My life is a Red Velvet Cake- I

Over a certain lunch in December, someone said Red Velvet Cake and by the night I had decided that I want to bake one. Before you read any further please note that I am not a sweet tooth, I am a morbid calorie counter, I have no special affection for Red Velvet Cake and my association with cooking begins and lasts with  watching Masterchef Australia every year. I simply acted on impulse because someone had recently pointed out that I never do a thing on a whim. But that is a story for another time. Right now, I want to talk about how I decided to bake a Red Velvet Cake on an impulse.

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So this was Monday midnight, when I had set myself a goal. To cook something, you need a recipe or be that skilled at cooking that multiple impulses lead you to culinary perfection. Since I fall in the former category, I began looking for a recipe. I needed a recipe that did not require eggs because my mother is a vegetarian. I found many, courtesy Pinterest and patiently read through each one of them to single out one from a blog called Gayathri’s Cook Spot. However her icing was quite an Achillean task to achieve for someone like me who displays not an iota of finesse in the kitchen. My search for a frosting recipe culminated on a recipe from Martha Stewart, which required me to whisk cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Seems easy, right; however not that easy if you have no clue as to what cream cheese is. Yes, that is how alien I was to the world of red velvet cakes. I did not know what the velvet stood for. From what Google told me, making cream cheese requires two days and I did not have two days because the things with whimsical decisions is that they vanish as swiftly as they occur.

Come Wednesday evening and I went looking for packaged cream cheese. A friend told me about a store that he believed certainly sold cream cheese. I believed otherwise because they had once given me clueless stares when I had asked for Parmesan cheese.As it turns out, they did sell cream cheese, however in a tub of the size that could easily last for two cakes. I bought that because I believe in excess and I did not have an alternative.

It was six when I walked in the kitchen. I opened the recipe on my phone, placed it on the shelf.  I took out three bowls, a cup for measurement, a cake tin, a hand beater and a couple of spoons. I took two deep breaths and contemplated if I should be getting into this. Before I could think any further, I peeked onto my phone for the first step. It said that I mix the essence and cocoa powder in one bowl, mix the flour and the baking powder in another and beat the sugar and butter in another. I measured out portions for the first two steps and mixed the ingredients. For the third, I wondered if I should opt for yellow butter or white butter. Lesson for life: never give yourself a choice Palak, because other people may rationalize between the options but you will go on to over think and you do enough of that already. Yellow butter it was in the end.

When I looked at the pictures on the blog, Gayathri seemed to have mixed butter without melting it. I followed suit. It took me two minutes to realize that this could be the downfall of this entire exercise, that there was no scope for refrigerated butter to mix with sugar, howsoever aggressively I beat them. So I let the butter rest for a couple of minutes and then tried softening it with a spoon. It took me a good half hour to beat the butter and sugar and I still wasn’t confident if it was the right consistency.

Next, I had to add curd to the butter mixture.That got me thinking, if I had enough curd or any at all. One glance at the top shelf and there was half a bowl of curd placed behind the milk container. I needed 3/4 cup of curd and I had 1/2 a cup. It was going to be 7 which meant I won’t be able to get anymore from the nearby market as well. Here is what I did, I beat the curd with a spoon for a minute and deluded myself into believing that this is enough, this is exactly what the recipe calls for. I then added the curd mixture with the beaten butter and sugar. The butter and sugar was a thick lump and I was having trouble in completing one round of mixing the curd into it. What the consistent effort of moving the hand beater gave me was red butter smeared hands, that began to slip every time I tried mixing and since I am not blessed with promising biceps, my arms began to hurt. I then took an electric blender but the blade continued to get stuck in the lump of butter.

One hour down, all I had achieved was butter on my hands, butter on the hand beater and butter on the electric blender. I wiped the butter on the mixers with my hand, washed my hands and then gave another try at it. It just wouldn’t mix. I wiped the mixer again and washed my hands. As I wiped my hands with the already crimson towel, I wanted to cry. Cry at my stupidity on believing that I could bake a cake, that too a red velvet. Cry at my stupidity on forgetting that I am not cut out for kitchen.

Enough had been done, I could not foresee any fix that would make this process easier for me. Lesson no. 2 of the day, some things are meant to be seen from afar and admired and not to be reproduced by your own hands;  Red Velvet Cake was that for me. If life was nothing but a piece of cake, then I could see nothing but trouble ahead.

On that note, I walked out of the kitchen.


Have you ever tried anything out of character? Did you succeed at it? Or did you give up on it as I did with the Red Velvet Cake.


Image has been sourced from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Presently from inside my head III

  • In one of the few interviews that I have appeared for, I was asked about my weaknesses. I had very confidently spoken about my introversion, on how I take some time in mingling with people. At that time, I would always imagine what a nightmare would it be for people to work with me. But lately I have realized I may not be that bad a colleague. Yes, I may not flash a smile at you as you begin at my office or swarm my way through your lunch table conversations. But I might come of help on that day that you are struggling, crack a joke or two in crunch hour and be a continued source of information ranging from office politics to Pokemon Go. Or maybe I am a nightmare – not the kind that haunts you for days but the one that you eventually make peace with.

