Ira and Irfan

Ira tried to find her way on the crowded footpath. The men were in tight embrace greeting each other, children ran amok. The little boys in crochet topi’s and little girls in their colorful sequined shalwar qameez looked adorable.
Ira wrapped around her flyaway saree pallu by her left hand. The right hand was free to find her way out to the main street and stop the crowd from dashing against her as she rushed past everyone busy in celebrations. There were a lot of random thoughts going through her head. What was she thinking by agreeing for this meeting on a holiday? And that too at Mahim on Eid!…Hope the hair bun stays till the meeting gets over… Is the pallu too long?…Thank god it’s not raining today, else the tussar silk would have clung as second skin. Well and that would have been a sight! The buds in the tight gajra on the loose hair bun will bloom fully by dusk. It was a last minute addition. The smile was back on her face.

He saw her briskly but gracefully walking, deep in thought, but aware of the surroundings. A slight smile curved the corners of her delicately colored lips. Her light kajalled eyes looked straight into his. Without losing her gaze he walked closer towards her. Recognition and surprise lit her eyes more and she smiled brightly, which skipped a beat in his heart. He felt he was short of breath.

Ira stopped in her step, as though she had seen a vision in white. He looked absolutely stunning in crisp pressed white kurta. He stood in front of her and she forgot where she was. She blurted out. “What a pleasant surprise to see you. Eid Mubarak Irfan!” She stretched out her hand to wish him and he clasped hers in both his hands. “Thank you Ira” he smiled at her.” And what are you doing here?” ” Visiting a client’s place” she said. He was totally surprised,” Today? It’s a holiday Ira. Don’t you ever rest?” “I hardly have a choice. But I love what I do, so here I am. And I got to meet and wish you too” she smiled.

Before Irfan could say anything, Ira’s face was against his chest, clutching his shoulder with another hand. She gave out a loud painful cry. Few youngsters carrying a large table over their head, had pushed against her hitting her shoulder blade and back. The impact was such that she fell right into his arms. Irfan looked into her upturned face and saw the pain in her eyes.

The next instance he held her back and started moving towards those guys. “No Irfan! Please don’t! It was an accident. Let it go.” He looked at her. Her eyes were glistening with tears. She looked visibly shaken and scared. Irfan controlled his emotions and moved two steps near her. Her hand was still tightly holding on to his arm. Her left hand was clutching his kurta where a crease had now formed. There was now a slight pink color, where her lips had brushed against his tunic. He never thought Ira would be hassled ever or scared of anything in her life. During all the times they met for their business meetings, she always carried a devil may care attitude and a poise of great courage for a woman. But this Ira standing before him, was almost like a vulnerable young girl. Irfan realized he had overreacted, and tried to calm himself and her. He put his protective hand around her shoulder and led her away from the center of the crowd.

“Are you okay now? Did you get hurt? Do you want to sit down before you go for your meeting?” She relaxed. How is it possible that the same person can invoke a feeling of fear, and calm down your nerves in a span of few minutes?

“Yes I am better now. Thank you. I don’t know how I could have managed without your help. I did not anticipate so many men out on the streets celebrating.” She turned her head up and smiled at him. He smiled back tentatively. After a pause he asked her, “What time will your meeting get over? She said, ” In an hour”.

They walked towards Oscar Heights. Ira again wished him, they said their goodbyes and she went into the building. Irfan waited till she reached inside and then turned to leave.

The meeting was postponed by 30 mins. Mr Mirchandani, himself had gone to Crawford market to collect some samples.

An hour and a half later, when the meeting was over, she walked out happy and loaded with bags of samples. Her team will be thrilled on Monday, when she displays them her day’s work. They had very less time to complete the concept. This was a big jackpot. If she plans well, the entire project will win her company crores. The sun was peeking from behind the clouds. Ira brushed her strand of hair behind her ear and shielded her eyes. And then she saw him. Irfan was leaning against a car and had changed into a formal white shirt and slate grey trousers.

“Hi again! What are you doing here?” She was pleasantly surprised. “I came to invite you to our home. I stay nearby, and I insist you visit us on this occasion” he said. “Oh! I would love to really. But some other time perhaps. I have a lot of stuff to carry back and don’t want to be late”.

