About Me

My photo
Mumbai, Maharastra, India
Born in Mumbai, my earliest memory in life is a story. A story that said – perhaps I was adopted. Every person has a story to tell. I like to listen and most of them form the base for the stories I write. I also teach creative writing to students and professionals from all walks of life. Many have a story to tell...I help them to pen it down. I also edit, guide and help students create Statement of Purposes, LORs, Resumes and Personal Essays for their Study Abroad documentations. Please go through the samples of the SOPs done by me...I work via the electronic media with students at a global level. I also help corporates as well as individuals in regards to handling all their communication needs. Brochures, newsletters, pamphlets or press releases are delivered under strict time-lines and as per international quality.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Desires Have No Ethics

It’s a boy, exclaimed the nurse to the frail woman in a yellow cotton saree, sitting at the edge of the wooden bed outside Mumbai’s Sion Hospital’s gynaecology department. An overjoyed Tara folded her hands as a gesture of gratitude and waited for someone to call her. Her best friend since childhood, Chanda had delivered a baby boy and she wanted the whole world to know.

Her world was small, though. Her husband Bhima and Chanda’s husband Somu made up her world. Chanda and Tara were married off when they were hardly 14 to Somu and Bhima. Carpenters by profession, both men worked under the same employer and were partners in crime in their younger days. Fed up of being bachelors, they decided to look for a bride and one thing led to the other and they ended up marrying girls who were best friends. It’s been 6 long years where they moved villages, towns and finally settled in Dharavi. The men worked with a builder and the women did odd house chores.

Happy in their oyster, they lived in a 4 feet by 4 feet shanty in the bylanes of Dharavi. Their happiness was however blurred by the absence of pitter patter of tiny feet. Sneha didi who often visited the shanties had asked them to see a certain doctor at Sion Hospital who could perhaps help them have children of their own. The couples, shy by nature never made that visit.

Tara looked outside the window. Rain drops splattered on the window sill outside. Some of it splattered onto her face. It merged well with her tears. Today, it stands proven that she can never be a mother.
The cellphone in her hand buzzed. She hurriedly lifted the black instrument wound tightly by a rubber band to her ear. Bhima, my sweetheart, we have a baby boy. The nurse said Chanda is fine too. I am yet to see both but we will be home tomorrow evening.

Wonderful Tara. I will tell Somu. He will be overjoyed.

Tall, well built, brown-skinned, Bhima was akin to his namesake from the Mahabharata. His green eyes were an aberration to his Indian look. He ran towards Somu, a short dark-skinned lean man who dropped the hammer in his hand and looked at Bhima with eagerness.

We have a boy Somu. They will come home by tomorrow evening. Let’s do a double shift today so we can be home full day tomorrow. Somu hugged his friend, looked up and thanked God almighty for been merciful.

The wail of a baby floated out of Tara’s shanty. Chanda was sleeping peacefully on the bed and Tara was cuddling the baby to sleep. Both men entered the house and immediately the baby seemed to sense them and became quiet. A gleeful Tara showed the baby proudly to the men. The men, exhausted from their double shifts looked at the baby in amazement, too scared to touch him. He was small yet chubby, a dark mop of hair over his fair round face and seemed to smile in his sleep. Somu saw a tiny foot propel itself out of the cloth wrapped around him. He tickled the small feet. The baby opened his light green eyes and looked at them. The colour drained out of his face. He looked at Bhima and Tara. Nothing but joy was written over their face.

Hearing the commotion, Chanda woke up. She saw her husband and smiled at him. Somu could not react. Chanda got up and picked her baby.

Somu, see, our baby is finally here.

Yes, our baby is finally here, chorused Tara and Bhima.

Somu walked out of the hut….walked as far as his feet would carry him. The rain poured on him relentlessly but he kept walking. He knew he will have to do, just that, for the rest of his life.       

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Summer Encounter

10:42, displayed the neon green indicator above the main bridge at Dadar. Sia was petrified of crowded trains and getting down at Dadar as suggested by Yash irked her. Yet, she found herself doing exactly what he asked her to do.  
They were supposed to meet at 11. She was early. Barely 2 days back, she had swiped right on this handsome guy that popped up on her screen. Getting to know each other type chats followed. Sia was thrilled to meet a single guy on a dating app where 80% of the men were married and looking for an affair on the sly. Basically, she would swipe left on a blank profile. Here she took her chances.
10:52. Her cell buzzed. Babes, where are you?
Yash, am on the middle bridge and right below an indicator. Please come and find me.
No worries, keep talking and I will be there.
The butterflies went on a stampede. He is coming! He is coming!!!
Still with her phone glued to her ear, she looked around. Where is he?
Then she saw him…an apparition in white. Tall, dressed casually in blue jeans and crisp blinding white shirt, Yash smiled at her.
The butterflies had now made their way up to her mouth. It seemed they would fly out of her mouth if she opened it. Like a Karan Johar movie, they would come out and circle over her head and play some music.
Yash broke the silence. Shall we go out east or west?
Anywhere Yash. As long as we get a cab, its fine by me. It’s freaking hot and I can’t be out like this anymore.
Let’s go out from the west. It will be a challenge but we will find a cab.
The butterflies were now at her feet. She walked out of the station and they crossed a multitude of cab drivers completely uninterested in their destination. Finally, they found one and Sia was happy to dump herself into it.
Shivaji Park. They got outside a coffee shop they planned to check into. Idea was to sit for hours sipping cold coffee and get to know each other. Blooper! The coffee shop, so well rated on a popular app, barely had seating for more than 15 people and the AC was not functioning!
Wrong choice, muttered both. The sun was not being kind. Nor was the humidity. Sia felt scorched as they discussed their next destination. Yash was facing her and he playfully removed her glares.
You have brown eyes.
Who me? How come I never knew...they were flirting.
Remove yours, let me see yours.
Yash removed his glares.
Sia’s heart skipped a beat. The butterflies were swooshing around her brain with gusto. She was staring into the most amazing set of eyes she had ever seen. Golden rays flickered out of the soft brown eyes. Oblivious to the heat around her, Sia felt warm. The butterflies disappeared. An easy camaraderie set over them and they started talking as if they knew each other all the while.
Yash suggested Macdonald. The only thing that made Sia accept this suggestion was their AC! They had to walk towards their destination and by the time they plonked themselves onto a vacant table, Sia was all flushed from the heat.
A bottle of chilled water brought her peace. Yash ordered for a coffee and they spent a couple of hours at the coffee shop.
Silence speaks a lot, at times. Not much was spoken but a lot was felt. Yash kept getting calls from a friend he was scheduled to meet. Sia too had to meet her friends. 
So it's time to leave, said Sia.
You want to leave?
Of course, we both have plans. you only suggested we won't need more than an hour since it is out first meet. Sia had a smug look on her face.
Yash smiled back...yeah go ahead...book the cab. 
Sia booked a cab. They got up from their seat and decided to wait outside for the cab. There was a short winding staircase leading the way out. Sia moved ahead of Yash. At one point, Yash dashed past her and stood a few steps beneath her. Now she was staring into those playful eyes again.
Yash leaned forward and kissed her lightly on her neck. His raised eyebrows seemed to gauge her reaction. That staircase moment made her day. Hand in hand they walked out. Sia got into the waiting cab and they bid their good-byes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Puzzle That Is Me

