Lessons

“Why did it have to rain today?”, quizzed Namrata.

“I wish I had an answer to that.”, replied Pranav as he flipped the pages of the menu,

“Why does it always rain at the wrong time?”, Namrata wondered.

“Maybe because rains have not stumbled upon the concept of time.”, Pranav told her cheekily.

“Why do my plans get soiled every time?”, she asked him.

“Excuse me, my plans?”, he remarked.

“Okay our plans, why do our plans get soiled every time?”, she corrected herself.

“Isn’t that a question that the Dark Lord should have asked the death eaters?”, added Pranav.

“Can we not do anything?”, she asked him.

“You, for one, can stop fidgeting.”, he suggested.

“Fidgeting, you call this fidgeting. This is a normal human reaction to a problem.”, she replied infuriated.

“Ah, how can I forget your penchant for ‘normal human reactions’.”, he said recalling her restlessness at the airport when their flight was delayed.

“Never miss a chance to take a dig at me, do you.”, she pointed out.

“Try my best not to.”, he affirmed.

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“Why haven’t we ordered already?”, she questioned trying to divert his attention from her.

“Because apparently you have better things to think about than food.”, he answered. Looking at the crimson in her cheeks building up, he decided not to test her fury any further and asked, “What do you want to have?”

“Momos”, she answered.

Shaking his head in denial, he told her, “I will choose to ignore that.”

Shaking her head back at him, she told him firmly, “Seriously, we cannot come to Leh and not eat momos. That is a crime.”

“You know I don’t like momos, unless they are fried and fried momos aren’t on the menu.”; he tried reasoning with her.

“My bad, I had forgotten about Punjabis and their penchant for fried food.”, she said playfully.

“Fine, we will order momos.”, he said before she could play another joke on his North Indian attributes.

“And?”, she asked him.

“Thukpa? I think we should try Thukpa; both of us can use some warmth.”, he replied.

She smiled at him and said, “Getting strong at your puns Pranav, but I am ‘not’ impressed.”

He smiled back at her and pointed out, “But, when have you been?”

“Never, really.”, she added.

“Let’s add crispy noodles and spring rolls to that.”, he suggested.

“How can I say no to that, ever?”, she remarked.

“Never, really.”, he added further.

 

She shifted her attention to the downpour again and said, “Imagine, had it not been raining we could have been in Booklover’s Retreat sipping onto a warm cup of latte and reading.”

With a hint of surprise in his eyes, he asked her, “Is that it Namrata? That is what you want to do in Leh, be in a book store that doubles up as a cafe. We could have gone to Cha Bar in Connaught Place instead, would’ve saved our parents a lot of money and us a lot of time.”

“Being in a book cafe in Leh counts as an important experience.”, she said in her defense.

He could not believe that she was worried about not being in a book cafe right now and she was defending herself on this. He then said, “There are a number of other cafe experiences that Leh has to offer. Right at this time, we could have been scoring some chocolate momos and sipping onto jungli chai in Bon Apetit as the day changed its colors, we could have been in Gesmos gorging onto Yak Cheese Pizzas because you do not get Yak Cheese any place else in this country, we could have been in the Apple Garden Restaurant and eat amidst an apple orchard because it is not everyday that we get to be in an orchard, we could have been in Old Leh walking our way to Lala’s Cafe where coffee and cake comes with a history lesson, we could have been in the German Bakery and eating possibly the most delectable apple crumble. So you see, it is not always experiences with books that are the ones to look out for.”

Namata could not comprehend if he was trying to lift her spirits up or subdue them further by apprising her of the many things that they could have been doing presently. She woefully added, “And now I feel worse, for missing out on everything that this place has to offer and dining in the hotel because it had to rain on this vacation.”

“Dining in the hotel does not take away from the fact that we are still in Leh which is perched at an altitude of 11,000 feet; the restaurant we are sitting in offers a fairly good view of marvel that this place is and if you could just relax and open your eyes to what are we surrounded with, this might come across as an experience to you.”, he tried explaining to her.

Namrata did not argue further, rather she was smiling. He asked her, “Why are you smiling now?”

“I was wondering that I have always been this impatient -which evidently is quite irksome to you-then how is it that you fell in love with me, at all?”, she quizzed him.

“You weren’t this impatient.”, he answered not sure of himself.

“Dates back to my childhood, I believe, impatience is thy second name.”, she told him funnily.

“Haha, I don’t know about impatience but it isn’t every day that you are this good on self assessment.”, he joked.

“Tell me Pranav, did my restlessness not bother you then?”, she questioned him seriously.

“I always managed to talk you out of it or redeem for a cancelled plan.”, he answered.