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  • I am not fond of my immediate superior at work, the woman that I have been reporting to for a year now. Our mindsets don’t match and our approach to work does not form a peaceful parallel. Naturally, I have never given her a thought beyond that office space and working hours. Last year, I had discovered a dear friend at work who left a month after we started talking. In the days that followed, I had felt a void. Like you have a joke to share but you cannot see the person who’d laugh the most with you or you are confused on a point but the person that you were least hesitant to approach is not sitting next to you. I would still reach my friend through a text or a call. But come to think of it, my superior has been working here for 5 years. She has seen many people come and leave, some of whom she must have enjoyed working with or conversing to. She talks lesser than she used you to last year and hers may not be a very pleasant situation at work.
  • I was one of the many unfortunate people who tried participating in Xiaomi’s 2nd anniversary flash sale yesterday. I managed to press the buy now button which led me to the Xiaomi Mi5 product page. I selected the model and the page continued to load for over ten minutes before I hit refresh. The app displayed the usual product page with a discounted price of 22,999. A friend told me that his app displayed out of stock the second it was 2 pm and that the browser’s timing was 2 second behind. On reaching the internet, I found many such stories where people with as fast as a 50 mbps connection failed to grab the coveted Rupee one deals. Some people verified the MIUI ids displayed in the winner’s list and as it turns out quite a many do not exist. Out of the hundreds of comments that I had read only two people claimed that they were successful in buying a power bank. The admin of Mi India’s facebook page continued stating that the stocks flew off in .01 second and there were other promising discounts that people should have a look at. But my point is, if that is what was meant to be the USP of the 2nd anniversary celebrations then why not be upfront about it. Why not publicize the discounts in the first place rather than putting up a farce in the face of a flash sale and tricking people. I know, rupee 1 is far too good to be true but that is how naive I am, I believe in good things and giveaways. I would have liked my belief to be upheld, even if it was for someone else.

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  • As a child, I may not have foreseen what I was going to become when I grow up but I had foreseen myself to be financially independent. I have always enjoyed saving whatever came to me as pocket money and then spending a part of that savings into a thing I sought to own. I am 23 and I am not earning. I am studying. I believe it takes a different brand of patience to be 23 and to not be earning. To be doing what I am not very confident about and to be believing every day, that this will fulfill at least one of my childhood dreams- being financially independent. I look at all the things that I can do, the places that I can be to, the products I could buy and how little have I earned in these years. I have not been raised in deprivation, my parents will happily buy me anything that I desire, I have a good amount of savings but right now I desire to freewheel with money and freewheeling with my parents’ money  will tantamount to one thing- guilt.

P.S. I think I am coming to enjoy writing in an unrestricted fashion because this lets me put whatever’s going on in my head to paper howsoever varied the thoughts may be individually. What do you enjoy more, writing with a sense of direction or carefree rants like this one?

Karaoke and Kinesis

Chand si mehbooba ho meri kab

Aisa maine socha tha

Hann tum bilkul waisi ho

Jaise maine socha tha

He sang to me as I scooted inside the gates of The Grand Dragon, Leh. His lips inching closer to my helmet clad face, his breath lingering on  my neck, his grasp slightly firm on my waist and his voice solemn, more solemn than with any other song that he had sang earlier. His eyes sincere as they met mine and his embrace reeked affection as he held me in his arms and shrieked gaily, “Yayyyy, we made it alive.” And then he withdrew, and then he was at the reception and then inside their room tossing his shoes in the air and then he slept. And she simply looked on, replaying the moment, the last song in her head.

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Many many moons ago, Pranav had perched himself on the balcony of their honeymoon suite and sang for me this song. He had taken me in his arms and said, “I know this is not Kashmir but I promise that a day will come when you will have your dream. Perched atop a hill, I will nestle you closer and sing to you this song.”I had laughed then, arguing that my dream is not a five minute sequence from a Yash Raj movie. He had countered me, “If not yours, then this is mine, both a dream and a promise to you.”

It was his idea that we sing songs to keep ourselves engaged in the journey and so w had. He had sung a lot of old romantic songs, particularly Mukesh‘s because he was such an oldie with music. No tadak bhadak, just raw emotions and melody. I was enjoying the choices he was making with the songs. Because they were beautiful songs and beautiful songs are meant to be relished with every lyric. But never during those four hours, had an emotion stirred in my heart because at the end of the day, they were mere words strung together for recreation. Until he sung the last one and a box in the back of my mind flipped open, the memory resurfaced and a riddle took siege on me. Was it simply a song or was it a message that he was hoping to deliver in the guise of a song?

When they were getting to know each other better, Pranav would often remark what a nightmare must it be to born with my brain. The kind of brain that is always looking out for symbols. Every time I would over analyse a fact, a gesture an occurrence, he would chastise me saying that not everything is a code for you to decrypt, some things can be taken at face value. But I would make a mental assertion that maybe it is a code after all, a jigsaw puzzle to be brought to order. How ironic is it, that today he had played on what he once deemed nightmarish to earn a second lease on our marriage. That after all, I had left no doors for him to reach to me but through a code. Talk about friction, someone.

What if it was only was a song, an innocent song that was being read into excessively. Among the many things that we have both forgotten over time, the promise could have been one. When we had begun on the path of estrangement, he would tell me in the middle of arguments that my knack of reading between lines has deluded me into misjudging his actions and him; that it is this that will cost us our relationship. Come to think of it now, if it is that, what comes as natural as a reflex to me, then it is his words that hold veracity in the end. And this night has been nothing short of being a futile exercise in the hope of holding onto a relationship that I have rendered dysfunctional.

When did my life come to sound like Clouds in my Coffee? Deep poetic words ought to be liked on pages not begin to parallel your life. If only, I could stop thinking of this song, that would ease the muddling in my head. Once I had read on Quora, that the trick to stop singing a song was to think of how it ends. But before I can reach the end, I get stuck on,

Iss duniya mein kaun tha aisa

Jaisa maine socha tha

Haan tum bilkul waisi ho

Jaisa maine socha tha

 


This is the 11th chapter of the story I had begun to write as a part of AtoZ Challenge. To make more sense of it, hop onto the page Anniversary and Kashmir.

 

Just in time

I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep.

Screw that, I want to sleep.