I may seem strong, I may seem near to perfect
What I am actually – is a well-fixed jigsaw puzzle

Each puzzle holding a badly broken and bruised me

I survive for I have you
An invisible cordless charger

You make me laugh, you make me cry
You make me feel beautiful and wanted

And I continue to live in near perfection
Sensible, charming and strong headed

Always ready to help others
For my world is filled with happiness

And delight I strive to spread

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Life Better Than Yours...

The sound of her Reebok soles hitting the paved walkway sounded pleasant to her. It was a sign… she was hale and hearty, healthy enough to run at this age. Jogging was a passion that has remained with her all through these years. She looked at her watch. Exact 5 am. Reshma parked her car just opposite the Air India building on Marine Drive and started stretching. Very soon she would start her jog. One hour at a stretch! She was here on most days from 5 to around 6.30. Though she had been coming here since ages, she was not a part of the many groups that dotted this famous skyline of Mumbai. She was a loner and preferred to be that way. Running uncluttered her mind. It also helped her clear some cobwebs from the deep recesses of her mind.

Wearing military green track pants and a white T shirt, Reshma appeared to be in her mid-thirties when she was in reality, close to hitting 50. An athlete all through her life she had seen more losses than gains, be it in games or in life. She smiled to herself. She was happy with the way her life went by though it was not picture perfect.  Her thoughts were side-tracked by a very young girl in a fluorescent green top and red cycling shorts, as she came running towards her. She was lean, around 5’ 10” and had skin as smooth as marble. She had a small dog running ahead of her. Her hair was auburn and tied atop her head from where the curls bobbed to each side of her face as she ran. As they crossed each other, Reshma smiled and wished her “Good Morning”. Interesting life she must be having thought Reshma. The girl looked well in control of her life. The girl smiled back “morning maam”. 

Sonia usually ran for a little over 90 minutes but today she felt very lethargic. She was missing Ayushman and she knew he had no place in her life anymore. She was forced to come because her dog loved to run as much as her. But today was different. Sonia felt the only person who loved her unconditionally was her dog, Rocky. All others, including her parents loved her because she was the golden goose. Sonia allowed Rocky to run without a leash and she ran after him with unrestrained vigour and energy. A woman who seemed to be in her mid-thirties wished her a good morning. Sonia wished her back but wondered what was so good this morning! Unlike the other models in her industry, she neither smoked, nor drank nor snorted any dope.
Reshma continued to run for another hour before she stopped next to her car to retrieve the bottle of water. Sipping the cool water, she returned and sat down on the parapet. The chaiwala, a regular guy, stopped by her and said, ”Good morning Madham, Howh areh youh?” “Sab thik” would reply Reshma. This was their daily way of greeting; with the chaiwala not wanting to speak in Hindi and Reshma trying to push the message that talking in English was not a necessity! The message did not seem to have made an effect all these years. The chaiwala gave her a steaming hot cup of chai in a white disposable cup and she handed him a 50 rupee note. That would suffice for a week and Reshma did this as a routine every Sunday. She sipped on her chai and looked blankly at the sea, silent on the surface but turbulent inside. It was 6 and the sky had turned a crimson red. Very soon, the Sun would rise and be on its way. She got up, she too had to be on her way… she had to reach the academy by 7.

Almost 30 years back, she missed winning the National Badminton title by a whisker, she was only 19. Though she lost she was noticed by Norma, a sports goods manufacturing company. They asked her to model for their brand and she readily agreed. Knowing that her career as an athlete may not take off that well in the absence of a coach or mentor, she chose to start work as soon as she graduated.  She expressed her interest in working with Norma and they readily agreed. They chose her as a regional sales representative and she used her charm in getting orders for her company. Norma manufactured Tennis rackets and Reshma had the appeal to sell the products.  Aged 22, she was pleased as a punch to have found a dream job and the disappointment of losing the National title, easily disappeared into the realms of the past. An orphan, she was glad to have a life of her own.  That’s when her real troubles started.

A whirlwind romance with the wrong person left her a divorcee by the time she was 25. Fortunately, there were no kids. Professionally she did well. She was a good sales person and had the convincing power to sell ice to an Eskimo. Professionally she did well. However, relationships remained a problem. Men came and left, either she left them or they left her. After a few years it did not matter. Her work gave her the high. In the last 2 decades, she worked for most part of her life and did nothing apart from it. A workaholic, the only time she took leave was for those 6 months that haunted her till date.

Around six years back, she decided to set up a coaching academy for Badminton. By hobnobbing with the right kind of people, she set up an academy that attracted a lot of investors. She hired the right people, crafted intensive training schedules, kept a tight rein on the budget and her academy was a hit. Within the next 5 years, she repaid all the loans. Friends and family envied her success and her independence. Some women gossiped amongst themselves about the lack of men or children in her life. No one knew, and most times Reshma too loved to forget the fact that she was a mother too and she too had loved once. Jatin, was the regional sales head in for a competitor company in Delhi.  Though he was married, both walked the forbidden path which unfortunately resulted in Reshma getting pregnant. Reshma left her job before her pregnancy started showing and shifted to Delhi where no one knew her and she was closer to Jatin. Jatin and Reshma were truly in love and Jatin was sure his divorce would come through but that did not happen as his mother objected tooth and nail. Jatin succumbed to family pressure and blackmail from his own mother and a 7 month pregnant Reshma was left alone. She had no option but to carry her term to maturity. She gave up the baby to an adoption centre. She had no plans of raising a child when she herself was unsure about living the right kind of life. She was 32 then. After giving up the baby, she shifted back to Mumbai and started working with Pioneer, a global sporting goods company. Pioneer had valued her expertise and roped her in as a Global Head. She was thrilled with the challenge and gave her 100% to the job.  Today, she grieved about her selfish act. Had she kept the child, she would have been as old as the girl in the fluorescent top!   It would have felt great to have someone you can call your own…she was pensive for a moment but then she smiled at herself and got up and headed towards her car. Life is a mystery…just go on with it was her motto. She was not the sentimental kind. Life made her that.