“How?”, she asked.

“Do you remember your convocation?”, he asked her.

“Ah, you missed it.”, she recalled.

“It was a long day at work, I could not bail out early. I missed the convocation and also the grad dinner date I had promised you.” he explained.

“I was infuriated.”, she exclaimed.

“You weren’t taking my call., he reminded her.

“Call? I had resolved to not look in your direction again.” she told him.

Pranav added, “So at around midnight, I came to your friend’s apartment with a cold pizza, a britannia cake and a bottle of coke to make good on the grad dinner promise and to make you reconsider your decision of never looking at me again.”

“The minute you started talking, my rage began to dispel and we ultimately ended up having a date in the parking lot.”, she confessed to him.

“That was a good date.”, he remarked.

“That was an amazing date. Come to think of it, we made a cute couple back then.”, she admitted wistfully.

“Come to think of it, ‘our love back then’ sounds so ancient.” he admitted with a sense of hurt in his voice.

“Sometimes the answers lie in ancient tales.”, she said purposefully.

“What are you talking about?”, he inquired.

“Maybe, we should talk.”, she suggested.

“Talk about what?”, he asked further.

“Everything that’s going on with us.”, she answered.

“You think that will help in dispelling our rage?”, he inquired.

“If not, relationship reconciliation talks in Leh sounds like an experience in itself.”, she responded chuckling.


This is the 12th chapter of the story I had begun to write as a part of AtoZ. To make more sense of it, hop onto the page Anniversary and Kashmir.


Image has been sourced from this link.

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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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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

f

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?


e

Contrast

It was 3:30 pm when they left for Vivanta from the airport. If everything had fallen in place since morning, then Namrata would have been beaming, beaming at the prospect of the 20 km uphill drive to reach their decadent accommodation that happens to be nestled in the Zabrawan moutain range and offers picturesque views of the Dal Lake. But she was nowhere close to beaming. She was grumpy and the prospect of an hour long drive before she could sink in the bed added more to her exhaustion. Not once in the cab did she glance in Pranav’s direction, she simply looked out the window as if calling for assistance from nature to soothe her. However, not once in the cab did Pranav take his eyes off of her, as if calling out to her to let him soothe her. Somewhere along the drive, Pranav slipped his hand beneath her elbow to wrap it around her waist. She steered in his direction slightly and partially allowed her body to rest against his shoulder. When the serene view was complemented with the warmth of his embrace, it was only then that her world began to fall in place.

When the door had first opened to their room, Namrata could see it for the beauty it was. However, she knew she could appreciate it completely only once she took a bath so that she could cleanse her mind and body of the memory of the unpleasant morning. She removed her sneakers, stepped inside the bathroom, undressed, turned the shower on and stood beneath it. Pranav followed her inside, undressed and stood behind her. He took her in his hold, gentle yet firm at the same time. This was not about imposing him on her, this was about letting their bodies brush against each other, about caressing her hair and about kissing her neck softly. This was about bringing her to peace again.

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She slipped into a comfortable pair of breezy pajamas and a t shirt and he into a pair of boxers and vest. They hopped onto the bed, he snuggled her closer and she rest her head on his arm. She told him that if their room had a bathtub they could recreate that scene from Pretty Woman where Edward and Vivian bathe and talk in the bath tub together. He laughed and cheekily replied that the hotel does have a piano so their hopes of recreating Pretty Woman have not been completely lost. He proposed perching her on top of the piano and making love to her beautifully. She poked her elbow into his ribs, his body jerked off the bed slightly, he coughed, she laughed, he laughed along as if her laughter was infectious and then they laughed relentlessly. For whatever was left of the day, they did not have a desire to step out of the room or the bed even. At some point, there was a Mediterranean Pizza and Greek Salad and wine and at all points there were conversations and laughter. That day was being snuggled in the warmth of their affection and in that day all else seemed no more than a blur.

It was 4 am when Pranav’s Fitbit had begun to vibrate slowly to put him out of sleep. It took a brief moment for the strangeness of his surroundings and his proximity to Namrata to sink in. He is more accustomed to waking up in solitude, waking up to find himself laid in the beige couch in the study, waking up to a tiny cheek rash from the couch’s fabric itching mildly, waking up to the feeling of soreness persisting in his body. He takes another moment to wrap his head around what had he just dreamed about, of being able to ‘talk’ and ‘laugh’ and ‘be in love’ with Namrata again. It had been months since Pranav had last longed for her touch. So it was eerie to have imagined in sleep a world where he could embrace her again. Because in the real world they had not even shared an eye lock since landing in Srinagar; she had hit the showers and slept while reading; he had bathed and then read her book as she slept and somehow succumbed to sleep himself. Maybe it was the undoing of having her lay so close to him in the bed, of feeling her breath in union with his. He tossed out of the bed, walked out to the balcony and lit a cigarette. The darkness of the night and the faint glow of the golden chinar reflected in the clear aqua of the Dal Lake. It felt as if the breathtaking sight before him deserved a much deeper moment to sink than all the ones that he has had since waking up.