God, why can I not sleep.

Pranav’s brain was buzzing with continuous calls for sleep, “The last time I felt so helpless with sleep was in that wretched Economics class in 12th standard. I would sit and yawn incessantly during the entire class and imagine if there was a sleep suppressing device consisting of two small sticks that you could fit in between the eyelids. The sticks would hold the eyelids apart, thereby preventing them from meeting and making it difficult for a person to sleep. Fifteen years hence, and there is still no sign of such an equipment. God, what would I have not given to sleep then. God, what would I not give to sleep right now. Why am I never able to do what I want to do? Why do I always have to turn a blind eye to what I desire?”

“Pranav, be a man and let this be an exception. Be a man and follow your heart. Carpe diem, if all that you yearn for is sleep then you will sleep, right here right now.”

Pranav closed his eyes. He could feel his mind come to a blank. He was coming to enjoy the ease but his relaxed stance had let the motorcycle freewheel ahead. As the road turned slightly, his helmet collided with Namrata’s and  they were going to fall. He opened his eyes just in time to take control of the bike and save them from tripping. He braked and parked in a corner to catch his breath and recollect his thoughts.

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Namrata got off the bike, removed her helmet and as she stretched her arms casually she told him,”Pranav, I know that there must have been a lot of occasions lately when all you must have wanted is to get rid of me; and if killing me is how you have decided to achieve that, I just want you to know that I don’t want to die in an accident especially not so far from home, especially in a secluded valley where my corpse will rot unattended for hours before a living soul realizes of my having passed to a higher abode.”

“Namrata, can you save the speech please. I did not intend to kill you, I just lost hold of the brakes for a minute, that’s it.”, Pranav rattled back at her.

“Don’t lie Pranav, I know you dozed for some seconds and you were knocked out of it when your brain cells registered that we are going to trip and not very pleasantly.”, Namrata asserted with confidence.

“That is absolute crap. You are sitting behind me, how can you say for certain that I was about to sleep.”, he argued.

Namrata smiled, she tucked a hair strand behind her ears and began explaining to him, “Pranav, you have a horrible hand at automobiles but what you have demonstrated in the past fifteen minutes with the Royal Enfield is even shameful for your grotesque riding skills. Now, renting a bike to Leh was your idea, so you’d commit your life to validate this idea; which means you should not be riding this bad. But you are, so that means something is meddling with your attention. On a usual day your brain is occupied with three things, work, food and sleep. You haven’t thought of work since the day we flew out of Delhi, you aren’t hungry because we just stopped at a dhaba an hour ago, which means this most definitely has to be sleep. You haven’t slept in the past three days, because we had an early flight, the next night you woke up at around 4am, the next night we had an argument and you spent most part of the night in some part of the hotel I know nothing of and then last night you woke up early to arrive at this amazing plan. All of this strengthens my theory that your brain wants you to sleep and you obliged to its demand.”

Pranav exasperated at her well founded theory, let out in a hurry, “You’d give anything to prove that riding a bike to Leh was a bad idea.”

“You think I need to voluntarily prove it. This was an exciting idea Pranav but not in your context. You abhor riding/driving and for you to ride a motorcycle from Pahalgam to Leh, for eight hours straight, on an uphill road, that does not sound anything short of torture to me.”, she told him.

Pranav was left with no energy to contest her theory. He sat down on the road and with his face between his hands, he agreed, “You are right.”

“About you having dozed off or this being a torture?”, she asked him.

“Both.”, he answered.

“Haha, I knew it.”, she cried out.

“Do you really think this is the time for your evil laughter and that ‘I told you so’ expression.”, he asked her.

“You dragged me out of bed at 5 to pursue a plan based on a 3 second impulse. I think I have earned a minute to relish my victory.”, she replied with an air of pride.

Pranav shook his head in disbelief. How important is it for her to be right, he thought to himself and called out”What a kid you are, Nam?”

“That coming from the person who drew up the most childish plan in the history of mankind.”, she teased him.

“Now that’s an exaggeration.”, he said.

“Who said I believed in subtlety and accuracy.”, she reasoned.

“You can take pride in your foresight for the rest of your life but right now we have to decide what we do next.”, he reminder her of the problem at hand.

“We have to keep moving ahead.”, she articulated without a doubt.

“But I can’t do this anymore.”, he informed her.

“But you have to.”,she stated matter of factly.

“At the cost of killing us both, do you want me to do that.”, he stated in a more matter of factly tone.

“Pranav you can’t chicken out of this plan in the middle of nowhere.”, she argued.

“We are in Dras, we can stay here for the night.”, he suggested.

“Do you know a place where we can put up for the night?”, she inquired.

“We can look for one.”, he replied.

“Another 3 second impulse, is that? What if we do not find a decent accommodation, we will have to revert to the original plan, go to Leh. So why take a detour?”, she contended.

“I cannot ride Nam; the odds that I will die with the monotony of riding are far more than the odds of dozing off while riding. Not that the latter is not lethal but the former has a more venomous factor.”, he explained to her with a tone of exhaustion in his voice.

“Wait a minute, why don’t you ride us ahead.”, he proposed.

“Absolutely not.”, she answered.

“Why not? You love roads, you enjoy every twist they throw at you and at one point you fancied taking an exotic bike trip.”, he insisted.

“That was 25 when I nurtured such fancies, much before my back began giving up on me in the absence of proper support.”, she explained.

“Oh Namrata, don’t present yourself as a 66 year old. You know you can do this and you know we have no alternative and you know it will be a delight for you.”, he said with conviction.

“Okay but only because you have left us no other options. But there are two conditions.”, she announced.

“What?”, he asked her.

“You cannot sleep and you have to keep me entertained.”, she told him.

