Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Lost Names

"Time to get up. We need to leave shortly" said Shobha, hovering over Vikram.
"Today is a Sunday", Vikram said. "Where do we need to go?".
"I told you already yesterday", Shobha said irritatedly. "Shows you have not been listening again! Let me see if you can recollect where we are to go today".
Vikram racked his brains, trying to recall what had been discussed yesterday. Unable to recall anything, he tried what he thought was a safe guess "Shopping?" he suggested.
"For once no!" she said. "Don't you remember we are to go this NGO Children First".
"Oh, Ok" Vikram said. "Are you still sure we should go? It is very hot today and we need to travel close to 30 km".
"Of course. I am very keen to go" said Shobha.
"Ok" Vikram said fighting lethargy and getting up from bed.
Vikram & Shobha had contributed some money to the NGO Children First last year and they had invited them to their facility to see how the contributions they had made were put to use.

They got ready in a little while and made their way to Children First. They were received warmly by Ms Ruchika. There were in total 12 people who were visiting that day. Ruchika made a presentation on the various activities of the organization. She explained that they contributed to the education of children who were from poor families, and also ran an orphanage themselves. The presentation was followed by a Question & Answer session. Vikram & Shobha were then taken on a tour of the facility including the orphanage. Ruchika explained that the funds contributed by them was earmarked for the children. The children were told who had sponsored their education over the past year and were expecting them. They were then allowed to spend an hour with the children they had sponsored.  They were informed that their contribution specifically was used for a girl named Radha.

They were led to a room in the orphanage to meet Radha. She greeted them politely and asked them to sit. They asked her about her studies, and her hobbies.
"Well, I like physics. I generally like sketching in my free time", she said.
"Oh, great. Can we see some of your sketches?" asked Shobha

She handed over a book to them and they opened it. The book had what seemed like running notes and no sketches.
"This is not a sketch book. What book is this?" Vikram asked, glancing at some of the notes written.
"Oh, sorry" said Radha "Wrong book, Wait.." she said searching for her sketch book.
As he read through some of the notes in the book, Vikram’s curiousity was aroused. "Is this a diary you maintain?" he asked her, showing Shobha some of the notes.
The girl seemed suddenly uncomfortable. She handed over another book to them saying "This is my sketch book"
"Is this a diary you maintain?" Vikram asked her again.
She replied hesitantly "That is a book of some lost names".
"What do you mean?", Vikram asked her, not fully comprehending what she meant.
"This book is a record of my memories......", Radha said, her voice catching.
Shobha called her over and held her hand and said "What is it? Why don't you tell us?"
"I am not sure....", said Radha.
Shobha patted her on her shoulder and said "C'mon, you can surely trust us. What is this about?"
"Well it is a long story", said Radha, "and I am sure you are busy people"
"Well, we have lot of time, so don't worry" Vikram said.
Radha started on her narrative. "I stayed with my parents in a village near Nagapattinam. My father was a teacher in the village school. My mother used to sew clothes. It was not easy to make ends meet but we used to manage. My father had a lot of respect in our village. Everyone used to greet him with courtesy.

His ambition was to see some of his students being successful in life. Whenever, he travelled outside our village, he used to look for books which were not available in our village, buy them at his expense and distribute them among his students. I remember once one of his students moved out of our village to a bigger city. He wrote my father a letter saying that though he was now in a bigger school and a bigger city, he did not have any teacher who personally cared for his progress and explained things to him like my father had done. I still remember, my father had tears in his eyes and said that the respect and love his students showered on him was the best thing about his job.

My father worked late into the evenings, making notes for the next day, reading new books everyday. He used to call my mother and me to read, and pray with him. My mother liked listening to classical music on the radio. She also knew what my father's interests were and was ever by my father's side"

Radha paused at this point, biting her lips, her voice catching. As they looked at her gently, she continued "Life was so good. My father used to say that I would be a scientist. One day changed everything".

She continued after taking a deep breath "I still remember the day the tsunami hit our village. I recall looking up and seeing a wave the height of palm tree just a little distance away. There was suddenly water everywhere and the water simply dragged us with it. Our house was totally washed away, and that is the last I saw of my parents. I remember being dragged along the water and lost consciousness at some point. Some people apparently found me lying atop some debris, and pulled me out when they knew I was alive".

Vikram & Shobha sat watching her young face, while she relived the pain of the past. There was a small period of silence when nobody spoke.

"We are sorry for what you have been through", said Shobha gently.

Radha spoke up softly, "The bodies of my parents were found the next day. I spent a couple of months in a shelter. It was after that I moved to this orphanage and  I am very grateful for what these people have done for me. I do not even have a photo of my parents as our entire house and all our belongings were washed away and nothing could be traced. My father and mother were two good people who were so selfless, and did such a lot for others. But it is as if they are two lost names. There is no trace of their lives left. Nobody knows about them and how they lived. I think I am the only person who have memories of their lives".

She looked up at Vikram & Shobha, and continued, "I started noting all I remembered of their lives and started writing it in this book. They may be names which are lost, but I need something to remember them by. I was only 6 years old, when I lost my parents. Over time memories will also dim, and before that happens, I wanted to write what I remembered about them. As part of our history lessons, we read several pages of many known names in history. My parents can obviously not be one of those names, but at the same time I owe it to them to remember them for what they were".

Vikram & Shobha sat quietly thinking over all Radha had said. The maturity of her thoughts, and the essence of what she had said. Above all, they reflected on her comment on history.  A stream of mental chatter started in their minds: History by its nature was a record of two ends of a pole – Heroes and Villians, Winners and Losers, Achievers and Failures.......Is the wisdom of the ages really captured in history? Of all the shades of colors, was history only recording black & white? Do all life forms and objects which have existed in this universe deserve atleast a mention in history's records? They thought of all the lost names in their own families – the wisdom of generations of noble people lost, with no record of their existence since they were not at the two ends of the pole but rather somewhere in between. If we can reserve pages upon pages of records for tyrants, can not a line of history be reserved for everyone who has been a part of this universe. But then who was the custodian of the records of the universe? The records we have access to today in the form of books, and other artifacts are those created by scores of people over a long period of time. This shared responsibility of recording and preserving history made the situation even more complex.

Shobha took Radha's hand and said "Your parents are surely watching you and are very proud of you. You are very intelligent and mature for a girl of your age. We are very happy we could meet you".

Vikram also shook hands with the girl and asked her "Is it Ok if we come around and meet you again sometime?"

"Of course", said Radha surprised. "I would like that very much. You would have to inform Ruchika Madam in advance"

As they travelled back home, both Shobha and Vikram were lost in our thoughts. Vikram tried to move to other things – tried reading a book, and then watching some TV. Yet, the events of the day were fresh in his mind and the mental chatter would not cease.

After dinner, Shobha asked "You cannot also stop thinking about what we heard today, can you?"
Vikram admitted "Her account was moving enough. It also provoked me to think".
Shobha said, "Right since the time we left Children First, I have been thinking of whether there is something more we can do for the girl, especially, her pain with regard to her parents, but cannot think of anything good".
"Yes", Vikram agreed. "The essence of most people's lives is almost always lost, and I cannot think of what we can do to alter that fact".
"Right, But, can we do something for Radha? Maybe convert her notebook into a neater document which we can print and give her?"
"Yes, maybe we can do that. Let us discuss it in more detail tomorrow", Vikram said.

They went to sleep, feeling better for having talked it over with each other.

They picked up the conversation again the next day. Vikram had spent some time thinking over this during the course of the day, and Shobha had clearly done the same as well.

Vikram said, "I thought over the options we have and could think of the options being a) Printing out a neat version of Radha's notebook as you suggested yesterday b) We could setup and maintain a blog for her which hopefully in future she can maintain herself"

Shobha said, "Yes, other than that the other options I could think of being contributing an article for a magazine or newspaper"

Vikram thought over this and said, "That would be good, but I am not sure if any editor or publisher would be interested in the life history of one girl".

