Alice

A girl has no name.
There is a name that society calls her,
But a girl has no name.
It’s not a name she chose,
It was given to her.
But a girl wants nothing to do with that name.
Who chose that name?
Why was that name chosen?
If someone else chose a name,
Would the name be different?
Did her name say who she was?
Or did it say who she is yet to become?
Does one grow into a name?
Or does a name grow onto you?
What does a girl do
When she doesn’t grow into a name?
Or when a name doesn’t grow onto her?
A girl has no name.
Can she choose a name
Now that she has no name?
What name does she choose?
She could either choose a name
That says who she is now
Or who she aims to become.
Maybe a name that says she is growing.
She’s ever-changing.
Today,
She isn’t the person she was yesterday,
And tomorrow she won’t be today’s.
So, a girl has no name.
Will she ever find a name that she truly is?
Is anyone truly one name?
But until a girl decides
Or someone decides for her again,
A girl has no name.

Paul

Of my two years in boarding school, he was in one. In the beginning, I would’ve described him as a pompous, narcissistic brat. And he was. An NRI from a well-to-do family with a high-end fancy DSLR camera. He probably had costly branded clothes as well, but since we were always in one or the other of our three school uniforms, clothes didn’t really matter.

I couldn’t pinpoint a certain moment where we became friends, nor could I explain how or why we became friends. I have random flashes of him strutting around with his camera in hand, trying to flirt with random (or all) girls. I remember him walking into the empty class I sat in during my free lectures. I was pretending to study while actually reading Percy Jackson on my laptop. It began with him asking me what I was doing, catching me in my pretence and then sitting next to me to do his own reading. Eventually, we started spending all our free periods together in that empty classroom. I would sit on the bench with my laptop and he would sit on the floor beside me. We would do our respective work. An occasional doubt would be asked and answered. A random fact or quote would be shared. Calculators and pens would be shared. And if he felt bored, he would find a way to annoy me. Typically, he would keep pressing the button of my laptop’s CD drives so it would pop out and I would be forced to push it back in. Only for him to do it all over again.
In the middle of calculus and Shakespeare, we swapped life stories. I learnt about the life he used to live, the life he wanted to live and the life he would probably end up living. I learned about the mistakes he had made and the mistakes he kept repeating.

I guess it’s something to do with boarding schools. Or maybe our particular one. It broke you. It brought you down. And once there was nothing left, it created a brand new you. I didn’t want to be a brand new me. Neither did he. We just wanted to be better versions of ourselves. We weren’t broken pots that needed to be remade. We were decent pots who just wanted to be painted well. And in that fight of ours with the world we were living in, we found a friendship that fuelled our resilience.

Then I left. I graduated but he still had one more year to go. When I visited school a few months later for our annual week celebrations, we spent all of two days together. It was like I’d never gone away, except that now I was allowed to visit the boy’s dorm because I was an alumnus. We spent the entire time catching up and walking around campus reliving memories. When he graduated the year after me, he came to study in Pune. And in the one year that he lived there, he visited Thane twice. Once, just to hang out, check out my house, eat my food and meet my family. The other time he came all the way over from Pune for a day and a night even though I couldn’t host him – all because that day was debatably one of the important days in my entire life. And the best or worst part of it is that he didn’t think it was a big deal. For him, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. It was an important day in my life, and I needed a friendly face who wouldn’t judge me no matter how I performed. I needed him, and he was there. No questions asked.

And that’s what makes him one of the most beautiful people I know. He’s not without faults. But he is unquestionably the best friend one could ever have. He’s not without mistakes. But he learns from them. He is my harshest critic. But he doesn’t judge me for the things I do. He always forgets to message. But I know that if I needed him, he would cross the oceans to be with me. And one day, I hope I can do the same for him.

Most Memorable Birthday

Shivam and his parents had a deal. Every year at his birthday, Shivam could ask for any gift that he wanted. Shivam would to tell his parents what he wanted one month before his birthday, and they would get it for him. This year, Shivam wanted the giant Lego set that he had seen at the mall. So, on his birthday, everyone got ready to go to the mall and buy Shivam his Lego set.

In the store, just as they had picked out the Lego set and were waiting at the cashier’s, Shivam saw a small box of Lego characters. It was a limited edition collection of many different Lego people that could be mix-matched and assembled. Never in his life had Shivam wanted something so much. He knew, nonetheless, that his parents wouldn’t agree to let him have this gift as well. He had already gotten what he originally wanted.

