The Polestar

 The ‘new normal’ that the families are experiencing due to the Corona-virus pandemic is where most parents are working from home and children are staying indoors perennially. While parents must tackle home chores along with work from home challenges, the constant struggle to engage young minds constructively became an add on to the existing list of their workload, as otherwise the kids would resort to over-indulgence of gadgets. After the initial euphoria of getting both her parents all through the day at home had mellowed down, Srinika’s home too mirrored a similar scenario.

“Srinika, why don’t you leave the phone and draw something? I love what you draw and paint.” Meenakshi, her mother, said with a ting of frustration in her tone.

“I am getting bored.” quick came little Srinika’s newfound rant.

“Bored? There are so many things to choose from… you have toys, games, books to read, online music class besides you are getting our presence too. Why don’t you spend your time in these activities rather than sitting with a tablet or mobile phone all the time?” Meenakshi said.

“Will you play with me, Amma?” Srinika said while leaving phone on the sofa.

“Of course, I will. But not now. I have got to finish cooking followed by a couple of meetings with clients. I have a tight schedule in the first half today. But I promise to spend an hour with you in the afternoon. Till then you play and read by yourself.” Meenakshi replied.

On seeing Srinika’s swollen face Meenakshi drew her closer and said lovingly, “Srini, due to lockdown our offices are closed, but our work has not come to a halt. Even though we are at home, but we must deliver the job assigned to us on time. Just remember, Appa and me are around in case if you need something, but we cannot spend all the time with you as we have other commitments to address. My big girl understands this, right?”

To which her daughter jumped with joy and said, “Yes” and went to fetch a drawing book. Meanwhile Meenakshi too went about her chores feeling relieved as she was able to convince Srinika for the time being. But a few concerns still came nagging at her, “Is she getting bored because she has no one of her age at home to spend time with? Or am I not able to give her proper attention due to my work responsibilities?”

Meenakshi tried recollecting her childhood days spent in the temple town of Chidambaram. Being the only girl of her age in the neighbourhood, she had no one to play with. Due to work at home her mother could not stay at her disposal all the time, although she tried her best to shower her with immense love and attention whenever she had time. Surprisingly, Meenakshi did not have so many options to choose from to remain engaged or get entertained as is the case with children of current generation. Yet the word ‘bored’ never really enjoyed a revered position in young Meenakshi’s life. Watching ant trails, getting fascinated at the sight of clusters of earthworm casts in the garden, imitating cuckoo callings, plucking kanagambaram (fire-cracker flower) and jasmine flowers from the garden and sitting on the veranda with mother to make garlands out of them, watching moon wading the silver clouds off its path in the night sky, watching sun setting at the distant horizon, watching stars studded sky for hours and off course walking to the Nataraja temple almost every evening with her mother to pay obeisance to the lord, were some of the memories that she could recall randomly.

“No fancy toys or games to play with, no access to television during the formative years… yet we found something or the other to keep ourselves engaged. These days cell phones and tablets, the new age idiot boxes succeed in keeping the children glued to them, but they leave them with an emptiness instead of enriching them in any way. Hmm… how things changed in just a generation’s time. Gadgets and Internet are crucial in today’s world, but to strike a balance between staying connected when essential and remain disconnect when not required is a challenge and a constant tug of war for all us.” Meenakshi thought to herself while cutting vegetables.

That day, in the afternoon, Meenakshi received a text message from her daughter’s school which stated that the school would start online classes shortly.

“Online school? How is that going to work out?” she asked her husband on getting the message.

“Let us see, with Corona virus riding on a non-stop whirlwind, classroom studies are totally nullified. At least the school thought in these lines. Otherwise we were totally occupied managing our issues.” Raghavan, her husband, replied.

“Yeah, all at once so much workload has fallen on our shoulders that her studies did not cross our mind.” Meenakshi added.

Soon enough, every morning little Srinika, like many other kids, would sit through the class assembly, roll calls, followed by reading current news and stories by turn. Thereafter, they attended combination of live classes and pre-recorded videos. Interestingly, class tests, art, dance and yoga class were also incorporated in their schedule. During live classes, there were two teachers per session, while one of them would teach actively the other would take the supporting role of managing the class or writing answers in the chat box. Srinika’s parents were amazed to see a perfect understanding between the teachers. And the planning that went behind the scenes for a virtual field trip to Rajasthan or the coordination between teachers and students while preparing for skit remotely was quite commendable. Although nothing can replace the excitement of classroom studies, but the school had put tremendous effort to make the whole affair as normal as possible for the kids. Undoubtedly, Srinika’s parents were relieved to see her energy getting channelised in better things in an otherwise gloomy situation. And time and again they were totally astonished to see the zeal with which these unsung heroes left behind classical teaching methods and moulded themselves to jump into the choppy waters of online classes thus fulfilling the demands of the current crisis.

One day during online classes, Srinika came running to her mother while the latter was engrossed in her work.

“Look, Amma, a parent is shouting at our teacher.” she said in a baffled tone while dragging Meenakshi.

“A parent is shouting at your teacher, but why?” Meenakshi repeated anxiously.

“Yes, Amma. You should come.” Srinika said.

On reaching Srinika’s study area, what Meenakshi saw on the laptop screen was a lady sitting on a bed and angrily speaking while repeatedly pointing a finger, “How could you do this? You do not have sense…all the questions were in French. How do you expect the children to understand everything from day one? My child couldn’t submit the answers.” 

Meenakshi’s eyes went to the other half of the screen where a sober lady, supposedly their French language teacher was answering very politely to an otherwise rude and arrogant parent, “Ma’am, please check the question sheets that I have shared recently. The mistake has been rectified.”

“No, no… but, it is such a gross mistake, how could you do this? You don’t have sense.” the parent repeated hysterically.

“Ma’am, please check once. That has been rectified. Now, the previous and the present set of questions have both French and their English translation. The child will not have any problem this time. Please check, Ma’am.” the teacher repeated very calmly.

We have so many things to take care of, don’t expect us to sit with our children and help them with schoolwork.” said the parent with an antagonistic approach.

The teacher started saying, “Ma’am, please…” which was cut short with a rude remark by the parent, “Okay, thank you” before leaving the scene abruptly.

What Meenakshi could gather from their conversation is that the multiple-choice questions that the teacher had shared previously were in French, without any explanatory notes in English which caused some inconvenience. But according to the teacher that has been rectified later.  

This act of insensitivity rendered Meenakshi totally aghast. As she stood still, numerous thoughts raced against one another making her mind cluttered. “How rude of her… she didn’t even wait for the teacher to complete her sentence and abruptly made an exit. Why so much of an arrogance? Why couldn’t she talk to the teacher personally instead of creating a scene publicly? What will her child or rest of the students learn from this incident? And, why did she behave as if she is the only one overloaded with work, whereas the reality is that with lockdown in full operation and no assistance from domestic helps, each and everyone one of us have a lot of workload. Or is she brooding on a misconception that teaching is a less challenging profession?”

Meenakshi’s flow of thoughts were interrupted by the students, who had started asking questions by then and the teacher in turn started clarifying their doubts instantly. To Meenakshi’s surprise, the teacher looked perfectly poised after the storm had faded away.

On realizing this incident could cast a wrong impact on her daughter, Meenakshi quickly got into damage control mode, “It is wrong to talk to a teacher in this manner. You should never behave like this with anyone.” she said.

“Yes, Amma. I know”, quick came Srinika’s reply.

“Carry on with your classes.” Meenakshi said to her daughter and left the room.

Instantly, she felt like calling up the teacher and apologize for the incident.

“But I haven’t been disrespectful towards her, then why do I feel like this?” she questioned herself, “And, why is it that I can feel her pain so deeply?” she thought.

This untoward incident took Meenakshi down the memory lane… when she was subjected to a similar ordeal about thirteen years ago on her first job at an interior designing institute. While she was busy explaining a particular topic to her students somebody from the administration came in banging the door open and started shouting at her, which brought the momentum of the class to a screeching halt. Back then, in all her naivety, she could not do much but stand startled at such a behavior. After the incident had phased out, she found it difficult to face her students. Chocked with embarrassment, she excused herself from the class and rushed out. However, now, while recalling the same incident she neither felt a lump in her throat, nor did she have tears in her eyes as over the years she has been through enough to transform herself into a toughened-up soul, though not compromising on her sensitive side.

“Gold does not get charred after going through fierce and rigorous onslaught of fire instead it shines brighter than before. Similarly, the more one faces challenges the more one acquires strength to withstand critical situations in future. After all, difficulties or painful experiences are the building blocks of a person’s character. Who knows, the teacher must have been through a lot in her life. Perhaps this is the reason why she could cope with the situation so calmly and gracefully.” Meenakshi thought to herself.

But even after these many years a question still lingers with her… why is it that a teacher’s efforts get unnoticed… taken for granted, especially when they constitute the backbone of a society?

“What is the matter? You look disturbed.” Meenakshi was brought back to the present moment by Raghavan.

She narrated the whole incident to him and said, “The essential services professionals are being hailed for their courage and commitment as they are ditching their safe realm to address their call of duty. They deserve to be hailed, no doubt. But there are individuals who may not be at the front line like them but are contributing significantly during this pandemic. For instance, teachers. How quickly they have adapted to the present situation. I am assuming not all of them are tech savvy. Despite this fact they did not shy away from taking the challenge of upgrading their skills.”

“Yes, they did not get much time to learn the nuances of conducting classes on a virtual platform. Instead, they had to approach everything on a war footing. Therefore, their effort becomes quite commendable.” he said.

“And, that too handling things at such a scale.” Meenakshi nodded.

“Yeah”, Raghavan confirmed.

India, the land that has been a witness to a rich culture of gurukul system and guru-shishya parampara (tradition of teacher-student succession) in the past, has remained a silent spectator to a teacher’s plight in recent times. Guru, as the teachers of ancient India were called, were instrumental in removing darkest of ignorance with the torch of knowledge, thus molding impressionable minds. They were highly revered, and they enjoyed the same pedestal as someone’s mother or father. But unfortunately, they are being subjected to such an irresponsible behavior now a days.

