Friday, January 27

Numb and Dumb No More

It was a beautiful day! The weather was just perfect. The sun was up and lit up the small town of Mussoorie with just the right intensity of light. She sat by the window sill, looking out into the world, sipping on her piping hot cup of honey and lemon green tea. She saw her future before her eyes - Warm, Cozy and Luminous like the sun rays.

She closed her eyes for a while. To soak it all in! She was naked, frozen and numb for years. And, for the first time in years, her soul felt love, warmth and happiness.

‘I passed your gate and tried to make a start.

All I knew

was the scent of sea and dew

but I've been in love before, how about you?´

The voice of Roxette playing in the background jolted her from her euphoria. Taking her to another warm place in her distant past!

´Why is a pretty girl like you without a boyfriend?´, he asked grimacingly at her.

Startled by such a direction question, she had no answer for him. Soon enough, he dashed into the library while she darted off to her classroom. The next day, she walked into the class, in an emerald green and turmeric yellow salwar kameez, her eyes lined with a thick layer of smudged kohl, and her long hair loosely tied in a braid. He watched her attentively as she took her place amongst her girlfriends. And waited patiently to listen to her voice during the mandatory attendance call.


‘Present, Sir!’

His heart skipped a beat. Like everyday….every single time he heard her voice confirming her majestic presence in the room. He looked forward to this moment every previous night. He was fatally attracted to her and it was time to begin the wooing game. He started to get closer to her and make small conversations. Mostly teasing ones! To break the ice and get her to see the funny side of him! It was working as per the plan. Haima started thinking of Shami more often, even missing his presence while she was back in her room. She never felt like this way before for him..or for any other boy for that matter. She wanted to be with him all the time and listen to his random nothings and laugh with him all day. And night long!

What started as a sweet casual flanter, slowly rolled into a warm budding romance and finally snowballing into a passionate obsession and madness. Indeed, when love is not madness, it is not love. Together, they flouted every college rule in the book for the grand cause of love. He stealthily climbed up the pipes of the girls hostel and sneaked into her room way past midnight. If he was fire, she was ice. She matched his audaciousness by cracking the security code and breaking into the boy´s hostel without falling under anyone´s notice.

He kissed her passionately and couldn’t stop. As she gently released herself from his warm embrace, she took him by the hand and guided him to a quiet spot under one of the many Himalayan Cedar trees.

‘Come, let´s just sit here for a while before we go back.´, she said.

‘I have a better plan.´, as he nuzzled his head on her soft lap.

´How long are we going to run away from the world like this?´, she asked, while gently caressing his hair.´Haima! Marry Me! ´, he looked dreamily in her eyes.

Óh! Shami……….´, she beamed bright and gay like the morning sun of Mussoorie. Í love you….so much. Shami, promise me you will never make me cry!´

‘Haima, You are my Queen and I, your King! I will never ever let a single teardrop shed from your eyes.´Just then, the forests of Landour were greeted by a sudden outpouring from the skies.

‘Looks like the Rain God has something to say!´, Haima teased her lover this time, nudging her dainty finger on the sides of his stomach.

Shami caught her by her wrist, swept her off her foot and into his arms and whispered in her ear, ´Haima, my Queen! It´s time to elope from here as well now.´ She giggled and approved as he dashed out of the raining woods.

Hailing from the same community, Haima and Shami had little problem convincing their respective families. Finally, they were Mr & Mrs.!

In that big old house

there are fifty beds

and one of them leads to your soul.

It's a bed of fear,

a bed of threats,

regrets and sheets so cold.

All I knew your eyes so velvet blue,

I've been in love before, how about you?

Haima took in a deep sigh as she listened to the song playing on the local radio station. She recalled Shami, her first and only love. His steel gray eyes that she once loved! Once upon a time! And they lived happily ever after. Not!

Haima painfully learnt that life was not a bed of roses and far from a fairy tale. Shami was not her Prince Charming. They were both young when they first got married barely 21. 

Shami was a revelation to her. She could not recognise him anymore. At first, he got engrossed in making a good living for them. She did not mind the initial lack of attention and shifting of priorities from her to his career. She could wait….at least that is what she thought.

Things were not exactly bad. It was just not the life she envisioned for the two of them together. There was no time for love anymore. They were living like guests in their own house.