Resigned to his fate, Shivam took his gift from the cashier and headed out. As he was leaving the store, Shivam saw Rs 500 note fallen on the ground. Quickly, Shivam picked it up and turned around to see who it belonged to. As he turned, his eyes fell on the gorgeous Lego character box that he had wanted only a while ago. His greed got the better of him. Shivam pocketed the Rs 500 note silently and walked out of the store.

Meanwhile, his parents had no clue what had happened. On their way out, Shivam told his parents that he had forgotten something inside the store and rushed back in after giving his excuse. He quickly picked up the little Lego box, took it to the cashier and stood in line for payment. 
As he stood there, he heard a little boy crying loudly. The little boy’s parents were trying to console him, but he kept crying. The cashier went over to the little boy and asked him what was wrong. The little boy told the cashier that he had saved Rs 500 over the year to be able to buy a toy today but he had lost the note. Now the little boy wouldn’t be able to buy the gift that he had saved money all year to buy.

Hearing this story, Shivam felt very guilty. He had parents who were willing to buy him anything he wanted. Moreover, he already had his birthday gift. Because of his greediness, he was about to deprive this little boy of his gift. Shivam quickly put the Lego box back on its shelf. He walked over to the crying boy, handed over the money and informed them that he had found the money fallen on the ground.

By this time, Shivam’s parents had come looking for him. They witnessed this entire incident. Not only were the little boy’s parents grateful to Shivam for saving their day, but Shivam’s parents were also proud of their son.

It was only later that Shivam told his parents the truth about the money and the little boy. His parents told Shivam that he had done the right thing by returning the money to the little boy. That evening during his birthday party, Shivam got one more gift from his parents. They gifted him the small Lego set he chose not to buy as a reward for his honesty.
Published in Balvihar, January 2017 edition

RIP

I feel guilty about crying for her.

I didn’t know her that well when she was alive, and  I probably wouldn’t miss her that much now that she was gone.

But I cried.

I knew people who would miss her much, much more. People who would actually feel her loss deeply. They deserved to shed their tears for her because their feelings and memories were more genuine than mine were. I didn’t really deserve to  cry. But I did.

I guess I could try to explain why I cried. It’s not very difficult actually. I cried because Shreeyal deserved tears.

There are some people you can hate for no reason, and there are some people you like for no reason. We never grew close but we had our moments. I honestly cannot remember one memory of her being mean or cranky or throwing a tantrum or being demanding. She was good and the world is now short of a good soul. And God knows, we need more good souls in the world. Good souls like her only leave the world a better place than they found it. They touch the lives of all the people they met.

I also cried because it was scary. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what Death was. I studied Psychology and our textbooks outlined the difference between sadness and grief, the signs and symptoms of Depression and how to work with people who were suspended in perpetual sadness. I’d read morbid books and watched tragic movies and shows were a character dies. I’d cried rivers for them. But while I’d felt sad there, or understood sadness theoretically, what I felt now was a new combination of emotions. I felt sad, and I felt scared. A person I knew was dead doing something I (and many of my friends) did. Not frequently, but at some point or the other nevertheless. She died because she was traveling in her car with her friends at a high speed. Everyone does that at some point. And that’s what scary. She died doing something mundane. Something no teenager thinks twice about doing. A living, kicking, thriving soul vanished into nothingness doing something you or I would do. It was scary.

It was scary how her friends and family and everyone that knew her just woke up one fine day to hear that she was no more. It was like a tiny drop of information that was dropped into the otherwise still lives of people, then forming ripples of change and imbalance into the ocean of people that surrounded her. Not physically, but mentally or emotionally. The wave that ripple caused was ginormous. Imagine the number of calls that were made, the tears that were shed, the ‘you’ll be okays’ that were told and the memories that were relived. Then imagine the innumerable times that her friends and family will meet in the future. The laughs they will share with a pang of sadness, the memories they will make with a hint of tears and the nights they will live with a twinge of nostalgia. The hole that won’t be filled because no other person can fill that Shreeyal – sized hole.

Its scary.

And so I cried my heart out for Shreeyal before getting my shit together and calling the people who also would need to cry their hearts out.

The Girl, the Mother and the Wardrobe

‘The toy seller had… a most mysterious and fascinating bag, one in which no one but the toy seller was allowed to look’, Somi and Rusty, friends in small places, Ruskin Bond.

There’s nothing truly fabulous about this specific sentence by Mr Bond, as compared to other fabulous things he has written. Except that it struck a chord within me. I immediately paused my reading, took out my green Camlin 3B pencil and scribbled a pair of brackets to enclose this statement. It’s a habit despised by most (including myself, only 3 years ago) but explaining why I grew into this habit would take two whole pages.