“As long as I rid myself of riding the beast, everything is fine by me. Even not sleeping and even brainstorming what can I bring to the table for your entertainment”, he told her.

“Sounds like we have a deal then.”, she voiced out as she smiled and fastened the helmet on her head.

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Presently from inside my head- II

  • Have you been on Pinterest, seen all the DIY crafts and been excited to try them? I feel that, however I had never been remotely inclined towards anything that my crafts teacher made me do in school. It always seemed an inconvenience to me. Perhaps because she would ask me to get a poplin cloth or a matty cloth or some other cloth, and try embroidering a flower on that and then a leaf and then a climber. But did she ever ponder, what use would that cloth be of to me. Nothing. However, I can make use of a lot of things from Pinterest, flowers and fairy lights in upcycled bulbs, centrepieces from wine bottles, photo monogram or any of the mason jar crafts. Even if they may not qualify as being useful at least they will look stunning in the living room and that supersedes all.

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  • Don’t you think that they should just stop telecasting Friends? I love friends, I have my favorites too, ‘The one where no one’s ready‘, ‘The one without the skiing trip‘, ‘The one where Ross got high‘, ‘The one where everybody finds out‘ and most episodes from the first six seasons. However, from Zee Studio to Star World to Warner Bros. and now to Romedy Now, television has compulsively fed us with images from the lives of twenty somethings trying to survive in New York to the point that I am no longer fascinated to see them. I don’t laugh at certain jokes, the laughter track irks me now and I have analysed it to an extent that their world appears unreal, unattainable, something about it that cannot be reproduced given our economy and hostility.
  • When we are young, we constantly repeat to ourselves and others that we will not change. But I have changed and my perceptions have changed. I used to read a blog on Tumblr. Any post that I would read felt as it was my own life, my understanding of reality presented in better poetic words. I read the blog after some three months today and every thing seemed alien. I could no longer feel the resounding appeal of her work, I could no longer sympathize with her agony. So I say, I have changed. And this is simply one example of the many stances that have shifted lately.
  • Often when someone approaches us and bares their raw emotions to us, they don’t demand from us to make sense of the chaos. They simply want us to listen. I am not denying that some people appreciate being led to the solution, likewise some people want to clear their head so that they can unearth the solutions themselves. So, the next time someone wants to talk, do not draw out a pros and cons analysis of their situation, just listen, they’ll figure out the rest themselves.

Impulse

“Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam. Nam, wake up. Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam please wake up.”, Pranav utters, shaking her forearm lightly.

“Hmmmm. Shush.”, she tells him covering her face with duvet.

“Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam, Nam.”, he goes on calling out.

“Hush. Go away. Go far away.”, Namrata says irritably.

“Nam, Nam, Nam, you have to wake up.”, he repeats to her.

“Pranav, what is wrong with you. We just slept some time ago.”, she asks him.

“Nam, it has been four hours, four whole hours, since we slept. Please get up, please. Nam, Nam, Nam, no don’t sleep again, we have to leave Nam, we have to leave right now.”, he tells her.

“Hmmmmm. It’s not even morning yet. What’s the rush? Let me sleep.”, she replies.

“The sun’s going to be up any minute now. If we have to go where I have decided for us to go, we will have to leave now. So, get your lazy bum off the bed and get going.”, he tells her with a sense of authority.

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“Firstly, I am not a lazy bum. Secondly, what place is this that we are going to? Thirdly, wherever this place must be, the roads that lead to it will not change locations like the staircases in Hogwarts. So whenever we leave, we will reach just in time. So get your head off of me and let me sleep in peace.”, she snaps at him as she sits down with her head leaning against the headboard.

“Nam, I have a plan, for the plan to work, we have to leave now.”, he states to her.

“Why did you not tell about this plan last night?”, she questions him.

“Because, I had not figured it out until last night.”, he answers her.

“Then, when exactly did you arrive at this plan, in your sleep? No wonder it sounds so absurd right at the start.”, she articulates sarcastically.

“Always have the energy to ridicule my plans, don’t you? But, I am not going to give you the pleasure of ruining what I have thought for us. I had decided on this with a lucid mind. I have been up for half an hour. I was walking outside, reading random articles stored in my Pocket. One of it was about the 3 second rule, if one does not follow their gut instinct in 3 seconds, then they end up doing what social conditioning dictates and pass on on what they really want to do. Then, I was walking outside, thinking about what should we be doing today and an idea struck me and I decided that this is it. This is what I want do and I shall do just that.”, he explains to her.

Namrata grabs his arm, moves slightly from where she is sitting and says, “Pranav, sit down, I believe the rum is messing with your brain. You need to sleep.”

“Nam, I am fine, my brain is at its functional best and I have a sound plan. The only thing messing with me right now, is your stubbornness. You have already delayed us and trust me you will regret this later on. Go get ready now.”, he emphasizes to her.

“Okay, I just asked myself, ‘Do I want to leave right now, do I want to be a part of your amazing plan?’. My instinct said no and in the three seconds that follow, I have decided I will value what my instinct has to say. Good night Pranav. Catch you later.”, she announces to him and lies down again.

“Why do you have to argue so much?”, he asks her with helplessness building in his voice.

“Is that a question, you should be asking a lawyer? I make a living out of arguments.”, she responds with a smirk on her face.

“Fine, go sleep. I gave you ten days of my life because you decided to come to Kashmir on an impulse. But my impulse does not even one warrant day of your life. Let’s abandon my plan. You sleep, I will see what I am going to do.”, he tells her with a dismal look on his face. He gets up and starts walking towards the door.