“When did this transformation take place in our society?” Meenakshi asked contemplating over the matter.

“The education system has also not been exempted from systemic commercialization that we have witnessed in our country over the past few years and sadly this has given birth to a give and take approach between a teacher and a student as an after-effect. There remains no gratitude in this kind of a relationship. Maybe, due to the colonial influence a change in mind-set has seeped into our system.” He said thoughtfully.

“It is wonderful if new and innovative ideas are inculcated into a system keeping the needs of modern times into consideration, but how sensible is it to discard the very foundation upon which our society had flourished in the past?” she questioned.

At the dinner table that night Srinika asked with excitement, “How do you pronounce, only? Do you say only or onely?”

“What do you think is the correct pronunciation?”, Raghavan asked her.

“I know it is only, but you know… one of my teachers was repeatedly telling onely, onely.” she said giggling.

“Different people pronounce a word differently. They carry an accent based on their mother tongue or the place they come from. If you understand what they are trying to convey, you should not worry much about their accent. It is more important to receive the knowledge being shared with a submissive attitude. It is rude to laugh at someone just because of their accent”, he completed his sentence and looked at his wife. They both understood where this was coming from.

“Repercussion of the incident that took place in the morning.” Meenakshi thought to herself.

“Just remember one thing in life, no one is perfect, and that includes teachers as well. Therefore, instead of finding fault with them or laugh at them… learn, be grateful for what you are getting and move on.” Raghavan added while extending an arm towards Srinika, to which she nodded in affirmation and rushed with open arms towards him.

After dinner, both Srinika and Raghavan stood near the window watching the night sky. Gazing through the window was a ritual that the family had picked up during the ongoing pandemic and they call it “Window time”. Far away from the artificiality of the virtual medium, “Window time” was their only outlet to the world beyond the confinement of four walls. Luckily for them, the sky was clear after days of continuous outpour, thus the extra-terrestrial bodies were clearly visible.

“That, I think is the polestar.” Raghavan said pointing at the northern sky.

“Appa, shall we take out the telescope?” Srinika asked with excitement.

“It will take some time to assemble it… Shall we take that out some other time?” Raghavan said.

“Please, it’s a clear sky tonight, shall we?” Srinika pleaded.

“Okay, let’s see!” He sighed and went to fetch the telescope reluctantly as he was tired after a tough day’s work. The telescope was an old one which he had bought on his tour to the Unites States many years ago, which needed to be assembled and dis-mantled every time they used it.

Meenakshi was overhearing their conversation while winding up things for the day. When she came near the window, her daughter exclaimed with her eyes fixed on the horizon. “Amma, look at that… the pole star! Appa is assembling the telescope!” Srinika said jumping with excitement. 

Meenakshi looked at the tiny blob in the northern sky for some time and then asked her daughter lovingly, “Polaris, it is neither the brightest amongst the stars nor does it have a striking colour like so many other stars but still it stands out. Do you know its speciality?”

“Yes, Amma… it never changes its position”, Srinika answered.

“Correct, it maintains the same position in the sky while the entire northern sky moves around it. As a result, it had become an ideal star to help with directions. In ancient times the sailors and travellers would depend largely on the polestar to navigate”, Raghavan said while bending to adjust the telescope.

While looking at the distant horizon Meenakshi said, “Don’t you think our teachers are also quite like the polestar?”

“How, Amma?”, Srinika asked with curiosity.

“Just as the polestar remains static allowing the northern sky to rotate around it, similarly teachers take the burden of holding everything together while guiding us to find the purpose of our life and gives us a direction to reach our goal. Think it over”, Meenakshi said softly keeping her eyes fixed on the polestar.

When the world around us makes relations based upon calculated moves, in a way it rubs off on to us as well. But some relationships are such that they should be kept out of the equation of mere give and take, profit and loss. A Guru-Shishya (teacher-student) bond is one such relationship. If we do not protect the dignity of this relationship now, then the coming generations would never realize the sanctity of it.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Meagre needs but boundless desires

Raghavan was jumping from one online portal to other in order to arrange groceries and vegetables. Meanwhile, his wife Meenakshi was putting their daughter Srinika to bed. Soon after the little one was fast asleep her mother tip toed out of the room. While closing the door her eyes fell on two pairs of snowshoes and bags that were packed with winter essentials like jackets, woollen gloves, caps.

“These are of no use now.” Meenakshi thought to herself taking a deep breath.
“Any luck?” Meenakshi asked her husband and headed straight to the kitchen.
“No, not yet.” Out of frustration he flunked his hand in the air and replied.

She walked silently into the kitchen and combed through the pantry cabinets in order to take a stock of groceries.

“Half a container of rice, around three kilograms of pulses, wheat flour seems okay, but oil won’t last more than five days… ”, promptly she got into an assessment mode.
“None of them are accepting orders. Don’t know what to do.” Raghavan came in to inform.
“Leave it for now. You could try again tomorrow morning.” Meenakshi suggested.
“What’s the situation here?” Raghavan inquired looking at one of the empty pantry cabinets.
“Well, I think this stock would last for five to six days at the most.” She replied pensively.

Stocking up items that are essential for basic survival did not occupy their mental space till this moment as they were preparing for a trip to Europe that would have commenced shortly. However, life is known for throwing surprises. As a pre-emptive measure to check the spread of covid-19 virus the Government of India had imposed lockdown in the country. Hence, being trapped in an unexpected turn of events compelled them to put the trip on hold for now. Interestingly, in no time they adapted to the changing scenario. So instead of crying over spilt milk or getting in touch with the travel agency for postponing the date of travel or refund of their booked tickets, they got down just to the basics… survival. After all, challenging situations makes one realize what constitutes the core and what was the peripheral crust in life.

“Don’t worry, there will be a way out. There are so many shops nearby. Once the mad rush to hoard things settles down, we can go and buy things. We have some staple to last us a few days.” Meenakshi reassured. Although she had provided solace to her husband, but deep inside she had apprehensions regarding the hidden facets of the coming days that would unfurl eventually.

“And what if we face grimmer situation like food scarcity during this period, what are we going to do? All these years we have toiled hard accumulating wealth for our future needs but when the need came knocking at the door, no amount of bank balance came to our rescue. Even after having buying power in good proportion, the currency notes look mere paper and bank cards are useless pieces of plastic.” Raghavan asked helplessly.

That day their efforts went in vain but three days later Raghavan ventured out to buy essential goods. He felt no less than a soldier donned with a mask shielding his face, clutching a hand sanitizer as his only weapon and with fear in his heart cautiously avoiding as much touch points as possible, thus taking baby steps forward. With humanity waging a war against this dreaded pathogen, the dynamics of warfare has changed in a blink of an eye. Now, it is widely understood that a war is no longer fought at frontiers alone and an enemy could be a microscopic organism too. Though Raghavan came back home with groceries and other essentials successfully, yet he was far from feeling victorious or claim the mission as accomplished.

“Keep everything in the balcony, discard your mask and take bath. I have kept everything ready in the bathroom.” Meenakshi announced as she proceeded to toil with fruits and vegetables, cleaning and sanitizing them for an hour. After they were done with their newfound rituals, they sat relived for a few minutes before dispersing to their respective make-shift workspace. As their trip got cancelled, they thought it was sensible to resume their work straight away. Luckily, their nature of work supported work from anywhere concept.

“How was everything outside?” Meenakshi enquired.
“Okay… it looked okay as most of the people were trying to maintain a safe distance from each other. Of course some of them acted callously too. But there is a lot of confusion outside.” Raghavan replied.
“Yeah, it is better to stay at home.” Meenakshi added.
“Hmmm, indeed. Just thinking of it for some time… our home has become Noah’s ark of present times. Isn’t it?” Raghavan sighed and continued, “As if we are all floating in a deep, dark ocean of uncertainties but once inside our tiny abode, we are still safe from this torrential virus. In the same way, every creation of God who had boarded Noah’s Ark were safe despite whatever was going on outside of it.”

While contemplating about God’s design in maintaining an equilibrium in the universe, she looked around the abandoned construction site from her window. The place was hustling and bustling with activities just a few days ago, but it is sparsely populated now due to lockdown.

“Don’t know if this virus has originated naturally or in a lab, but nothing is possible without God’s consent. There must be a bigger picture, a greater purpose than what meets our eyes. If you observe properly you would realize, this incident has made everyone to stand in a single line. Anybody or everybody can get effected by this virus irrespective of their class, status or financial ability… no exemption, no favoritism whatsoever.” Raghavan added.

That afternoon, after slogging for a few hours at work she thought of reheating the food to be consumed for lunch as it was prepared in the morning. While keeping vegetable curry and rasam on gas stove she felt a sense of relief as they were able to arrange enough food for coming days. For a moment, her heart sank as she drifted away to their maiden trip to Europe. To be at the safer side they had postponed it to the third quarter of the year as the situation does not look conducive any time soon.

“We should give a call or send a mail to the travel agency to get a confirmation. They should give a clear picture, but they are just not at all responding. Oh! sometimes I feel life is a series of uncomfortable situations with a bit of relief in between.” she thought.

Strange are the ways of a flickering mind, as after her home got stacked with essentials for basic needs, it wandered to more peripheral needs such as following up the travel agent or the trip. She was brought back by shrill screams of a dog. She quickly rushed to the balcony thinking, “Why is this dog crying?”

To her surprise, a little boy and his sister were giving bath to a stray puppy at the same construction site adjacent to their building. And the puppy is in turn reluctant to get drenched in water thus screaming his lungs out. The innocence and the excitement with which they both were going about their job brought a smile on Meenakshi’s face as she knew the thrill of bringing home a pup from the streets. As kids, many a times she and her brother use to bring stray pups home, bath them or wipe them with antiseptic liquid, give them milk and even name them before getting stern orders from their mother to leave the pup outside.

“Life was so simple yet satisfying back then.” she thought to herself.
“Rasam was boiling so I have switched off the stove. I have filled water bottles and put plates on dining table. Shall we sit for lunch?” Raghavan said from behind.
“Yeah, coming. Could you please call Srinika for lunch?” She replied.

