The Wake Up Call

We have come to a place with a name so vague to me that I cannot even spell it right. I walk two steps behind her like any other visitor would – simply because I know nothing about the place. I shadow her movements and mimic every action of hers lest I do something foolish.

As we go down the road of mud, I bow my head and my hands fly to cover my mouth in reflex to the foul odours that begin to pierce my nostrils. However I grimace as I see faeces strewn on the same road that we are treading. I recall the instructions given to me – do not give away hints that you are disgusted no matter how repulsive your environment may seem. Looking up at Vasudha, our customer care representative walking ahead of me, I secretly wonder how this woman goes through the same ordeal everyday.

We continue walking down the lanes that become narrower with each passing step. We cross many by-lanes as we move forward and for some reason it feels like someone has placed us in an odd maze of people and things. Needless to say, Vasudha knows where she’s headed – I am the only one who’s lost without a clue. Add to this the inhuman conditions and environment I am exposed to.

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As if the open gutters alongside the broken walls of people’s homes (shacks and hutments) aren’t bad enough, there are stagnant pools of water after every ten seconds of walking. Flies swarm around the place that is already littered with all kinds of wastes and I see people sitting on their doorsteps indifferent to any of this while I struggle to keep a straight face. I cannot decide what is worse – the smells or the sights around me.

Soon our walk brings us to our destination – Shanthamma’s home (an odd structure made up of plastic sheets and thatched walls). From where I stand outside the door, I can already see the open back door. Given the dimensions of this room, I imagine if I take four steps from the front door into the house, I would possibly be standing outside the house and probably in the neighbour’s compound.

The strong aroma of garlic and chillies being sautéd for lunch waft through the air and make their way to us from the inside. Shanthamma, our customer runs to tend to her cooking while we follow her inside to seat ourselves in a corner on a modest plastic mat on the floor of her home. I look around in bewilderment at this room that she claims is her home. I simply cannot fathom how anyone can survive here – let alone live.

In one of corner of the dimly lit room I see an old bed with a plastic mat and a pillow on it. Right next to this I see Shanthamma hunched over a small kerosene stove cooking rice and dal. To my left in the corner I see a small wooden almirah, the door of which has come off at the hinges. On top of it I see a small photo of Lord Ganesha adorned with flowers, illuminated by a small lamp.

As sweat trickles down my back I look around to see if there is a fan. But I am surprised when my eyes are greeted by the sight of a bare ceiling constituted from plastic sheets with holes. Involuntarily my mind wanders off to imagine what the condition of this room during the rainy seasons would be, when I am brought back to reality by a tap on my shoulder.

I realise Vasudha is talking to me. Shanthamma wipes her hands on her saree as she politely stands in front of us offering to make tea for us. I remember being told to decline such offers only too well as our company does not believe in imposing any kind of hospitality on the part of our already poor customers. And so, I refuse as politely as possible saying that we just had coffee from a nearby stall.

Then I look at Vasudha for an indication as to what happens next. She quietly informs me that we are waiting for the remaining group members to arrive. Just as she finishes her statement, we hear sounds of some women approaching. The minute they enter the room there is a loud cacophony of voices and I see some of them slap the host on the back. Feeling alarmed I turn to Vasudha for an explanation who for some reason smiles and tells me that these ladies speak Kannada and this is how they usually greet one another. Before she can say anything more, I for one, have decided to maintain a safe distance from the group lest they decide to greet me too!

After a whole lot of commotion, all the ladies squat down on the mats in front of us while a few sit on the doorstep (owing to space constraints of course). Then the drill begins – Vasudha introduces herself and talks about our company, the purpose of our visit and so forth. Just when I think things are going well, she turns to me and asks me to introduce myself to the group. I am caught completely off guard and it takes me a moment to process what she has just said.

Now you might wonder what the big deal is, but let me tell you something. For the past two years of my life, I have been attending various personality development programs, seminars and doing corporate presentations. Not even once have I fumbled or been baffled by an audience. However this was an entirely new scenario. I did not understand a single word of Kannada, let alone speak the language.

Neku Kannada gothilla..” I mumble sheepishly. (I don’t know Kannada.)