My family and I had lived in many houses, but we had our own house when my sister arrived in this world and that’s the house we grew up in – all four of us – for 12 solid years. I remember all t he reformations the house had gone through over the years, but the one thing that never changed was our mother’s cupboard.

My parent’s shared everything, except their cupboard. It encompassed of an entire wall in their bedroom and was equally divided into three vertical compartments – one for papa and two for m umma. This 2:1 ratio automatically gave mumma some sort of advantage and a foreboding air. The only person allowed to open the cupboard and rummage through it was mumma. She was the only one with keys to access it (not even papa) and I only ever sneaked a peek – that too with one door shut and one partially open.

The keys that hung from the cupboard’s key hole weren’t just meant for opening locks. The number of keys on one humongous key ring was so remarkable that if we lived in England in the middle ages, my mother could’ve been named ‘Master (or Mistress) of Keys and Cupboards of the Castle’. The real purpose that the innumerable keys held was to warn everyone – even Mrs Kapoor on the third floor (we lived on the sixth) – that the cupboard was being opened. As a result, I didn’t dare sneak into her room and open the cupboard while she was napping or in another room out of fear that the jangling keys would give me away. So the door remained closed, I remained out of it and mumma the only one with access to it.

When I grew old enough to watch the Chronicles of Narnia, I compared my mother’s cupboard to the one in ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ – a doorway to something magical. Turns out, it was exactly that. Anyone from an Indian middle class family would assume that the gold was to blame. All Indian women have gold that they keep hidden or locked away, but not in our case. All the valuable things were at the bank, but that did not mean the cupboard was devoid of treasures – the very opposite to be very true. That cupboard was a treasure trove, as I learned once I grew up and was deemed old enough to hold my tongue and temptations.

It held the following list of items:
1)  Chocolates – Toblerones, Kisses, Ferrero Rochers, Mars, Snickers, Lindt, Milky Way, Kinder joy, Milka bars, and so on and so forth.
2)  Gifts- received on birthdays and repacked to give others
3)  Spare stationary, utensils and buttons
4)  New clothes
5)  Boxes of cookies that actually stored needles and threads
6)  Fancy wrapping paper and used folded wrapping paper
7)  Fancy paper bags
8)  Old broken jewellery
9)  Photo albums and spare passport size photographs
10)  Safety pins
So you see, while there were the most ordinary things in there (or the most extraordinary, depending on how you see it), the cupboard was mysterious only because ‘no one but the toy seller was allowed to look’.

By Vedanti Shinde,
Published in Know Your Town Volume 1 Issue 6

My Superhero

We hear so many stories in our childhood, and my childhood stories have been full of legendary figures like Lord Krishna, Lord Ram and Shivaji Maharaj. I was always in awe of these people, who achieved such inhuman tasks, and yet were mortals just like us. But no one, NO ONE, can be my superhero more than him. He’s the only only who could awe me, support me, lift me, give my life purpose. The only person who could motivate me to be a better person. Even as a child, it was him I wanted to impress; his appreciations that I seeked.
I remember this one day when I had to choose between him and Shivaji Maharaj as my icon. I was as small as three yrs old and was on a trek with my parents. I reached the top of the trek only because everyone told me I could meet Shivaji on the top. Little did my little self know that he had actually passed away decades ago. I gave up all hope of ever seeing Shivaji, until I saw him sitting there. He lifted me on his shoulders, carried me to the fort, and told me about how bravely Shivaji had died. And I found my Shivaji – my dad.
He has literally saved me from wolves and cobras that we encountered during our treks. He picked me up while carrying a fifteen kg rucksack when I was about to pass out.
But the reason he is my Shivaji is because of his own horrible mountaineering accident. On a rock climbing accident, two of his friends and him almost reached the pinnacle before the rope gave away and they fell metres to the ground. One died on the spot, one got a broke shoulder and my dad’s knee tore away from his leg. Having no other option, and leaving his dead friend’s body, he pulled himself and his friend through for hours, dragging his torn leg along, before he collapsed on the side of a road. He woke up on a hospital bed in Jaslok hospital. And months after he recovered, he said he wouldn’t resume normal life till he went back to the cliff, climbed it again, stood on top of the pinnacle and came back down safe. He did that. He did it. And then resumed normal life.
Years after this, he runs multiple marathons in a year. He has trained me all my athletics years, and would race me 100mts. He took me trekking every year. He travels the world. He is the one who encouraged me to do my basic mountaineering course, and finish it successfully. He is the reason I push myself harder and harder every time. He’s the reason why I will always look at nature and smile. He’s the reason I expect more out of myself. He is my reason for everything. He’s my dad, and he’s my superhero. He will always be my superhero.