Later that evening, when she got up from work, she checked on Srinika and headed straight to the kitchen to get some milk for the kid and prepared some tea for themselves. She also kept some murukku on a plate to be savoured with hot beverage.

“Raghav, will you have tea with us, or shall I keep the cup at your table?” She asked.
“Yes, I am coming in five minutes.” he replied

All three of them sat with tea, milk and snacks. With great excitement little Srinika was showing drawings and paper crafts which she had made during the day. They were spending good time together… eating, talking and laughing. From this sight who could gauge that they too have their own share of concerns. Lakhs of money stuck with travel agent, uncertainties at work front, mammoth-sized home loan. In the current situation everything seems like an albatross hanging around the neck.

“After ages we got some time together, life has become so hectic.” she said to her husband.
“Yeah, as if we are all running… a never-ending race. We did not even have the luxury to sit peacefully.” he replied.
After some time, turning towards Raghavan, she asked “Let me start preparing dinner now. What shall I prepare for dinner, tomato rice or Idlis?”
“Anything would do.” he replied.

While going back to kitchen she felt like checking on the kids at the construction area. She had developed a soft corner for those children. They appeared excited as they played hopscotch. The little puppy looked amused too as it jumped in synchrony with them. At some point, the three musketeers huddled together, and boy raised his hand up in the air pretending to take a selfie.

“Now, this is pure joy. Oblivious to the situation around they seem to be living and cherishing the moments together. Childhood is so carefree and unadulterated. I have bought a high-end camera for this trip, considering it highly essential. Is it because I wanted to relive those moments years later or is it because I wanted to flaunt our trip on social media? Somehow, in a quest to click that perfect pose in an exotic location we would have missed out on experiencing the moment. And later, we would have become so busy in our lives that looking back at those moments would have been a far cry.” she thought.

Meenakshi looked around the construction site minutely, amidst well-constructed villas their tiny shack stood upright on a framework of bamboo logs where tarpaulin and bamboo sheets were used both as roof and walls. A few cloths neatly hanging on a rope, totally dried up under the sun by now. A net basket full of onions and tomatoes hang from the roof. Aluminium utensils washed and kept in a plastic basket, a simple Kolam (floor drawing) adorned the entrance. Interestingly, a few shrubs were planted in discarded paint tumblers too. A man, supposedly their father, was sitting on a foldable charpoy and eating something. While their mother sat under an open sky near their hut and was occasionally talking with amusement with her husband. At the same time she was preparing dinner on a stove made of mud and bricks.

“There seems to be an order, a rhythm in an otherwise disorganized and temporary arrangement. They seem to be so composed amidst the turmoil all around.” she thought to herself.

Raghav was crossing by and saw Meenakshi standing by the balcony thus he joined her. On seeing him she asked abruptly, “If material opulence alone can give us happiness then why does this family looks happy with meagre resources? And why is it that even after attaining so much, a void still lingers in our heart?”

“By and large we are suffering due to polluted aim in life, namely lording it over material resources. We have become far too mechanical in chasing our dreams…desires. All our lives we stay trapped in an illusion thinking designation, position and material comfort makes us happy or defines our success but ultimately, we become slaves of our own desires. Ironic it may sound, we work hard to accomplish them, which in turn invites stress and then we go around searching for peace.” he lamented.

“True, when lockdown commenced, we were only worried about basic needs for survival. We did not think about superficial desires such as the trip. In a way, this pandemic reminds us that our needs remain limited, but we have made our desires boundless…” Meenakshi said drifting deep into her thoughts.

Humans have increased their needs far too high, but life is never made comfortable by artificial needs but plain living and high thinking. We have become so busy caring for our body and mind that we have forgotten the needs of our soul.

– Aradhana Basu Das

The lifeline – in Peril

lifeline-peril

Nitin sat in the car with a promise in his heart to come back soon. As it drove away, every time he looked through the window he saw his loved ones standing at the gateway. With every mile that he covered, the image of them become all the more blurred to him. It was difficult to leave behind the people who had all the time in this world to shower unconditional love upon him. While swallowing a lump in his throat he looked vaguely at things that were crossing by. On reaching the river bank, the newly planted saplings caught his attention. While watching them sway happily in gentle breeze off the Ganges, Nitin couldn’t believe that in a way he had played a stellar role in placing the newbies in their current location. He was imagining them in full bloom executing the role that has been assigned to them when their time comes. He felt happy to be able to deal with the herculean task of mitigating threats from different quarters and bringing everyone on one page with a lot of tact and perseverance. As a result, not just Ajit but a few more land owners and their sharecroppers had also agreed to grow fruits in their land near the river bank. During this time Nitin came across this aspect of human nature wherein one realizes one’s true potential only if pushed to a brink, left with no other choice but to stand up and deliver. But he was surprised to realize how his grandpa was confident about his abilities while he himself felt standing on a shaky ground.

He thought to himself, “What a phenomenal journey it was! My initial plan was so different from what it finally shaped up. Ironically, no matter how much one feels sure about future or plans for it, ultimately one has to toe in line with the designs of God. About three months ago, when my previous project was on the verge of completion, I was weighing between the two overseas prospects that I had, one in Egypt and the other in Cambridge as they seemed more challenging. But accepting an offer nearer to home wasn’t even in the race”, Nitin thought to himself. He leaned back on his seat and made himself comfortable in preparation for his travel back to the state capital. From there he has to leave for Varanasi as he had chosen to join Banaras Hindu University as a visiting faculty. Keeping his eyes closed, he sat introspecting over the chain of events that took place in the past which contributed largely in choosing to stay back in India for sometime, over going overseas. As the car approached airport Nitin felt very nostalgic as memories come flashing back because this is where it had all begun.  

 

About three months ago…

…As soon as the flight touched down the runway at Patna airport, Nitin’s heart skipped a beat. His excitement knew no bounds as this family reunion was long awaited. After collecting his luggage, he tried getting in touch with Sankar who has been their driver since a long time. Shankar was supposed to pick him up from the airport and take him to Simariya, to his grandparents’ home. Nitin had already started thinking about meeting his family. Especially his grandpa, who has been a friend, mentor and his greatest support since childhood. The urge to meet him was all the more significant after his recent brush with success, his first major accomplishment as an archaeologist. Failed attempts to get in touch with Shankar was making Nitin all the more restless. Strange are the ways of human emotions, for they signal the mind to act differently at different circumstances. Ironically, on one hand he had managed to stay away from his loved ones for years in order to respect his work commitments. But on the other hand now that he has come so near, he didn’t have the patience to wait for three more hours. How he wished to reach there right away.

He called his mother to know Shankar’s whereabouts. “Hello Maa! Where is Shankar bhaiya?”

“Nitin, he is with us. I tried getting in touch with you but your phone was switched off. We are on our way to Patna…with grandfather.” Nitin’s mother, Gauri answered in a hurry.

“Why, what’s the matter? What’s happened to grandpa?” Nitin bombarded a series of questions.

“This morning he was so excited and happy, he was really looking forward to meet you but about two hours ago he became senseless.” Gauri said.

“Oh!” Nitin couldn’t say a word beyond this.

“I think, we should be at our nursing home within an hour.” she continued, “In the meantime, why don’t you go home, freshen up and eat something. The journey must have been quite tiring for you.” Gauri said.

“No, that’s okay, I am coming straight away.” Nitin said, dismissing his mother’s suggestion.

“Is it serious? Will he became alright?” he asked with apprehension.

“Let’s hope for the best” Gauri answered quickly.

His mother’s words left him speechless as deep inside he could make out the gravity of the situation. Without wasting much time he hired a cab and proceeded towards his new destination – Lifeline nursing home. After so many years he was visiting the city where he grew up. As the cab took twists and turns through roads and by-lanes, the city presented before him its more developed and vibrant version, but unfortunately he seemed to register nothing. For sometime he was totally engulfed by his own thoughts so much that he couldn’t even notice that the cab had already arrived at the nursing home. He heard a voice repeatedly calling him.

“Sahab, sahab, your destination has come.” said the cab driver.

“Hmm, what?” Nitin said confused.

“Lifeline nursing home” the cab driver said pointing out his finger.
“Oh… okay” Nitin said getting back from a trance that he got into. “Sorry, I didn’t notice”, saying which he paid the cabbie and got out of the car.

Nitin looked around and thought to himself, “In my wildest of dreams, did I ever imagine that I would have to meet grandpa here, in this manner?”

Just then, he heard the sound of an ambulance siren, which gradually become louder and louder as the vehicle approached the nursing home. The sound pierced his heart making it to palpitate faster and he thought to himself, “Is grandpa in that ambulance or are they bringing him in a car?”

Very soon the ambulance zoomed inside and a car raced behind it. As soon as the ambulance halted near the emergency department, porter boys and nurses rushed towards the ambulance. After seeing his grandmother inside the car he immediately rushed towards it. Nitin opened the rear door and helped his grandmother to come out. He wiped her teary eyes and embraced her tightly and reassured her, “He’ll be fine.”

“Good that you are here, Nitin.” Lata, Nitin’s grandmother almost choked while she said.

In the meanwhile, his parents with the help of hospital staff brought Amarendra, his grandfather out of the ambulance. For a fraction of seconds, Nitin stood motionless on seeing his grandfather lying on a stretcher with a oxygen mask on. It was unthinkable for him to see his once robust grandfather in that condition. While they wheeled him off to the emergency unit, Nitin noticed his grandmother’s anxiety in leaving her husband’s side.

He quickly came forward and held her to say, “Grandma, let’s wait outside.” She gave him a confused look and blurted out, “But I think I should be around! What if he needs me… needs anything?”

“This is a critical moment, the medical team shouldn’t get disturbed. Isn’t it, Grandma?” Nitin said politely to which she nodded her head in affirmation. They both sat in the waiting area just near the emergency unit. He felt nervous as he had never faced such a situation before, where a loved one is hanging between life and death. Even though he wanted to break the silence and comfort Lata, he fell short of words. After sometime Shankar came there with some tea.

“Shankar bhaiya, what really had happened? I thought he was recovering.” Nitin asked while sipping tea.

