Coz you see best when your eyes are closed.

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Aadrika – Trapped in the open

She looked around her. She was trapped in a cramped room with walls almost in her face. She could barely move around the room leave alone attempt to flee. She looked up in despair, only to be met with a ceiling so low that it looked like it needed her support to stay up. Her heartbeat quickened as she realised she was breathing heavy. Her chest visibly rose and fell as her lungs tried to take in the air they needed. Panting, she sat down on a tiny bed, the sole piece of furniture in the room, the only thing she could see in the room other than the walls. She didnt know how long it would be before someone let her out of here. She didnt even know if she would make it alive. She surrendered to the situation, not fighting with it. She just wanted it to end. She just wanted to hang in there till someone took her out of this.


“I have to open this window. There is someone trapped inside. This seems the quickest way to save her. If only the window would budge. It’s jammed. I could break the glass but she could get hurt by the shards. Shucks, this is not a room, it is literally a cell. As if it was intended for confinement. Let me push this lever harder. Open damn it, open. I have been doing this for an hour now. Is there some other way to get her out? God, I need a break.”


She felt dizzy. As if the blood had stopped feeding her brain. She gingerly lay down on the bed, afraid of hurting herself. She knew she had to save every ounce of her energy from now on. She couldnt waste it all away. Eventually, someone would save her. But she needed to keep herself alive till then. Her eyes began to close. She sensed it and began talking to herself. That was the only way to feel alive, to stay alive. But, what was she to tell herself? She tried wording her situation in an attempt to keep her rooted in reality. She felt limp. Powerless. Helpless. She wondered what her life had come to.


“Poor girl. Must be struggling in there. How claustrophobic it would feel to be inside such a room. How long can humans survive in such situations? Freak, what am I talking. She doesnt need my sympathy. Or my analysis. She needs my practical help. I have to get up now and give it one more try. Budge you stupid window. You can act all stubborn, but I am worse. If you think I’ll give up easily, you are mistaken. I am going to save her, come what. And you shall see. Ha. Take this. And this. I can do this all day. You have to give way sometime.”


She began slipping into the cloudlike world of confusion and peace. She wondered if this is why people thought those who died went to the sky. She did feel like she was flying. She was nearing the end of her reserves. She didnt bother fighting now. All she wanted was to die. Therein lay peace, therein lay no pain. It was as much an acceptance as expectance. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she kept a tiny flicker of hope alive. Just maybe someone would save her now and she could still make it. If not then death was still beautiful.


“I am exhausted now. Is this window going to open? Maybe I was wrong to put all my energy onto the window lever. Maybe I could have broken down the wall. No, she would have got buried under the bricks. Hell, why am I wasting my energy thinking. I have come this far. The lever has moved half way. Just a little more and I will get past this rusted part. Come on. Come on. I cant give up when I am this close. Cant give up now. Focus. Aaaargh.. Aaaaaaahhh..”


She felt a cool breeze of air hit her face. It shocked her for a second. She had been willing this to happen for so long that her mind refused to understand whether this was her wish or for real. As fresh air began to seep in slowly into the damp, stagnant room, she began to see clearer. This was for real. She could feel this air, even touch it. She felt like collapsing on the bed out of relief. The wait was over. With great difficulty she mustered the strength to walk upto the window and crawl out of it. A blast of fresh air hit her, almost knocking her off. She laughed as tears sprung to her eyes.


“Phew. That was some challenge. A close shave. She looks like she wouldnt have lasted another second. Am so glad she is ok. I didnt realise she was depending so much on me. There was no one around. I would have been consumed in guilt had I been unable to save her. Feels proud to see her on her feet, safe and alive. She needs to rebuild herself. She is pretty shaken up. But am sure someone of her calibre can pull that off easily. Must have been tough to keep the hope alive in there. If I had shown half the determination she did, maybe I could have cracked the lever earlier. I wonder if I could have tried some other means of saving her, something that would’ve worked sooner, so that she didnt have to suffer for so long. Well, I did manage to save her in the end. And she hung in there till then. Thats all that matters. My job’s done. Time to move on.”