"You are right", said Shobha "Maybe we could try making it an article to be published on the anniversary of the Tsunami"
Vikram thought over this and said "Good idea, let us give it a try"

Shobha went over to the orphanage a few more times, and collected as many details as possible from Radha on the Tsunami, and the details of people she knew who were affected. She told her vaguely that we were writing this as an account, which she could preserve.

They subsequently tried contacting a few newspapers. After some persuasion, one editor agreed to meet them personally. At their meeting, he listened to them patiently and said matter of factly "I fully appreciate what you are trying to do. But it has been a few years since the tsunami struck. We will probably carry a small article on the occassion – I doubt we can accomodate the details you want to include in this article". They had to admit that in practical terms, he was right. They thanked him for meeting them and left.

As they returned home, Shobha asked Vikram "Do you think we could make this a book? We have collected a lot of information of the tsunami and also the people affected".

Vikram said, "But again, will any publisher be interested in this. It has been some time since the tsunami".

"We can only try. Probably the last try we could make" said Shobha.

Vikram had to agree with her. They spent some time writing up the various details collected into a book format. They then contacted several potential publishers. However, after a couple of months, they had still not found anyone ready to publish. As they were planning to give up, Shobha contacted a publisher of study guides "Zoom Ahead Publishers" asking him if he would be willing to publish the book.

When they met him, he spoke up frankly "See, I have never published books before. Also from what you tell me, the interest for a story such as yours may not be widespread. So, I feel spending money on advertising will also be risky. What I can do for you is this – I can do a trial run of 100 copies for you which we can retail at two bookstores I know. I cannot pay you upfront for this, but am agreeable for a % royalty for every copy of the book which is sold. Let us hope I need to print more copies and your book sells".

Vikram & Shobha agreed as commercial success was not the intention behind publishing this book. After about a month the book was on display at two stores. In the first three days only 17 copies of the book had been sold and there was nothing to show that sales would pick up.

Vikram sat on the sofa, quite dejected at the poor sale of the book.

Shobha looked up at him and said "Look, we never intended this as a business venture. The book was not even advertised. So why are you taking this so hard? Also, after a few copies sell, the publisher may be willing to invest in advertising. So sales may still pick up. However, as I said we were never looking at making profits".
"I suppose you are right", Vikram said.
"We should go and meet Radha, and show the book to her" said Shobha.
"Of course", Vikram said, feeling guilty that it not struck his mind so far.

They travelled to Children First and met Radha. Shobha handed over the book to her. She sat down and skipped through the pages silently. She then hugged both of them, tears in her eyes. She then ran out of her room and returned, dragging Ms Ruchika with her.
Radha exclaimed with joy "You must read this......"

As Vikram looked at Shobha, he realised she was having as much trouble masking her emotions as he did.

As they were returning home, Shobha looked at Vikram and said "You know something. I always knew we were not going to be famous or rich! So it does not matter how many copies sell!". She threw her head back and laughed, tears gentling rolling down her cheeks. As Vikram joined her in laughter, he noticed his face was wet too.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Curse of the Dragon

Revathi sat in thought, wondering what was the best approach now. She and Suraj had decided to part ways and live separately six months back. They had been married for seven years and it was a hard decision to make. They however felt that in view of their continued differences, it was the best approach under the circumstances. Their arguments could have also potentially impacted their 5 year old son Arun.

Revathi finally sighed and made her decision. It was around 1 pm. She called Suraj  and spoke "Hi, how is everything with you?"
Suraj, pleasantly surprised to receive her call responded, "I am fine. How are you?"
Revathi's voice caught as she said next "Listen Suraj. I need your help badly. Can you come over for a few days?"
Alarmed, by her words and the concern in her voice, Suraj asked "Why? What happened?"
"It is regarding Arun" said Revathi. "I need to explain a lot of things to you. If you can come over, we can discuss".

Clearly worried, Suraj started packing a bag. Not sure how long his trip would be for, he packed several sets of dresses to last a moderate stay of a few days. He mulled over his conversation with Revathi and wondering what could be the problem with Arun. Revathi had not revealed much over the phone, making it all the more worrying. He got ready quickly and left home.

Once he reached Revathi's flat, Suraj rang the bell. Revathi opened the door and quickly drew him inside. Still somewhat breathless after his travel, Suraj asked concerned "What is wrong with Arun?"
Revathi replied "It will take some time for me to explain. Fortunately, Arun is asleep. I want to explain this before he wakes up. This started around 3 months back. Both me and Arun were returning from the market. When we were walking towards our building, suddenly Arun stiffened, his body started shivering and there was a look of panic in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong but he did not speak. I had to literally drag him home. It took him some time to calm down. He then spoke to me and said 'The smoke. Mummy, save me from the smoke'. I was not sure what he was talking about. He explained again that he had seen some smoke and was afraid of it, but did not know why."

Revathi got up strolling towards the window, her restlessness showing. She sat down again and continued "Though I had hoped that this would be a one time occurence, Arun had a couple more of these attacks over the next 2 months. In both these cases he had seen some smoke, which immediately triggered an attack. After this I visited our family doctor Dr Gupta. After reviewing the details, he referred me to a psychiatrist Dr Dubey. I visited him around two weeks back. He noted down all the details and said it will take some time to get to the root of this. He said I should bring Arun to him every fortnight. I have another appointment with him today evening"

Revathi's voice was choked, and tears filled her eyes as she spoke next "I need your help, Suraj. Can we put what has happened between us aside for the time being till we can set this right for Arun ?"
His face white, shaken by Revathi's account, Suraj bent forward, shaking his head and muttering "Oh god..Oh god...". Suraj then rubbed his face with his hands and after taking a few seconds to compose himself he spoke "Of course, Revathi. I can understand what you must have been through. I am so happy you have called me. I am sure we can handle this".

Suraj stood up and held Revathi's shoulder. Just then Arun walked to the hall and seeing Suraj, said happily "Oh, Dad. You are here" and ran over to hug Suraj. Arun said next "Dad, if you stay till tomorrow I will show you all the new drawings I have done". Suraj smiled realising Arun was saying that as their meetings after his separation from Revathi was mostly for a few hours only.
"I will be around for a few days, Son. We are going to have lots of fun", said Suraj.
"Oh great" said Arun hugging his dad.

The three of them spent some time having a snack, sipping tea and just chatting. They left in the evening for Dr Dubey's clinic. After a wait for around 15 mins, they were called in.

Revathi introduced Suraj and then waited while Dr Dubey referred to his notes. He finally looked up and said "Arun, can you wait inside in the examination room. I will join you in a few minutes".
He then addressed Suraj and Revathi, "Ok. As I explained last time we will need to do a few sittings with Arun. Once we get to the source of Arun's fear of smoke, we should be able to address that".
Revathi asked hesitantly, "What could be the reason for this?".
Dr Dubey responded "Such phobias generally have their origins in some incidents in the past. These memories express themselves as such fears. There are variety of techniques used today to unearth the origin of such phobias. Only you need to be patient".
Revathi asked "But I have not heard of smoke phobia before. Is this a known condition?"
"There are literally hundreds of phobias which are known to science and documented. Fear of smoke though not common, is not unheard of. As such you know most people have their fears for one thing or the other. It is when such fears are irrational that they become phobias" replied Dr Dubey.
"Are such phobias always related to past incidents? Could there be other reasons, say genetic?" asked Suraj.
"They are largely due to past incidents, though there have been some studies on other potential reasons including genetic conditions. There has not been agreement for alternate theories though." responded Dr Dubey.
"There also has been a lot of interest recently on past life regression" said Revathi.
"Well, there are various theories, of course. Don't confuse yourself too much over this. We have had very good success in dealing with various types of traumas".

Dr Dubey then got up and went over inside the examination room. He re-appeared around 20 minutes later with Arun. "We had a very good session" he announced patting Arun.
He then asked Suraj and Revathi to come back and meet him with Arun after two weeks, and make any notes if Arun should have an attack again.