“He was recovering no doubt, but… he was exerting a bit too much.” Shankar added.

“Exerting a bit too much?” Nitin repeated in a surprised tone as if to ask what does that mean.

“Quite recently, a team of social workers had come and approached dadaji to help them in their mission to save Ganges from depletion.”

“Oh! So, now the Ganges…” Nitin wondered. Instantly, his thoughts went back to the recently concluded project on the decline of Indus valley civilization of which he was a part.

“And how has grandpa been affected by all this?” Nitin inquired.

“He has been going around with those people, meeting different agencies in an quest for a change for better. And in this process he neglected his health.” Shankar said.

“And ever since the result of your research came out he got all the more motivated with this mission. Whenever I used to ask him why was he exerting so much as he had fully not recovered, he would say ‘Look, how Indus valley civilization declined. Aren’t we too sitting on a time bomb ticking slowly, leading us all to a catastrophe?’ This is not for me, this is for our future generations.” Grandmother added.

Meanwhile, every now and then Nitin was peeping inside the emergency unit from the small glass window that was fixed on the door in an attempt to evaluate the situation. Inside, the atmosphere looked quite intense and sombre. The medical team went about their course of action with a great sense of urgency.

After sometime, Mahesh his father, came out to talk to them.

“How is he, papa? Is he out of danger?” Nitin inquired.

Mahesh nodded. He looked quite tensed.

“Can pneumonia be fatal?” Nitin whispered.

“It can be life threatening for an elderly person, as they have other ailments too… so that makes things all the more difficult. Anyways, we have to keep him under observation before taking any decision.” Mahesh said.

“What do you need to decide?” Nitin asked in a confused tone.

“Whether to shift him to intensive care unit or a private room.” Mahesh replied while keeping his eyes fixed on his mother who seemed to be soaked in her own thoughts. He then went and sat next to her silently holding her hand. His touch made her to startle and question, “Oh, you! How is he?’’

“Maa, you don’t worry.” Mahesh said with a sigh and continued. “He’ll be fine, we are…” That’s when someone came to call him from the emergency unit. Mahesh quickly left the scene. His bewildered mother looked at Nitin with lot of questions in her eyes. Nitin overheard their conversation about grandpa’s deteriorating condition and their discussions regarding shifting him to the intensive care unit. But he choose to refrain himself from disclosing about this to his grandmother immediately. Deep within, Nitin was experiencing a cocktail of emotions, bubbling up to the brim but he had to keep them bottled up in order to portray a brave face and provide solace to his grandmother.

“He’ll recover, grandma.” Nitin said in a reassuring tone.

“Yeah. He has to… He can’t be leaving so soon.” Her eyes sparkled with tears but her voice had undeterred conviction.

Meanwhile, after evaluating his father’s condition Mahesh inferred that uncertainty loomed large. Therefore, he tried to convince his mother not to stay there, as the wait could turn out to be endless. But she didn’t budge to any of the logical suggestions that he made. To Nitin’s surprise, neither he saw her agreeing to visit her husband twice a day nor he saw any interest from her side to get preferential treatment in the nursing home.

“I am not leaving this place without him.” she said adamantly .

“What strength of character… I never knew that she was gritty.” Nitin thought to himself.

While Nitin watched his otherwise timid looking grandmother in admiration, Mahesh looked aghast at her firmness. In order to avoid an obvious tussle between both of them, Nitin looked at his father in persuasion to leave things to him.

“Grandma, people are there to take care of him.” Nitin tried to convince her.

“And how much do you think do they know him?” She asked right away. All his attempts to convince her were foiled by her rigidity. He couldn’t really understand her but choose to respect her stand.

The next few days were very critical for Amarendra as he walked a tightrope between hope and despair. Time and again Nitin was astonished to see that it wasn’t just the medical team who were helping the septuagenarian to come out of this ordeal, but there was someone else as well… his soulmate, his wife. Many a times when it seemed extremely difficult for Amarendra to survive this phase, she would sit next to him holding his hand or caressing his forehead gently, and immediately his vitals showed positive signs. It was as if her silent prayers, her resilience were steering their relationship through the tempest which had become hell bound to wreck their partnership of nearly five decades. Nitin was amazed to see how their contrasting personalities did not come in the way to the camaraderie that they shared. Instead, with time that made a way for them to develop into each other’s strength. He now understood why she was reluctant to leave her husband’s side.

During those difficult days, well wishers would often flock in from Simariya. It was from them that Nitin got the details of Amarendra’s involvement in the mission to save the Ganges. He believed that if his grandfather has put his hand in this work then there must be something about it. Since then, amidst his grandfather’s recovery concerns and running around at the hospital, he started gathering more and more information related to this topic as his mind constantly hovered around a thought… he feared that what ever happened with Indus valley civilization could become the fate of settlements in the Gangetic plains too. From the insight that he gained, he could make out that in a way the Indian subcontinent is blessed, because from her womb originates numerous rivers. These lifelines have made the soil fertile. As a result agriculture based economy could thrive, paving a way for it to become a cradle for many ancient but advanced settlements. After the downfall of Indus valley civilization, people migrated towards the Gangetic plains, slowly populating it along the flow of the river. Gradually, Vedic culture evolved followed by numerous empires emerging in the ancient cities situated near the banks of the very same river. Finally, making this land prosperous to the extent that it was known as the “Golden sparrow” the world over. In a way these perennial rivers flowing through the subcontinent were instrumental in elevating it to the level it had attained. Unfortunately, unable to withstand the backlash of mankind, these lifelines are depleting day by day.

“These assets might not be available eternally if not cared for.” Nitin would often think to himself. He could comprehend the power that a river possess. On one hand if it has an ability of a nurturer, the same river could create havoc for those it had nurtured once.

Finally, after days of playing cat and mouse with death, Amarendra regained his consciousness. On getting the good news his dear ones including Nitin came and surrounded him.

He smiled at Nitin and exclaimed, “Nitin! You have come! You are here?” he said with a tinge of disbelieve.

“Yes, grandpa” Nitin answered holding his needle pricked hand tenderly.

“When did you come?” Amarendra asked.

“Few days back” Nitin replied.

“And, since when am I here?” Amarendra asked looking here and there. He had a streak of restless as if his eyes were searching for someone in particular.

“I’ll go and find Grandma.” Nitin said hurriedly after sensing that it could be her that Amarendra was looking for.

As Nitin turned, he saw her coming in. Calm and composed, she walked towards Amerandra while the latter’s eyes firmly fixed on her.

“Indeed, he was searching for her…” Nitin thought to himself. They smiled at each other.

“Do you feel better now?” she asked fondly. To which Amarendra nodded his head slightly.

For most of them it went unnoticed but Nitin saw that his grandfather looked peaceful now. All these years Nitin didn’t have a clue that it is actually his low profile grandmother who has been a constant source of strength to his gigantically dynamic grandfather. Now, having observed them closely, he had some idea about the depth of his grandparents’ relationship. He realized that just because it is not displayed, real love doesn’t ceases to exist. On the contrary, with time it stops floating on the shallow waters which skirts the shores. Instead, with maturity it ventures further, diving deep into the sea.

Very soon Amarendra was shifted to a private room. Nitin felt nostalgic getting inside that room. Many years ago, after he had undergone an operation for appendicitis, he was recovering in the very same room. He was taken aback to see that the view from the window had changed drastically. It had once overlooked the Ganges but sadly now only a small portion of the river could be seen amid modern day jungle… buildings of concrete. Next couple of days that Nitin spent with his grandparents was unique as he was experiencing a complete role reversal. The smart and energetic man who had once helped young Nitin to put his shirt buttons correctly was being helped by the latter to put a shirt on his fragile body. Many a times, after failed attempts to get up from the bed Amarendra would stretch his hand towards Nitin who would quickly hold him tight and help to lift his body. During those moments, in a flash, memories of childhood days would pop in Nitin’s mind. Years ago when little Nitin was learning to ride a cycle he would invariably see a hand after falling from the cycle, it was the same hand that he was holding now. Those days of course those hands were strong enough to pull Nitin in one go. Fortunately, Nitin was able to witness this part of the life’s wheel as well.

While watching the morning sun popping out behind the high rises, three of them would often talk about things closer to their heart. One such narration made a lasting impact on Nitin. Years ago, just after Amarendra and Lata had got married the whole family along with the newly weds went for a pilgrimage to Varanasi. Back in their days, honeymoon was a western concept and had not caught up with the Indians. Instead, coming from the land of spirituality, they preferred religious tourism. Surprisingly, neither did they travel by roadways nor by railways. As the road-cum-rail bridge which stands erect across the river Ganges had still not come up.Those days waterways use to be an important mode of transport. Boat rides for as short a distance as attending a school across the river to as long a distance like sailing on a ferry boat from Kolkata to Allahabad was the norm.They had boarded a ferry from Simariya and for next couple of days sailed on the Ganges before reaching Varanasi. They started their life together on the very same journey which was an experience of a lifetime, especially for Lata as she had not ventured out of her village before.

“We sailed for days with only water all around, watching the sky touching down the river at the distant horizon, watching the celestial bodies paint hues on the clouds and water as they rise and set, the rhythmic sound of the oar as it rowed, freshness in the breeze, coupled with soulful food. It was… it was nothing but pure bliss.” Lata’s face beamed with excitement as she narrated. It was as if she was reliving those moments all over again.

“Was the water sufficient enough for a cruise to sail like that?” Nitin asked.

“Oh yes! We had enough water in the Ganges. Besides it was considerably clean and pure, hence we drank the same water.” Amarendra said.

“What? Without treating the water?” Nitin blurted in utter dismay. “These days Ganges has become so contaminated that it is not advisable to to take a holy dip in the river, let alone drink that water.” he lamented.

“But that was not the case in olden days. If you compare the lifeless water that you keep on gulping out of these bottles with Ganges water of yesteryear, the former wouldn’t stand a chance.” Lata said pointing at the plastic mineral water bottle.