In a minute, Namrata’s entire body tenses up.He had played the minority card. Let’s assume their marriage was a democracy, she the majority and he the minority. He’d always say like the minorities do, we are unheard on our own land, we are not cared for, in our own country. She could never think an argument on this. She knew he could be faking it but then a part of her would reason, what if he is not. What if he actually feels neglected. That is when her gut instinct triggers her to make it up to him, to do what he wants her to do.

“Wait, I am going to get ready, we will leave in fifteen minutes.”, she utters, sitting cross legged and rubbing her eyes, her face resembling that of a seven year old who has just lost all her marbles in an unexpected strike.

Pranav turns around and smiles at her meekly. He thinks to himself, ‘Look who is having the last laugh after all, the one who does not make a living out of arguments. She always melts at that one.’

How I met your mother

Dear Kids,

It was the evening of May 31st, 2004 and I was bummed. It marked the first weekend of my summer internship. I had been 97 weeks away from what everyone called Bombay and from what I called home. I was 51 weeks away of what others called becoming a BA Hons. (Economics) graduate and what I called good riddance. What Kartik had led me to believe, that weekend, “Dono bhai, club jakar bhand honge (Bro, we’d both go to the club and get pitch drunk)” and what he was delivering, “Bro, the people from my school’s book club have arranged a reunion, come along, it’s gonna be fun. The Modern girls, you’ll find them cool.”

Before you judge me as a birdwatcher, the only reason Kartik said what he said was because I didn’t read books, I knew nobody from Modern School but him and the only incentive that he could find for me were the girls. But the last thing on my mind at that time were girls, let alone a Delhi girl with a rich stroke of liner on her eyes, straight hair, accent that you could not identify with any place on the globe but Delhi and demeanor bordering on snobbery. If I was mooning over the XX chromosome in Delhi, I’d find plenty in SRCC, some who did not correspond to the description I have just laid out, some who I found exceptional, some who I looked up t. However, all with a typical vibe that Delhi-ites exuded, that made me uncomfortable, that made me feel out of the place, that stopped me from making long term associations with them. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled about the reunion.

That evening I met your mother, It wasn’t raining, she wasn’t wearing red, I wasn’t on a white horse, there were no moonlit castles and red roses, no romantic songs being played on the piano and no blue french horn. It was in a living room of a flat in Vasant Vihar cramped with people, their lit up faces and exuberant voices, notes being exchanged on books, on their lives and on others’ lives, spiked cold drinks being served in disposable cups and samosas, sandwiches and dhoklas laid out on the central table. I was sitting on the couch munching on sandwich after sandwich and mentally sorting people into pre defined categories. Then I looked at your mother, she was wearing a dark blue 3/4th sleeve T shirt with an acid washed light blue jeans and a beige scarf looped like an infinity around her neck. I was stuck at the scarf, only a demented person wears a scarf in May, in Delhi, when it is freaking 42 degrees outside; unless of course you are hiding a love bite or a vampire bite or a zombie bite or warts like Nurse Matilda. Her hair tied in a lose bun, her well rounded eyes looked sunken, as if, they were in immediate need of sleep and the perfect curve of her lips made for a captivating smile. It brought a spirit to her appearance and how she talked. But she had a air of confidence to herself, that made her look like a Miss Know it all. To me, she looked self indulgent who considered her opinion far above others. She was holding Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix which did nothing good to my opinion on her. Because the world was reading Harry Potter, it was the ‘it’ thing to do and so there she was another victim of another cultural phenomenon; ‘why cannot people do something original, at least make a decision on reading independently’, I thought to myself. Shaking my head with disappointment, I walked out to the balcony, plugged in the iPod and looked around vacantly.

It must have been thirty minutes when I returned to the living room. Everyone was seated in the center of the room for discussing that week’s read. On the arm of the couch, was your mother speaking about Harry Potter, about Hermoine unearthing Voldermort’s plan to Harry when they leave for the Ministry of Magic, about Phineas Nigellus’ words to Harry about young being judgmental of the aged, about the irony in Sirius’ words on judging a man’s character on how he treats his inferiors and ultimately befalling to his doom on account of his hostility to Kreacher, about the possibility of how differently things would have panned out had Harry discovered the mirror that Sirius had given him earlier. There was a light in her eyes, a composure on her face and passion in her words. Her voice brought me to peace. I wondered if I could achieve a tenth of her passion on the book, in anything that I do. I listened to her and felt that she was magic, magic that I did not have the words to define.

For days, I thought of her, her voice rang in my ears, the curve of her smile flashed before my eyes. I yearned to see her, to listen to her speak calmly but to speak with a spirit. It was October when I witnessed the magic again. It was the departmental fest and she was participating in the Paper Presentation. I was informing the participants about the order in which they will be called and that is when I saw her dressed in a white shirt and beige trousers, her cut in a medium bob making her look all the more endearing. I told her that we had met on the reunion, she gave me a concentrated glance and pointing a finger at me remarked, “Oh you are the judgmental guy who sat on the couch, ate most of our food and sulked all evening.”. I nodded sheepishly; she chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, I was just kidding.” I did not skip an opportunity to be around her that day, I abandoned the arrangements and took her for a lunch in the campus and somehow managed to exchange numbers before she left. Occasionally, I would text her  asking about sight seeing in Delhi or making a conversation on a well known book at that time or about DiCaprio and his Golden Globe victory for Aviator or on the truce between Israel and Palestine. She would always reply and always supersede my parameter of an interesting conversation.

 

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In the summer of 2005, with a stroke of luck, I began working my first job in Bangalore, luck because your mother was studying law at NLU Bangalore. On the weekends, well some of them, she would take me to clubs or theaters or restaurants or street groups with zero heads up, deciding on the place spontaneously, while driving past signals or turning into lanes. She was a delight for company, spinning magic with every word that she spoke. Her company was the wildest that I had ever been and the most adrenaline I had felt in this life. When she would focus her attention on the task at hand, I would look at her sideways with awe, with respect, with longing and with love. She was what I wanted for the rest of my life.