Suraj, Revathi and Arun returned home largely in silence. Suraj tried his best to lighten up the atmosphere at home by playing some loud music and goading everyone to sing along. Arun slept shortly after dinner. Suraj and Revathi sat in the balcony.
Revathi was the first to break the silence and asked "Can you think of any incident in the past from Arun's childhood which he was involved in or would have seen which might have caused this?"
Suraj thought carefully and said "No, I can't".
"That makes me think. Should we consider the possibility of a past life trauma? I saw a big advertisement in the newspaper just yesterday on a past life regression specialist. Do you think we should check him out?" asked Revathi.
Suraj said "Let us first continue with Dr Dubey for some time before considering other options".

Suraj and Revathi walked over to the window looking out into the sky, both in mental turmoil.
Revathi looked at Suraj and said "There is no way we can protect Arun from smoke also. It is so common to chance upon smoke be it in marriages, on the road and so many other situations. With winter starting, it is usual to see people burning fires also. In fact there are some people sitting by a small fire right across. See? It is good Arun is asleep".
Suraj extracted a packet of sugar sweets and popped one into his mouth. He bent his face forward with his eyes closed.
"You are lost in thought again. And again eating sugar..I have told you so many times that eating so much sugar is not healthy", said Revathi.
Suraj looked up, his face looking tired. He said hesitatingly, "Revathi, there is something I have to tell you.."
"Sure, what?" asked Revathi surprised.
"Well", said Suraj. He paused and then continued "I can see how difficult the past few months must have been for both you and Arun. I am sorry I have not been around".
"Well, though I hestitated for some time not knowing what to do. I am happy I called you", admitted Revathi.

The next few days remained free of any events. It was time to rebuild a lost relationship. Suraj and Revathi managed to revitalise their relationship to the happier times. Howver, Arun's condition clearly continued to prey on their minds.

Arun had gone down to play with some other kids. Revathi and Suraj watched him from a distance. Revathi asked Suraj "It is Nishant's wedding in 2 days – Mr Malhotra's son. I am thinking we can probably only go to the reception. There is certain to be fire and smoke as part of the wedding rituals".
"Right, we can think of some reason. Anyway nobody these days expect people to attend both the wedding and the reception", said Suraj.
As planned Suraj, Revathi and Arun attended Nishant's wedding.

One night as they sat in the balcony after dinner, they saw Arun suddenly stiffen. As Revathi followed his gaze, she saw a bunch of people sitting around a low fire. She quickly caught Arun and dragged him inside.
Revathi called out to Suraj, "Suraj, come in. Arun is having an attack'.
Suraj was gently slipping a sugar sweet into his mouth and bending over muttering to himself.
Revathi called out again impatiently "Suraj, please come quickly".
Suraj walked over gingerly and sat down with a sigh on the sofa. He then touched Revathi's hand and whispered "Hold on, let me handle this".
He reached over to Arun and drew him closer to him. He slipped a sugar sweet into his mouth and whispered to him "Arun, close your eyes for a second and eat the sweet slowly till it dissolves in your mouth. Take a deep breath and think of God. Say Om slowly in your mind a few times".
Revathi stared at him and exlaimed "Suraj, what are you..."
Suraj gestured to her to hold on. Arun opened his eyes and seemed to be regaining his composure. In a few minutes he seemed to be back to normal.
Surprised Revathi turned to Suraj "But how..."
Suraj interrupted her and said softly "Later......"

After dinner, once Arun had gone off to sleep, Suraj and Revathi sat on the sofa. Revathi looked at Suraj and asked "Can we discuss now?"
Suraj looked at Revathi and said "I have a confession to make. Maybe you have already guessed. I have a phobia of smoke myself. Having coped with it for so many years, I knew what to do for Arun. In fact I wanted to tell you before this, but I was not sure what you would think of it. Lot of what I am going to tell you may seem strange and unreal to you".
"Go on" said Revathi, "Though it did strike me now, I cannot imagine how I never realised this over all the seven years of our marriage".
"Well, that is not surprising. Except my side of the family, nobody else knows. Over time I learnt to cope with the attacks and hide it. I thought of telling you many times but held back since it was embarassing and I was not sure of what you would think".
"How much you have gone through. And you never reached out for help" said Revathi holding Suraj's hand.
Suraj continued "A lot of people in my family have had this phobia. My grandmother told me that it was a curse on the family. There was a legend that one of our forefathers several thousand years back had once killed a giant dragon with fire, who had left his curse on the family, that for generations to come we would fear smoke. The dragon's spirit is said to hover around the family".
"But Suraj, do you really believe something like this", exclaimed Revathi.
"As a matter of fact, not entirely. However, my fear of smoke is a fact which cannot be denied. My grandmother used to say that the dragon can only be fought with sugar and the grace of God. I developed this phobia when I was also around 5 years old also. My parents used to immediately give me some sugar and ask me to close my eyes, think of God and chant Om. Many of us in this family who had this phobia learnt to cope this way".
After gulping some water, Suraj continued "I have also often wondered if the origin of this phobia could be genetic. This would certainly explain many of the family acquiring this. In due course, possibly this phobia can be explained by science".
Revathi asked "Did you ever consult a doctor?"
"I did not" admitted Suraj. "That is why I was tempted to ask Dr Dubey during our visit if the origin could be genetic since I was extremely curious".
"Ok, from what you are saying then, Dr Dubeys therapy is unlikely to lead to anything since he is focussing on past incidents" said Revathi.
"Well, maybe not. But let us not give that up. Maybe something will come out of it as well", said Suraj.

As they held each other closely, Revathi said "Though events have been too fast for me, I am happy about one thing. We have a way to help Arun during his attacks now. When I was with him alone I was terrified when he had his attacks. The fright on his face, his body being stiff – the whole situation was terrible. I cried that night like I have never before".
Suraj said "I know. The early stages are always difficult".
Revathi smiled looking at Suraj, "Arun is a mature and brave boy, like his father. He will overcome this, won't he"
"Of course" replied Suraj also smiling, "I have no doubts at all. My parents also used to say every one has their fears. Our family has only got an overdose by chance! The real purpose of life is to overcome our fears, and live life to the fullest".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fallen Leaf

"Adi, can't you stay away from your laptop on Sundays at least?", asked Vrinda irritatedly.
Aditya sighed. This was a conversation which was very common. He said "You know it is difficult in my position". Aditya was a senior Vice President at Enigma Financials.
"You have not even had your coffee", exclaimed Vrinda.
"Ok, ok..." said Aditya, proceeding to gulp his coffee. Vrinda sat opposite to him, reading the newspaper.
She frowned and spoke "Two more student suicides yesterday. How can youngsters bring themselves to take their own lives? It is so depressing".
Aditya glanced up and spoke "Well, the pressures these days is so high on kids. Lots to study. Tough competition for college seats, jobs......".
"Yes, I know. But parents should counsel their kids that they can only try their best. Here I do appreciate your constant advise to Hari to take it easy".
Hari was their 15 year old son, now in X standard.
"Yes", said Aditya looking up thoughtfully "Sometimes the pressures get to the kids. That is why I keep telling Hari to relax. It is a delicate balance which is tough to strike – I want him to study hard and try his best but at the same time keep his cool even when things dont always work out".
"Well", said Vrinda smiling, "Since he is so like you – very level headed, there is little to worry".
Aditya seemed lost in thought. Vrinda spoke up "There you go again. Thinking of your office work again I suppose. I was talking to you!".
Aditya looked up and said "I am sorry. What did you say?"
"Never mind!" said Vrinda. "By the way you were saying we could all go to a movie today. We will need to decide quickly. Better to book before going over"
"Well, I just remembered we may have to go someplace else" said Aditya suddenly.
"Oh, where?" asked Vrinda.
"Will let you know. Have to check on something first" said Aditya getting up.