One of the elderly women in the group takes pity on me for not knowing their language and is kind enough to tell me that I can speak in Tamil as a majority of them know the language. I am relieved that one hurdle has been overcome. Then comes the second – what do I tell them about myself? Over the last four months I have perfected  my answer to the most annoying interview question ‘Tell me about yourself’. But here that answer just seemed so irrelevant and pathetic. What do you tell a strange group of  illiterate and poor women about yourself to create a connect?

So I did the only sensible thing to do. I told them my name, where I come from, about my family, what my job was and why I was here in an alien place amidst them. Call it luck, but it worked. Some of them who had been to Kerala previously actually knew about the State and excitedly started naming all the nearby places and things they could remember about the place. I hardly had to speak complete sentences. Trust me, I have never felt more relieved about a conversation!

Then on, the proceedings went on fine. Vasudha briefed the group about the various loans they had applied for with respect to their families’ or business’ requirements. One by one she questioned all of them about their respective loans to see if they knew their loans’ terms and conditions thoroughly.

When it was Shanthamma’s turn, Vasudha asked her why she needed a loan of Rupees 15,000. I was surprised when Shanthamma replied it was for a colour television for herself at home. My eyes shot up to the ceiling of sheets spanned by gaping wounds and I opened my mouth to say something, but then decided against it. Seeing the look on my face, an amused Vasudha asked me if I wanted to ask or tell Shanthamma anything. Of course, I did!

Amma.. Do you really need a colour TV now? Is it not more important to fix the roof above your head before the rains start?” I asked her cautiously.

“No.. I can always put some pans on the floor when it rains. But, what will I do when I want to relax? I cannot always go to someone else’s house like a destitute to watch TV, can I?” came the reply.

Hearing this the whole group voiced their agreement with Shanthamma while I just sat there wondering how I could convince my brain to accept the reasoning behind her answer. Vasudha tapped my shoulder and signalled to me to fake acceptance and drop the matter, which I did.

The next one hour continued to be full of surprises for me when I heard the women voice the purposes of their loans – one for a refrigerator, another for a mobile phone, some for their children’s education, some for buying tailoring machines and so on. What surprised me was not the things they wanted but that these were all things that I thought could be purchased by anyone with some savings; things I had taken for granted.

I cannot put into words the revelations I had sitting in that shack during the two hours I was there. When I came to Bangalore to join employment, I had considered only two things – my handsome package and the posh life that came with it. Granted from all those classroom training sessions, I knew our customers were the urban ultra poor. But what I saw before my eyes was far worse than anything I had ever expected. It was a wake up call. The living conditions of these people made me realise how many of us take most things in life for granted.

Now you may think that I am making a mountain out of a mole hill. You are free to think so! The story I shared may even seem very insignificant to you. But I sincerely hope you are able to take away from here the point I am trying to make – to be grateful for all the good things in life; to appreciate the people and things around you no matter how bad you think they may seem; to remind yourself to be thankful for all that you have – for it could have been worse. And honestly, if this post has had any impact on you, I’d be the happiest.

Meanwhile, thanks for being such a patient reader! That’s 1720 words you just read. 😀

Do you know of or have a similar instance that you would like to share? Anything you’d like to say with respect to anything? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

 

RomPhy

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We lie there on the terrace where you romanticize quantum physics high up in the sky. You’re talking, but I don’t care about a word you say. As always, I’m too busy listening to the sound of your voice. You’re excitedly talking about romance amid the stars while all I do is thank mine for bringing me to you.

Soon you digress to talk about time travel and your words have my attention. I’m listening because my heart yearns for the possibility. In twenty minutes, you’ll be gone and there will be nothing more I’ll want to do than to travel back in time to you.

****

Thanks for reading!

I haven’t written anything in over a month and I had to will myself to write this because I couldn’t bear to look at my blog. I know it might have been a terrible read (there’s a 90 per cent chance!) or my worst post yet. No apologies however! I’ll just write you a better post the next time. 🙂

Honest Lies

We sit across from each other at the coffee table – two souls who once conjured up a world of their own and now, just aliens from different spheres.