On one evening a month before her graduation, we had gone to a cozy South Indian cafe. Over filter coffees and butter dosa, she looked at me with purpose and asked, “When are you going to muster the courage to articulate what you feel for me?”

Caught off guard I choked on the sambhar that I was gulping and asked in bewilderment, “You know, already?”

She answered with impatience building in her voice, “Of course I do, Kartik knows, my friends know, your flatmates know and even my mother has doubts.”

“I love you Namrata.”, I uttered in a rush.

“That is how you do it, without going down a knee, without a ring and without a kiss. I can see your planning skills giving up on you.”, she said.

“I am telling you that I love you, that I do not desire anything out of this life but you, that I have not been able to see the world in the same light since I heard you speak at the reunion and all you focus on, are the dramatics. That is very Delhi of you.”, I teased her.

“If there was anything Delhi about me, you’d not be circling  me for the past two years with a sense of admiration in your eyes.”, she answered back.

He then knelled down, took her hand and said, “Namrata, I love you and love is too small a word to define my emotions for you. Will you be with me through long ticket queues, through the hour long traffic jam from work to home, through boom and through recession, through sheets from the sketch book being tossed in the bin when charcoal fails me, through lousy attempts at being poetic but authentic affection.”

 

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, to all of that and this life with you.”, she replied and smiled that perfect smile.

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Kids, you may ask, why am I writing to you about us. Because I have always loved you, even before being committed, even before deciding to settle down. I have always loved all three of you but Namrata doesn’t want kids. She doesn’t see kids for what I see in them. Given the person that she is, a day before our marriage or three years down of being hitched, she is going to wake up with a bout of guilt on depriving me of the the family I had imagined for us. And that day, I will hand her this letter so that she can read what my voice often fails to spell out for her, read how much of the world for me is simply her. What she has given me- read a certain calmness, stability, love, happiness, a feeling of being whole- no child in the world can measure up to that. So, we will not bring you to life, dear children, not as long as your mother does not desire that, not in this life and not in other lives if she so wants. Her love is what I seek for the rest of my existence and other than that everything stands diminished.

Only your mother’s forever

Pranav


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Going Places

There was a point in the morning, as they drove past the Achabal, when she heaved at the sight of the magnificent gardens before her. It was the kind of sight that you take a picture of and post it on your Instagram with the caption, ‘Spring is right outside the (car) window!’. She wanted to turn and nudge Pranav and say, ‘See, see, this is what I wanted to come to Kashmir for, to sit and let nature surprise me’ but passed.

They were driving uphill on a steep road, a road that arched every turn, and arches that blindside as you turned into them. This was the kind of drive that gives  Pranav the goosebumps and accelerates his heart beat. From the corner of her eyes, Namrata could see his subdued gasps and his fist tightening against the handle on the door every time they took a blind turn. She had an instinct to reach out to him so that he could tighten his hold on her palm and talk to him to ward off his attention from the road. But she passed on that instinct.

As much as Namrata enjoyed the drive, she was confused as to where they were headed. This could not be Gulmarg because Gulmarg meant green meadows, snow and a chill in the weather and all she could see ahead of her were green meadows but no snow and no chill. This could not be Pahalgam because Pahalgam should mean people and all she could see ahead for company was a dense tree cover. She wanted to ask him, where were they going to but she passed on that instinct.

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She is sitting edged against a tree, her legs laid straight, her feet washing off in the spring, her eyes set on the sunset, her camera lying idle on her side. It is the kind of sunset that you photograph and caption on Instagram, ‘Sunsets show us that endings can be beautiful too’. But her mind is too befuddled to focus the lens on the sunset with clarity. She thinks that if Pranav and she are approaching their end, then this trip marks the beautiful climax to their story. So, after all endings can be beautiful too. But if they are ending she does not want to end with spite, which is ironic because it is the spite that has consumed them. She laughs a mental wry laugh on the trail of her thoughts. They are in Daksum, she has walked far from the bungalow they are putting up in, she has an instinct to make him sit next to her and talk to him so that she can restore clarity in her brain. She wants to cry first and then she wants to talk and before anything else she wants to apologize to him for yesterday and for other days when she is just being a bitch to him.She will pass on this instinct as well and simply sit here and cry.

Before she could do that she hears Pranav say, “Show me how have the pictures come.” He sits down next to her and reaches out for the camera.

She tells him, “I haven’t taken any today.”

He asks her, “Why is that?”

She replies, “Because there are other things I want to do first.”

He asks her, “What would those things be?”

She says, “I am sorry for over reacting last night. I am sorry for having misled your parents. I am sorry for worsening our situation. I am sorry for being the judgmental bitch on most days.”

Taken by a surprise, he replies, “I am sorry for putting you in the difficult spot with them”

“It’s not your fault, I had voluntarily sought a relationship with them and made them believe that it was all love between the two of us. I feel so relieved to finally talk to you about this.”, she answers him.

“If I only I could have walked up to you earlier, you would have been relieved just in time to capture the sunset. You know what, I miss being your knight in the shining armor.”, he remarks.

“Haha, were you, ever?”, she asks him with a raised eyebrow.

“But you still are. You know what else have I been relieved about, you coming for the trip with me. I would have been clueless how to go about this vacation without you.”, she then confesses solemnly.

“I miss planning things for you.”, he utters longingly.

“Do you, really?”, she inquires.