Aditya ran through his phonebook, his thoughts far away......
He ran through the names of his former school mates, and made a series of calls.
After some time, Aditya spoke up, "Vrinda, the principal of the school I studied in - Dr Govindan is not well. I have not seen him since long. Are you game to come along with me to meet him?"
"Is he very ill?" asked Vrinda. "Where does he stay?"
"Well, he stays in Matunga. Have’nt met him in a long time. And since he is not well, would like to meet him” said Aditya.
“Sure let us go” said Vrinda. She spoke to their son Hari to stay at home and not open the door to strangers.

They reached Dr Govindan’s house in about an hour. His wife Nirmala received them at the door. She led them inside the house. There she introduced her son Prakash to them.
“Where do you work?” asked Aditya.
“I am a college professor” answered Prakash.
“Oh, that is nice” said Vrinda “What do you teach ?”
“Physics” he said. “Please excuse me for some time. I need to go out for a while but will be back before you leave hopefully”

After Prakash went out, Nirmala looked at them and said “My husband is in the bedroom. Before you meet him, I need to tell you something.” She paused and bit her lip. “He is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Over time his memory has weakened considerably. I am not very sure if he will recognize you. I am telling you so that you don’t feel bad. At odd times though he can recall events suddenly. But generally he is not able to recognize most people who meet him after some time”.

There was a short period of silence as everybody tried to compose themselves.
Aditya then spoke slowly “I did my entire schooling till Std X at RRT High School. Dr Govindan was the principal for most of this period”.
“Well we know” said Nirmala. “There was an article in the Financial Express 4 years back which had a mention of your name and there was a quote attributed to you. My husband pointed to the article and said proudly Aditya was my student! His condition started deteriorating shortly after that though”.
Aditya said slowy “I owe him a lot”

Nirmala got up and said “Let us go and meet him. Hopefully he will recognize you”.
They all went into the bedroom. Dr Govindan was sitting up on the bed, watching TV. Nirmala sat next to him and said “Mr Aditya, one of your students has come to meet you”.
Dr Govindan looked up and stared blankly at Aditya. “Hello” he said after a pause.
Aditya looked dejected. Dr Govindan had obviously not recognized him. Vrinda squeezed and held his hand for support.
Aditya looked at Dr Govindan and said “I did my entire schooling at RRT high school”. He reached for his bag and took out a class photo and showed it to Dr Govindan. “See, this is a class photo of Std X – my last year in the school. And there I am at the back”.
Dr Govindan stared at the photo and slowly scratched his head. He said shortly “Ok”.
Aditya spoke in a hesitant tone “We also spoke after the results. Don’t you remember?”
Dr Govindan said “I have been speaking to so many people, it can get so confusing....Anyway it is nice of you to meet me”.
“I will get some tea” said Nirmala getting up.
Aditya looked at the ceiling thoughtfully, while Vrinda leafed through a recent issue of India Today. Suddenly they turned as they heard Dr Govindan clear his throat.

Dr Govindan looked at Aditya and said “The dignity of the soul is real. Since that day, I have spoken about it to many others and thankfully they have all listened”. He smiled softly and continued “Your sister Shweta is better at keeping in touch than you are. I always knew what you were up to”.
Aditya whispered “You remember”.
Dr Govindan “Now I do. It is not easy these days though”. He looked at Vrinda and said smiling “Aditya was always a very sincere student. Straight, and very easy to teach to. All his teachers liked him”.
“Yes, I always thought he would have been a very good student” said Vrinda smiling as well.
Shortly after, Prakash also returned. They all chatted for a while after which Aditya and Vrinda said their good byes and left for home.

Once they returned back home, Vrinda told Aditya “They are such a nice family. And what a strong sense of social purpose. His son is a professor as well!”
“Yes” said Aditya  “Very strong sense of values and purpose”.
“What did Dr Govindan mean by saying The dignity of the soul is real?”
There was a long pause after which Aditya spoke up and said “There is something you must know”. There was a short pause again after which Aditya continued “My score in Std X was not great. Both my teachers and parents had high expectations of me. However, my parents never really pressurised me into studying more. I saw a lot of my friends hugging each other happily and talking about their marks that day. After I collected my marksheet, I went and sat on a bench in the playground. My mind was in a turmoil, and I made up my commit suicide”.
“What?” Vrinda exclaimed loudly. She turned and looked at Aditya sharply “I can’t believe it. You of all people..”
“It is difficult to describe how I felt then. A feeling of having failed others. It was a feeling of being worth nothing. The feeling of hopelessness was overpowering I guess. I felt like a fallen leaf which is of no use to anyone. As I had just made up my mind, Dr Govindan suddenly came and sat next to me. He very quickly understood that I was depressed. He talked to me about how I was measuring my self worth by each mark I had not got. His exact words next were – The dignity of the soul is real. All our scriptures also mention it! He spoke to me at length on how I had no reason to be dejected as I was always sincere and tried my best. After our conversation which lasted nearly an hour, I changed my mind”.

Aditya looked at Vrinda and spoke “I would also like to teach. I plan to ask Dr Govindan’s son Prakash for advise on how I can go about it. Maybe I can also learn to spot fallen leaves over time”.

They held hands in silence, looking out into the blue sky. As their son Hari walked up to them, they hugged him tightly.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fractional Recall

Vikas had a splitting headache. He felt disoriented and shook his head from left to right. He got up gingerly and sat up on the bed. He looked around and saw a nurse sitting at a distance. He wondered what was going on. He thought he had been discharged from the hospital already. He walked towards the door and then right out of Gobs Hospital. He had to get home. He checked his purse and found thankfully that his wallet was intact. He waved to a taxi and got off at his house in Mulund, Mumbai.

He walked up to his flat and rang the bell. The door opened and he smiled with relief as his wife Madhuri opened the door.
“Hey, I am back” Vikas said and sat down on the sofa exhausted. He looked up at Madhuri and said, “I have a very bad headache. In fact it is so bad, that I am not able to even focus properly. Can you get me a Crocin? I think I will sleep early today.”
Madhuri looked at him with a confused expression, a sense of fear on her face. She said “What do you want?"
“A crocin. Crocin pain relief is better if available” replied Vikas.
Madhuri looked at him, and asked with her voice raised “But who are you?”
Vikas looked at her shocked “What do you mean. This is no time for jokes”. He smiled weakly and said “I really do have a bad headache”.
Madhuri repeated, this time her voice was raised even louder “Who are you?”
Vikas looked at her stunned and said “Madhuri, It's me Vikas. What's wrong with you?”
“You are Vikas?”, Madhuri asked inching closer to the door.
Vikas got up from the sofa and walked up to his wife. He reached for her shoulder.
“Don't touch me”, Madhuri said sharply. She shouted next “Help, help”.

The commotion brought the neighbours – Sanjay Jain and Neeta Jain came out of their flats. Madhuri pointed to Vikas and said “I don't know what this man wants. He has just barged into my house. He says he is Vikas”.
As Sanjay and Neeta stared at him, Vikas exclaimed “Sanjay, Neeta – don't know what is wrong with Madhuri?” Then he looked at them and smiled “Ah, I get it. An April fool's joke?” he exclaimed.
Sanjay looked at him and said, “Who are you? How do you know our names? I don't think we have met before”.
Vikas by now was confused. He tried to gather himself. Nothing was making sense – he found himself again at the same hospital he was discharged from a little while back and now his wife and neighbours were saying they did not know him. What was going on?
Neeta whispered to her husband “And he looks so well dressed and decent. Who would think...”
Sanjay brought out his cell phone and shouted at Vikas “I am calling the police, don’t try to flee”.
Vikas looked at him and asked surprised “Why would I flee from my own house? “

As Sanjay was talking on his phone, Madhuri heard footsteps and looked up. She exclaimed “Oh Vikas” and ran out hugging the new entrant to the house.
The man who knew himself as Vikas stared at them. He suddenly felt himself being dragged and bundled into a Sumo. His headache was as bad as ever, and he closed his eyes, trying to shut himself from the excited screams and yells around him.