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As he inhaled the bout of smoke into his lungs, he thought of the Pranav in the dream. The next morning Pranav would have woken up to an inordinate desire to recreate the panoramic view of the Dal from where he stood, go on to reproduce it with Charcoal on as many sheets as it took before he could perfect the skill of tracing the brilliance and rawness of nature. For the next five years, Pranav would have arduously worked towards the pursuit of his passion. Unlike the present Pranav he would not have taken the bait of increment after increment that was thrown at him to keep him lured to his job. He would have not sacrificed his individuality, his liberty and the choices at his disposal to shield his ego, his status and his financial footing.

What did he want for to define his life, one may ask. What does it matter, he replies. All that matters is the contrast that has come to define his life, the contrast of what he sought his life to be and what has he made his life to be.


c

Between boarding, books and bickering

With his folded hand resting under his chin, Pranav’s gaze is following the expanse of the passage that is laid in front of him.

Eyes fixated out front, he is thinking, “Why is T-3 so colossal, said no one ever, but if only it was smaller, Nam would have little area to pace and would look lesser of a restless wreck. I can see how much the trip is helping her to ease her mind. But how has she not started crushing the bottle in her hand; classic Namrata in anger, sabotage the first thing that comes your hand. How does she not realise that this incessant pacing cannot undo the three hour delay of their flight. Maybe I should look elsewhere but anywhere I look someone is looking at the raging woman who has not left even an inch of the passage untouched. Maybe I should stroll around the stores or grab something to eat. Maybe I should just disassociate from her for the next two hours so that she can peacefully have her tantrum. Maybe I should have not come at  all so she could satisfy whatever whim which has led for her to take this trip. God, her restlessness is contagious.”

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She can see him looking at her with great concentration, as if he can size her every move. That is why she is resisting from crushing the bottle because she cannot let him have the pleasure of being able to read her correctly. She knows that he believes her outrage to be unwarranted. But this is not outrage, she thinks, this is a normal human reaction to when something goes wrong. Or maybe this is outrage because having your flight delayed for 3 hours calls for outrage. She could have made a to and fro journey from Delhi to Srinagar in three hours exact but what use are her three hours coming to, pacing the length of the passage on the ground floor. Hail Air India!

He holds her shoulder gently and calls out Nam-rata. She turns around and has a brief moment looking at him. She thinks, every time he calls out her name, it feels like he wants to call her Nam but chooses otherwise and then looks at her with mild accusation in eyes, as if it is her fault that she does not come across as Nam to him. He smirks mentally, thinking that no one could be as perplexed on being addressed by their name as she is. He suppresses the thought, because it will irk her on knowing what he is thinking.

“I am hungry, let’s head to the first floor and have something.”, he tells her.

“You had two paranthas at 7 Pranav. How could you be hungry so early?”, she counters him.

“God, you have to question my appetite now, that is morose.”, he replies defensively.

“Don’t make me sound like a bitch, I know that you are lying.”, she replies affirmatively.

“I have barely slept, I am exhausted, I feel restless, can you please make a move now.”, he utters slightly agitated.

She stifles the urge to ask him on what is making him restless but a part of her suspects him to say that she is the one behind it. She quietly begins moving towards the escalator.

They settle on McDonald’s and order themselves a McVeggie Meal and a Pizza McPuff. He studies her face as she is unwrapping her puff, she seems less on the edge now. He solemnly proposes, “Why don’t you read one of the books that you had purchased on Kindle last night?”

“Yeah, I could do that. I was thinking, after eating, we’d go check the ones at WH Smith as well.”, she answers him.

“Of course we can. I never realized when did your appetite for books resurface again.”, he tells her.

“You know what, neither did I.”, she replies and gives him bleak smile. He nods and smiles back.

Namrata had always been a glutton for books before she met Pranav, before she was drawn to him and before she fell for him. When his love had begun to supplement the air she breathed, she did not feel the persuasion to reach out to fiction. He’d often ask her why and she’d tell him that she no longer needs an escape from reality. It was some odd thirty months back, when she read three books in a week and that is when it struck her, something was wrong between them.