‘Do you still love me?’, She asked him one day, while having breakfast.

He looked at her with a stone-face.

‘Shami? Answer me.´

´Listen, Haima! I don´t have time for such meaningless questions. Okay? Relax and breathe easy. I have to go now.´, he said as he left for his work, leaving her to emotionally fend for herself.

Haima realised she was lonelier than ever before. Shami barely cared to soothe her apprehensions and worries.

´Your home is your career, Haima!´This is also a job. And, I don't like you going out and interacting with all sorts of men…Hmm, I mean people!´

´Please change that dress. I don´t approve of your choices of late. You are a respectable married woman now.´

´Who asked you to post those pictures on Facebook without my prior permission? ´

´Grow up, Haima!´

It started with mild disapprovals and restrictions. She was not allowed to have any male friends and her every move was closely watched by Shami. Haifa complied Shami´s every command as most good wives would do. After all, Shami was now her Parmeshwar (God).

Soon, they were blessed with a healthy pair of twins - one boy and boy girl. Suhayl and Myra. Haima´s life had some purpose finally and she was occupied and contended in a long time. She thought she had the perfect life - a loving husband and two beautiful children, one of each kind. Or she thought!

Haima was the perfect mother just as she was….as a wife, as a lover and a daughter. She was the epitome of supreme sacrifice. Often, at the cost of her own happiness! Shami became even more preoccupied with his work, knowing the house and children were expertly taken care of by Haima. His social life comprised hanging out on weekend nights with his drinking partners.

The monster in Shami started to unleash more often. Haima was greeted with slaps and blows when she confronted his drinking habits. She was the pushed around and kicked for questioning his whereabouts. The writing was clear on the wall - Haima had to change inside out and make all the efforts for the greater noble cause of marriage. But, Shami could deteriorate to the lowest level of bestiality to uphold the tradition of marriage.

The love that was so passionate and intense between them at the start, slowly started to wane away with the passing years. There was no novelty factor left in Haima anymore and she was not merely taken for granted. She was not valued as a human being. Her thoughts, her dreams, her desires and ambitions meant nothing to Shami anymore. Haima was not an equal partner in her marriage but a subservient one. She had no say in her own life while she had no say in Shami´s as well. He lived his life as per his whims and super-inflated ego. 

Haima stuck to Shami not for the love of him or the marriage anymore. She stuck to him purely for the sake of her children. They needed a father, a family more importantly than her own happiness. Anyway, she had sacrificed her life and her dreams. So, sticking to the marriage made more sense than leaving it. 

There's a time for the good in life,

a time to kill the pain in life,

dream about the sun you queen of rain.

Haima sighed deeply as she listened painfully to the song. Yes, she was that queen of rain. For many many years….sleeping on a bed of fear and threats and living in pain! She lived her life in constant fear...for the fear of being misjudged by her own husband, being slapped and kicked with his fist if she dared to disobey his orders, the pain of being like a caged bird in her own home, the humiliation before her own children. She closed her eyes, shutting it tight lest the tears flow out and make her feel even more weak and helpless. 

She was her Daddy´s little princess all along. He treated her like one. Never ever had he raised his hand on her. And here, she was supposedly the Queen in Shami´s life. But he abused her like no one else did. Emotionally, he scarred her heart with his criticisms, his jabs and threats. Physically, he left her wounded in many places...from a twisted arm to a black eye to being dragged by the hair and hurled down to the floor. After years of horrendous torture, she felt no pain anymore. Her body and soul had become numb forever. 

It was funny, how the man who she fell ´head over heels´in love with at one point of time, was simply irrelevant in her life anymore. His steel gray eyes which made her go weak in the knees once was today, a mirror reflection of his cruel and heartless soul. Everything about him that made her love him once was repulsive to her today. 

Years passed by, and there were no more pretensions and lies anymore. Suhayl and Myra were all grown up now at 20 years. They detested their own father with all their heart. They couldn't stand his overbearing dominating behaviour, especially towards their mother. They couldn't digest all his extramarital affairs. They wondered how their mother could for so long. They hated his loud and abusive drunken state and couldn't wait any longer to just throw him out of the house.

´Mama! Divorce him. Just do it. For your sake and ours!,´ Suhayl told his mother.