“I will take care of the stuff”, saying that he took the bags from her, opened the car door and put them on the back seat. “There! All done. Now if you please,” he guided her, holding her elbow, towards the passenger door and opened it for her, ” come and grace my home with your presence, I will be obliged”. She laughed while getting into the car, the sun shining in her eyes, making them even brighter. Was she always this beautiful, Irfan thought closing the door behind her.

“Amma, this is Ira, she is working with my partner on one of our projects. I happened to meet her after the namaaz, so I invited her over.”

Ira bowed respectfully, “Salaam! Eid Mubarak!” Irfan’s ammi, held Ira to her bosom, “Walekum as salaam beta! Eid Mubarak! And what tehzeeb. Ayra! Mashallah! What a lovely name. Were you at the masjid to offer Salat?” Before she could fire away more questions, Irfan cut in. He turned her around and walked with her towards the kitchen , ” Ammi jaan its Ira not Ayra. And she is a Hindu. She came here to meet a client and not for the salat. Now would you offer her some sweet please?And I am terribly famished as well. The aroma is making me all the more hungry.” “Oh yes yes…of course beta. I was just lost in some thought. Please sit dear Ira and welcome”. Ammi hastened inside and got a tray full with Biryani, kebabs and phirni.

By the time the dawaat got over and guests started leaving, it was 5 in the evening.The lift stopped on the 3rd floor. Irfan moved towards the door and looked at Ira. ” I have to pick up something from my flat. That”, gesturing upwards ” was my parents house”. He opened the door and welcomed Ira. She was hesitant. Today was a day full of emotional turmoil. Irfan disappeared in the inside room and minutes later called out to Ira. She went in the bedroom. It was spick and span. He asked her to look into the mirror on the dressing table. He held another mirror behind her back so she could look at the reflection. On her back, she saw a bluish black bruising on her skin at the edge of her blouse. She reached behind to touch the spot and suddenly remembered the incident. This was where the table must have hit her hard. No wonder she was in pain then. Irfan quietly kept the mirror and picked up an ointment. Without saying another word, started applying the cream on her bruise in light circular motion. Ira could feel the heat from his body very close to her. His mint fresh breath was teasing the loose strands of hair on the nape of her neck. He inhaled deeply,” The flowers in your gajra. What are these?” ” Chameli” she replied. ” Do you like it?” After another long breath, he said, “Yes”.

Her face looked flushed. Ira turned around and hugged Irfan tightly burying her face in his shirt, saying a silent thank you. He held on to her. Then very slowly Irfan moved his hand to her chin and turned her face towards him. He held her face looking at her for a long time, then lowered his head and kissed her on her forehead. Ira opened her mouth to say something, but words lost her. Irfan cupped her cheek, looked at her for some more time, turned and left the room. He picked up her bags and then dropped her at the nearest taxi stand. He took down the taxi number and instructed the driver with some rules, which she did not follow, ensuring her safety.

Irfan came back home very restless. He could not explain what he felt for her and why. The day’s events left him deep in thought. He went straight to his bedroom to lie down. A quick nap should straighten his mind. Suddenly he sensed Ira was still around. He could smell the heady, musky, sweet fragrance from flowers. On his dressing table, Ira had left the chameli gajra. She left a little of herself for him.

Notes to Self

1. Careful. Be very careful. But do it right.
2. Face the music if you must but don’t be unethical even if asked to.
3. When you are told, you will be taken care of, do not believe. You don’t need to be taken care of.
4. Realize that the one you are battling against is just a puppet and an illusion created to misguide you. The real director is behind the curtains, pulling the strings.
5. Be strong.
6. Fight for what is right. Be equipped with the facts. They are your only saving grace.
7. Even if you are pointed a finger at, do not back out. You have survived and you will survive.
8. Remember what you wanted to do. Keep remembering that.
9. It may take you months to realize the truth. Nevertheless keep searching.
10. Take support. You will find it from unexpected places. Take it.
11. Thank them always. Be grateful.
12. Don’t give up without even trying.
13. Don’t be in the shadows for too long. Soak in the sunlight.
14. Keep being accountable for what you do, because you and only you are in charge and no one else.
15. Do whatever it takes to get it right.
16. Carry on the strong sense of responsibility. What else would you do anyways?
17. Learn to keep smiling at all times.
18. Remain happy.
19. Your family should come first after yourself.
20. Take care. Now smile again!