He looked up only when he felt a hand grab him. He was half dragged, and he half walked into the police station.
Sanjay spoke up as he saw a police officer. “Inspector Ashok Dave?” he asked. As the officer nodded, he continued, “I spoke to you just a while back”.
“Sure, please sit” said Inspector Ashok Dave.
He quickly frisked the man who called himself Vikas and seated him in a chair, asking two constables to hold him.
Sanjay continued to speak “This man barged into our neighbours house. At that time Madhuri was alone. Vikas came just as I was calling you”.
“Ok” Inspector Ashok looked at Madhuri and asked, “What did he want from you?”
Madhuri looked confused. She said “He just came into the house, sat on the sofa and asked for a crocin”.
“What?” Inspector Ashok asked next “Did he threaten you in any way? Did he ask you to hand over your money or valuables?”
“No. He just said he had a headache and asked for a crocin” said Madhuri looking very confused herself.

Inspector Ashok looked at the man who called himself Vikas next and asked sternly “What did you want? Why did you barge into their house?”
The man who called himself Vikas looked disturbed. In a halting and choked voice he said “Sir believe me. I can't understand what is going on. I found myself sometime back at the same hospital I was discharged from. I returned home and now my wife and neighbours are saying I am not Vikas”. A tear escaped his eye and slid down his cheek.
“What, you think you are her husband?” exclaimed Inspector Ashok and slapped him across the face. Now the man who called himself Vikas started sobbing, holding his head and bending low.
With tears streaming down his face, he said “Believe me. I am Vikas. I work with Astro Financials. I was hospitalised for a brain tumor surgery last week and got discharged after the operation. Today, I suddenly found myself at the same hospital I was discharged from. I had a bad headache. I came  home and now I find my wife and neighbours denying that I am Vikas”. He broke down completely, unable to speak further.

Madhuri, Vikas, Sanjay and Neeta looked at each other. Vikas looked at the man who called himself Vikas and asked “How do you know all this about my operation?”
Inspector Ashok looked at the man who called himself Vikas and said “Answer my questions to the point. What is your age?”
“31” replied the man.
“Company? Designation? Job profile”
“Astro Financials. Sr Equities research analyst. I joined about 6 months back” replied the man.
“Phone number office & mobile?”
The man reeled off two sets of numbers.
The four people sitting close to him gasped. Madhuri shrieked “How does he know all this? What is he up to?”

Just then a constable whispered something in Inspector Ashok's ears. Inspector Ashok excused himself and moved to a distance, staring at a page in his hand. He made a couple of calls and returned to his seat.
He reached forward and put the paper in his hand in front of the man who called himself Vikas. Inspector Ashok spoke up “See this fax? It is from the Thane police station. Do you recognize the photo?”
The man who called himself Vikas looked at a photo of himself. He nodded surprised “It's me”.
Inspector Ashok said softly “You are reported missing from Gobs hospital. And your name is not Vikas, it is Sridhar. I have already spoken to the hospital. Your wife is on her way here. Sir, I think you are sick. You need to consult a good doctor”.
“Sridhar, Sridhar.....I own Elegant Decor, Furniture Shop” said the man who called himself Vikas suddenly.

They all turned as they heard footsteps and watched a woman enter the police station. The man who called himself Vikas looked at her and recognition crossed his face.
“Revathi” he exclaimed “So nice to see you after so long”.
“Ha”, said Inspector Ashok. “Looks like you are returning to normal. So you do recognise your wife”.
The man who called himself Vikas looked confused. He thought carefully and said, “Yes, Revathi was my wife. But Madhuri is my wife now. I went with Madhuri to Juhu just the past weekend”.
Inspector Ashok got up from his seat and gestured to Revathi to step aside. He told her all that had happened before Revathi came to the police station.
Revathi listened stunned. “But why would he think he is someone else?” she exclaimed.
“I think you need to take him to a good doctor at the earliest”, said Inspector Ashok.
“Ok, in fact he was in Gobs hospital for a while after he had a small auto accident and was bleeding. I will check with the doctor if this could be related”, said Revathi.
She took Sridhar gently by his hand and said, “Let us go to Dr Vinay at Gobs hospital again. All this confusion may be the result of the accident you had. You did suffer a mild blow to your head as well though it was primarily your leg which was fractured”.
Vikas, Madhuri, Sanjay and Neeta also got up. They excused themselves with Inspector Ashok and set off for home.
Madhuri spoke “Even assuming the man is ill. How could be know so many details of us?”.
“I cannot explain it either” said Vikas confused. “Anyway, this episode is probably over for good”.

The man who was now identified as Sridhar, and Revathi landed up at Gobs hospital. It was already past 8 pm. Thankfully they were able to catch Dr Vinay in his room. They narrated the entire incident to him.
Dr Vinay said “Well, it is like this. Mr Vikas was also admitted to this hospital and in fact was in the next room to you, Mr Sridhar. I operated on him for a tumor. In your case I examined you for any head injury and found there was none. But I remember mentioning about Mr Vikas to you once when you asked who was in the next room. You have been tired and groggy with all the medication and your body has taken a knock due to the accident. So this is a temporary hallucination and there is nothing to worry about”.
Sridhar said “Ok. Let us say I am Sridhar and not Vikas. But I remember a number of details. How could I know his address? Names of his wife and neighbours. His contact numbers..How is that possible?”
Dr Vinay “Some of the details would have been overheard at some time by you and some of it may be imagined”.
“Ok” said Sridhar.

Revathi led the way to their home in Thane. As they entered their flat, Revathi asked, the concern showing in her voice “Are you feeling better now?”.
“Yes, the headache is almost gone” said Sridhar. He continued “Revathi, I do recognise this flat, but I cannot explain it. I don't remember having been here for quite some time and even having seen you for weeks actually..”
Revathi bit her lips “Sridhar, take it easy. We have seen each other even this morning in the hospital”.
Then she suddenly said, “Open your purse and check if my photo is there”. Sridhar opened the purse and found Revathi's smiling face looking at him from a photo.
“See. Are you convinced now? Ok, it is late. Let us have our dinner and go to sleep” said Revathi.
They had a quick and light dinner and retired to bed. As Sridhar got up from bed in the morning, he saw Revathi walking up to the bed. He held her hand and then hugged her.
“Are you feeling ok now ?” asked Revathi concerned.
“Yes, I am ok” said Sridhar quickly. “You may have to help me with some things. I think as a result of the treatment and accident, I am having some memory problems. But I am feeling so much better now.”
Tears welled up in Revathi's eyes “I was so worried. I am so happy now”, she said.
“Thanks for your support. Where would I be without that?” said Sridhar smiling at her.

Revathi left the room after a while to go into the kitchen. Sridhar thought to himself 'My mental confusion is no better today than it was yesterday. Why do I still feel I am also Vikas? What is going on? Maybe I have some kind of multiple personality disorder. But then a woman who prays for my sake since early in the morning could only be my wife. I owe it to her to not alarm her any further with this talk of Vikas. Some mysteries will always remain unsolved. I will pick up the missing pieces of my memory and Revathi will stand by me. God – I look to you for support'.

Dr Vinay had been restless and excited. It had been difficult to sleep. Despite the risk, it had been wonderful to see years of hard work at research bear fruit. He had been working on retrieval, digitisation and reintroduction of human memory. He had worked alone through the years, keeping his work entirely confidential. Some further work was needed but once done, he would announce this to the world, he was certain he would win the nobel prize.

He had obtained memory extracts from several patients. He had then digitised them and was now trying to segregate the extracts by time periods. He had digitised the extracts and had made two vials of Vikas memories of the past 3 months and another of the past 1 year. He had made two different ones in case the first one with a 3-month extract proved ineffective. He had labelled the vials as sedatives so as not to arouse suspicion in his office. He had then asked a nurse to administer a sedative injection to Sridhar – the one with a 3-month memory extract. Since it was only a 3-month timeframe being injected, he was certain over time this would be superceded by Sridhar's real memories with no long-term implications for him.