´Mama, what is stopping you? You don't deserve to be treated like this? Why are you taking this upon yourself?’ Myra pleaded with her mother.

´You! I don't love Shami. Perhaps, not even hate him. He has left me numb to feel anything. This marriage is important to me because of you two. I need this marriage more now than ever before because we need your father´s financial support. Especially, you two! ´, Haima reasoned with her children.

It's time to place your bets in life,

I've played the loser's game of life,

dream about the sun you queen of rain.

Myra looked in her mother´s eyes and asked earnestly, ´Mama, what if I was in your place right now? Would you want me to follow in your footsteps? ´

Haima immediately placed her finger on Myra´s mouth. ´Ssssshhh, Mayra! You don´t talk unpleasant things like that. Of course not! I would immediately rescue you from a monster like that and save your life from misery.´

´Exactly, Mama! We want the same for you. You have sacrificed already so much for everyone else´s happiness except your own. We don't need any financial support from Papa. Suhayl, you and me will work and support ourselves from now on. Mama, you may not be Papa´s queen anymore. But, you are ours. And we will put our Queen´s life at stake anymore now.´, Myra said with a fierce determination.

´Yes, Mama! Myra is right. You are still in your forties and  still have so much of life to look forward to. Go and find that job that you have always wanted to …Dress the way your heart has always wished to…Go and conquer the world, Mama. You are now free. Maybe, a worthy King will land on our doorstep. Who knows, Mama, what lies ahead of your exciting future.´, Suhayl said with a mischievous and hopeful glint in his eyes.

Haima looked at her two children with gratitude and love in her eyes. If there was one thing that came out good in this horrid journey, it was Suhayl and Myra. She regretfully looked into her past and wondered what stopped her from getting out of this marriage before. It took Suhayl and Myra to give her that courage and strength to put an end to this torture and walk away from this man, who she called husband for many years. 

Time went by

as I wrote your name in the sky,

fly fly away,

bye bye.

Haima finished drinking her tea. Shami did not take the divorce news too well. As usual, he started to abuse her and threaten her. He blamed her for brainwashing the children against him. But, this was not her concern anymore. She was done with him and his threats. He did not scare her anymore and she had finally moved on. Without him! 

It was time to rush to her school. She loved her life and was happier than ever before. She found her true calling as a high school English teacher.

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

As she read out the poem ´Fire and Ice´ by Robert Frost to her students, she smiled in quiet triumph. Like their names, Haima and Suhayl,  her cold snowy ice demeanour finally put to rest his wild flaming fires. She was the victorious destroyer of the past and the recreator of her own future and destiny.  

At last, she was the Queen. 

(Based on a true story with liberal doses of fantasy to create an interesting read. If you liked what you just read, please don't hesitate in letting me know in the comments below.)

Queen of Rain -

Robert Frost´s poem reading - Fire and Ice

(This is my first attempt or shot at writing short fictional stories. I tried experimenting and playing around with my own creative bits of prose fused with song lyrics from Roxette´s ´Queen of Rain´and Robert Frost´s  poem ´Fire and Ice´.)

Wednesday, January 11

The Sky is the Limit

I stumbled upon my old diary which was my treasure way back in high school. This was where I penned in all my thoughts, doodles, dreams, poems etc.

Looking at these drawings of mine in high school brought back many a memory. Memories of a girl who had big dreams in her eyes and proud of being who she was.

The common theme of all these drawings is clearly the many versatile faces of a woman. She can be whoever she chooses and wants to be....the endless possibilities. The drawings were focused on the unbridled feminine energy rather than the design or style per se.

This is truly gold for me!

´Freedom lies in being bold´ - Robert Frost

Monday, January 9

The curious case of the pregnant bull and the fifty shades of red

I still remember the Winter of 92´. I was standing underneath the moonlit sky, participating in the Christmas Midnight Mass. I felt as if the ground under me would just collapse and so would I, along with it. Suddenly, my legs felt heavy, my body ached, my mind numbed and my soul just wanted to cry its heart out. I had no idea what was happening or about to happen. I was absolutely clueless. 