Simultaneously Amarendra laughed out loud and said “From time immemorial we have believed in the purity of water of Ganga. This faith, of Ganges having cleansing and medicinal properties has been handed over to us by our sages and scriptures and now it has been scientifically proven that it demonstrates bactericidal properties.” After a pause he continued, “I remember hearing… the British voyagers would carry gallons of Ganges water to be consumed on their way back to England as it didn’t rot so easily. It is very unfortunate that out of ignorance we have taken this river for granted, abusing it to its current state. Calling it a mother or worshiping it is not enough… we have to care for it. The sad truth is that it’s depleting and we are not doing much.”

“Yeah, indeed it is depleting. From past couple of days I have been reading a lot about these things. It seems over the years, the garbage that have been dumped, starting from domestic sewage to municipal wastes to industrial effluents to temple wastes in plastic bags… the endless list of pollutants are choking the Ganges and other rivers to death. Besides, population explosion, urbanization and climate also has a role to play in rendering our perennial rivers a seasonal one.” Nitin said.

“Yes, we are now aware how the ancient civilization of Indus valley perished due to climatic changes, a repercussion of river Indus changing its course. Keeping that into consideration, now it could be Gangetic plains next.” Amarendra added.

“Alas! the river Ganges, life-line to millions of Indians has become an endangered river!” Lata sighed.

There prevailed a momentary silence in the room as they sat contemplating.

“Grandpa, so how is this problem being dealt here?” Nitin asked.

Apparently, there are issues in this regard to work upon. In order to cater the state’s development processes, the construction industry is growing in leaps and bounds. Therefore on one hand sand mining has become a regular feature near the bank of the river and on the other forest covers are fast reducing. Moreover, being a industrial hub of the state, this place boasts of many large and small scale industries. Effluents from nearby industries get discharged into the river.” Amarendra added.

“Primarily, food crops are grown on our land. Your grandpa is talking to Ajit, about growing local varieties of fruits instead of seasonal crops… Ajit is not quite convinced though.” Lata added. They have acres of land in their native village, which has been handed over to them from generations but they are not involved in farming directly instead they give the responsibility to Ajit, their sharecropper. The profit is of course shared between both the parties latter.

“Why? I mean… what’s wrong with cereals?” Nitin asked.

“It is not the question of cereals, but floods. This region is prone to floods. You must be knowing that Ganges is partially glacier fed and partially forest fed river, so ecological changes like global warming and deforestation along with other factors like pollution, sand mining produces a cascading effect on the health of the river. Trees are helpful in retaining excess rainwater, reduce the damage from floods and mitigate drought.” Amarendra clarified and then added, “If left to me, I could grow a forest because my family is not dependent on agriculture for livelihood, but Ajit’s is… commercially it wouldn’t be a viable option for him. That’s why I suggested growing fruits.”

By evening of the very same day, Dr Bhoomi, Dr Satish and Rajesh, the force behind Ganges conservation in this region paid them a visit. While Amarendra was overjoyed to see them and Lata approved their presence too, but Mahesh did not feel comfortable when they had walked in. He disapproved their presence, maybe because he was considering them responsible for his father’s ill health. Before falling severely ill, Amarendra was helping them relentlessly.

Amarendra asked them with a child-like excitement, “How are things proceeding?”

“Umm, Don’t think about anything else before recovering fully”, Dr Bhoomi said.

“No, but.. I am all right now.” Amarendra said in an upbeat mood.

But the way they looked at each other, Amarendra got a cue that things are not progressing smoothly at their end.

“Tell me what is it.” Amarendra insisted upon being told.

“Good news is, couple of farmers and landowners are showing interest in fruit plantation. Besides, our researchers are trying to figure out if Miyawaki technique could be used by the villagers as forest grows faster using this method or if inter-cropping could be more beneficial as it would be commercially more viable for the farmers.” Dr Bhoomi said diplomatically avoiding to discuss the negative proceedings.

“What’s Miyawaki technique?” Nitin asked with curiosity, finally breaking his silence.

“It’s a technique by which forests could be grown in a short period of time using indigenous trees. It was developed by Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist.”, Dr Bhoomi replied.

Amarendra could see beyond what Dr Bhoomi was revealing so he asked her calmly, “Now tell me, what is it that you are not feeling good about.”

While Dr Bhoomi hesitated to speak Rajesh babbled out, “Even though a few industries have realized the necessity of an onsite effluent treatment plant, but it is difficult for them comply due to funds. So…” he continued, “And it is difficult to check sand mining along the bank of the river. They are using their clout to get away with things.”

“Hmm… Of Course, of all the factors that we are dealing with this is the toughest. Is this all that is bothering you?” Amarendra said, “When can I go back home?” he asked his son

“You have to stay here for sometime as you haven’t fully recovered yet.” Mahesh replied.

Thereafter, they sat silently. Amarendra seemed to be in a deep thought, “Nitin, for how many days are you still here? Where are you heading next?” he broke his silence with these questions.

“I have a few offers from various places… I am yet to finalize anything. I have roughly… fifty days before leaving, I guess.” Nitin replied.

For the first time during the whole conversation Mahesh looked really interested in something. Like any other Indian middle class father, he was not able to hide his exuberance he felt for his son’s success hence he asked smiling, “Oh! So, what are those offers?”

“I have…” Nitin was about to answer him when Amarendra interrupted by saying, ”Can you go with them and assist them in their work?”

“Me, Grandpa?” Nitin fumbled.

“Yes, you. Can you?” Amarendra asked again.

“What are you saying? Do you want my son to leave his flourishing career for your meaningless campaigns? How safe it is to get into all this? Ganges is depleting… what shall I do if it is depleting? How is it our concern?” Mahesh asked in a furious tone.

“No, no. He need not join us. I think we should leave”, Dr Bhoomi said, getting up quickly in order to stop the discussion.

“Mahesh, you are being rude to your father.” Lata said, displeased over her son’s behaviour.

Mahesh continued hysterically “And why do you want to grow fruits on our land now? None of us are coming back to the village to stay. Why do you still hold on to…?”

Amarendra looked at the visitors and said firmly, “No wait. You need not go anywhere.” then turned to Mahesh to reply very calmly, “Mahesh, try to look beyond the four walls of your nursing home. What kind of life are you leading? You don’t even have some spare time to think where are you heading or what is the purpose of this life…”

“Should we make a move?” Dr Satish said looking at his colleagues. They were all feeling awkward sitting there.

To which Amarendra signaled them to wait while he continued speaking to Mahesh, “If it has not bothered you before, then start thinking about it now. As per predictions, by the year 2030 India could face a major water scarcity. Around five hundred million people are still dependent on the Ganges… the river is drying during summers due to the decline of groundwater inflow. Interestingly during monsoons, a flood-like situation arises as there are scarce trees to help rainwater to seep into the ground properly. In future, these could affect food production and availability of water drastically. Think over this scenario, Mahesh. And, don’t dwell under an impression that you and your family won’t be affected by this.”

“Look back in the past, if an agriculture based economy like Indus valley civilization could crumble due to climatic changes and river changing its course, then this could happen with Gangetic civilization as well.” Nitin added.

“And, Ganges is not just depleting but changing its course too. We need trees near the banks of rivers in order to negate erosion and flooding. Unfortunately, this is the case with most of the rivers in India… they are in a pathetic state. I know, we can’t keep everything aside and jump into the cause but we shouldn’t miss an opportunity to do something which is well within our reach.” Amarendra said softly.

That night, Nitin stayed back with his grandfather. They both tossed and turned on their respective beds as deep introspection eroded sleep from their eyes and a strange silence prevailed in the room. Separately, they both were thinking about the episode that occurred in the evening. Even though Amarendra didn’t admit, but he felt disheartened at Mahesh’s behavior. On the other hand Nitin was pained to see his grandfather’s helplessness.

“In the past he has always stood by me like a rock, removing as many obstacles as possible that came my way. I know I can never repay that back but still… it’s my turn now ”, Nitin thought to himself. Nitin tried evaluating the prospects of going to Simariya even though he felt skeptical about his ability to contribute to the cause but he had blind trust on Amarendra’s conviction.

After ages, that night, he tried recalling a long forgotten poem ‘Manjil Dur Nahi Hai’ written by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, the national poet of India. Hailing from the same village as the revolutionary poet Dinkar, the stalwart and his poems created a huge impact on the personality of Amarendra. Nitin had lot of boyhood memories associated with this poem. Many a times Amarendra would quote the first few line of Dinkar’s verse when he saw Nitin demoralized in order to uplift the latter’s battered spirits. Nitin quickly went to his grandfather’s side and called out, “Grandpa, grandpa… are you awake?”

Amarendra turned towards Nitin to find him recite the poem.

“Vah Pradeep Jo Dikh Raha Hai Jhilmil, Dur Nahi Hai

Thak Kar Baith Gayae Kui Bhai, Manzil Dur Nahi hai…”

(The lamp that you see shining is not very far away; my brother, why do sit feeling dejected! the destination is not quite far away…)

Amarendra hurriedly got out of the bed and joined him in reciting the poem. After they had finished reciting those lines, tears rolled down Amarendra’s cheeks as he was overpowered with emotions. Nitin embraced him tightly and said, “I am leaving for Simariya tomorrow morning. See you soon, Grandpa.”

– By Aradhana Basu Das

The lifeline – lost and found

riverntrees

It was late in the evening when Nitin came out of the lab, after spending hours analyzing samples that were collected during excavation. He was in an upbeat mood, eager to share his excitement with the team as the outcome of analysis was positive. Nitin is an archeologist who is working in an international project, consisting of specialists from interdisciplinary fields. They are studying the actual cause of decline of Indus valley civilization. While he hurried towards the Jeep, his phone started vibrating. He slipped his hand into the side pocket of his jeans to take the phone out. It was a call from his father Mahesh.

Nitin called out, “Hello, Papa”.

“How are you, Nitin?”, Mahesh inquired.

“I’m Good”, Nitin replied, but sensed something amiss. “What has happened? You don’t sound okay”.

“Yeah… actually from sometime now, your grandfather has not been keeping well. No matter how much he was cajoled to come and stay with us, he showed reluctance to do so. You see, a persistent cough that has taken a shape of pneumonia”, Mahesh informed.