Ratan saw Reshma walk up to her car. This way he knew the time would be around 6. Maam looks so happy, thought Ratan. He has been seeing her for the past 5 to 6 years and he offered her chai exactly the way she wanted it just after her run. Ratan had his pulse on every runner and walker on the stretch. With an auto reminder set inside his head he would stop by each one exactly a minute after they settled down. He had the monopoly of being the only chaiwala in the entire stretch. The others started coming in only by 7. He admired the morning joggers for the lifestyles they led. Lucky people to be able to drive such fancy cars, do what they like especially early mornings! They must be such happy people!!!

Chai Madham? He asked the girl in the fluorescent green top with the dog. Both were sitting on the parapet waiting for the sun to rise. She first fiddled for some change then nodded in the affirmative. 

Sonia had just finished her run. As she ran she recounted the events of the last week. Her live in boyfriend, Ayushman had brought a very young girl home and had placed a bizarre demand of all three sleeping in the same bed. When Sonia refused, Ayushman smacked her face with the bottle in his hand. Pain seeped into her entire being. Pieces of glass scraped through her cheeks. The area near her eye got badly bruised.  In pain Sonia, ran inside the bathroom, locked herself in. She called the police. Help reached almost instantly and she was rescued from the drunk and violent Ayushman. The girl was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she sensed danger and chose to disappear. Sonia did not press any charges. She loved Ayushman, no matter how bad he behaved. But this time, with police protection, she removed every inch of his presence from their home. She threw him out, literally. Since last one week, only she and Rocky lived here.

She finished her tea and got up. She planned to jog. She felt better with the hot cup of strong ginger flavoured chai. Ayushman was livid with Sonia. He vowed to ruin her life and had been coming to Marine Drive every morning with a plan. Unaware of his presence on the parapet, Sonia continued to walk with the dog. It was only 6.15 am and Ayushman hated to wake this early every day. Today, he must find an opportunity to throw acid on her face…he did not want to come back tomorrow. He wanted to sleep in peace.

Ratan saw her again, the plump woman with a pleasant face but today she was late. It was almost 6.30. He smiled at himself when he realised what she was doing. She had been coming to the same spot, just opposite the Air India building but Ratan had never seen her run or walk. She would just sit by the ledge and stare into the sea.  Maybe somebody told her running on Marine drive was a healthy activity and she chose to partially listen to it. Ratan used to offer her his special chai many times but she always refused and now he stopped asking. She was wearing a light blue track pant that had the embossing of a non-descript brand. She wore a very loose black T-shirt which probably hid her plumpness. She was short, about 5 feet but she looked pleasant. Ratan wished she bought his chai. He knew she was not affluent but then that was more his type of woman. Maybe they could become friends?

Ratan shook himself out of his reverie. How easy it was for him to get lazy. He whacked himself on his head and looked around for a sale. Then he saw Babuji. Babuji was not seen for a few months and Ratan assumed he was dead. That’s what actually happened to old people who came there for a walk. Those who discontinued were either ill or dead. Ratan ran towards where Babuji was sitting. As he neared him, he could hear the familiar tunes of some old hindi classics emanating from Babuji’s cellphone.

Namaste babuji, Maaji where? You not coming, I not seeing?

Babuji smiled at Ratan, took his chai and pointed towards the sky. Ratan was dismayed and shocked. But he did not know what to say so he quietly slipped out from there after pocketing his change. Everyone has to die, of course, but what does it do to the people who are left behind? He missed his beautiful wife Kala. Some said his 2 year old daughter looked just like her but he never went back to his village.

A tall but frail figure, Babuji was still in mourning. He was wearing brown khakhi pants, the ones he wore for his daily morning walks and a white shirt. He had not yet learned how to survive without his Malati. He and Malati had been married for 58 long years when she was just 16 and he was 20. Babuji sipped the chai and looked into the sea. The rising sun had turned the horizon a crimson red.

Malati had left him all of a sudden last month, quiet unfair, he thought. Between the two he was the one who was unhealthy. He was the one who had diabetes and blood pressure. But she chose to go in her sleep. His life partner broke the deal. What a fickle deal! Back home, his three children, one daughter and two sons fought amongst each other to take him to their home. Thanks to Malati, the children had values. All were well settled and loved him to the core. He decided to stay with his youngest son Nipun, for Nipun had a 3 year old daughter Niyati, who was an exact replica of Malati. The other grand children were older and busy to pay much attention to him but little Niyati would scream with joy whenever she was around Babuji. Niyati kept looking for Aaji and he had to tell her that Aaji has gone on a very long tour.

“Ask her to bring me some toys and chocolates when she returns or else I will never speak to her”, moaned Niyati. Right, me too, added Ramnath. Then they would start their games without Aaji.

No one objected to his choice of living with Nipun as their objective was not to let their 78 year old father live alone. They gave their fathers house on rent and the amount kept adding into his pile of savings, of which he was not allowed to use any, except gift the kids during festivals and birthdays.

Everyone in the Nana Nani Park said he was a lucky old guy. Money was never a problem. But he missed Malati. He did not know how having money was equivalent to not having Malati by his side. How can one be happy with money?