(This is a piece I had written for the college magazine in 2015. Themes- Childhood and Superheroes)

Relativity

Time, you ask me,

And I wonder what to answer you.

Time is relative, isn’t it?

And I don’t mean by physics,

Although I guess I’d know some of that too;

What with space-time relativity

And all those sci-fi shows I watch.

But Time is relative, isn’t it?

It could mean distance

If you ask me how much further you have to go.

Then again, it could be a moment,

Or a lifetime.

Totally depends on how far you want to go.

But I answer-

Bas panch minute, vo aage waale junction pe rokk dena

But Time.

Time is relative, isn’t it?

It could be the 8 PM curfew by a phone ring

Or an 8 am lecture by a bell ring.

What time are you asking?

And what answer do you expect?

Must I say- it’s time to wake up

Or that it’s time to sleep?

Should I say-

It’s the era of British rule?

Or the dawn of Marathas?

Or some other Time

That this time in history will be named,

Which I don’t know the name of

Because enough time hasn’t passed yet

To name it anything remarkable.

Perhaps I should say-

It’s time you got married,

It’s time you grew up,

Or maybe, it’s time you gave up.

I read once in a Harry Potter book

That a wizard’s house had a clock

With no numbers.

It didn’t tell you what time it was,

But told you instead if it was time to sleep or eat or play

Or if you were late.

Life would be easier

If time were defined that way,

Just as it was back when time really was defined that way.

But Time.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

What must I tell you now when you ask me what Time it is?

I guess I must ask you to tell me

The context

In which you ask

Because Time,

It’s relative, isn’t it?

Clash of Egos

We Indians are supposed to be known for our tolerance. We tolerate religions, politics, price hikes, local train rush and traffic. But something we can’t tolerate is someone even slightly implying that we are wrong; even if we are. We take right and wrong, and the accusation of the same very personally. Sab kuch ijjat pe aata hai! We would sooner say Sachin Tendulkar is NOT the god of cricket than admit that we are wrong or we made a mistake.

The area surrounding a bank in Naupada (that should not be named) is very congested. Bikes and carts and people occupy the entire area, leaving no possible parking space for cars. Yet, on a Monday afternoon, a man parked his car there keeping in mind that it might be a possible hindrance to many people. So he kept one eye on the car while going about his bank work, in case he needed to move the car for someone. After a few minutes, a young guy in his twenties walked in and asked very loudly who had parked the car on the road, followed by a request to move it. The owner walked toward him, but before he could say anything, a bank employee asked out loud- ‘Who do you think you are, walking in like that and demanding something from our customers?’ Before matters got worse, the owner interrupted, accompanied the young man outside, moved his car and thanked him for bringing this to his notice.

The owner of the car went back into the bank where the bank manager had now come out and was apologizing for the scene created. He confided that the young man often did this. ‘Who does he think he is to tell us anything?’ he asked. The owner of the car looked stumped and replied- ‘I’m sorry, but he was a responsible citizen of the country who thought it his duty to inform the owner that his car was a hindrance to many more people who accessed the road. As a responsible citizen, it is my duty to move my car if more people are benefitted by that. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was doing his duty, and he helped me do mine.’

The young man was just doing his duty to the society through a simple act. Why do we take that personally, instead of accepting that we may be wrong and taking a step to make it right? Since when does a small selfless act clash with egos of those who do nothing for the society?

Sangharsh: My Childhood Superhero

Here’s something I wrote…

Source: Sangharsh: My Childhood Superhero

The Quest for the Sanitary Pad

Dark and Stormy Nights are Banned Here

You all know that feeling of being in a classroom, being on your period and needing a pad, right? And you all know what you do in that situation too. You start whispering to the girl closest to you and she gives you a sympathetic look and starts whispering to the next girl and this goes on until the whispering chain reaches a girl who has a spare pad.

Then you stroll casually, nothing to see here, until you get to her and she tells you what kind of pad she has and asks if that’s okay. You tell her that of course it’s okay, you just need a pad, any pad. So then you shift a bit to the left and she shifts a bit to the right so her bag is covered. She reaches in and pulls out the pad, and gives it to you concealed under a…

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