I don’t steal glances at you every now and then. I don’t notice the craters around your eyes or the hollows in your cheeks. The sight of your sleep deprived face does not bother me nor does the cigarette that seems to have found its way back to between your dexterous long fingers. It does not bother me that you have lost weight or that you lose a few curls every time you rake your hand through your hair. I do not heed the modest dimples on your forehead that seem to have left your cheeks to bridge your eyebrows. I do not hear the emptiness in your laugh or catch the sparkles that have gone amiss in your eyes.

I am not upset that we talk so little when there is so much to say. It does not affect me when you tell me how your life has changed. I do not secretly wonder if you have met someone else. And I do not feel relieved when you show me pictures of new friends none of whom are women. When its finally time to bid goodbye, I am not overwhelmed by the warmth in your hugs or hope that has begun to engulf me.

***

Written in response to the The Daily Post’s Prompt.

Inspired by Vidisha who writes at Inked Thoughts and Midnight Monologues.

Ringed

High and dazed,

They lie on the couch

In each others’ arms

Surrounded by

Smokes and vapors,

Laughter and noise.

A thousand colors burst

In the eye of his mind

Just as he looks down

To see her lips

Curve in a smile.

And in that moment,

Everything makes sense.

A quiet pat on her head

Before she looks up

To see him blow out

A smoke ring

Only to ask her

“Marry me please??”

******

Above the Clouds at Nandi Hills

If you ask a Bangalorean which are the places you can visit in and around his/her dear city, it is highly likely that Nandi Hills may be one out of the two or three places s/he may suggest.

To know more about the place, you can check out what Wiki has to say.

I don’t want to ramble on about how much fun it was to take an early morning trip with my friends. I am not going to tell you how breathtakingly beautiful the place was, how amazing the climate was or the fact that I did not want to leave the place ever. But I will share with you some photographs we clicked. Some others I have borrowed from the net as we were too caught up in the moment to even think about freezing time on camera.

So here goes..

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Some Love

Waking up to your sound,

I lie there next to you.

Your body so fine and

Touch ever so smooth.

It feels like a dream come true

To pick you up,

Hold you close to my chest.

I look at you everyday

Only to smile,

To cherish you as mine.

I am obsessed they say,

Maybe even addicted to you.

“Stop looking at your phone!”,

My friends chide.

I smile at them,

At their ignorance.

My love for you,

they’ll never understand.

Drabbl Win

I have some good news! 🙂

My first ever poem titled ‘Us‘ has been awarded the First Runner Up prize by Drabbl which is a forum for micro fiction writers.

What’s the big deal you ask?!

It’s my first win for writing something online. Oh.. Did I say it was online? Then you probably know it was pan India. Okay, I won’t blow my own trumpet! It may not be much but I’m just telling you I am happy!

Thanks to Team Drabbl for the Amazon gift voucher!

And bear hugs to Piyusha aka the Wandering Soul for having informed me about the event.

Cheers!

Relative-ly Sad

I am crumpling fistfuls of my shawl as I wonder how to avoid falling prey to my parents’ trap. I bang my little toe against the wooden chair for the nth time as I walk around aimlessly in the room wishing I could buy myself some more time.

After a lot of coaxing on their part, I have put on a yellow and white salwar kameez, my hair pulled back in a pony tail and just enough kajal smeared around my eyes to hide the sleep-deprived look on my face. I have been dreading this day for a week, living in denial and now it’s finally here. I look up at the clock to realize that they’ll be home any minute and I still don’t have a plan.

Just as the hand on the clock moves to indicate 11:05 am, I hear the sound of a rickshaw approach our house. I step out to affirm the arrival of the misfortune only to walk right into a blizzard of kisses and hugs from Chachi, not to mention the perfume that made me nauseous and the loud cackle. Meanwhile, I can hear Chachaji dicker in the background with the rickshaw wala for ten rupees like the typical skinflint he is.

Holding me at an arm’s distance, Chachi looks at me from head to toe and clicks her tongue in approval. Then, pushes me aside and I watch as the blizzard enters my home. I hear Chachaji call out to me to help him with the luggage. I sigh. They really are going to be here for a whole month.

DISCLAIMER: This is merely a piece of fiction and I love my relatives (or atleast I like to think so). 😛