All have to go one day. But Malati went before him. This was not what he had planned. He had planned that during his last moments he would confess to her. The one single mistake of his life. He felt miserable for not having been true to her. He regretted he hid a lie from her. Will she find out now that she is in heaven and has access to all the books? The thought devastated him. He did not know why he behaved in that manner. He was not a young teenager but a very mature gentleman of 48 when he had met a young energetic girl who was in her thirties. Both of them were in the same profession and had met quite a few times over work which most times transcended to drinks and dinner. He was so overpowered by lust that one day he proposed they go for an overnight trip. She was single and had no qualms. They went to a nearby hill station on a Saturday morning and planned to stay overnight but Babuji did not know himself.  Babuji had never done something like this before but the desire to step into the unknown was so intense that he perhaps lost his marbles. However, once they were in the room, he felt very uneasy lying next to another woman. He was surprised that his lust hid under a thick blanket and failed to rise from there. He made some flimsy excuse and left the resort the same day. The girl did not mind this either. That night back home in his room, while Malati slept next to him, he decided to forget his day time adventure as a bad dream. The guilt nagged him all through but he never had the heart to admit to Malati. He took another sip from the cup. The cup was empty. As empty as his soul.

Time to leave. He had not walked today. That’s bad for his health. If Malati was around, she would force him to walk.  He missed Malati. This is not what he had planned. Does life allow us to plan? He shook his head, got up and walked with energised steps towards home. Little Niyati would be waiting for him.

Ranjana was wearing her favorite blue track pants that a client had gifted her. She was wearing a red T shirt that she had bought off Fashion Street. But today, she was in no mood to jog. One can’t vouch she ever did on other days. But today was special day. Perhaps her last day! She made a mental note of the chaiwala who was talking to a young girl. She had several times caught the chaiwala stealing a glimpse in her direction, more so after she refused his chai umpteen times.

At work, she chose to wear black jeans and tight fitting black T shirt that showed off her ample curves and also gave a peek a boo into her most valuable assets whenever she bent over a client. Ranjana was 35 years old and had a past that still gave her nightmares. Eldest of 5 siblings, she had a horrific childhood.  Her mother worked as a maid and was out most of the time. Her father’s only priority in life was to beat up her mother for money, for sex, for food not necessarily in that order. Once when her mother was away, her father shooed the boys out of the house and forced her to do all the household chores …in the nude. She was a blossoming young girl of 13 but was too afraid of her father. She obeyed. He would later do things to her that nauseated her till date. Her mother sensed something was wrong but did nothing much but get her married by the time she was 15. Ranjana felt happy to leave the hell hole and embraced her husband Sumit and his family as her own. She won everyone’s heart including Sumit’s. Life was smooth though Sumit earned a measly salary of 5000 as an office peon. Her mother-in-law too worked as a maid but Ranjana wanted the old lady to stop working. She pleaded with Mona, a beautician living nearby to teach her the ropes and interned with her free of charge. Very soon, she learnt the ropes and then worked as an assistant to the beautician. All was well. She had two beautiful children. Life went on. She worked hard and so did Sumit. 15 years went by. The boys were on the threshold of entering college when disaster struck in the form of an accident. Sumit was coming back from Shirdi with his mother when their bus met with an accident. Ranjana lost everything in an instant. It took her a while to come to terms with reality. The boys were her only strength. She needed money and it was hard to come by. Mona suggested she sell this home, invest most of it for a steady income and use some to secure a house on rent and manage general expenses. Mona encouraged her to start her own parlour. Thus Rosy’s parlour came into existence. Her home cum parlour was not more than 200 square feet in xyz place near xyz. The room was self-contained and well ventilated. She and the boys were happy with the setup and that was all that mattered. Her business picked up fine as there was no parlour in that area. She sent her sons to the same boarding school where Mona’s children went.  She could not run the parlour with the boys coming in and out of the house.

Few years passed and Ranjana was doing well. Her elder son now wanted to join an engineering college and she had saved the required amount. However, she was short of about 20 thousand rupees. She shared her concern with Mona.

Why don’t you go and ask Mehta for a loan?

I hardly know him, Mona.

Go and ask and get to know him well. Then ask for it.

Mehta ran a courier service agency and was Mona’s regular client. Ranjana decided to meet Mehta.

One evening, around 8pm, she went to meet Mehta. She had just shut her parlour and Mehta was also closing his office.

Hey Ranjana, what brings you here?

Ranjana smiled. Sir, I need a small favour.

Good you came. I too need a small favour. You see the bottle there? Go and get it. My head hurts like hell today. Was planning to visit Mona, but now that you are here why you don’t give me one of those heady massages?

Sure sir. That was the start of many other “Sure sir’s”. It was easy money and it did not harm anybody. There were additions to Mehta. She was particularly fond of one Shravan, a 26 year old executive who often came to her for a head massage. Most of the times, he was dressed in a white kurta pyjama and he stayed overnight. The neighbours gossiped about her. Raised a complaint with the landlord and when the landlord came to visit her late one night to seek an explanation she offered him her specialised head massage. He left the next morning. The neighbours were silenced. Some moved out from the locality, others remained.  She spoke to none. She was happy with her customers. Whenever her sons returned for vacations, she would stop her services for that brief period. As all her clients visited with prior appointments she could stall any of the regular men from coming home. Her clients understood. She was a proud mother for she was able to impart the best academic opportunities her sons deserved. She was a good wife too but when there was no husband around and she was not one of those who could talk and share things with a photograph or a memory. She too had her needs and she saw that it was fulfilled. She liked Shravan the most and would always look forward to his visits.

From the time she deviated from her parlour business, Ranjana found time to take a fresh morning walk at marine drive. She would reach there every day by 7am and sit and watch the waves lashing the rocks. She hardly walked or jogged. Tried a few times but gave up simultaneously. Her health was an issue. She lost 10 kgs in the last 2 months. She constantly developed cold and fever and felt weak. From a rotund 65kg she was now 55kg and though she was happy with her weight loss she hated her low immunity.

One day she got a call from Shravan. When she picked up, a woman spoke to her.

Hello, is this Saraswati Devi Maa?

Yes, murmured Ranjana.

Mataji, I am Shravans aunt. We believe Shravan worshipped you in some way. He often used to speak about finding peace in your sermons. I have called you to inform you about the tragic demise of Shravan. His soul will be at peace if you could come for his condolence ceremony tomorrow evening. I will message you the address. Namaste Mataji.

Namaste, said a shocked Ranjana.

Shravan…and dead? How?

Ranajana was back on Marine Drive. Today she was late…it was almost 7. The chaiwala kept looking at her like he did every day. However, today her mind was on something else. She looked into the ocean. Her vision was blurred.

