Night of the untold

In case you have been reading the story I started writing last year, here is the next installment.


Pranav looks at her, smiling subtly he says, “I quit my job to come to Kashmir with you. So maybe I am still yours.”

Namrata looked at him with disbelief and prompted, “Pranav?”

He met her eyes and affirmed, “I quit my job to take this trip.”

“You can’t be serious.”, she responded.

“Why not?”, he asked her.

“You cannot quit your job that simply.”, she proclaimed.

“From my experience Nam, keeping a job is a much more tedious task than getting rid of it.”, he quirked.

“Am I supposed to find this funny?”, she asked annoyed at how we wasn’t giving her any details.

“What you should or should not find funny is solely at your discretion.”, he answered testing her patience further.

Namrata could not take another circumvented response; she held his hand and reminded, “Pranav remember you wanted us to talk a while ago. I want you to cooperate. Tell me why you quit.”

“I quit because I wanted to come here.”, he replied.

“You could have applied for a leave.”, she suggested.

Pranav chuckled at her response and spoke, “You can really underestimate my brains Nam. Of course I could have asked for a few days off; that was the first thing that occurred to me. But here’s the thing, my calendar was blocked that week and it wouldn’t have been long till it was blocked for the next two weeks also. I was sick of sugarcoating my words with Nitin to get things done. I wasn’t sure of how I should approach the situation. But I was sure that I did not want you to travel to Kashmir alone. I sat for an hour considering the means and the words to open my schedule. And I realized that I did not care much about retaining my job any longer. So I wrote down a formal resignation and handed it to Nitin.”

“And Nitin accepted it?”, she asked him.

“No, it came as a huge shock to him.”, he told her.

“I don’t blame the man; I still cannot believe my ears.”, she exclaimed.

“I remained vehement that I cannot continue working any longer. I will serve the notice period and be out of here peacefully. He tried rooting out the motivation behind the abrupt decision. After quite a lot of persuasion and negotiations we agreed that I can take a break for the 10 days following the weekend, after which I begin my 6 week notice period.”, he informed her.

“After the break, your decision to leave is subject to revocation, right?”, she confirmed.

“Yeah, he believes that I may be able to clear whatever is it that is troubling me. But, if I decide to maintain my decision even then, he will not coerce me further and make it official.”, he asserted.

“So you haven’t quit in the literal sense of the word as yet. This can all be a charade in the end to avail a ten day vacation.”, she argued.

“It could be, however I have made the choice Namrata, I am quitting my job. You may believe it or not, it was your impulsive decision to take this trip that has led me here.”, he maintained.

“Pranav, what are you going to do?”, she quizzed.

“I have to think about that.”, he responded.

“Will you take another job?”, she questioned him.

” I hope not.”, he said.

“It’s difficult to digest that you haven’t thought out the biggest decision of your life. Where are the plans, the trajectories, the risk analysis, and the charts plotting the returns? The man I married was the man with the blueprint.”, she asked him bewildered.

He smiled at her and said, “I have none this time Namrata. Remember that episode from FRIENDS, where Rachel keeps on complaining about working as a waitress and Chandler suggests that unless she quits her waitress job she will never be able to muster the drive to pursue a career in fashion. I thought of that episode and as erratic as the advice seemed prima facie, it works for Rachel. I acted on that advice.”

“Pranav, FRIENDS was a show, written by people like you and me. They found the premise of a character following her passion promising. So they made it work, deliberately.”, she reasoned with him.

“I understand the deliberation there Namrata. But, if you think about it, it does make sense. In order to do what you yearn for, you cannot continue to be complacent. I cannot even recall why I started working in the first place but I know why I kept working. Because I got accustomed to a certain lifestyle, a certain sense of comfort that I was to scared to lose. But now I want to do something that satisfies me, something that I believe in. And I cannot do that with luxuries and the restraints of my job.”, he explained to her.

“What do you believe in Pranav?”, she asked him.

“This trip, to begin with.”, he replied.

“You mean us.”, she confirmed.

“I mean you and your decision to come. I believed in it.”, he replied.

“What if this doesn’t work out like last time?”, she cross questioned.

“I did not try last time Namrata.”, he responded.

“And you’re confident that you will try this time?”, she inquired.

“I have no other options.”, he told her

Nmarata looked at the sky, she shut her eyes and after a brief consideration, she spoke, “Now that I see us making some progress, I have something to tell you.”

“Let me guess, that your Sherlock brain had long ago deduced that something’s wrong at work because I have not been getting any calls or mails.”, he said in an attempt to out wit her.

“Yes, of course I knew something’s fishy; also I have been seeing a shrink.”, she answered in a self assured tone.

Pranav could not understand if he heard the last bit correctly, so he asked, “What?”

“I have been going to a therapist for almost a year now.”, she replied.

“Wow, do we even know each other anymore.”, Pranav exclaimed.

“Going by this conversation, I think not.”, she chirped in.

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This is the 14th 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.

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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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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.’

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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