“Yeah, more than you can imagine. I miss doing things with you. I miss coming home to take you on a surprise long drive. I miss doing the lamps with you on Diwali. I miss listening to you talk about the book you are reading or the TV show you are watching. I miss coming back home in the morning and bringing coffee for you in the bed to make it up to you. I miss going for a movie every Sunday morning.Why did we stop going for the movies together?”, he questions her.

“Because you missed out on three consecutive Sundays and on the fourth one when you told me that Before Midnight sounds cliche to you, I took the liberty of going alone. Somewhere, in between the movie I resolved I will never ask you to come along and you never told me that you wanted to.”, she responds.

“I miss being able to sit next to you and talk. I miss how we could bare our souls to each other without having to worry about our words being lost in transit.”, he expresses in a dispirited voice.

“I miss drinking with you. I miss how you monitored the number of glasses I take and how you  would scold me the next morning on my indiscretions with it.”, she reminisces.

“God, you drink like a sixteen year old.”, he teases her.

“God, I can see the reproachful maternal instincts resurface in you.”, she retorts.

“I don’t know about the rest of the things, but this, we can do again.”, he told her producing a bottle of Old Monk from his bag., he announces to her.

“Rum”, she moaned in a glum tone, “Who brings rum for this exotic a vacation.”

“You better be quiet, you don’t have the stomach for whiskey and functional taste buds to appreciate wine. Besides this rhymes with your name, Rum for Nam.”, he playfully remarks.

“Haha, I miss when you had wits functional enough to make a laughable joke.”, she says taking a jeer at him.

“Fine, if you don’t enjoy my sense of humor, then I will not impose my company on you. I will find another spot for myself.”, he mumbles moodily.

“Now who is throwing a tantrum like a sixteen year old. Take the glasses out you idiot, it is only this much of your whim and wit that I can take without alcohol. Also don’t act like you haven’t brought glasses with the rum. Your planning would have made space even for two packets of chips, roasted peanuts and bars of Toblerone.”, she tells him authoritatively.

“Ms Know it All.”, he calls out to her.

With an expression that resembles a pouting five year old Namrata sticks out her tongue to him and so does he. They laugh and she pours Rum in two glasses.

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Holding on to his glass, he tells her, “I miss being a kid with you Nam.”

She meets his eyes, smiles an effusive smile that she had long put behind her and says, “I miss you calling me Nam, with love.”


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Fault Lines

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“Why did you have to sound so cheerful on the phone?”, Pranav asked Namrata as she shut the laptop after having talked to his parents over Skype.

“How else did you want me to sound like?”, she questioned back.

“Namrata, those were my parents you were talking to, why would you paint a false picture in their heads about us. In few days we have to tell them that maybe we don’t see a future together.”, he stated to her.

“In case you haven’t noticed, we are on a trip together for our fifth anniversary that they have partly sponsored. How disappointed would they be had I not sounded thrilled.”, she explained to him.

“The problem with you is that every time you talk to them, you filter out the disappointing bits, the sadness that has crept into our lives. In a way, you have worsened it for both of us, because when the time comes, they would question the disparity between what you have led them to believe and what reality is.”, he told her.

“How convenient is it for you to pin the blame on me every time. They are your parents, if trouble is brewing between us, you should be the one talking to them about it. But for that, you will have to make time for talking to them, at all. The sole reason that you have parents to talk to or count upon is because I have sustained a relationship with them for the past five years.”, she retorted back.

“Here we go again, 101 on how great Namrata is. Did I ever ask you to be in touch with them or implicitly expect you to do so or impose it on you. No, it was your own choice to build that relationship. They are my parents, they know me, they know that I would never commit to something which I cannot hold up to in the lung run. They have made peace with the limited touch I have sustained with them.”, he countered her.

“You ‘think’ that they have made peace with it. This is your side of the story. But have you tried learning their side of the story. No, because for that you will have to sit down and have a conversation with them, like an adult.”, she responded.

“Look who is so high on the significance of communicating, somebody who decided to take a 10 day trip to Kashmir so as to avoid the possibility of facing her parents and apprising them with the reality of her marriage. I may not come across as an adult to you but at least I am not an escapist.”, he hurled back at her.

“I have told you earlier, the only reason that I decided to come to Kashmir was that I needed a break, I needed a chance to ease my head and because I have always wanted to come here.“, she reasoned with him.

“Ease your head, my foot. I saw how relaxed you were on the airport when the flight was delayed, I saw how eased you were when you did nothing that entire day but sulk till you fell asleep.”,  he retaliated.

“You were itching to rub it into my face, right, itching to voice your disapproval over my impatience and anger. But why did you hold it in for so long, why put up a facade of courtesy with the food and books on the airport and the flowers this morning. “, she answered feeling gutted.

“Does all of this look like a facade to you? I have bent tens of schedules to make it to this trip with you,  so that you do not have to do this solo.”, he replied in a tone of agitation.

“I did not demand that out of you. Just like being kind to your parents was my choice, this was yours. I have longed for to be here and I would have managed well on my own.”, she snapped at him.

“You must have longed to be here however you have no idea how to go about this vacation, you have no plans, no idea to define what was it that you had desired to come to Kashmir for. Had I not been here, your trip would have been come to Srinagar and chill in the hotel, go to Pahalgam and chill in the hotel, go to any fucking place and chill in the hotel. But anything that I do for you is inconsequential, anything that I bring to the table is worthless because Namrata can manage everything alone.”, he told her, voicing his frustration.

“I don’t know about everything but this element of unrest in our lives, this hostility, I could not have managed on my own. Thank you Pranav, thank you so much for introducing spite in my life and for managing to infiltrate this vacation with bitterness as well. Here’s to a delightful vacation.”, she said drawing the argument to a close.

Pranav picked up his cross body bag from the dresser and walked out the door.