She had been crying all through last evening. She had gone for Shravan’s funeral but nobody asked her who she was. She heard a familiar voice, probably the same aunt who was asking another woman if saraswati maa had arrived.

Ranajana moved away from there and went and sat far away from Shravans photograph. She sat there for over 30 minutes not knowing what was happening as a soothing voice kept singing one bhajan after the other. She felt disturbed by the murmur of few women. She turned to look back and saw three women in white; all in their early thirties giggle and raise eyebrows.

God rest his soul. He was never happy with his life.

Yes, I heard he refused to join the family business and joined one of the top most financial companies in India.

He was too stressed yaar. He never joined us for parties.

Stress? I heard he was habituated to visiting these Russian girls. That’s how he contracted aids and that’s why he chose to jump off the Worli Seaface.

The other two women raised their eyebrows so high that it seemed to vanish into their scalps.

I am not joking. Since the last few months, he lost weight drastically and often kept unwell.

Finally, I think he got fed up of his sick life!

The whole world swam in front of Ranjanas eyes. She sat there like a statue and tears welled up in her eyes. Fortunately, she was in a place where everyone grieved so she did not stand out. She composed herself and left the place quietly. She cried and cried not knowing what to do. Shravan…and aids?

Chai? Ranjana looked at the chaiwala. For the first time in her life, she said, yes and smiled at the chaiwala. It was perhaps the last time she would interact with someone. She planned to take a cab to worli seaface right after her chai.

Ratan was feeling very happy. It was 7. Today not only did he do good business but even the plump lady bought his chai. Perhaps in the next few days, he could be friends with her.

Most days, 6am to 8am was a busy morning for Ratan. He had to cater to the regular joggers who came to Marine Drive. Very few youngsters had chai but most elders, men as well as women loved their morning cup from him. After a jog, they would often sit in group, chit chat or at times sing songs. Even though he was busy he had a close watch on a short plump woman whom he intensely liked. There were no tell-tale signs of her being married nor did any man ever escort her during her walks. Ratan had lost his wife, his pretty Bela, to child birth. His two year old daughter resembled Bela and his mother took care of her. He wished to marry again but have not been able to meet someone who would make him want to marry. This plump woman seemed to have that elusive charm. How he wished he could send his mother to her house to ask for her hand! But he hardly knew her. Today, he mustered courage and walked up to her direction. He decided to pester her till she bought his chai. He would then not let her pay. They may then become friends….

Fortunately for him, today she said “yes” to his chai….that too without him having to pester her…it’s a good omen. Tomorrow, perhaps he can speak a few words with her. He blushed. He was a shy person by nature and he liked this plump woman. She too seemed like a reserved person. They seemed to be a perfect match.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pattaya - Pallu and Me

It was a sudden trip. One that favoured me as well as Pallu. I can’t say I knew Pallu as much before the trip as after the trip! 

Being single is no cake-walk. I have conquered a few areas like buying presents for myself, going for movies, eating out and managed to do all of this alone but going on a holiday alone was something I haven’t been able to do till date. I had told all my friends…married as well as singles to ‘kindly accommodate ‘me if they ever plan a trip. All said YES. Then I would sometimes catch their pictures on Facebook taken in either Switzerland or Shimla. Perhaps they forgot that I had expressed an interest in joining them. Later when I would LIKE their pictures they would comment a 'Thanks Sups'. I was expecting a message in my inbox saying...'oops we forgot to tell you before we left'. But the entire conversation seemed to have been erased from their memory. It wasn't their fault though. They had too many things to do...

So it was once when I was casually cajoling Paro, a good friend of mine to plan a trip, that she mentioned Pallu.

You remember apna Pallu at JoyBuzz? I didn’t have to try hard to recollect. Tall, slim and dusky, Pallu was a girl with a chiseled face and high cheekbones that complemented her charming personality.

Seems like Pallu had planned a trip to Thailand with her aunt and now it has gone kaput after her aunt ditched her. She was also asking me to join her. I hardly get time to breathe Sups! Why don’t you both go and have a blast! Said Paro. Her excitement at the prospect of me and Pallu going on a trip to Thailand was infectious.
Though I didn’t know Pallu very well, I dialed her number and exchanged the boring routine pleasantries of how are yous and whats up thing. 

Then I said – Paro was saying you are looking for a partner to go to Thailand?
Yiipppeeeee…screamed Pallu at the other end of the phone. Wait, you have your passport right? Let me give you…

Pallu seemed delirious with happiness. Off she rattled off about 10 odd things I had to do to get myself ready for the trip. Thank you Sups, now let me convince my parents that I have a “mature lady for company”. You know my aunt had to cancel last moment and my dad said – Now you too don’t go!!! Really, God is great….cmon Sups…start packing!!!

25000 all-inclusive for 6 nights and 7 day in an international trip! That too during Christmas??? I knew I got lucky by just being in the right place at the right time. I started packing. I told my son I was going. 

What? Just like that? Mom your one lucky woman!!! I am 22 year old guy and have not even gone on a singles trip to GOA and you are going to Thailand??? Lucky woman..... But he was very happy for me. The last international trip I had was with him to Nepal. He was just 10 then...

There was an induction meeting 2 days prior to the trip….I was excited….at the thought of meeting several other singles or adventurous adults.

The induction meet was in a small residential society in Ghatkopar. I was skeptical. Pallu reassured – don’t worry babes. This Reema aunty organizes tours during vacations and it is her main livelihood. They are good people , don’t go by the lack of frills….this is no Fox and Kings but it ain't bad either.
I trusted Pallu real bad. She was a sweet girl and our meager savings were a result of our toil and hardwork at JoyBuzz where working was never a joy! None of us wanted to be dwindled!!!  
I was aghast as the meeting began. There were about 10 to 12 families. All of them were in the age bracket of 30 to 40 and had kids ranging from 5 to 15. ALL OF THEM WERE GOING TOGETHER TO THAILAND!!!

Pallu, whats this? Are they thinking we are going to Disneyworld?

Hmmm….no handsome guys either, moaned Pallu. It was December 2012 and an astrologer had predicted that she would be married by December 2013 and this was the last chance she had to freak out.
We both consoled each other. I volunteered - we will break free from the group and go on our own ( sometimes).

Pallu grinned – yes we will and she had a twinkle in her eye. 