“Okay, so now…”, Nitin said pensively.

“Even though he was taking medicines… but grandma had called up to inform us that he has been experiencing breathlessness from a week.” Mahesh was interrupted by Nitin. “What? breathlessness…”

“Yes, hearing which, we rushed to Simariya. After a brief stay at a hospital he is back to home now”, Mahesh added.

“How is he… now?”, Nitin asked.

“He is recovering slowly”, Mahesh became silent.

Nitin asked in desperation, unable to bear the silence, “Is there anything that you are hiding from me?”

“Well… he wants to meet you, spend a few days with you. Can you make that possible, Nitin?” Mahesh asked with hesitation.

“No Papa, I can’t come now. I mean…”, Nitin said immediately.

Mahesh could sense that his son was getting disturbed by this conversation. As a result he quickly said,“That’s okay son, I can understand that you have work commitments”.

And then he changed the topic and asked, “How is your work going on?”

“Good, it is at a critical juncture. You could expect to hear from us anytime soon”, Nitin said.

“Oh! That’s wonderful”, Mahesh exclaimed.

“Papa, I can’t miss this opportunity. I have been waiting for this moment for years”, Nitin said with a tinge of guilt in his voice.

“Don’t think about it much and remain focused. Grandpa would understand”, Mahesh said. “Give him a call sometime, he’ll feel better”, he suggested.

“Sure, I will…”, Nitin replied.

After this conversation, Nitin drove to the place where the whole team was put up.That night the whole team had their dinner amidst discussions on the day’s development and next plan of action and speculations. In the archaeological world, the actual cause of decline of this civilization has always been regarded as a final frontier. Something at this scale have never been done before. They were all charged up as they could see a possibility of a landmark discovery, something for which they have been working hard for almost five years now.

After dinner, everyone dispersed to their respective rooms, except for Nitin. While he was walking through the corridor, he could feel the cold breeze, caressing and ruffling him. As if to compel him to linger there before calling it a night. Watching the spectacular star studded sky, he was reminded of a childhood memory. Every summer vacation during his visits to grandparent’s home, on hot summer nights they would sleep on the terrace. While laying on separate charpoys, watching millions of stars twinkling in the sky, feeling the breeze blowing from the Ganges, they would talk for hours before slowly falling asleep. He felt nostalgic, a strange familiarity in this ambience. But ironically, for him this moment was far from peaceful as he felt a tempest within him.

Meanwhile, Akshay, a fellow archeologist and a good friend of Nitin saw him from his window. Wondering what was Nitin doing there on a cold desert night, he proceeded towards him. Nitin was too engrossed in his thought processes and hence couldn’t feel his presence.

“Hey buddy! All good?” Akshay asked, almost startling him.

“Oh, hi Akshay”, He responded.

“ I… I hope everything is okay?”, Akshay asked with hesitation.

Nitin forced himself to smile and said, “Yeah”.

Akshay looked at Nitin, he seemed to be in deep thought and somewhat disturbed.

After a bit of silence, Nitin spoke out, “My grandfather is not keeping well”.

“Oh! ”, Akshay exclaimed. With curiosity in his eyes he watched Nitin quietly, expecting more to come.

“He is interested to meet me”, Nitin said.

“I see”, Akshay sighed. After a pause.

“All my fond childhood memories are with my grandparents and not with my parents. My parents used to be busy with their patients… they hardly had any time left for us. Papa was busy building his career. But on the contrary, my grandfather had different priorities in life. After graduating from medical college, my grandfather chose to go back to his native place and serve his people as their was a dearth of doctors there. He led a very simple and peaceful life there.” Nitin said.

“Where do they live? You had mentioned once, but I forgot”, Akshay inquired.

“Simariya, a peaceful village in Bihar near the banks of river Ganges”, Nitin said.

“I am trying to imagine… it must have been wonderful”, Akshay said smiling.

“Yeah, those moments were so beautiful. I vividly remember… those early morning walks down the river bank, sitting there comfortably for hours, watching the sunrise, the breeze forming ripples in the water, small boats sailing and their oars making rhythmic sounds in the water, men and women taking a dip in the holy Ganges.”

“Hmm, enchanting!”, Akshay exclaimed.

“Yes, we used to discuss about historical events, ancient Indian history during those moments. I was introduced to Harappan culture, Maurya, Vijayanagara, Mughal and Maratha empires long before I had studied about them at the school”, Nitin said.

“Oh, so he introduced you to these things!” Akshay exclaimed.

“Yes, you could say so. I still remember my first visit to the ruins of Nalanda University with him. I was about ten at that time. That visit changed my life for ever. Both of us had got engrossed in those ruins. Luckily, during that time we happened to meet a couple of field archaeologists working at the site. And I had said to my grandfather, “This is what I want to become when I grow up”. With belief and pride he told me,“Whatever you wish”.

“And… what was his equation with his other grandchildren?”, Akshay asked inquisitively.

“I have always been very special to him. Maybe because with me he could experience grandparenthood in a true sense. We lived in Patna, a few hours drive from him. But others lived in distant places. As a result he didn’t get to spend much time with them”, Nitin sighed and silently drifted into his thoughts.

Now, slowly things were falling in place for Akshay. He could make out what was bothering Nitin so much. He understood that his friend’s emotions were playing a tug of war, trying to pull him on either sides. On one side, thoughts of his grandpa’s ill health, the fact that he wanted to meet him so badly was pulling Nitin and on the other hand his impending project was rendering him helpless. “What can he do, his hands are tied up…”, Akshay thought to himself.

For five years they had toiled hard, confronting challenges at every front and finally they seem to have arrived at a conclusive position where they were about to realign the history of one of the oldest ancient civilizations of the world – The Indus valley civilization. Initially, coordinating with different agencies in order to raise funds was an uphill task. Thereafter, bringing on board scientists from various interdisciplinary fields such as archeology, mathematics, geology and geomorphology and then working in a perfect synchrony with each other for these many  years. This, off course, needed a single-minded approach from the entire crew and a lot of sacrifices at every front. They had erratic work schedules. For instance, during hot summer months, they would work from dawn till lunch in order to avoid extreme heat. Sometimes, they would work at the site for twelve days at a stretch and then take a break of about three days or maybe spend time at the lab analysing things for couple of days.

With the help of advanced technology, they were able to achieve that which their counterparts of yesteryears could not. By combining satellite pictures with topographic data, maps of landforms built by Indus and neighboring rivers were prepared. Which were then drilled and dug manually. Samples that were collected from these trenches were studied to determine the source of sediments there. As a result the researchers were able to form a chronology of the landscape changes in the area.

For the next sixteen days, they worked day and night. For most of them, these were the moments they had always dreamt of living. They were able to conclude that the actual reason for decline of Indus valley civilization was not the Aryan invasion as was assumed by earlier scholars but a shift in the course of rivers and natural disasters like drought and floods.  They also found evidence of a mighty river that no longer exists. The fall in the average rainfall lead to the increase in aridity. As a result, agriculture, upon which most of the trades were dependent also declined. The people gradually shifted to other places, abandoning what is known as an epitome of an advanced early civilization.

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As from time to time the findings were being published in different journals, a lot of hype had been created around this. The press across the world had its eyes glued, keeping a close watch at the proceedings there. After the mission got accomplished, interviews and press conferences were conducted. Their achievements were hailed far and wide as they had made history.

During one such press conference, Jayanthi – a geologist, was asked by one of the reporters, “How did you choose such an unconventional profession such as geology?”

Hearing this question, Nitin felt a strange tug at his heart. He thought to himself, “It was not easy for me, without grandpa’s support…”

Nitin recalled the moment when he had called up his grandfather to tell him that he had a heated argument with his parents. Coming from a state which is obsessed with more orthodox professions like medical, engineering and administrative services and also being a son of cardiologists, it was not easy for Nitin to choose a road not taken much. Mahesh, Nitin’s father dreamt of sending him to a medical school so that Nitin could hold the reins of their nursing home, but the son wanted to study history. It was astonishing to see how within a few hours of phone call grandfather was by Nitin’s side.

When Nitin had thanked him for coming, his grandfather had said, “I will always be there for you, as long as you need me.”

And when Mahesh had asked with apprehension, “So, what might be his future if he goes for subjects like history?”

To this Nitin’s grandfather gave a pat on Nitin’s back and looked at him confidently and said, “Remember one thing, there is always vacancy at the top. It is up to you, whatever path you wish to choose. But don’t forget to put your heart and soul to excel in the chosen field.”

As time passed, he became extremely busy in his life. As a result, the frequent phone calls to his grandparents had drastically reduced. Especially during his doctoral research, while he was shuttling between Mesopotamia and Indus Valley regions, studying similarities between the ancient civilizations that evolved in these places. It is not that they meant nothing to him any more. But his priorities had changed a bit.

He was brought back to the present when he heard his name being called repeatedly.

“I am sorry, I didn’t hear you. Could you please repeat the question?”, He blurted out to the reporter.

The reporter repeated his question again, “Do you feel the society faced regression after whatever happened?”

“Yeah… of course. For almost a century, Indus valley civilization has been a subject of muse for many a scholars, since it was the oldest urban civilization in the world. It had a well developed trade system, cities, metallurgy, sewerage system, script and many other achievements. But still, this urban society witnessed slow regression when they had to deal with the changing climate. For instance, when from urban settlers living in big cities they became rural settlers in many small villages, they no longer needed large granaries as they had to cater only to the needs of smaller units. Trade relations with Mesopotamia and Egypt which they once had, stopped completely. There could be a possibility that they no longer needed to write in their new life, as a result the script was completely forgotten”, Nitin said.

harappa

Cristina, a Romanian geomorphologist was asked by another reporter, “Is this situation a thing of a past or can we face similar problems in future?”

“Yes, there could be a possibility of a similar situation in future too. One thing we can’t forget is that we are still dependent on rivers, they are our lifeline. Even today, we can see them changing their course, decrease in their flow. The perennial rivers in many places are becoming seasonal and also flood like situation is seen during the monsoons. This gradual change is even more dangerous than a sudden event. A sudden change gives us a jolt compelling us to act immediately but a gradual change takes a lot of time to manifest an impact so it is late by the time we start taking it seriously. Agriculture based economy thrived on the fertile soils of Indus and its tributaries but over a period of time the same land got converted into a desert”, Cristina answered.

