha uske pitaji ko uske behen ke naam pe aitraaz ho na ho, magar uske hone pe aitraaz zaroor tha. Pandrah saalon se Prabhat ki raakhio aur gifts ka intezaar uski bahan nahi, uski maa ki sooni nazrein hi karti hai.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writer’s Block

'Writer’s Block’ is the most dreaded disease for us writers. Be it a bestselling author of inspirational literature or someone selling cheap pulp fiction for a quick buck or even someone thinking himself to be a writer while his words have never seen a different set of eyes. We all fear it like a chronic disease and yet sadly all of us have to suffer from it one time or the other during our life time. Some recover from it rather quickly while some unfortunate ones suffer long and hard without a panacea in sight.

By now maybe you have understood that I am also a writer suffering from the same disease. So without going into either self-praise or self-loathing mode, let me introduce myself to you. Let’s just say I have been able to live by a decent life so far with the help of my pen (or laptop as it is the case). Along with the moolah I have also received a fair share of good words from the critics.

But as I said, big or small many of my community members past, present or most likely future too I was also not immune to the ill-fated disease. It’s been a rather irksome phase that has gone longer than I hoped for. My publisher too has raised a few alarms that I need to rectify my rather long absence from the bookshelves in the market. Even some of those not so favourable critics out there wonder when they will get the next opportunity to postmortem my next ‘literary work’ and write its obituary with much profound literary skill than the author himself.

Interestingly atleast in the initial phase my girlfriend has been the happiest or maybe only happy person for my condition. As per her own admission, it has been long since I paid her this much attention or spend more time with her than my laptop since our initial wooing and courtship period. Infact seeing her happy for a while even I started enjoying the free time and our rejuvenated romance. I even forgot my dreaded illness and perhaps thought she can again be my muse and our togetherness will ignite some creativity in me.

But like any phase in life, this short and sweet time too passed on. I withdrew to a place of solitude find the writer lost within me. But even some quality time with myself didn’t really change things much. A few more drafts in my tab or on my laptop; a few more revisits to my previous half-baked, unfinished drafts that at the time might have seemed to have potential to be literary masterpiece or chart smashing bestseller but now seemed aimless, directionless just as I myself felt now.

During this struggle to find some inspiration, spark or seed for breaking the block, I heard from somewhere about this writer living nearby. Now, don’t ask me from where or whom I heard about him as the details are rather fuzzy to me like many things these days. But this writer too seems to be suffering the same like me. I got to know that he was a really good writer, quite a few bestsellers to his name, many awards in both popular and critics’ choice categories for one so young they said. Yet now he has become a tragic hero like the protagonists in most of his works... eople whispered that he was out of his wits.

So here I am sitting before him in his study in search of my next story. No not through any plagiarism, but perhaps some inspirational spark. The seed of the idea germinated in me since I heard about him and the kinship I felt with him for he was suffering such devastating repercussions of the same disease I was suffering from, at present. He seemed to be one of those who have lost everything to it, from his flair for writing to his livelihood to his friends and dear ones. I had decided that my next story would be about the disease itself and destruction it causes through our shared experiences. I thought perhaps this interaction between us will spark something within both of us and get us both out of this mess.

Ok, before I again start rambling about this disease that has become my fulltime obsession these days let me tell you my observation about my new acquaintance before me. He was of same height and built as me but from his face he looked much older to me though I knew he was same age as myself. His eyes, the dark circle below them and his forlorn expression seem to suggest a man much more battle-scarred than me.  Funnily at that time I remembered this lady critic had suggested, once, that half of my loyal readership is due to my boy next door charms.

Anyway, this guy sitting in his chair before me, in between us on his table was his laptop that he idly touched on the keyboard or mouse-pad between taking drags from his cigarette (the same brand as mine). Perhaps these were common habits most of us modern writers I thought. These little activities were infact the only proof that he was at all awake or present here before me. Then suddenly out of the blue he starts speaking, words just keep pouring out of his heart through his mouth. As our discussions progress I discover we share more common thought processes and life experiences apart from the physical appearance and age. We both seem to share the same masked self-pride and insecurities and yes, same fear and loathing towards the ‘writer’s block’.  As we grow familiar with each other we both seem to find a new lease of creative life. A new shine in his eyes suggested he too was finally getting some new inspiration to share with his readers just as my story idea started taking a form in my mind. I was also growing impatient for putting these ideas into words. This newfound excitement we both seem to have got both of us in an overdrive. The experiences we shared have been so fruitful that words, characters and situations kept swirling in my head so much that I only became aware of my surroundings once I was in my own study sitting before my own laptop. Amazing how when you are so pre-occupied in the world inside your mind that the real world outside lose its existence.

Now I must set to work; switch on my laptop and start writing again before the damn disease again rears its ugly head. But alas! My laptop refuses to boot up, no flicker of light on its screen or even those little LEDs that indicate a laptop coming to life. I check the power, cord and everything all seem to be in place. Damn modern technology, it always deserts you when you need them the most. As all my efforts seem to go in vain I grow more frustrated. A sense of dread starts creeping up my spine. I can’t really describe what it is but am highly suspicious that it’s that rascal ‘writer’s block’ that has something to do with it. In my frustration I push my laptop, which falls on the floor from the force of my push. I fear perhaps something broke in it but outwardly it looked fine and I am running out of patience to check on it. I try to find something else. A pen and paper perhaps, going the good old traditional way. Later it can be typed out on the laptop once I get someone to repair it. But damn my luck today, I seem to have no spare paper.  All pads, diaries and notebooks are either completely devoid of any paper or full of pages with gibberish written in handwriting I fail to read. I look around my printer, near that is the paper shredder and I see so many pages either torn or shredded and thrown in the dustbin below and around it.

The feeling of panic in my spine seem to have reached my head by now and grown into a full fledged migraine attack by now. Fear and dread has gripped me like a terribly high fever from which I am shivering by now. I need to call someone to help me with something to write on immediately. Wasn't my girlfriend here just yesterday, or was it last week or last month? Where is my trusted helper who has been with me since childhood? I try to get out of my study to find them or someone or anyone  outside! But outside is from where the door seems to be locked. I keep banging it but no one answers or comes to open it. I wonder who could've closed it from outside and why? I just came in from finishing my meeting with my new fellow writer friend. I don't seem to remember closing it from the inside, let alone seeing or hearing someone closing behind me.

Damn it! That feeling of dread and extreme panic is upon me. I feel am losing grip on the ideas and words that were just a while back fully occupied my mind. I realise that the disease is back, the writer's block is upon me once again like an endless dark tunnel. I fall down on the sofa before my desk exhausted from battling this fear. The sofa is just like the one I was sitting on my new friend's study not so long ago.