She made baby attempts to look at the sky above. The brightness of the day excited her, but hurt her eyes that had become accustomed to the close-walled darkness. She stepped out of that comfort zone and pushed herself to enjoy the day. She thought of the person who had rescued her. She wanted to imbibe the same zeal, the carefree attitude, the confidence to take things on and win over them. She had to shed the habit of inhaling measuredly, of saving her energy. The ordeal was over. It was time to breathe freely again, to enjoy life again. A life saved was a life lived twice.


Aadrika walked up the hill to the small cottage atop it. A blend of elegance and strength, Aadrika looked like a mountain tree, with delicate sensitive branches and firm determined roots, with green succulent leaves and a dry weather-hardened trunk, divine in her form of kissing the sky and speaking to the Lord above. She had undertaken this arduous journey to revisit the small room beside the cottage. She had once got trapped in this room. Caught unaware, she had initially got scared. The scare had then transcended into resilience and then faith. Her hands delicately ran on the window sill before deciding to touch the lever on the window. She slowly turned it, surprised at how easily it turned. She pushed it open and stood on her toes to peep into the room, careful not to fall inside. “How did the lever turn so smoothly? Last time around, it was so rusted and jammed that I had to whack it over and over again. Took all the strength I had to wrench it open. Did someone oil it now? Or has it loosened since?”, she wondered. She looked at the lever and smiled to herself, proud of not giving up till the stubborn lever gave way. She could have never come out of the room had she not opened the window. “How long did I last in there?” she tried to recall. Her fingers left the lever and held onto the sill as she took a good look inside the room. What met her eyes shocked her. She was nearly face to face with the opposite wall. Adventurously she reached out to see if she could touch the other side. Her hand had only just come upto her chest level when it refused to stretch out. This was scary. “How could anyone stay here for so long. Did I really do that? Somehow it didnt seem so gory back then. But now that I am standing out here, it hurts my senses to imagine the torture”. She shut the window and turned her back to it. Maybe she had spent days in there, but now she couldnt stand it even for a minute. Not because she had gone through it, but because she now saw someone else going through it. It was this very sensitivity that had motivated her to save herself, to push the lever with all her might. But now that she wasnt the victim anymore, it hurt her bad to visualise someone sufferring. With her back to the window, her hand still lingered on the lever for a while longer. She recalled the inspiration, the will it had taken to move it then. The very thought of that strain scared her now. She felt pained to imagine the torment she must have suffered through, how close her body must have been to giving up. She shuddered and let go of the lever. Several moments passed as she stood still. With a sudden surge, she turned and smashed her hand into the glass. The window shattered into the room, little glass pieces scattering helplessly, suffocating before falling motionless. Aadrika looked at her hand. A tiny shard had pricked her on the side of her palm. She felt the sting as she pulled it out. Blood began to ooze in a valiant attempt to recreate the pain she had gone through then. She threw the shard on the ground outside the room and walked away. A walk filled with a deep-set rage at the agony she was unaware she had endured and a vow to not let anyone go through it again. The shards in the room lay dead as if in remembrance of those who got trapped inside. And the one shard with her blood at its tip lay orphaned in the open.


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Until the Next Rain

It had been a rainy day. The weather was cooler now with a light breeze blowing. Ajay walked out to his courtyard followed by Gaurav. It was one of those lazy weekends that had been further spoiled by Ajay’s mother with a sumptuous lunch for the boys. Ajay cleared an area of water and stretched out on the concrete. Gaurav plopped down on the garden chair with a burp. “It was awesome food buddy. Heavenly,” said Gaurav, with the early signs of a post lunch nap beginning to appear in his eyes. Ajay gave a half smile, knowing Gaurav was not looking for a response. He began to gaze around slowly, relishing the newness that the rain had brought. Everything had been freshly bathed and cleaned. The leaves on the trees looked like little kids whose parents had forcibly bathed them. After attempting to gently coax them into bathing, when they still went back to sleep with childlike adamance, Mother Nature abruptly began to rain a vigorous stream of water on them, jolting them to alertness and getting them bathed. The leaves were now clean, fresh and energetic. He smiled to himself and began to gaze away as if allowing the little leaves their space to play and enjoy. He looked at the buildings of the society, the strong walled structures that asked us to stay inside, almost always convincing us of the merits of a claustrophobic security as opposed to a threatening freedom. He recalled how dull they had looked the previous day, worn down by the sun through the summer, dusty, hardened, indifferent, detached. Even though the rains had discoloured the walls in patches, he found them more alive now. As if they too had a heart, as if they too enjoyed rains, as if they too sensed happiness.