Soon after the conference Nitin called up his grandfather, “Hello grandpa! How are you?”

“Nitin, I am fine. I saw you on the television and also your father has read a newspaper article for me. It was about your achievements in this project”, Grandfather said with a childlike excitement.

“I am sorry”, Nitin said.

“Sorry, but why?” grandfather asked in a surprised tone.

“Whenever I needed you, you have always been there for me. But I couldn’t reciprocate the same. I couldn’t rush to your side immediately after hearing about your health”, he said.

“No, Nitin. Please don’t feel sorry for anything. I didn’t feel bad, my child”.

“Thank you, grandpa”, Nitin said almost choked.

“For what? It is you who have made us all proud”, grandfather said.

After composing himself, Nitin said, “You have been a great support. I couldn’t have reached here without you.Thank you for loving me unconditionally and having faith in me”. After a pause, Nitin added “I am coming home to see you.”

to be continued…

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Nightmare in Dreamland

statue of liberty

The bell rang. Naina jumped up with joy stating, “Baba has come home. Maa, come fast it must be baba at the door.”

Megha rushed out of the kitchen, wiping her hands to open the door. It was indeed Manas. Megha could make out from the look on his face that he was very tired.

“Has it been an exhaustive day at work?” Megha enquired.

“Yeah…” Manas could barely speak out.

Naina rushed towards her father and embraced his legs with both her arms and started to rant out loudly, “Baba, baba… ”, to which Manas looked at Megha in an utter helplessness. Megha quickly came to his rescue and gently whisked Naina aside saying, “Nanu, you could talk to baba later. Give him some time and in the meanwhile, why don’t you complete your homework?”

And then giving Manas a quick hug she said “You freshen up quickly, I’m preparing some tea for you.”

After he had freshened up, Manas made himself comfortable on the couch. While reading the newspaper he waited for his cup of tea. Megha came in and took a seat beside him. While sipping the hot tea he spoke out, “I’ll have to go to the United States for a few days” and then turned his head to look at Megha for her reaction.

“When?”, Megha asked very coldly.

“On Thursday, next week”, Manas replied.

“Where in the US?”

“Olathe, Kansas”

“When are you coming back?”

“Yet to raise my travel request, at least a month”

After a bit of silence Megha smiled and looked at Manas, her gaze oozed with confidence. “Don’t worry for us, we’ll be fine. You just take care of things at your front.” She said in a reassuring tone.

Manas smiled back at her and holding her hand he said, “I know, you’ll manage well”. Manas knew very well that his wife was just trying to put up a brave face, in order to avoid putting undue stress on him.

Interestingly, unlike the previous generation overseas travel doesn’t make them feel over the moon. Far from excitement, Megha feels more constricted and stressed out. Due to different time zones and Naina’s routine, it becomes quite difficult for both father and daughter to talk more than fifteen minutes on weekdays. As a result Naina becomes quite cranky and unfortunately Megha has to manage things single-handed. In the middle of these conversations, Naina came running and jumped on her father and he in turn embraced her smiling.

“Nanu, have you finished your homework?” Megha asked her daughter.

“Yes Maa”, Naina replied.

Naina and Manas started discussing about the card making competition that was held at her school. Megha glanced at them and she saw her world… her family giggling and chirping happily around her and she thought to herself, “My small, cozy and blissful retreat in this big world.”

Unlike other mothers, she doesn’t feel left out in between a father and daughter. She instead feels an indescribable peace within, watching them together. Even though in order to claim sole proprietorship on her father Naina prefers to throw her mother out of the equation, but thanks to Manas, he never forgets to include Megha back in their merrymaking and also reminds Naina that her mother is part of the team.

After dinner, Manas switched on the TV to get some news updates. The news channels seemed to be flooded with updates on swearing in ceremony of 45th president of the United States, Mr Donald Trump. Manas switched from one news channel to the other in order to get better information. Different news channels discussed different aspects. For instance, if on one channel the panel discussed about the body language of the President and the First lady, then the other channel discussed about immigration issues and instability that would invariably get invited with the election results. The indian channels by and large engaged themselves in speculating the impact of the outcome of US presidential election on India.

Megha thought to herself, “Why, over the years Manas showed great interest in US presidential debates and now inauguration of Trump administration?”

“Why do you follow their elections so closely?” She asked aloud.

“Both India and the US are Democratic countries, besides they are the oldest functioning democracy, so I am just curious to know their way of dealing with things”, Manas explained.

But Megha on the other hand was trying to figure out the repercussions of the US presidential mandate in their life. If outsourcing policy of Republicans would affect their jobs or if hate crimes would increase in that region.

“Now that Trump is all set to become president, is that going to effect IT industry?” Megha inquired.

“Don’t know Megha, we have to wait and watch” Manas said.

“What about Debashish, Neha and Pradeep? Will they have to come back?” She enquired about her cousins who are already working there from a couple of years now.

“No, I don’t think so. They have work permits. The undocumented immigrants could face problems.” Manas replied.

His eyes were literally glued to the television set and he didn’t seem to be interested in talking at the moment. Therefore, Megha silently watched the news telecast. She wondered if such a radical thinking head of the state could add fuel to the otherwise latent right wing politics in that part of the world. While Mr Donald Trump was taking oath, Megha sat wondering to herself, “This man is representing a country which is known to assimilate people from varied cultures, from different continents and make them feel at home. Will he be able to keep the tradition, the essence of the country intact?”

Over the next one week they both were busy preparing for travel. Manas was busy preparing his ‘things to do and take’ lists, packing his bags, completing travel formalities at office. While she along with Naina had preparations at the emotional level. Manas was not traveling alone as one of his colleagues from Bangalore was to join him at New Delhi. And both of them would together take a flight to Chicago and thereafter a connecting flight to Olathe. This time, Megha was feeling a strange fear of uncertainty while seeing off Manas, something which she didn’t experience earlier. She repeatedly said, “Things are no longer the same there. Just stick to hotel to office and back to hotel schedule. No need to go anywhere”

Manas laughed and replied,“I’ll try to. But is that practically possible, Megha? You take care.”

“Keep me informed, have a safe journey!”, were the words that she said before bidding goodbye to her husband.

She could feel a lump in her throat. Her vision got blurry with tears as the cab drove out of the scene. She no longer had to put up a courageous face which was trying to portray from the past one week. While walking back home, she was trying to figure out when exactly they would be able to talk. After taking off from Delhi till the time Manas reaches his final destination there would be no communication what so ever.

For almost three weeks, both mother and daughter were going about their everyday life. One morning, after sending Naina to school, Megha sat with her morning tea in front of the television. While switching it on she thought to herself, “It is already 8:30 am and Manas didn’t call home yet. Anyways, just one more week to go and he should be back.” She chuckled quietly as she imagined Manas at the door with his luggage. While listening to the news, a breaking news suddenly caught her attention. She was horrified to read – Shootout at Kansas bar, an Indian techie killed. Her heart sank, a series of thoughts popped in her mind “Did I read it correctly? Maybe it’s Arkansas and not Kansas… Where in Kansas has this incident taken place?” She was trembling with fear, she fumbled here and there for the remote in order to change the channel. She was shell shocked to read the headline, “Racial attack at a bar at Olathe, Kansas. One dead and two injured.” She could feel her heart beating fast. She searched for her cell phone and tried to reach out to her husband. To her dismay, he didn’t answer the call. In desperation, she tried his number couple of times but in vain. Megha thought to herself, “Why is he not calling?”

Deep inside she knew, Manas being the kind of person that he is, in case he get to know about this incident he would immediately call or message home to inform that he is safe. She found it difficult to distance herself from negative thoughts. Her cluttered mind couldn’t give her directions. If she started searching for his colleague’s phone number from previously received messages in whatsapp, then the very next moment she started searching for more information on the net. She came back near the television set and was trying to figure out what she wanted to do next. That’s when the phone started ringing. It was Manas on the other side. Megha picked up the call without delay, squeaking out loud “Manas! Are you okay Manas?”

“Yeah, is Naina fine? Are you both okay? I saw so many missed calls, what’s the matter?”, Manas asked in a confused tone.

“No, we are fine but…” saying which Megha broke down. She was overpowered by a peculiar combination of emotions like love and longing for her husband; relief on finding him safe; fear of separation and disbelief for what happened just now, which made her to cry incessantly on hearing his voice.

“Megha, now you are making me scared. Why are you crying if everything is okay?” He questioned with a streak of impatience. In between sobs she asked, “Where were you Manas? I tried your number several times. I had really got scared for you… for all of us”

“I was in the washroom, so couldn’t hear the phone ringing. But tell me, what’s the matter?” perplexed, Manas replied.

“Do you know about a shoot out at a bar in Olathe?”, she asked.

“No…”, he replied. He sounded surprised.

Megha continued, “A racially motivated attack at a bar took place some time ago. A white American has mistaken two Indian techie for Arabs… and attacked them with a gun”. While she was speaking she could hear some sound at the other side of phone. Manas had switched on the television at his end.

Manas murmured, “Two injured and one…” There was silence at his end.

“Manas, the people from subcontinent look different from Arabs or middle easterners, why can’t the Americans differentiate an Arab from an Indian?” Megha enquired.

“But is it fair to be prejudiced against them in the first place? Not all Arabs are terrorists after all” Manas said and then continued, “Megha, one must understand this… innocent people irrespective of where they come from should not be targeted.”

“Manas, do you think all the senseless talks by Trump during his election campaign triggered some sort of white supremacy sentiment and as a result such acts of bigotry are taking place?” Megha asked.

“Could be possible. The fact is it takes ages to install positivity among people, to keep them glued together. But negativity and distrust are like wild fire, they spread in no time” Manas replied.

“ … and why are guns easily available there? Can’t the US bring amendment in their laws in order to check untoward incidents such as this?” She angrily added.

Manas interrupted, “This bar is around seven kilometers from where I am put up.”