As he sat in his office, he found he could not focus. He was excited at what had happened. He knew there was a risk but was also sure it would not lead to him. His excitement growing he found himself to be a little breathless. He worried if he was having some kind of an attack. He found it difficult to speak and reached for the door. The nurse, who worked for him, saw him and hurried over to him.

She asked in a worried tone “Doctor, what is wrong?”
Dr Vinay spoke with a lot of effort “Attack..I think it is an attack” he spoke haltingly. At this point he fainted and fell forward.
The nurse brought another doctor over who quickly examined him. The doctor spoke “Not as serious. Seems more of a panic attack. Get a sedative”.
The nurse reached over for the vial marked sedative in Dr Vinay's room and quickly injected him with it.

Around 4 pm that day, there was a knock on the door of Vikas and Madhuri's apartment in Mulund. Madhuri was alone at home and opened the door. The man looked at Madhuri and spoke up “ Madhuri, why did you come home leaving me alone at the hospital?”. He then walked in and slumped on the sofa.
Madhuri followed him in and asked in a confused voice “Dr Vinay, what do you mean?”
“Dr Vinay?” said the man looking perplexed “ Madhuri, what are you talking about?”
Madhuri's hands covered her mouth and with an effort she asked “Who are you then?”
The man looked up and said “ Madhuri, get hold of yourself. It is me, Vikas”!

Madhuri screamed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Playing with knots

“C’mon, time to leave. It is a Friday man!” said Rishi coming up to Pankaj and me.
“Valentine’s day should be on Mar 1 and not on Feb 14,” said Pankaj with a dreamy look in his eyes, not acknowledging if he had heard Rishi.
“I also think you have a point” said Rishi promptly “It does make sense to have it after you have got your salary!”
“You know what I am talking about!” said Pankaj with a frown. “That was the day on which…” he appeared to now choke with emotion.

It was quite obvious to Rishi and me what Pankaj was talking about. I went back in time – precisely to 1st March of last year.

I was clearing my desk, and preparing to leave for the day. Me, Rishi and Pankaj travelled to work together. Rishi was already waving impatiently to us. Pankaj sat near the window looking out with a forlorn look on his face. I tapped him on the shoulder signalling for him to move.

He looked up at me and returned to inspecting the scene outside the window. I sighed – Pankaj was in one of his moods. I signalled to Rishi to come over – we were not leaving immediately.

As Rishi came over, he said “Hey, what’s up?” I pointed to Pankaj who continued to stare outside the window. He suddenly turned towards us and said in a voice loaded with emotion “What meaning will life have if she does not accept?”
“Who? What are you talking about” I asked though I knew exactly what, as this was turning out to be an everyday conversation these days.
“Shilpa” said Pankaj. “I hope she agrees to marry me”
“But I thought she has already said no” said Rishi.
“She has not!” said Pankaj irritatedly.
“But you said she returned the necklace you gave her” said Rishi.
“That does not mean she said no,” said Pankaj hotly.
“Why else would she return the necklace?” persisted Rishi.
“She could have been conscious of what others would say or she might have also thought it was too expensive.  There could be so many reasons!” said Pankaj.
“Maybe she didn’t like the design” I offered more as a way to end the debate and head for home.
“Ok, but then she would have told you the reason, had that been the case. She could have said - I don’t want the necklace but I like you or something like that” said Rishi.
“Rishi, you simply don’t understand the way women think. It is not as simple,” declared Pankaj in desperation, clinging to hope.
“I think you would be taking a big risk in persisting despite the necklace episode” said Rishi solemnly “It could be construed as harassment”.
“What? Are you serious?” exclaimed Pankaj, looking concerned. He turned to me for solace.
“You can always talk about your feelings more openly and give it a shot, I suppose” I said doubtfully.

At this point unexpectedly we turned hearing footsteps, and Shilpa was walking towards us. “Hey folks, what are you talking about?”

“We were talking about Pankaj’s life,” said Rishi.

Pankaj suddenly pretended to develop a coughing fit, bending forward to hide his face, which had sported a decidedly guilty look.

“What about his life?” asked Shilpa puzzled.
“Oh, this and that” I said.
“Hmmm” she said, looking sternly at Pankaj. “Rishi – we need to talk about all this,” said Shilpa drawing Rishi away.

Pankaj suddenly recovered from his coughing fit and looked up. Shilpa was speaking something animatedly and Rishi was nodding his head. After a few minutes, she waved Rishi away and started speaking on the phone. Rishi joined us and looked grimly at Pankaj “We are in trouble. She says none of this is acceptable. In fact she wants us all to accompany her to her house. She has apparently told her parents about what you have been up to”.

“What?” said Pankaj horrified, his face turning a distinct shade of red. “But why did she have to tell you that? She could have spoken to me alone on this instead of drawing you also in this”.
“You had embarked on a coughing fit,” Rishi pointed out. “And who knows, maybe she does not want to talk to you”
“I think you should apologize and close the matter,” I suggested to Pankaj.

Shilpa walked up to us and said, “Let us go”. Pankaj’s face continued to remain red and his eyes now had a wild look.

“Pankaj is willing to apologize, let us close the matter,” I said.
“After all that has happened, this cannot be settled that easily”, said Shilpa. “Let us go – my parents retire to bed early. They are waiting.”
“Ok, Pankaj – I think you have to go” I said quickly.
“All of you come,” said Shilpa. “Since you were all talking about Pankaj’s life with such seriousness, you should come as well”
I was trying to think of an excuse when Rishi said, “Ok, let us get this over with quickly.”

We travelled in two batches to Shilpa’s house - one batch being the three of us and batch 2 being only Shilpa. We were greeted at the door by Shilpa’s dad Mr Kumar. One look at him told me this was going to be more difficult than I thought – he had a grim look on his face. As we took our seat, her mother joined us as well.

“There has been a misunderstanding, and we can easily resolve this matter” I said.
“Misunderstanding?” Shilpa’s dad appeared confused and looked at her.
“No, there is no misunderstanding, Dad. I am very clear in my mind”, said Shilpa.
“Ok, good. This is obviously an important matter and in fact I wanted to talk to your parents but Shilpa felt that would only delay things,” said Mr Kumar.
Pankaj mumbled something about his parents being in Varanasi, and their not being needed for this.
“Uncle, does your house always have so many mosquitoes?” asked Rishi.
Shilpa glared at Rishi, while a startled Mr Kumar went to get a mosquito coil and set it to burn.

“Now, let us get down to business,” said Mr Kumar.
“Well, it is like this – Pankaj is definitely a funny guy. But he means well, please understand and appreciate that,” said Rishi.
“Yes, he definitely wants to move on now after all that has happened” I continued and looked at Pankaj.
“Yes, yes,” said Pankaj taking the cue, but still remaining largely tongue-tied.
“Ok, go on,” said Mr Kumar.
“Shilpa, can you sing?” asked Rishi next suddenly.
“No, I can’t” snapped Shilpa.
“What about your cooking?” asked Rishi next.
“Only passable, and may I ask why you should care?” asked Shilpa.
“The girl we met the other day could both cook and sing well, isn’t it, Pankaj?” asked Rishi in a loud whisper.
“What other girl?” said Pankaj weakly and then again developed a coughing fit and bent over.

I nudged Rishi – I was now worried that due to Rishi’s wisecracks, we were going to end up in worse trouble than originally anticipated.

As if in response to my nudge, Rishi looked at Pankaj and said “Maybe that can be overlooked?”

Shilpa stood up at this point and disappeared into the house. There was a pause and then I asked for water, hoping amnesia would strike and the recent conversation would be forgotten. Shilpa’s mother arrived with some cups of tea, and Shilpa also returned and sat down.

As we sipped the tea, Rishi spoke up “Very good tea, Shilpa did you make it?”
“No, I did,” said her mother looking surprised.

“Ok, let us get to the point now” Mr Kumar said, “Look, in many ways I am an old fashioned man”. He stood up and took a stroll to the window and back.