Honeymoon woes

Travel plans, bookings, surfing the internet for best hotel deals and there it comes up on the page! Honeymoon packages!

Sigh…..! A long sigh at that…sigh! I always wondered what it actually does feel like when you are on a honeymoon. No. Forget the what you do, rather don’t do, (tongue in cheek), but my curiosity lies more in, what you do get when on your honeymoon, in the honeymoon package (well I did say “package” above didn’t I?) I wouldn’t know, guess why? That’s because, I have never been on a honeymoon! Ah! Never mind, don’t get me started.

Well bygones be bygones. I wonder every time when I look at the pictures the hotels put up, how would I actually react on seeing a pair of swan shaped towel, in the center of the bed, with rose petals on the sheet, and his and her bath robes with matching slip-ons. For one I do know, I would hate to spoil the creative work but wonder where to rest my tired self if not on the bed. Any ideas? Maybe these guys need a lesson in usability (oops…sorry call it occupational hazard).

It really tickles me when I see elaborate towel art with ribbons, confetti, petals and all the works. Hell! it will take the honeymooner’s another hour to clean that sheet and turn down the bed, before calling it a night. OR well they could use the couch! Ouch! So much for spending a few thousands more for the honeymoon package.
What comes inclusive and interestingly is the spa for two. But then, aren’t you supposed to close your eyes, and feel the masseur kneed out the tension from your muscles? Or do the lovebirds gaze in each other’s eyes and connect with each other by sending out vibes? Wouldn’t it be better if they just have a regular package and relax their separate ways and come in rejuvenated? How else would you sell a honeymoon package then. Silly me.

But I am all for the goodies. The wine, chocolates, cake that would make me feel pampered. But now when I think of it more, its already paid and included in the package. Isn’t it?

I need to stop right here! I have just averted myself from ever taking up a honeymoon package and putting it under my “things I should do once before I die list”. Better pack my backpack and have my options open for dorm rooms.

Sigh…! No honeymoon for me. Sniff…sniff..

Mumbai Meri Jaan

An impromptu plan. She agreed, which was a pleasant surprise for him. Early that day he said,” Meet me at the junction, I am taking you away. Today you will see Mumbai through my eyes”.
“You mean explore the unexplored bylanes?”
“No dear, to see the union of waves with the shore, to feel it”.
” You very well know what I am fond of, just wondering, if experiencing this union will make me forget the present.”
” You may very well drift from the conscious, but nowadays I am rooted to the ground. I have the horizon in my view. You have nothing to worry.”

Her chariot was waiting at the corner as promised. A quick exchange of pleasantries as they drove off. Mumbai calling. Traffic, signals, people, crowd, all was a blur. He glanced sideways at her and  thought, she seemed radiant today. That was a sign signifying all will go well as planned. She took charge shuffling the radio channels and setting the mood for the evening. There was no sense of urgency to reach any place, neither did she quiz persistently on the plan. He could see the trust she placed on him. It brought a sense of relief and a huge pressure was lifted off his mind. The journey mattered.

In no time the Bandra Worli sealink was in view. The rain gods had decided to call it a day. The atmosphere as dusk started to set in was welcoming. Through the grey clouds, the washed away shades of crimson and orange peeped out. The sight was too inviting to ignore. She thought, this is it. Probably we will sit on one of the benches on the reclamation, and watch the seagulls. But he swilled the wheel  towards the toll booth. She watched him curiously, trying to gauge his thoughts. She was itching to ask about his plans for the evening, but decided otherwise. They drove on, sharing memories of the bygone, singing to the ghazals tuned in. Worli, Haji ali, Peddar road, Marine lines, Churchgate, Kala ghoda, then it dawned on her. Gateway of India. So this is where we are headed. Teasingly she asked” Are you taking me to the Taj?”
“Do you want to? We can have a quite dinner there.”
She smiled, ” No, you promised the ocean, I don’t want to sit confined in a place and watch the dark waters from enclosed premises.”

