Sunday, October 4, 2015

Across the Sea

“Jack, did you pay the electricity and gas charges for the month?”, asked his wife Melanie.
“No”, he replied, scratching his head. “I will first have to check the bank balance”, he muttered glumly.
Melanie put her arms around him “We will be ok – don't keep worrying”.
“Very soon, we will have to think of saving money for Ryan going to college”, Jack said.
“He is only 6 years old now. We have time for it. Relax”.

Jack looked out of the window. There seemed to be a commotion outside. It had become a regular feature since a few days.
“As if we do not have enough problems of our own. See what is going on outside”, said Jack angrily, gesturing to a large group of people who were talking loudly to some police officers.
“Well, they had no choice. They will go back when they get the chance”, said Melanie quietly.
“That is what you think. And there are so many people encouraging this. All this makes me very angry”.

After a short silence, Jack asked “Where is Ryan? He wanted to buy some notebooks for school. I will take him to the store”.
Melanie called out to Ryan, who comes over.
“Let's go”, said Jack shortly. As they walk past the next street, they see many people squated in a park with tattered clothes and bags by their side. There were a few tents put up, but there seemed to be a very large number of people.
“Dad, do these people stay here even in the night?”, asked Ryan.
“Yes”, said Jack.
“Thankfully, it is not too cold yet. Else, can how they stay here in the open?”
“Listen. You need to steer clear of these people. They can be dangerous”.
“Oh, is it?”

They walked for another 10 minutes and got to a general store. Ryan picked up the notebooks he wanted. As they made their way home, suddenly a small girl ran up to Ryan and said something. It was a language they could not understand. The girl pointed to the sea, saying something. A man ran up, evidently her father, and caught the girl's hand. She said something to him as well.
“We don't have any money, go away”, Jack shouted, catching hold of Ryan's hand.
“Sir… is..”, the man started to say something.
“Move!”, Jack yelled, hurrying away with Ryan in tow.

The next day, Jack picked up Ryan from school. At Ryan's insistence, Jack got him a beach ball. They walked home, Ryan merrily tossing the ball in the air and humming a song. Suddenly the same girl appeared before them. She looked at Ryan, said something and pointed at the ball. Her father ran up to her again, and caught her hand. She looked at her father with wide eyes saying something. Her father looked troubled and hugged the child.
Jack looked at the man sternly, and asked him “You have come over by a boat here isn't it?”
The man looked up and answered softly “Yes….actually…..”
Jack interrupted him “I am not interested in listening to anything more, but understand one thing carefully. Yesterday your daughter wanted money from us and today my son's ball. We are not giving you either money or the ball. I know you are instructing your child to chase us”.
“Sir, my daughter did not want money or the ball”.
“Oh, really?!”, questioned Jack aggresively.
“Yesterday, and today, she told your son that he looks like her brother. She also said today that he also had a big ball and used to play with her”.
Taken aback and feeling bad about this, Jack muttered a sorry and started to walk away. As he took two steps forward the other way, he stopped and turned. The man was holding his daughter tightly, whispering to her.
Jack came back to the man and asked him “Where is her brother now?”
The man spoke softly, his eyes welling with tears “My wife and son drowned while we were coming here by the boat”.
Jack lowered his eyes for a few moments and then looked up.
“I am so sorry. What happened?”
“There was fighting all around. Shooting, bombs & violence all the time. Our neighbours were killed in a blast a few days back. That is when we thought we must move out. We put together whatever money we could to pay some agents who arranged space on a boat for us. It was not a very big boat and there were so many people.”
He stopped as his voice caught. He continued, “There were very strong currents in the water at one point, and many fell overboard. I tried to catch my wife and son, but had to hold my 2 year old daughter in my hands as well. I could not save my wife and son”.
It looked like he would lose his balance and fall down. Jack caught his hand to steady him.
“Life does not have much meaning now, but I have to live for my daughter”.
There were a few minutes of quiet before Jack asked “Do you get food and water?”
“Yes, people do come by and leave packets of food and water. Some of the government officers come by as well”.
“Oh, Ok”, said Jack slowly.
He lifted the girl in his arms and asked “Do you want to play ball with Ryan?”. He pointed at the ball and took Ryan's hand and placed it in hers as she may not have understood what he said.
The girl smiled, and then looked up at her father who nodded.
“Sir, I know it is difficult with so many people landing here…..but we did not know what to do. Maybe we have made a mistake and are also troubling others….I don't know….”
“…..I am sorry for what I said...I didn't realize…...”, Jack stopped searching for words to continue with.
Finally he simply hugged the man and asked “What is your name?”
“Sayid” said the man.
“And your daughter?”
“She is a very sharp girl. She will grown up to be a remarkable lady, and will make you very proud”

Jack then took his leave, and walked home with Ryan. Neither spoke for the rest of the way.
As they entered their house, his wife Melanie asked “Where have you been? You are so late”.
“We ran into a couple of those people who have come over by boats”, said Jack.
“Oh, what happened?”, asked Melanie concerned.
“I realized they are people like us”.
Jack recounted the incident, speaking softly with Melanie all the time.
At the end of it, Melanie spoke “We all learn new things every day. Don't be hard on yourself”.
Jack nodded and then spoke, gesturing out of the window “Do you see those people with hand held signboards and packets?”
“Yes”, Melanie nodded.
They spoke for a few minutes more before they went to sleep.