There was a time some thirty months ago, when Pranav had come home to a sleeping Namrata and a couple of books set out on the side table. Among many other things, he had subtly mentioned the books to her but she spoke about them passively and switched topics.She never narrated the story of any of them to him. She had once told him in their early dating days, that she loves coming to him with a story and she can never read a book without talking to him about it. But she passed that time and that is when he knew something was wrong with them.

If only, they had realized that from that point on, it was only going to be more wrong.


b

Anniversary and Kashmir; maybe, maybe not

Namrata hated running in the sun. Not that, she did not hate running otherwise but having to run blocks when the sun is in it’s full glory was torment. Being in Delhi in October, running any time past seven made for torment. But what were her options when she had woken up to every inch of her head hammering. It took one glance with half open eyes at the Ballentine’s bottle, the emptied packets of chips and a white envelope on the table to recollect that she was four glasses down before she passed out on the couch. Passed out while watching Anywhere but Here and wondering if she should take  a leap and be anywhere but here. Sadly, unlike Susan Sarandon she neither had a daughter to run away with nor did she mother an ambition of making it big in any given city.

The alcohol was not about the scarcity of choices in her hand but about the envelope on the table, the envelope that had been delivered that afternoon, the envelope that contained her and Pranav’s fifth anniversary gift from their parents.  Two tickets to Srinagar and a tentative ten day get away in the Kashmir Valley. A get away that she had longed for, to be their honeymoon but civilian killings and consequent protests that caused unrest in the Kashmir Valley from May to September had thwarted her plans of being hitched, being in love and being in Kashmir all at the same time. She had resolved then, that they’d be in Kashmir for their fifth anniversary, hence the gift. However, as things are, a week before the fifth anniversary, she is hitched, she may be in Kashmir the next week but she is most definitely not in love.

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Love is not what dwells between two individuals who live under the same roof but avoid each other under that roof, between individuals who forego sleeping together because there was a sanctity to that and their love that they dare not recall, between individuals who are together for two hours in the morning before they head out for work and occasionally two hours if they are home after work at the same time, individuals who are juggling between living separately or trying their hands at marital counselling before estrangement. She does not know what that is called but she knows that it is not called love. However their parents don’t know that, they have no hint that they are slow dancing in a burning room. There is a difference between living with what is and spelling it to another human being, let alone their parents. And now that she thinks of their jubilant faces on having sent a meaningful present for the two of them, she begins to feel even more nauseous about breaking the news of the discord.  But that is a conversation for another day, right now Pranav will be waiting for her, wanting an explanation to the tickets and voicing his plan of action on the same.

As Namrata steps inside the house, she is faced with Pranav sitting cross legged on the couch, eying her with caution. Pranav is dismal at how sick she looks and considers taking her inside to make her lie in the bed for a while. But that was another time when he could reach out to her, now the best he can do is to make his words reach her and he was assessing what should he talk about first- her indiscretions with alcohol last night or not having told him about the tickets as soon as they reached her.

“I think we should talk to them about this, about us.”, he tells her emphasising on the last two words.

“You can do that, while I go to Kashmir.”, she says abruptly trying to camouflage her uncertainty. Uncertainty on her wanting to go the trip or over escaping giving an acceptance to the idea that they have truly grown apart.

Surprised at her hasty announcement, he says, ” I see, you have decided already. Mind if I ask, why do you want to go, at all?”

As she takes a huge swig of water from the bottle, she positions herself against the kitchen counter and says, “Because that envelope contains non refundable business class tickets, house boat booking  and hotel booking receipts that cannot be cancelled. Because I have always wanted to go to Kashmir. Because I was thinking last night that a break would ease my head and clear my perspective.”

“But, I can’t send you alone.”, he tells her.

“You are not sending me, I am going on my own and that has nothing to do with you. It is a choice that I have made.”

“This is Kashmir that we are talking about, stop being so headstrong for a minute.”

“For heaven sake Pranav, this is not 2010 and the Kashmir of civilian unrest. People are not going to fire bullets at me on arrival. It is a tourist destination and like thousands of other tourists it will be a means of relaxation for me.”

With his palms against his face, he cannot even fathom how unreasonable can she be at times, how easily can she close herself against someone’s point of view. Disgruntled he utters, “If you are going, then I will have to go too.”

“But you can’t, this is a ten day trip and you cannot bail out of work unexpectedly for ten days straight.”

“I will see what I can do about that.”, he tells her and walks into the study closing the door behind him.

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“Being hitched, being in love and being in Kashmir, what a dream that was.”, she thinks to herself.


a


 

Image of Dal Lake can be found on this link.

Image on growing apart can be found on this link.