They circled the Taj Hotel for a couple of times, in hope to find a safe parking area. There was none and he was at a loss. It seemed the whole of Mumbai decided to visit the Gateway today. She asked him, ” Are we going to sit here? There is a huge crowd and too dark to even look at the sea and the waves.”
“I thought maybe you would like to see the Gateway.”
She giggled, “And do what?”

He smiled and a dejected look washed his face. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Disappointed they decided to drive towards Marine drive. By now hunger was gnawing her insides, they hadn’t stopped for a quick bite. The scene there was no different. The entire stretch was full of people and noisy vehicles.

They drove on till Haji Ali and zeroed in on Mainland China. If not the sea, the quite dinner can be a success he thought. Two glasses of Jacob Shiraz, some appetizers set the mood for what was to follow. And what a revelation it was! Once the conversation started, they realised, they had many things in common.  Their love for books, his knowledge of literature, music, art, poetry all weaved effortlessly into they talk as if they were composing music together. Their shower of praises for each other knew no boundaries.  She highlighted his strength in his work and he showed her a path to make her weaknesses, her power. Theirs was a perfect combination of give and take. Then and there they promised and made plans to work towards a mutual goal. A perfect end to a perfect evening they walked together outside, with unlimited hope in their hearts.

“Let’s take the expressway, we will reach faster” saying he drove on.  Little did he know, the universe had conspired this evening to last even longer and make their wishes come true for tonight. He missed the turn on a bylane and turned left. Suddenly they were in front of Worli seaface. She looked out at the sky, switched off the AC and rolled down the window, letting the natural cool breeze come into their space. By now he knew her too well to even ask, what she was doing. He slowed down and tentatively stuck to the left, when she blurted what he had already anticipated,” Shall we wait here for some time please?”. He smiled knowingly and parked at the side.
Few moments and she asked, ” Do you know what I am going to say next to you?” 
Within a 2 seconds he said, ” You want to step outside?”
She gushed,” Yes! He, the sea is calling me here! I can feel it. it seems only fair that we respect his request isn’t it?” and her face lit up like a child.
The minute they walked towards the broad cement barrier that separated the sea from the walkway, the breeze engulfed them. Without a moments hesitation, both ran like kids, swirled their feet over the barrier and sat facing the sea.
And then silence!
” Tell me what comes to your mind looking at the waves. Quick three words! Don’t think.” he said.
” expansive, silent, coming home”.
He looked at her expressions and her face showed many emotions, “Watch the waves break against the shore. They fall back as if the shore has pacified the passion in the wave. The wave goes back in and comes back with renewed strength. This is me, the shore. You are like the wave, fighting with vigour against all odds and crashing into me. I am here to be your strength and you go back to being yourself, at your peak. That is what you are meant to be. It explains all that we have spoken today and what we mean to each other.”

She looked at him with absolute adoration, mesmerised by his simplicity and understanding the depth of his words. He was right, this is what all this journey is all about. They went back to observing the waves, made poetry, creativity and inspiration was all around them. They were lost to the world and time stood still.

They lived the moments, like movies it felt like a dream, just too good to be true. In bargain rediscovered  themselves. Through many  wrong misses and turns, they still found their path in this one evening. Just like life, which  throws you at multiple crossroads till you find your own calling.

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Credit to the picture, (actually I literally begged him to share the pic with me, which was so apt to this post): Thank you Vishal 🙂

Honour in rituals- Gauri Ganapati

This post is more importantly about Jeshta Gauri agaman (arrival of Gauri) 2 days after Ganesha Chathurthi.

TIP: During Ganesha Chaturthi, always plan your travel 2 1/2 months earlier. If you happen to be visiting Konkan you would identify with the significance attached with purchase of rail tickets in advance be it any class or berth.

Though my native place, Kumbharli, beckoned me, work topped my priority list. Sadly I did not even get to the point of booking my travel tickets. This year was special in two ways. Number one, this year Purva nakshatra resided in the month of Bhadrapad when we celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi. Therefore this year is the year of vausa, where a newlywed suvasini (married women) will commence worshiping mother Gauri and then continue thereafter each year.

