The first time

“Good morning, Sir!” I say with a smile.

“Good morning, Madam!” I say with another smile.

Between all the trained words that my lips utter and all the smiles that my face wears, a few thoughts remind me of their presence in my mind.

I think about my family which is a mess. My father is on his deathbed. My mother sits by his bed and wipes her tears with the torn end of her sari. My brother has completed his schooling and we will be needing money for his higher education.

I think about how I can support my family. I have already been working overtime. I will have to look for more job opportunities.

I think about the dreams I had about my future. I still have them, and I intend to fulfil them. I want to earn well and to live well.

The door opens, breaking my thought process.

A few persons enter.

I bow, smile and say, “Good morning, Sir!”

Five people pass me by and I get no response from them; not even a nod. I don’t expect anything, either.

For the Sirs and Madams entering through the office gate, I am just an office guard.

I guess they consider me inanimate. I get paid to bow. I get paid to smile. I get paid to wish. It doesn’t matter if my back hurts after all the bowing or if my cheeks hurt after all the smiling.

The last one to pass me by is a young woman, probably in her mid-twenties.

I do what I am trained to do.

I bow, smile and say, “Good morning, Madam!”

I straighten up, turning to go to my desk. But a chirpy voice makes me question reality.

“Good morning, Bhaiya!” the girl says with a smile.

I look at her with the smile that a poor kid has when someone offers him a balloon.

She smiles and enters the office, and I return to my desk.

It takes me some time to process that my presence was acknowledged and my wish was reciprocated.

For the first time, I feel animate.

For the first time, I feel more like a human being and less like an office guard.

For the first time, I wear a smile on my face all day long, without even wanting to get paid for it.

Summer

“A mango juice, Bhaiya,” Fiza told the man at the fruit juice cart.

His was a cart just on the side of the road. There was no electricity and the man had to prepare the juice manually.

He’d peel the fruits patiently, put them into what could be called just the cannister of a mixer grinder which was connected to a handle, and he’d rotate the handle so that the fruit got churned.

A mango and a thousand sweat beads later, the man handed out the mango juice to Fiza. His hands were trembling.

“Why are you always out in the sun, Bhaiya? You can set your cart up in the shade somewhere. Summers in Hyderabad can be quite cruel,” Fiza said.

The man smiled at her and said, “The other seasons cannot be trusted, Madam. It is they who are cruel. Summer is more like my comrade. It feeds me.”

As Fiza pondered over the idea of the ruthless summer being kind to a fruit-juice seller, the man went back to chopping another mango for another customer.

Smiles

 “I don’t want to click any more photos with you,” she said to him.

“And why is that so?” he asked.

“Why don’t I have a smile like yours?” she asked him looking at the photo of theirs that she had clicked.

“Because mine is an ugly one and you are too beautiful to sport it,” he replied.

“But I want one like yours! We can smile in the same way and people will know that we are best friends,” she said with a pout.

“You’ll have a smile like mine in about 70 years, then we can sport the same smile,” he said.

She looked at her ten little fingers and did whatever mental math she could do.

Satisfied with her calculation, three year old Dia climbed on the lap of her grandfather for another picture.

And this time, Dia wore her full toothed smile with hope and her grandfather wore his toothless smile with pride.

Perfection

Her friends looked at their reflections and marvelled at the epitomes of perfection that they were.

She stood there wearing all her flaws proudly and exhibiting her nonchalance regarding such a stupid thing as beauty.

The most beautiful of her friends walked over to her and asked, “Aren’t you bothered that you don’t have a reflection to look at? Don’t your flaws ever hurt you?”

To this, she politely replied, “Flaws exist only when a person allows them to exist. Otherwise, each one of us is perfect. I don’t have to look at my reflection to decide that.”

To this day, the vain stars look at their mirror images down on Earth at night and wink at their images, and the moon doesn’t even bother to find her likeness on the Earth at night.