What we do there…remains there, ok? We both agreed to that…

The D Day dawned. I was all packed and ready. I didn’t tell many in the family that I was going to THAILAND as many had the misconception that people go to Thailand to have fun and sex. For me Thailand was just a destination that came my way. I would have been equally happy doing Europe at 25,000!

My son came to leave me to the airport – he wanted to be sure Pallu was a decent girl and not a guy. Pallus parents had done the same. They had come to check me out! There was chaos at the airport as our guide and Reema aunty had had a fight. The guide left the premise in a huff with Reema aunty hollering after him and threatening him. Her threats fell on deaf ears as the guide simply walked away!

Reema aunty was in tears. She needed the guide but he was adamant about some remuneration which she could not afford. I began wondering if I had lost my precious 28000 and if I would finally be going on this much awaited tour.

I prayed with all my heart. Please let me go, please don’t cancel. Pallu had full confidence in her Reema aunty and was not perturbed. Meanwhile, Reema aunty was frantically trying to find another immediate replacement.

God seemed to have heard me. Probably I have been doing the right karma. And within the next 30 minutes a new guide arrived.

The new guide, a Harish appeared out of thin air and started herding us towards the entry gate. Reema aunty gave him every one’s passports and tickets and he expertly led us through security. From nowhere came huge brown sacks full of spices and Harish included those with the teams luggage. I later learnt he sold spices in hotels in Thailand for an extra income. He often did this and he knew Thailand like the back of his palm. I reminded myself that I will need him in my quest for a few places I had to visit!

Harish, though an unlikeable character at first look with his villainous sort of appearance was a very honest and dedicated person. He dressed like a notorious don of the 70’s – slickly parted hair, dark glares and a fur cap on his head. However, Hari as he came to be known, proved to be our well-wisher and guardian angel all the while we were there. The entire group of 47 people including uncles, aunties and kids grew to love him during the entire trip. During the trip, he not only handled his core responsibilities but also catered to everyone’s whims and fancies with aplomb.
Kay with a tourist
He found a great partner in Kay, our Thailand guide, Between them, they arranged a grand trip for all of us. It proved one need not book through a brand but with someone who is service centric and passionate about their responsibilities. We had loads of fun. It is often said you miss and crave for home food. Not so in Reema auntys tour. Being a staunch vegetarian herself and so were the majority of others in the gang, Reema aunty had ensured we would get the best Indian breakfast and meals wherever we went. No one we missed home. I and a few other non-vegetarians were glad to find a big bowl of the best, softest and yummiest chicken preparations varying from butter chicken to chicken moghlai on all the seven days. Food in the flight both to and fro sucked!  So food in Thailand was a blessing.

Day 1 – From Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, we moved to Pattaya. The bus ride took about 2 hours and it was enough for me to get acquainted with all in the group. The children soon formed their own clusters. The women all exchanged pleasantries which ranged from the origin of their grandparents to their current place of residence. The guys shook hands and checked in hushed tones if any of them would get a chance to escape from their wives clutches and enjoy Thailand in the real sense. Our hotel arrived.
Pattaya Discovery
It was nothing less than an Indian 5 star hotel. Harish later told me all hotels here have  high bars of excellent service as well as opulence.

We wanted to go out immediately. Harish suggested we all rest as life in Pattaya began only after 6pm. It made sense. The sumptuous lunch and fluffiest bed put all of us to sleep in no time. The men in the group however started making discreet inquiries about some discreet stuff. They had heard a lot from their friends who had earlier visited Thailand and wanted to be able to go back and boast of having done more discreet stuff.

Around 5 to 6pm, all of us got ready for the evening trip. Women transformed themselves by wearing clothes that were bought specially to be worn for the Thailand trip. Fortunately, the children were too engrossed in playing with their new found friends to notice their mother’s transformation. Long and short but frilly skirts were the flavour of the day. Shorts also were chosen by young and old alike. Pallu wore d skimpiest shorts with spaghetti straps and looked like a sexy siren from Goa and I discarded my leggings and wore only the tunics!!! I didn’t care what others thought - I was in Pattaya, period.

Most of the uncles sported caps, shorts and a T shirt. They had a leather wallet that they strapped to their waist. It was the most precious belonging as it contained their passports and also the gateway to heaven – the Thai Baht. Thai massages and night shows were on the agenda for the uncles. Aunties were requested not to shop in Pattaya as they would get better offers in Bangkok on their way back. This sort of curbed their enthusiasm but somehow the travel spirit soon illuminated all of them. Off we went. The group looked more like a big family that was going to visit a museum. Our Thai guide Kay also politely requested the families to leave the children in the hotel. Much to her surprise all were aghast!

What???? Leave our innocent babies in a new country all alone in a hotel??? Never.

But maam, the market place and walking street where we are going to go is no place for children.

The adults went into wild animated discussions. Some were game for it some weren’t. Some of the children were thrilled that they would have total freedom till early dawn when their guardians returned while some of the children sulked at being left out!

I and Pallu were waiting for the bus to start. I asked the bus driver to honk a few times so that all of them would decide what to do and get inside the bus asap. The driver glared back! He did not understand a word and if he did he was in no mood to comply. Drivers don’t honk mindlessly in Thailand!!!!

Finally a decision was made. The children screamed as they all rushed to get inside the bus.

Looks like the children will have a field time tonight, muttered Pallu.

Hari came and sat near me. I asked - Hari, children in Walking street? Have the parents lost their wisdom?

Nah Sups. The bus will come back after dinner at 10 and drop the kids in the hotel along with Mrs. Patel. She said ‘I don’t want to see semi naked girls dancing on poles’. So she is the caretaker of the entire brood. Every other husband in this bus is jealous of Mr. Patel for he will be the only guy in walking street from this bus without wife control!

Don’t forget both of us too, I said. We two also have no control!

All three of us laughed and the bus took off!

Within another 30 minutes we would reach Walking Street. However, before that we would explore the market area and indulge ourselves in thai massages, manicures and pedicures. The women were excited. Their husband downloaded a large part of their monetary treasures on their wives. Each one was hoping they would get freedom from their wives for a short period.

Sarla darling, what will I do with you as you shop for trinkets, have massages and pedicures? I am going with the guys to explore the place…let me find some good hotels so that next time when we come we will come directly……promise I will just explore.

Sarla looked at her husband with love…for he had just downloaded 1000 thai bahts into her purse…..ofcourse darling, I trust you. I am not like these other wives who are jealous and doubting.
Seeing this, other husbands was encouraged to replicate the modus operandi. Almost all seemed to have succeeded. Only time would tell.