We returned home around 2am in the morning. And I quietly headed back to my bed and fell asleep. I could´t. I had a dull headache and I was feeling very miserable. For no apparent reason. Or was there? I limped quietly, dragging my heavy legs, in the early wee hours of the morning, finding my way to the bathroom in the dark. As I got down on the floor, I looked down in horror.  I found traces of blood. Was I imagining what I just saw? Where on earth did that come from? I panicked. I touched down there and my fingers were red. I was horrified at what I just saw. And again, clueless!

I waited for sunrise like I had never before. I was waiting to tell my Mum about the strange happening. My mind kept racing ever since I touched blood. What was happening to me? Did I hurt myself somehow..somewhere? Was I going to die? Would my Mum be upset? And anxious? And clueless like me? God help me!

Finally, the sun rose! When the first rays of sunshine struck and there was light, I cannot tell you how much lighter and hopeful I felt. All I wanted to do was tell my Mum. At the same time, I did´t know how...if I should. Wouldn't it panic her? But, who else could I tell? The suspense was killing me. And I was´t feeling any better since the Christmas Midnight service. I had never felt so vulnerable and so miserable at the same time like now.

I still vividly remember that Christmas morning. It was around 6.30 am when my Mum woke up. We wished each other ´Happy Christmas´ again and she went into the kitchen to make breakfast. I still didn't muster the courage to tell her about the eery happenings. I somehow felt hesitant and unsure. But, I had no other choice. I checked in again and I still saw blood. My Mum headed into the bedroom and I quickly followed her with a heavy heart. I cried, ´Mum, I don´t feel well.´ And she asked me what happened. I spilled the beans to her. She was shocked just as I was. But not for the reasons that I had expected her to. She was taken aback,  I could tell. And I saw a glint of sadness in her eyes too. And a sense of helplessness. She didn't tell me much. All, she did was check her cupboard, take me to a side and thrust a pad into my hand and whisper the instructions on how to use it and dispose it. She also told me how I would have to use it every month around the same time from now on. And that there was no reason to see a doctor. I was not ill and it was normal. That was it!

I remember thinking how finally I knew what those mysterious Whisper and Carefree ads aired on Television were all about. And I felt a huge rush of embarrassment, pain, sadness and anger engulf here. Of all the avalanche of emotions, the greatest was anger. I remember looking up towards the skies and questioning God if this was fair. If He was fair to womenkind. What was His problem with us? What was this torture and punishment inflicted on us? Oh boy, was I angry! Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned! And Christ knew, how furious I was that Christmas day! I felt let down by the very same God that I was standing in the church, and praising and praying to. I felt cheated, insulted, disappointed and terribly let down. What did I do to deserve this punishment for life?

That Christmas has been the worst till date. I know my Dad quickly learnt about my condition but was trying to be as normal around me. He was normal but I surely wasn't. I was pretty sure my younger brothers were kept in the dark about me. Thank God for that! Actually, Mum and Dad! Anyway, the painful ordeal didnt just end there. We had a large family getogether with Uncles, Aunties, cousins etc. All the elders were informed by my Mum. I could sense a feeling of mutual grief and loss in their facial expressions and eyes. They looked at me with sympathy. I hated it. I was put in the spotlight all of sudden for no fault of mine.

Life was never the same again. Maybe, it was! But, I was never the same again. I looked at life in a wholly new perspective. There was confusion, caution, suspicion and fear. I was still clueless. Mum never told me why it was all happening to me. All, I got was her assurance that it was normal. Except that I was pretty sure at that age that nothing was normal about it.

My body was changing and I wasn't comfortable with it. In fact, I was ashamed and embarrassed about it. My posture changed and my self-confidence took a beating. Every month since, I experienced torture before the onset of menstruation and during it. It was hell on earth. And, somehow this was supposedly normal.

I had girl friends but I never could really muster enough courage to ask them about their experiences. I was too embarrassed to discuss this with any of them. So, I  was still clueless until high school. It was during that time, when there were educational and promotional videos sponsored by the likes of Whisper, Carefree, Stayfree etc. I really don't remember the brand. But, all I know was feeling thankful that my parents put me in an all girls school. I remember being shown an educational video which had foreign actors and I still had so many questions unanswered. We were all given sample pads to try that month. It still felt very weird and I still somehow could´t treat this monthly leaky business as normal.