The inanimate lights on Earth are compared to the twinkling of the stars, and the lovers on Earth compare their loved ones with the moon – flawed, but perfect.

After all, the perfection that comes with just external beauty is best suited for inanimate objects, and the perfection that comes with acceptance of oneself is what is best suited for humans.

Dust and Smoke

On days like this
I feel my memories stir;
I feel them move;
I feel them look at me,
and blink
like a person
who has just woken up
from the deepest of slumbers.
I watch my memories
walk groggily in my mind;
I watch them
as they ‘accidentally’ spill things over
on the pristine floor of my mind.
And the more they spill,
the more I feel.
I feel a tsunami
build up inside me;
A tsunami of emotions
sometimes healing me,
sometimes opening up my wounds.
And I let the flood
take over me.
I stand there like a fisherman
who faces the tsunami
well aware of his death,
just to bid goodbye
to his comrade – to his boat.
And after the tsunami subsides,
I am surprised
to see myself alive;
And all that is left around me
is the evidence
of what had happened.
My emotions settle down
like smoke settles slowly on the top,
and dust settles slowly at the bottom;
And as I rock my memories
back to sleep,
I take a good, long look
at the souvenirs
that my once pristine mind holds:
Dust and smoke.
The smoke moves to the top
and the dust stays at the bottom.

Antique

There was a time when I used to sing. I would sing the songs which the audience wanted to hear, and I loved the attention that I received.

People vied for my songs and I died for their attention. So, I sang all day and I sang all night. I was pampered and appreciated by my audience and I enjoyed every moment of it.

But everything has an end.

New singers came into picture and the folks wanted them. I hardly ever got the attention and I was hurt.

I sang all the same; I sang all day and I sang all night, but to no avail. Nobody wanted me and I felt betrayed.

I felt like the lover who had been cheated upon.

I felt like the wife who had been left by her husband because he found someone more beautiful.

I felt like the parent who was thrown out of the house by his child.

I cried my heart out and I sulked. But my audience never returned to me.

One day, a man came to me. I found my ray of hope. This was probably the only chance where I could show the world what a great singer I was. I could be famous again. I had another chance at getting the attention that I’d received earlier.

So, I let him take me to his home. I prepared myself to sing again. There were butterflies in my belly and I was all jittery. I had my fingers crossed.

He took me to his house and he made me stand at a place where the world would see me. And then, he didn’t even ask me to sing.

I waited all day and I waited all night. I waited for days together, but he didn’t ask me to sing for him even once.

People used to come to his house and he used to bring them to me. He would beam with pride and they would burn with envy.

And gradually, I realised what I was to him. His pride lay in his posession of me, and not in my music.

After all, I was only a gramophone decorated in his hall. He never wanted my music; the only thing he wanted was my presence.

And from someone whose pride lay in music, I had become someone mute.

I had become a mere silhouette of my former self.

I had become someone whose era was gone; I belonged to a class of things bearing the tag ‘antique’.

Arrows

It has been twenty years since I first held my son in my arms.

It has been twenty years since I heard his first cry and his first giggle.

It has been twenty years since I saw him take his first steps and take his first fall.

I have been his father, his support and his teacher. I taught him the most useful art that would help him survive in today’s era; I taught him archery.

I taught him how to hold the bow, how to pull the string and how to let go of the arrow.

I taught him how to make his arrows whisper to the wind.

I taught him how to make the target feel his arrow.

Twenty years – that’s how long it has been.

I taught my son how to be an archer like everyone else. But I forgot to teach him something crucial. I forgot to tell him that once he lets go of the arrows, he can never revoke them.

I taught him to aim his arrows at the targets. But never had I ever thought that I’d be his target someday.

So, today, twenty years later, I stand helpless, with my bow hanging down at my side, letting each of his arrows pierce me.

I stand there in front of him, helpless, as words and sentences come out of his mouth; words and sentences aimed at me like I’d taught him to aim his arrows solely at his target.

And so, the arrows hit me, but no blood flows.

I bleed, but it doesn’t show.