The bus halted a few meters away from the market place. It was called the beach road. A new day had begun. It was 6pm. That’s when the day starts in Pattaya! The street was covered on both sides with small shops and shacks each contributing to the needs of tourists from all parts of the globe. Cheap stuff to the most exorbitant ones could be found here. Massage parlours, tattoo studios, and beauty salons were in plenty. The sales girls smiled sweetly and invited every single person walking from that street to visit their shops. 
The men who were fortunate enough to get away from their spouses happily left the scene. The women and kids huddled together. Some men had to chaperone their wives. They were the ones who didn’t dare even ask nor did they have enough money to bribe their wives. Some of them were on a shoe string budget and this had made the wives more cranky!
I and Pallu first took a thai massage sitting right next on the street. It was out of the world and did not even pinch our pockets. With refreshed feet, we walked further exploring trinkets, bags, beach clothes and more. We decided to buy – nothing! Do all your shopping in Bangkok, Kay had warned sweetly while we were in the bus.

Then we explored the beaches. A variety of tasty seafood, shrimps, chicken grilled on bamboos, sorted soups and noodles, were being cooked right in front of the diners. Amazing fresh and colorful tropical fruits would also be neatly sliced and offered to you at very nominal prices. We had none of it. The smell was too nauseating and we also spotted some fried worms and bugs. Street food in Thailand was a definite NO for the entire group. ( at same time I have friends who swear by the fresh sea food of Thailand, so this is completely my view)

Very soon our stomachs were grumbling and it was nearing 9pm. We quickly gathered into the buses as we proceeded to a restaurant closeby. Some of the guys had a gleam in their eyes. Some couples had stopped talking to each other and the bus was in a sombre mood except for the kids. They were all making plans as to how they would hoodwink Mrs. Patel and sneak into each other’s rooms and play cards till their ‘wayward’ parents arrived. It was rightly justified that they get to play cards while their parents freaked out on Walking Street!!!

Our first dinner in Thailand was awesome. It was not a restaurant! We ate in a dabha!!! Just like the one in India. Complete with sardars who played graceful hosts to each one of us. Reema aunty was thanked profusely by one and all as no one felt the need to go back and bite into theplas they were carrying from India.

Dinner was followed by ice cream and sweet rasgollas and everyone had a gala time. It was short-lived though. We were off to Walking Street where the adults would get down and the children would be taken to the hotel by Mrs. Patel. Again, no vehicles were allowed till a few meters so we got down and waited for instruction from Kay and Hari. Some of the married couples continued their cold war while some parted friendly. Mrs. Patel went ahead with the kids. We all walked through the lane.

The area was known as Bali Pier and a long winding street started from where all buses and cars were parked. The street ended at the south end of beach road. Vehicles were not allowed further on this street from 6pm to 2am. The street was punctured on all sides with neon signs indicating go-go bars, sports bars, music venues and discotheques and night clubs. It was razzle and dazzle everywhere!

I never had a clue for what was in store for me. Being a person who was not even exposed to night life in Mumbai…this was a shocker! Pleasant though!
It was decided that all would come back to the bus at sharp 2.30am. We all had got free sim cards along with our visas . And we had quickly visited the 7/11 shops which are open throughout the day and night to cater to most of a tourists requirements. We recharged our sim cards here. We  exchanged numbers with Hari and Kay. 

Kay went off to a den where few of her friends who were also tourist guides were waiting for her. Hari agreed to stay with me and Pallu. Pallu had a few fantasies to fulfil in Pattaya – one to have a few tequilas and two to do some hot pole dance. We entered the bar area.

Every stall had poles erected on the tables. Stools were random and could be shifted to any stall. Each stall had girls dressed in hot costumes gyrating on the poles, inviting walkers to join them at the bar. The objective of each girl would be to keep the customer at the counter for maximum possible time and make him buy as many glasses of whatever was his or her poison.

Customers – male as well as female – were given equal importance for gender was not an issue here. The number of drinks were! The more one drinks, the more is the sale. As girls we didn’t have to caution ourselves about the sex of these girls. But men had to - for these girls could as well be she-males or lady – boys, meaning boys who were so feminine that they can easily pass off as females!!!

I and Pallu also started making guesses as to who is a real girl and who would not be a real one. But we didn’t dare get our doubts confirmed. The girls were very friendly. Hari was already chatting up with a girl and others girls at the bar was now looking at us, inviting us to try their cocktails. I, being a teetotaller politely refused any and pointed furiously at Pallu and they got the message. Pallu was surrounded by 2-3 girls. She had to choose one because the drinks would be served to her by one of them. 
The girls were very friendly with each other and there was a competitive spirit in them to win Pallu over. Finally Pallu found her server and she started on her Tequila. All of us egged and cheered as she gulped 2 in a row. The girl at the bar prompted her to try a third and assured a reluctant Pallu that she would accompany her. Shots 3 and 4 came…each girl gulped one down!!! All cheered….I thought it was futile. But Pallu was in high spirits and accomplished her second fantasy – to do the pole dance! Her server lifted her onto the table and Pallu gyrated with all cheering her from below. It was a sight to behold. A sight to be captured…I had even recorded it but Pallu never allowed me a glimpse after we returned!!! Hari was also in high spirits by this time and seeing Pallu's Pole dance he too was tempted to dance.

I didn't know you could dance Harish?

Arree, you don't know so many things about me. I can dance very weel. Nearby a Iranian youth ( quiet hot looking) was doing the grind with his bar girl. Harish looked at his bar girl Lek and said, - Come and do the grind with me!!!

I will...but you have to buy another 2 drinks. One for you and one for me.

Done said Harish. They ordered 2 shots of Tequila and had one each. 

Harish took Lek to an open space between 2 bars, the Iranian guy had finished his grind. Now was Harish's turn. He started shaking his entire hip area in a very funny manner. It was as if he was receiving electric shocks just below his waist! I and Pallu burst out laughing! Harish was unperturbed. Lek didn't actually mind Harish's grind. She supported him well with her own moves. We cheered on. Even today, I and Pallu need to say just 2 words - Harish and Grind to elevate us out of any gloomy mood.