The next day, Jack, Melanie and Ryan walked slowly to where the crowds were. They stood next to a smiling old couple probably in their seventies. While the man held up a sign saying “Welcome, Don't worry”, his wife handed over a few of packets of food and water to some people.
Jack and Melanie smiled at them, asking if they could join them, to which they agreed immediately. Jack held up the signboard he had made last night which read “We stand with you”. Melanie and Ryan held out a few packets of food and water to a few people. A lady holding her son, grasped Melanie's hands saying “If it were not for wonderful people like you, what would we do”. Jack and Melanie looked at each other, their eyes filling with tears.

As Jack moved away, he saw Sayid with his daughter Yana sitting under a tree. He waved to him and walked over introducing Melanie to them.

Jack, Melanie and Ryan walked home, holding hands, feeling more alive and connected to the universe as never before.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Emotions were clouding Mohan’s mind, making it difficult for him to fully involve himself in all that was happening around him. 
He tried to focus his attention on what his friend Vikram was saying.
Vikram repeated himself, “Was she ill before she died?”
Mohan replied “No. It happened suddenly. We thought she was sleeping but found she was unresponsive and had already left us in the morning”
“It is good she did not suffer. And also she has live a good life till the age of 99” said Vikram.
“Yes, that is true”, responded Mohan. He continued, his voice catching “In fact, she used to say that she did not want to die in a hospital in the midst of equipment and tubes. I remember her telling me happily a couple of years back that she had met an astrologer who had told her she would die peacefully in her sleep and will never be a burden on anyone”.
“She got her wish, and she managed all her needs herself without troubling any one right till the end”, said Mohan.
“She was a remarkable person, a noble soul” said Vikram softly. “I remember once many years back, I had visited your house in your hometown. As I was also visiting, your grandfather told her to make some pakodas well into the night. She immediately cooked some delicious fare even though it was very late”.
“Yes, I know” said Mohan. Distressed he continued “Death is so final. We will never get back her wisdom, patience, grace and strength. There are so many times when she has been the pillar of strength for us”.

Just then Mohan’s 10 year old son Manoj comes running to him and sits next to him. He sits next to Mohan and whispers to him “Who will tell me stories now?”
“There will be others - me, your mother, your grandparents, we are all there for that”, said Mohan.
“But, great grandma told the best stories”, said Manoj, tears in his eyes.
Mohan’s wife Geeta holds Manoj, taking him away into the room. As he goes with her, he asks “When will we next be able to meet great grandma?”
Geeta replies slowly “Her memories will always be with us. And we will meet her when God wants us to”.
“And when will God allow us to meet her?”, asked Manoj continuing with his questions.
“Manoj, we can only meet her when we also enter her world. But we will meet her surely someday”, said Geeta.
“Then why don’t we also go to that world now itself?”, asked Manoj.
Geeta hugged her son, gently telling him “That is in God’s hands. He will choose the right time”.

Mohan dragged his eyes away from Manoj and Geeta as they move away. He looks back at Vikram gathering his thoughts.
“You know we celebrated her 99th birthday two months back. Since she has not been in good health, the thought crossed our minds if she will see her next birthday when she would have completed 100 years. She probably sensed it too”, said Mohan.

He paused, a wave of emotion hitting him, also brought on by his son’s innocent questions. He bent his head down, trying to regain his composure.
He looked up as he heard Vikram speak.
“What you just said is perfectly right, Mohan. Age is only a number. It is not age a person leaves behind when he or she dies, but memories and goodwill which stay forever”, said Vikram.
Mohan froze, staring ahead. Vikram looked at him concerned “Mohan, you are clearly stressed. You need to get some rest”.

Mohan slowly shook his head, finding it difficult to believe what had just happened. He had not spoken the words Vikram claimed he had. His thought went back to his grandmother’s 99th birthday. His son had remarked then “Great grandma, next year you will be 100!”. His grandmother had replied smiling to the boy “Age is only a number. It is not age a person leaves behind when he or she dies, but memories and goodwill”.

Mohan smiled. His grandmother’s spirits would be forever with them, guiding them with wisdom, patience, grace and strength.