Megha became speechless. The sheer thought of the proximity of the crime scene to the hotel sent a chill down her spine.

“Megha… are you there?”, He asked her after getting no reaction from her side.

“Hmm… tell me”, she said while still thinking deep.

“Every cloud has a silver lining”, Manas said sensing his wife in a disturbed state of mind.

“So, how do you install hope in a family which has lost the very purpose of living?”, Megha questioned.

“Megha, don’t underestimate the indomitable human spirit. They should be able to gather strength to cope with this unbearable pain and gradually find a purpose in life. Racial attacks of any kind should definitely be condemned but let’s not forget to uphold another American, who risked his life in order to help stop this incident”, Manas said.

“Yes, you are right. What is the time at your end?”, Megha enquired.

“It is almost 11 pm”, he said.

“You should have your dinner, we could talk later”, she said. And she continued, “You should be very careful”

“Yeah, I will. Bye.” he hung up the phone saying this.

Megha kept the phone on the coffee table. She went to the kitchen to fetch some water as she was thirsty. After she had quenched her thirst, she went and opened the window in her bedroom. The soft breeze touched her sweat drenched body soothing her senses that made her to close her eyes. She was getting flashbacks of happy moments that they have spent together. But her unstable mind took her to those dreadful moments, which made her to open her eyes. She thought to herself, “This was so close. Just a chance, who is present at the scene in that unfortunate moment. With guns rampantly available in the US and not so strong family bonds to anchor young minds, everyone is at risk.” she thought to herself.

Later in the day in between her work, she tried to gather more information related to this attack. That night, while Naina was fast asleep, Megha’s eyes were wide open. The images of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the victim of Kansas shootout; his wife Sunayana and his friend, was floating in front of her eyes. She was thinking deeply about the life that these innocent souls have spend together or rather the life that they could have spend together. And how their togetherness has been cut short by a shameful and senseless act of an ignorant person. Megha had a lot of unanswered questions, which were troubling her.

She thought to herself, “Is color of a skin responsible for these mindless acts? Is race so big that nothing beyond that could be seen? If a man of European origin would have been sitting at that bar instead of an Asian, would this incident have taken place at all?”

These thoughts made Megha restless. She could no longer hold herself in the bed so she came in the living room and sat on the sofa. Her thoughts drifted back to the time when she first came across this phrase ‘The land of free and home of brave’. Many years ago when Megha was a kid, one of her cousins Pritha, a second generation American citizen, had sent a letter from the United States after vacationing in India for about one and half months. In that letter she had mentioned, “Glad to be back to the land of free and home of brave.” Being born and brought up there, she unquestionably owed her loyalty to the US. Megha thought to herself, “Would Pritha think the same way even now? What if someone questions her sense of belonging?” For the first time in her life Megha looked really concerned for the safety of her relatives settled there. As if something from within urged her to reach out to them. As if her blood was thrusting its way into an invisible stream, flowing to merge in the vast ocean of belonging that kinship provides even though she was not in touch with them of late. For a while, she looked for their profiles on different social media sites. Her uncles and aunts, mostly academicians, were the first generation settlers who were successfully lured by the United States from their place of origin by offering lucrative offers while they were still studying. The second and the third generation settlers, apart from the profession which the family traditionally opted for, diversified into varied fields. Megha came across a few videos of her niece Neera, an upcoming ballet dancer. Also couple of videos uploaded by her cousin Piyali, who happens to be a pianist. Megha took pride in watching Piyali playing piano alongside her French husband. Even though the husband and wife duo have performed and achieved prestigious awards the world over, but India can’t claim Piyali as her own. She thought to herself, “Is Piyali not bringing laurels to her country, the United States? What if one fine day she’s told by an insane person – ‘Go back to your country’? Piyali might think, ‘But this is my country!’ Ironically, being born and brought up as an American, except for her name and looks there is nothing Indian about her. Why then some whites are under an impression that they are more American than other races? When the fact is no one except for the ethnic red Indians have their roots in the American soil.” She wondered.

Due to various reasons, people from different parts of the world had hit the American shores. They not just built their lives there but also contributed their bit in building a great nation. Some of these dreamers have become American citizens and some are aspiring Americans. Why should they be attacked she failed to understand.

Suddenly, she thought about the time.  She got a jolt after looking at the clock. She told herself, “It is 2:30 in the morning, I should get some sleep”

Quietly, she went into her room and sneaked into the bed. Her eyes obeyed her immediately and closed it’s doors, but her disobedient mind wandered in the wilderness taking her to an array of thoughts. Childhood memories of an image of the colossal statue of liberty and the last lines of the famous sonnet by Emma Lazarus came to her mind.

“Give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Though this poem was written for a different reason and the statue of liberty had a different significance, but gradually they were perceived as a symbol of the American dream thousands of immigrants, irrespective of their races came hoping for.

Megha thought to herself, “Have the American leadership become off-track and forgotten the very ethos upon which the nation was built? Can’t we stop fragmenting this world on the basis of color? Why does a section of people assume that outsiders are taking away their jobs? When the fact is everyone is entitled to get equal opportunities there, it is upon an individual how he/she chooses to utilize it!”

Slowly Megha drifted into deep sleep. But these questions still remain unanswered. Someone needs to address these issues before the American dream turns into a nightmare.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Other Side of the Fence

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While returning home after dropping her daughter Naina at guitar class, Megha noticed that the area near her society was developing at a fast pace. At a few places, shops have been demolished and the area has been converted into a supermarket. A couple of huge gated communities are also coming up. Her thoughts went back to a day, roughly an year back, when she and her husband Manas were driving through the same marketplace. They had just moved into the neighbourhood and she had looked pensive while looking at those sleepy and outdated grocery shops. Manas could quickly make out what was going on in her mind.

He immediately patted her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll watch this area transform and develop too, as we have witnessed Mohanpur developing into a plush suburb.”

Hearing which, Megha had laughed out loud at his optimism. She understood that even though he loved living in outskirts, away from the hustle and bustle that a concrete jungle guarantees, he had said this to cheer her up and establish hope for a brighter future.

Now she thought to herself, “At that time, Manas was not wrong in speculating this…”

She hurriedly came back home as she had to draft a mail to be send to a client immediately. Megha is a freelance graphic designer working from home. After she had sent the mail, she made herself a cup of tea and went to the spot which has become her constant companion for sometime now – the window in her bedroom, with view of the green carpet of the golf course at a distance and a commanding view of the western horizon. While placing the cup on the coffee table which is placed near the window, Megha looked at the sky. The sun was setting down bit by bit into the dense canopy of gulmohar trees. The sun rays, hopping from one cotton like fluffy cloud to the other, creating mesmerising hues on the western sky. At a distance a temple could be seen on a small hill top. While taking a sip of hot tea, Megha made herself comfortable on the chair. The sound of wild and boundless wind made her to feel as if she was sitting near a seashore. She closed her eyes to feel the gushing wind on her face and her entire being was wrapped into its embrace.

Instantly her soul whispered, “What a spectacle. So beautiful, an absolute bliss… It is indeed a blessing to experience this moment.” 

Manas’s words came ringing in her ears, “Do we really need to go to a resort, our home is no less than a resort. Isn’t it?” He would say this each time Megha came up with the idea of spending a few days relaxing and rejuvenating in a resort. What she was realizing now, he had understood long before.

Megha was brought back to the present, with the beeping sound of the phone. She stretched her hand towards the bed side table to pick it up. It was a message from Manas, “Left for home”.

Megha got up from the chair and stood near the window. The cowshed which could also be seen from her window caught her attention. She could see busy farm workers; cows and buffaloes munching on fodder. In a corner, piled up cow dung could also be seen. All these months, while Megha admired the view of the distant golf course, the cowshed in the near view (which is destined to fade away in a few months of time as the land has been sold) dampened her spirits every time her eyes went there. Ironically, except for the cowshed all other attributes of the place were quite good but unfortunately Megha either didn’t notice or ignored them till this moment.

Megha looked back at her phone to check the time. It was already 6:45 pm.

“It’s time to pick up Naina from her class”, She thought.

That evening at the dinner table she was quietly having her food, with minimal exchange of words. Years of sharing their lives together made them capable enough to read each other’s silence too. Manas could make out that Megha was in deep thought.

“What’s the matter? What are you thinking so deeply?” he asked.

After a brief silence Megha spoke out, “Why do we complicate life?”

“Why? What happened?”, Manas asked in a confused tone.

“I don’t know… Why in life we always look at the greener pasture on the other side of the fence rather than concentrating on the positives that we have on our side?” Megha said thoughtfully.

Manas looked at her silently, without blinking his eyelids, expecting more to come.

“I was there at the window today evening watching the sunset… taking in the hues on the sky… it felt so good.”, Megha said.

After a pause Megha continued, “All these months I didn’t realize that we have been blessed to live in the lap of nature, but only complained about the cowshed. And that too when I knew from the beginning that it won’t stay for long”.

“ Yeah… if we want to lead a content life, we need to embrace it with all its flaws in the same manner in which we celebrate the perfections in life.” Manas said.

Manas continued to quote Nida Fazli’s famous lines, “Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta, kahin zameen to kahin aasman nahi milta” (No one ever gets the entire universe, somewhere the earth and somewhere the sky is missing).

After around an hour, Megha entered the bedroom with two cups of milk. Manas stood near the same window watching the moonlit sky. Megha went to the same spot and passed on one of the cups and stood beside him. Silently they admired the serenity of the moment.

Manas broke the silence, “Human wants are unlimited, but we can’t get everything in life. We are granted what we need and not what we want”.

Megha smiled and added, “Yeah…  true. And we take so much time to realize this simple fact”.

Megha finished her cup and sat on the bed. She could feel soft breeze blowing. The full moon sometimes hiding behind the clouds, its light sneaking in through the window and falling on the bed. In that mystic moment, Megha slowly lay herself down on the bed, adjusting her head comfortably on the pillow and whispered, “Life is beautiful only if we seek to see its beauty. Instead of admiring the greener pasture on the other side of the fence, can’t we focus on the greenery on our side?”

– Aradhana Basu Das