He looked at Pankaj and said, “When I heard about this from Shilpa, I had my worries.  However, our family and Rishi’s have been friends for a long time. And when he told me that he thought you would be a perfect match for my daughter, I had no further worries or questions. Rishi tells me your parents already know about this, but you must let me know when we can meet them to take this further and make the necessary arrangements for the wedding”.

So the entire event was staged! As we left Shilpa’s house, Rishi looked at Pankaj and teased, “I wanted this to happen when I am still young! If it were left to you, I am not sure if that would have been possible”. Yes – Mar 1 was a memorable day for Pankaj! 

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Call to the Edge

“I think this is a conspiracy at work,” whispered the man in the seat next to me on the bus.
Startled I turned to understand what he was saying.
He repeated, “It is a conspiracy!”
“What conspiracy? I am not sure I understand what you are saying,” I said looking at him.
“These floods. The sea has entered the city somehow!” he said.                
“It is these heavy rains,” I said wondering if he had had too much to drink.
“No it is not just that” he continued. “How long have you been in Mumbai? It always rains heavily on and off. But have you seen anything like this?” he asked.
“Yes, you are right – as a matter of fact I have not seen anything like this. But I understand it has been one of the heaviest rains ever” I said.
“Pah!” he continued. “Look at the water below – it is flowing like a river in spate on the main roads, highways, everywhere! I can understand vertical accumulation of water but see what is happening. I am telling you it is the sea!”
At this point I had to admit that I was challenged. This man was right – I had never seen rivers of water gushing around the city even in the heaviest of rains. In fact, I had never seen anything even remotely like this. And yet, the conspiracy theory was ridiculous. I was thinking of a logical response, when there was a sudden scream.

Everyone turned in the direction of the scream. A lady pointed to the water and asked, “Is that someone in the water?” Most people turned pale, staring at the water and unsure on what to do. The crowd inched forward hesitantly. There was a burst of lightning and as the light fell on the water, it was clear it was a bag floating in the water. There was a sigh of relief and a nervous laugh, all around.

At this time, evidently irritated by my lack of support for his conspiracy theory, the man seated next to me, rose from his seat and sat down in the seat in front of me. He sat next to another gentleman engaging him in conversation immediately about his conspiracy theory. The other man listened to him intently and then retorted assertively “You are wrong! We are being punished! In fact a local astrologer has forecast this – do you know that”? They continued to argue their respective positions for some time –

“An entire city would not be punished for the deeds of a few!”
“We have ignored the laws of nature for too long and this was bound to happen!”
“I have heard from a few good sources – this is indeed a conspiracy. We have to find out how the sea was let into the city and push it back if we can!”
“The astrologer who has forecast this says it is a warning to mend our ways. He has mentioned 26/07 explicitly!”

Finally after some more argument, a stalemate ensued – both sticking to their positions, and having little more to say.

After a while, a group of fireman entered the bus. The leader of the group made an announcement “As you can see, the rains are continuing. We are monitoring the water level around this area and as of now there is no cause for concern on this bus. It is safest for you people to stay on the bus rather than moving around. We will be around this area and you have nothing to fear. We have also tried to make some arrangements with local residents who have been most eager to help. At the moment we can accommodate around 15 people in the building adjacent, till tomorrow morning. First preference would be given to women and children. Those who wish to avail this can follow us”. Around 5 people stood up ready to follow the firemen out of the bus.

“No reason to panic” the fireman continued. “Sing some songs, maybe”!

Everyone laughed nervously. The firemen then left with the group of women and children who had chosen to stay at the adjacent building.

The rain was showing no sign of abating and the water was now lapping the footboard of the bus. Though advised to the contrary, it was clearly preying on everybody’s mind on what would happen if it continued raining. There were already rumors of several people dying in the floods in the city. However, the professional approach of the firemen had no doubt soothed many nerves, and the tense atmosphere, which had prevailed till then, did lighten.

An old man entered the bus. He was wet and shivering. He stood next to my seat and asked, “Is it Ok if I sit down next to you?”

“Sure, please do” I said wondering why he should ask. It was probably because he was drenched.

He sat down, clearly nervous. He continued to fidget, at times rubbing his eyes, and at other times looking around quickly. I had worries of my own, my phone being non-operational and unable to contact family. I prayed that no one else in my family had left home on this day. However, seeing his continued unease, I asked him what his problem was.

“My granddaughter is out at school. I was going to fetch her. But I cannot make it past this point. She must be so worried” he said.
“I am sure she is fine” I said to reassure him “Under the circumstances it is best she stays at the school. I am sure the school authorities will not let the students out anywhere in this rain”
“Yes, I guess so” he sighed “How about you? Have you called home?”
“Well, I haven’t been able to call home. Phone not working” I said
“Here, take mine and call,” he offered kindly. “Mine is one of the few in the city which works I understand!”
“Thanks a lot!” I said and called home with his phone. My father was out in the rains. All others including mother, wife and kid were at home. I thanked him once again when I was done.

He gazed out after a while and his eyes opened wide with concern. I followed his line of sight. Perched on top of a ledge precariously around 25 feet away was a dog. Clearly frightened, it was yelping in fright knowing it was very close to being dragged into the water.

“We must do something”, the old man exclaimed loudly. A few more heads turned towards him.
“Are you mad?” one man asked. “The dog is far away. We have had human beings dying and here you are wanting us to risk our lives for saving a dog”
“No, no, no, no, no!” the old man replied. Suddenly he said with tears in his eyes “Oh God! You don’t understand! It is a test!”

He suddenly leapt from his seat and ran out of the bus, wading through water, which was now waist high. Alarmed, me and 3 other people followed him quickly. It was dark and walking along water rushing downstream was a frightening prospect. We reached the dog in a few minutes. One man lifted the dog and we asked the watchman of a building close by if we could leave the dog inside the building and he agreed. We walked alongside the old man slowly. No one spoke till we returned to the bus.

The old man spoke up, his eyes moist “I am sorry. I never meant to inconvenience all of you.”

“No” we replied together “You were right to do what you did”.

As I sat down on the seat again, I reflected that the old man was right – it was a test, and if wasn’t for him so many people including me would have failed. I wondered how many times a day we are tested?

I turned to the old man and said smiling “You must message me once you meet your granddaughter tomorrow”.

“And you when you meet your father” he said promptly.

The next morning I received a message and sent one back.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Focal Point

“He specifically asked for the three of you to be here” said Tarun’s wife Payal looking very disturbed.

“What is wrong, Is he very ill?” I asked her concerned. I had just entered the hospital with Rishi and Meera. The four of us worked together at Medusa publishing and came over to Khanna hospital after a call from Payal. She met us outside Tarun’s hospital room. It was a Friday afternoon.

Payal replied, “Actually, as per the doctors he has recovered from his knee dislocation, and in fact he is due to be discharged this evening. At around 2 am he woke me up, and seemed distraught. He was not very coherent and told me it was a bad dream and went back to sleep. He woke up again at around 4:30 am and said – I saw her face, and she said - Focal Point. He was very agitated and mumbled – What can be the message? He next asked me to call the three of you. We did not go back to sleep after that”

Focal Point? What can that mean?” Meera said “Did he say anything further after that?”

“I did ask him about it” said Payal. “He was quite calm after he was awake. He said that he had seen a dream in which the three of you also figured, and it was probably related to an incident from long back”.

“Let’s meet him….” Rishi said. And gesturing to Payal, he said “Tarun was always a funny guy. So don’t worry. Let us find out what this is all about!”

I wondered what incident Tarun could be referring to but could not come up with anything to explain this. Tarun was awake and reading a book. On seeing us, he smiled feebly. As he kept the book down, I noticed it was “Crime & Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was ironic since looking at Tarun’s face; one would think he was enacting the role of the central character Raskolnikov from “Crime and Punishment”. His face was creased with worry and he was very restless. Only there was no crime!

“What’s up” said Meera and in an effort to lighten the mood said cheerily “Have you seen a ghost or something?”