It was late. But I wasn’t sleepy at all. As per Kay’s advice we had all dozed off between 3 and 5pm and felt fresh. Except for Pallu on whom the 3 tequilas were taking its toll. We left the bar area and walked around the street and saw sights that tickled us as well as disgusted us at times.

The street was full of women trading themselves, male as well as female. Bargaining and haggling with customers as if they were doing the sales pitch for the best ice cream in town! Middle-aged, old, wrinkly and pudgy Europeans and Americans formed a large part of the clientele. Young , robust and muscular Iranians were also seen in large numbers on that particular day. A few Indians too. However, the guys, were too timid and shy and averted their gaze they moment they saw other Indians. 

We were wondering where the husbands of our group were and we saw them split into three or four groups. Each one of them seemed excited and waved over to us to acknowledge our presence. We wanted to check what all they had seen and where all they had gone, but everyone were tight-lipped. Though that didn’t stop them from asking us where all we had been too. None of the women were at the venue. All had left by 12 and had found the place extremely boring. Some had fought with their husbands and taken them back to the hotel. 

The bus was gone as majority had piled into it and insisted to be taken to the hotel. Kay managed to stay back and hired a few taxis to take the rest of us back to the hotel. It was 3am and the street looked less populated. The beaches were pristine and frothy waves were lashing and inviting us to join them in their mith. I wanted to go – badly – but now it was too late. Hari said – why are you sulking? We are here for 3 nights…..

That’s true, silly of me to sulk. The ride back to the hotel at 3 am and in the cool wintry breeze of December 24th was soothing. It even roused Pallu out of her slumber. We reached the hotel and went to our room. Pallu and I slept on the massive fluffy bed. We both missed having exciting partners next to us on such a wonderful night but anyways were excited to sleep in the same bed, after having only lunched at the same table during our work hours!!! A year later as Pallu got married, I introduced myself to the groom as – the girl who slept with Pallu for 5 nights! He was cheeky enough to acknowledge it and said – she already mentioned it and I am glad she is experienced!!!
Day 2 – 

There was a golf course near our hotel and a few of us ventured in the cool morning to play golf. the children and some of their mothers enjoyed in the swimming pool. the children had a blast while the women were point blank staring at a couple - two local women, skimpily clad in a bikini who kept swimming, going underwater and squirted water on their companion - a pot belied Arab guy who sun bathed on the desk in his white robe! 

During breakfast, the women were seen whispering about the odd scene they had witnessed in the pool. Some weren't too happy to be in Thailand and their enthusiasm about their first international trip was punctured. At sharp 10, the bus left for sight-seeing. The silence between some spouses was indicative of a fight the previous night. Probably with the antics of an adventurous husband, the wife must have given him an earful.

We got down at the beach and from there took a speed boat to Coral Island. The water was blue and mesmerizing and at times we felt we could see the bottom. The boat had a glass covering on its floor and in certain areas we could see colourful fishes swimming underwater. We reached a platform in the middle of the ocean. It was a fixed station for Coral Island was very famous for its crystal clear water and for the Underwater Sea Walk. It was an amazing experience. Being underwater for full 30 minutes, walking through the sea bed, feeding bread crumbs to colourful fishes and touching beautiful transparent and colourful coral stones.

From here we went to another part of the island where the water was translucent and aqua blue in color. Here there were a variety of water sports like Banana Boat, Para-sailing and other water related activities. All the tension between the spouses evaporated and everyone enjoyed to the hilt! It was 12pm and we were hungry. We had some cool watermelons and papayas. Finally it was time to leave and we boarded our speed boats

Then we went to see the Noog Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden. First we had a sumptuous lunch – again Indian, complete with Poori, Paneer, Aloo Gobhi and of course Butter Chicken.  The men tried to get friendly with us as I and Pallu were single. Some women admired us for coming alone while others sulked and murmured – wayward girls!!!

The garden was very beautiful with landscaped trees, cultural shows and also a few wild animals like Tigers and a wide variety of birds. Some of us fed milk to the tiger cubs in bottles and we were of course charges a bomb to do so, but it was well worth it. Having a Tiger cub in hand was very exciting. 

We all came back to the hotel by 3pm. Kay warned all of us to come back down at 6pm for an early departure to enjoy night life in Pattaya. We repeated the previous evening drill and was back on Walking Street. Somehow the dazzle I felt yesterday had vanished. Something stirred in my heart as I saw the women looking eagerly to close their target achievement for the day. Some of them looked happy while they called out to prospective clients but some were gesturing very mechanically. In a family, where all the women were involved in some or the other form of selling themselves since ages, I wondered how they felt carrying on the family tradition.

I spoke to some of them. The girls I spoke to were Mee, Pan, Sampan. They found work on  Walking Street. Al three were below 23 years of age. Sampan said – it is so much organised and legal now than it was in our grandmother’s time. We are glad to contribute to the family. 

Mee said - Only last year the flood devastated our towns and whatever little we had. We keep rebuilding our lives after every calamity.

Where is your home? Can you take me to your house? 

Oh....we all stay here in a rented room. Our homes are in Muban. Its about 75kms from here and we go home once in 2-3 months. We give money to our old parents who take care of our young children. 

All three had one or two children at that young age. It was interesting to note that though they were involved in the flesh trade, they still fell in love, dated and had marriages - good ones and bad ones, just like the rest of us. 

For the three nights we were in Pattaya, we did a few things which cannot come on THIS BLOG! Other than that, I and Pallu kept meeting many of these girls. We talked to them, at times paid them to talk to us. I learnt that some of them have now started sending their children and younger brothers and sisters to schools and colleges and did not wish they enter this profession. That was a welcome thought and it was the one with which I boarded the bus back to Bangkok.

Day 4- The scene in the bus was exactly contradictory of the previous day. The women were excited and animated in their conversation. Each one had a long list of item to buy for themselves, relatives and neighbors. They were checking with Hari and Kay about shopping malls and comparing them with the addresses they had brought from home. The children were gossiping and having a great time. The husbands sat in hush silence. Pattaya was theirs, Bangkok was the wives. The husbands had to part with their credit cards in lieu of peace for their ‘supposedly’ infamous antics in Pattaya!!!

Bangkok held not much of an allure for me. It was just like any other metropolitan city. I missed the rustic essence of Pattaya. Will I go to Pattaya again??? Yes, but with Pallu once again. And this time, I too want to try the pole dance.....