“Where are you going now? Have my words left no choice for you but to abandon me?”, she called out to him.

“You know what the problem is Nam, the problem is that you count every action of mine as an attack towards you. But sometimes, I do things for my own satisfaction and not to mete out pain on you.”, he replied with a tone of exasperation.

She sinks deeper into the couch and sighs, “The problem is how petty have you come to think of me!”.

Pranav was seated in the balcony of tea lounge. His sketch book laid out on the table, the page bare, the pencils placed diagonally on top and his vision directed to the lake. He had decided to sketch again, to sketch the Dal and that evening all he wanted was to tell Nam about it and listen to her say, “That is amazing Pranav” and watch excitement (if only, a small fraction of the former self) for him resurface in her eyes.

He recalled a story called ‘The Adventure‘ in his class 11 English Textbook, in which a man Gangadharpant is knocked into a reality where India and Pakistan remain undivided. On perusal of history, he comes to know that the alternate course of events is triggered because the Marathas defeated Ahmad Shah Abdali in the Third Battle of Panipat. The defeat helped Marathas strengthen their hold on India, following which the Britishers were forced to suspend their plans to colonize the country and were reduced to the position of trade allies. The story introduced the concept that there can be many manifestations of reality. Because we witness a certain reality, we cannot rule out the possibility of other parallel realities that exist at the same time.

Pranav began analyzing the chance of a present where they were both still in love, far withdrawn from the discord that had come to define their relationship. The riddle was to identify their Third Battle of Panipat, the point of inflection, after which their marriage transformed into a disaster.

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Read the previous chapters here:

  1. Anniversary and Kashmir; maybe, maybe not
  2. Between boarding, books and bickering
  3. Contrast
  4. Daybreak and doubts
  5. Envy

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Envy

Pranav had just made it in time. Not just with the flowers, but in picking her up as well. As she left from breakfast, he called to tell her that he was waiting in the parking. He had planned a Jeep ride to Dachigam National Park. They would spend the afternoon here and return to the hotel by evening. If they manage their time well, they’d witness the sunset on a shikara in the Dal, if not, they would witness the sheer beauty of their surroundings on a shikara in the Dal. Initially, they had toured the park on the jeep but decided to walk for the most part.

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“Did you have any other plans for the day?”, asked Pranav.

“No, nothing as such.”, Namrata replied.

“If you did, you can tell me about them, we can skip the shikara ride in the evening.”, he suggested.

“No Pranav, the only plan that I have made lately is to come to Kashmir and with that, a part of me believes that I have exhausted my annual quota of planning things in advance.”, she retorted.

He giggled meekly, she looked at him and sighed.

“What, now my stupidity also does not strike as amusing enough for you to crack up into a hearty laughter.”, she asked him cheekily.

“Just like on many other fronts, there is room for improvement here as well.”, he answered back.

She slapped him on his arm and they both chuckled.

She had entirely forgotten what walking and bantering with Pranav felt like. For that matter, she had entirely forgotten what being with Pranav was like. Pranav brought a sense of organization to the table. He always functioned with a plan. All the trips that they had taken together were a product of his meticulous plans. This was one of the first things that had drawn her towards him, his management skills, his sense of control. And this was the one thing that had validated her belief that they were meant for each other, that they fit together. Because she was a free spirited soul who functioned on an impulse and impulse almost always backfires or leaves room for an error. So every time she was in need of a blueprint or a modus operandi, he would pitch in.

As much as she had been demonstrating agony on his decision to come to Kashmir, a part of her is relieved because he will take care of the itineraries and arrangements and the must visit spots and the little known places, while she could simply breathe free. The ability to breathe free defined what she wanted out of this trip.

On days she would admire his forethought and on days she’d envy him. Envy because she suspected that if they fall apart, he would have a plan even for that contingency, unlike her, whose plan could be summed up into two words- fall apart. But what good will envy do to her, she knew she was always much less than what he deserved.

Pranav peeked onto the DSLR, some of the pictures that Namrata had taken  were brilliant. He was surprised and asked her, “From what I can recall, you were a lousy photographer.”

“Yes, I indeed was.”, she confirmed.

“Then, how did this happen?”, he asked her, pointing to an endearing picture of a black bear on the camera.

“I looked up for photography workshops online. I had joined a bird watching group last year and I used to take my camera along on Sunday mornings. Then earlier this year, when you were in Brazil, I would go to Mughal Gardens and photograph the gardens in full bloom. I had started because I had had idle time on my hands and eventually I began to enjoy it.”, she told him.

Namrata takes the camera from him and slyly walks ahead to photograph a musk deer, while Pranav looks at her in awe. When he had bought the camera she had protested, knowing that he was buying only because they could afford it not because any one of them was driven towards photography. Out of them both, she had taken time to make use of one of the many things that were of no use to them. But it was not only her efforts that he admired but this lack of restraint that she exercised, this sense of liberty that was ingrained in her being. How she wants to try her hand at a number of things and how she accommodates them in her schedule. With her, nothing is unattainable. This quality of her was what he had fallen for in the first place, the boundlessness of her spirit. On some days he admired it and on some days he envied it. Envy because he suspected that the day she would call it quits on them, she would move on another project and she would go on to do that till something comes to satisfy her, till something makes her feel whole again. But what good would envy do to him, he always knew that she deserved much better than him.

He continued to walk and think, until he hit a rocky patch when his feet staggered and he was knocked out of the string of thoughts. He saw the sunlight easing and a hue of crimson drawing in the sky, he stopped where he was, and called out, “Namrata, if we go back from this point, we may make it in time.”

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Love dwells in mutuality, but what if the mutuality roots in the belief of not being good enough for each other. Does that count as well?


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