“I have seen ghosts myself a few times” quipped Rishi immediately, and continued, “It has no such effect. In fact seeing ghosts used to cheer me up! Hey, Tarun. What’s up, man?”

Tarun said, “I have to tell you something. Maybe it is nothing, but it is difficult to explain”. He now looked pensive and continued “Before I tell you about my dream, I want you to recall that rainy night around 7 years back when the four of us saw that young lady”

“Oh, that!” Rishi guffawed with laughter “You mean the 11th time you fell in love and danced in the rain! I forget the name of the girl though”. Rishi turned to Payal still laughing “I didn’t realize he has actually told you all this! Our friend Tarun was a big big big ladies’ man! The envy of the rest of the gang!”

Tarun looked at Rishi, his mouth open. “No Rishi, look…” he started.

At the start of this wild tale, I was a little concerned that Payal might actually believe Rishi’s wisecracks. But there was little chance now, as describing Tarun as a ladies’ man made the tale too far fetched to be taken for fact.

Meera looked at Rishi and said smiling, “Come on, let Tarun finish. We can then tell Payal all about his escapades!”

Tarun looked relieved and said “I am talking about the time we had gone to Ooty on a business trip 7 years and lost our way in the rain. Do you remember?”

I now understood the incident he was referring to, and tried to mentally piece together all the events of that day. We were returning after meeting a business contact when we wandered off in search of our guesthouse after alighting from the bus. We walked here and there till we were totally lost among a vast stretch of trees with not a soul in sight. It also started raining steadily after a while. We noticed a cottage in the distance and walked over. The door was slightly ajar and swung open as we knocked on it. Our sight fell on a young lady sitting on the floor with her eyes closed. It looked like she was deep in meditation. So as not to disturb her, we stood without speaking. It was another 20 minutes, before she opened her eyes.

She stood up and gestured to us to come in. “Please sit” she said, “I am Chitra. Please relax for a few minutes, I will then tell you how you can get to your place”.

“How do you know we are lost?” asked Tarun startled.

“Well, people get lost here all the time” said Chitra dismissively.

“We were watching you for a while” Meera confessed. “You were deep in meditation. Do you do it regularly?” she asked.

“Well, yes. I meditate everyday. I find peace with it, and I learn so many new things everyday”

“Interesting” I said. “Though, I am not entirely sure what you mean by learning new things everyday?”

“I discover new things about myself and others everyday. The fact that we are manifestations of one source offers such exciting possibilities for understanding, communication and collaboration.” Chitra said.

“Good God!” exclaimed Rishi “One would think this is a gathering of 80 year olds chatting”
Meera glared at Rishi. She spoke “What you are saying is interesting. We read this all the time but it is nice to see you actually practice it”

“I definitely want to share my experiences with many others at some point of time in the future” Chitra said.
Rishi spoke up again “And, do you do anything else besides this?”

“Oh, I am in final year Masters of Arts” Chitra laughed. “My parents are away to meet some relatives and will be back soon”

“Let me make you some tea” she said. Meera joined her and they returned after a few minutes with cups of tea. The tea was good.

After exchanging some pleasantries, I indicated we had to make a move. We got directions to our guesthouse and left her cottage.
“How did she trust us and let us in without any suspicion. We could very well have been burglars!” Tarun said.

“That is true,” said Meera “She was so sure of what she was doing”

“Well – the presence of a dashing young man like me obviously reassured her,” said Rishi immediately.

As I reconstructed the above episode, I sat scratching my head wondering how this could be related to Tarun’s dream. Meera was thoughtful as well. Rishi was pretending to chase a fly, but it was clear he was curious too.

“Please go on” said Rishi to Tarun, “All of us recall that incident”.

“I had this dream in the middle of the night” began Tarun. “It is difficult to describe but it was as if there was a blue light which was slowly dispersing, expanding and I saw what looked like spinning balls. I then saw the face of the young lady – Chitra, whom we saw so many years back. I heard her say: The essence of my experiences, Focal Point. At this point I woke up – it was around 12:30 am in the night. I tried to shut my eyes and sleep again. I think I must have dozed off in a few minutes. The same sequence occurred again and I woke up. This time I tried to tell Payal what I had seen but it was difficult. Remarkably, I saw the same dream a third time after falling asleep again. This time I heard the young lady Chitra add softly – Focal Point, Please do your part. I woke up then with Payal, and could not sleep after that”.

All of us sat thoughtfully as we heard Tarun’s narrative. He continued, “I thought I should call you. I am not sure what to make of this. Maybe it is nothing….”

Meera said, “The way we remember things can be strange. I myself have recalled some episodes after years. Chitra did mention sharing her experiences, so that fits with a simple memory recall. I suppose the rest is the brain putting together a dream. Of course, the phrase Focal Point is curious”.

“When you were describing the vision, it immediately struck me as being a description of the big bang leading to the creation of the universe” I said thoughtfully.

“The most striking thing in the whole dream is at the point where you say she mentions - Please do your part. What can that mean, if anything” said Rishi, looking serious for a change.

“Don’t tell me you believe in mystic experiences, Mr Old Man”, I chided Rishi.

“I believe there may actually be a message here”, said Rishi looking serious.

“But we don’t understand what it can mean” Meera exclaimed. “What can Focal Point mean? Also what part do we play?”

“The vision Tarun describes can probably be labeled as Focal Point, as everything seems to start from and dissolve to a point. What can all this mean to us though?” I said.

“Maybe, it is a call to us to watch out. I think events may just play themselves out….” said Rishi. This was a new side to Rishi we were all seeing.

I stood up and walked towards the window. I took a heavy breath and found that Payal had walked up besides me. She spoke softly ““Do you think we can ask the doctor about this?”

“Yes, why not?” I said. “Let us do it now”.

The two of us went in search of Dr Sharma. He was sitting in his room, and thankfully was alone. We narrated in brief about Tarun having a dream, which was connected to an event 7 years back. He listened carefully and then said, “During the operation and after, Tarun had to be given painkillers and sedatives. This one particularly….” he waved a wad of tablets at us and continued “is known to trigger and bring to the surface some long term memories”

“But what Tarun saw has parts which are not memories but some new events” I said.

“I understand” Dr Sharma replied, and continued, “It is quite usual during dreams for the brain to introduce unreal events, with actual episodes – which may be either in the recent past or the distant past. This is the result of various experiences and desires. This is quite complex but has been reasonably explained by medical science”

“So you think there is nothing to worry about?” asked Payal.

“Of course, not!” laughed Dr Sharma. “Tarun is a healthy man. He can now go home. There is absolutely nothing to worry”

We returned to the room relieved. “Mystery solved!” I declared to Tarun, Meera & Rishi and then repeated the conversation we had with Dr Sharma.

“Oh, Ok” said Tarun sighing.

“It is back to work from Monday, man!” I said smiling. If you had hoped to take a few more days off – forget it!”
I noticed Rishi still looked thoughtful as we left, and was unusually quiet.

“Hey, Good morning!” Shiv, my boss at Medusa Publications, greeted me on Monday morning at my desk. There is this book you need to review and send in your recommendation if we can publish. I read it briefly and have called the writer over since I found it to be very unusual, and wanted to discuss this in person before we make a decision. I need to go out for a meeting urgently though – so please do it. You can also ask Tarun to join in if you want. The writer is waiting at the reception”.

“Here is the draft”, he said handing me a sheaf of papers and walked away.

I stared at the title, gasped and then reached for the phone. Tarun, Meera and Rishi came to my room. I showed the title to them - “Focal Point” and the sub text below, read “Experiences with the universal consciousness”. Only Rishi seemed unmoved - he had obviously anticipated Tarun’s dream to have some relevance.

A few minutes after I had called the reception, Chitra walked in.
She looked at us, smiled and took a seat. She looked up at us and asked, “Have we met before?”

“You know we have! We will do our part!” I said smiling and continued, “We discussed your book – Focal Point and will recommend for it to be published. We request you to allow us to write a foreword….”