My younger brother married in November last year, and luckily, his wife could start with her Gauri pooja. I know few women who had to wait for 4 to 5 years. Either the wait for next purva nakshatra is 2 years later or they are blessed with pregnancy, during which they cannot perform vausa.

Before Gauri aagman, preparations are in full swing. Women folk gather and mould lenaval or alankar (jewellery-for the goddess) made out of a wheat flour and jaggery dough. These are shaped in various forms, roughly resembling all the ornaments associated with a suvasini. Mangalsutra, bangles, nath (nose ring), jodvi (toering), bugadi (earstuds). These sweets are then deep-fried and packed to distribute and eaten.

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Winnowing Fan (Sup in Marathi)

5 sups (winnowing fan weaved in bamboo) are decorated with swastik in the center, drawn with kumkum. Symbols of swastik, shri and om are always drawn on auspicious occasions and it is a good practice to draw them outside your doorstep, with rangoli and then fill with color. The sups are then arranged with 5 betel leaves and nuts at the base, 5 fruits, 5 sweets, the lenaval, a coconut and niranjan (ghee lamp either copper, silver, brass). Comb, mirror, mani mangalsutra (tiny gold bead threaded with black beads), Kunku karanda (kumkum holder), green bangles, silver jodvi all signifying the suvasini’s shrungar (adornment) essentials are in addition.

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The new bride can distribute these 5 sups, starting from 1. Goddess Gauri herself 2. gaon chi devi (village deity) Mahakali in our case; 3. someone from her maternal home, anyone except her mother. If the pooja is performed at the in-laws, then the mother-in-law is given the sup. My sis-in-law distributed one to her aatya (father’s sister) when she visited them, and two of them were brought back home. My mami (maternal uncle’s wife) was offered one and the last came my way. This is considered as a huge honour. In return of the sup, usually we acknowledge the honour by ooti bharun (a fabric, rice and a coconut are placed in the giver’s lap, rice and kumkum is applied on her forehead all signifying, abundance of grain and longevity of the husband’s life).

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Me being her nanand (husband’s sister) and the elder one at that, the heavily decked sup which comes my way is called as nandecha maan (maan is honour). After my brother and my sis-in-law, were back from Kumbharli, I had decided to buy something for her in return of the honour she will bestow, however didn’t find time from work, even after 1 week. The next Sunday, when I came home to my Aai’s place, my sis-in-law was all dressed up, in a beautiful orange red jari saree, jewellery  et. all and me in my work clothes. I asked her if she had gone out, but she smiled and said, was waiting for me to arrive. I was surprised. She called me inside, near the dev ghar (altar) and applied hald kunku (turmeric and red powder) on my forehead, offered the sup and both my brother she touched my feet together for blessings. I wish I had bought something earlier, but gave her an envelope with cash instead. The second special thing about this year’s Ganesh Chaturthi is just this. Nandecha mann.

The most gentle and benevolent Goddess Gauri’s visarjan marks the advent of her another form i.e. Durga. Durga Pooja and the Navratri celebrations of nine forms of Shakti (power) begins today.

Travel Companions

I glide through the fragrant earth, unending fluorescent green streaks contouring the pathways, drape myself in this finery, to walk towards thee. We are here together, on the edge, looking beyond the velvety valley and the pristine cerulean sky.
My adulation is unearthed, like dewdrops glistening in the tangerine rays, you deserving of the pedestal where I see you. My eyes seek the promise, which our hearts have known all through. The path is as clear as the small rivulet glistening over the gravel as we choose to be companions.

We walk together to another town and capture the diversity and humility of the inhabitants, as per our sensitivity, guiding each other but not obstructing, separate but within hearing range, performing and accomplishing the same goals. The end of the day we meet satisfied we lived our dreams accompanied by our sensibilities and desires.
My fascination towards you stays intact more so as we stop to sense, smell, taste and breathe the same air, sharing the same space.

We travel again to journeys beyond, take the path lesser known, to explore, experience, live another life, than the one we have known.