Years have passed and I have a seven year old daughter. I felt extremely humbled and thankful when I conceived my daughter. I was privileged and blessed to be a mother. Finally, I had all the answers to my unanswered questions. All that pain and effort was worth this treasure that popped out of me and that I hold so dearly in my arms today.

However, I must admit that I am still not comfortable with this monthly affair. I doubt that I will ever be! Sometimes I do wonder though, if I would miss this phase of menstruation once menopause sets in. Only time will tell!

For now, my life´s literally an auto replay of the psychological movie, ´Inside Out´ every single month. The first day of the period and the few days prior to it are simply the worst. With time, I have learnt the tricky art of exercising self-control on my emotions that follow the laissez-faire policy during menstruation. I had to keep my emotions in check else they were making my life on the personal front a complete mess. I made a conscious effort to track my dates, keep my emotions in check, keep my cool when dealing with my husband, and my child. It is no easy task.

To make matters worse, there are so many superstitions, misconceptions, taboos, rumours, jokes around menstruation that it is not funny anymore. Especially the stigma attached to menstruating women in India. That of being ´dirty´! I know for a fact how menstruation affected me as an adolescent - my self-esteem and confidence, my body image, and so much more. Even today, in the best of times and the highest levels of confidence, PMS knocks the hell out of all that with its unwanted entrance every month. God forbid, if you are going through a rough patch. I also do not feel one bit good in my own skin. I feel as sexy as the bloated cartoon character Pingu which has just gobbled some really stinky fish. All the problems, even the minutest ones get magnified to Goliathan proportion. Add to that, the PMS symptom of hitting the highest blues and crying at the drop of a hat.

It is safe to say that those pesky hormones mess up not just your body but also your head. You feel worthless and empty and soulless. And, you know what is the worst part!  No one really understands what you are going through.

Yes, we live in times of Google and in an overly sexualised world where there are no more hushed whispers and secrets anymore! But, in spite of all the information and awareness, men still have no clue what it really feels like. It´s a joke. And we, my dear women, are at the centre of it all. The ´circus clown meets a Chudaiyal (witch or female ghost) of a C-grade horror movie´ who pops out of nowhere and makes her disastrous appearance unfailingly every month.

For some reason, the older generation including the women have absolutely no clue that PMS is a real thing. It is as pointless talking to the women of the older generation as it is to men belonging to any generation in the past, current and future.

Men and old ladies (and children are exempted), let me try breaking this down especially for you. Picture trying to keep in control a highly charged, wild bull. Hypothetically, lets just say a pregnant one because you actually experience all the pregnancy symptoms of misery. Without actually being pregnant, that is. Pregnant bulls are a fantasy of imagination. They don't exist. But, you get the picture right. We are pregnant bulls while on menstruation. We are experiencing pregnancy even though we are not supposed to be technically pregnant. Wait, it gets curiouser after this!  And no my dear, the root problem is not red or any of those fifty provocative shades of it. In reality, Bulls don't actually get charged and furious at the sight of red as much as they charge towards the matador´s cape at the slightest movement or in their bull language, provocation in all their rage and fury.

So, stop laughing at PMS. It is the real deal. We are not crazy beings while leaking tears and blood. We are not OTT because ít is that time of the month´ when we see red and all hell breaks loose.

Read my lips - ´We are pregnant bulls that easily gets charged at the slightest provocation.´

Thank your stars you don't have to deal with all that bullshit. Yes, you have to put up with us dealing with the bullshit. But, listen up straight, once and for all! All you have to do is go underground for a few days in a month and not provoke us. Even the slightest bit. Else, you will unleash the Mad Max within us and all the fury upon yourself. Don´t tell us later that we didn't warn you!

We have already so much bullshit to deal with that we certainly don´t need any of this thrusted (not fair!) bullshit that strikes us every month and we don´t want you to add to the pile of bullshit that we already are dealing with. P.H.E.W!

So you see, my friend, Menstruation is not so simple or normal as it deceptively appears to be. It´s a complex and curious phenomenon.

I know life will definitely come a full circle again. And I will be filling in the shoes of my own Mum and my daughter will step into my shoes. And we will have a replay of that Winter of 92´all over again. I know I will take a different approach from my Mum but will it work or not, remains to be seen. I can only hope that I will be able to handhold her through this daunting experience for any girl child and keep in tact her self-esteem, confidence and body image.

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