Gaurav, slouched on the chair, opened his eyes a crack to see what Ajay was doing. There is a duration of silence that men maintain in order to not sound too eager to chat, in order to sound substantial and in control, in order to not sound like women. The period of silence had gone beyond that limit and ventured into thoughtfulness, invariably interpreted by men as worry. “You ok?” Gaurav asked. Seeing Ajay lost in his thoughts, Gaurav opened his eyes wide to scour the area. Concern had now become curiosity. His eyes scanned the surroundings till he spotted a young lady in a courtyard in the opposite complex. An instant smile lit up his face, the prospect of teasing his friend making the afternoon complete for him. He nudged Ajay. “You can stop smiling and go and talk to her,” he said. “Huh?” Ajay replied, disoriented from his thoughts. It took him a second to notice the teasing glint in his friend’s eyes. He swiftly turned in the direction he had been looking at earlier and spotted the woman. He turned back to Gaurav with an irritated look. “You know you look more intelligent asleep?” he said. “Yes, my friend. I know you would like me asleep now,” Gaurav replied with a grin, geared up for making most of this opportunity to pull Ajay’s leg. “She does look pretty,” Gaurav continued, scanning the target. “A simple cotton kurti with chudidhar. Neither too ethnic, nor too trendy. A pair of simple yet attractive earrings. Smart body language. Looks like a no nonsense kind. I think she is just your type. Hey, really, yes man. She fits perfectly,” he said, excited that the prelimnary assessment had turned in favour of her.

Ajay left Gaurav to do his own analysis. A beautiful evening of raw natural beauty was making its way and he had no intention of adding masala to it. He tried to go back to his earlier stream of thoughts. As his mind fumbled to pick up the thread, his eyes darted a quick glance in the direction of the lady. There was something weird in what she was doing. She wasn’t lounging around in her courtyard. In fact, she was standing at the gate of her house, her fingers tightly clasped around the bars of the gate. He had initially thought she had come out to see the rain drenched greenery. But, she was too alert for that. Her eyes were far too open and her back far too straight for her to be soaking in the beauty of nature. “Did she have a fight? Is she standing outside to cool off?” he thought to himself. He looked at her face intently. There was no sign of anger or aggression. In fact, her face was serene.

An uncomfortable restlessness began to build up in Ajay as he searched for an answer. Unable to curtail it, he asked Gaurav, “Why do you think she is standing at the gate?” “Hmm… She is standing at the gate? Must be waiting for someone then,” Gaurav replied with his back reclined and eyes shut. Ajay shook his head. “Can you at least look at the scene before commenting on it? Such arrogance man!” he said. Gaurav opened his eyes, yawned and sat up. “It is not arrogance. It is experience,” he said. “I know how these women function. They have a fight and the man walks out. She stands at the gate and waits for him. It is some special occasion, she will wait for him. As if waiting will make him remember to come. Such girls will barely take any practical measures to correct the situation. They will do crazy torturous stuff and pretend to be helpless to do anything else. Why doesn’t she just call him or check out the places where he could be instead of standing here like a statue.” Ajay mulled over what Gaurav had just said. He looked at her face again. There was no anxiety in her eyes. Neither was there helplessness. There was a deep set to her eyes. A sense of determination. A sign of strength. But, yes, there was wait. Her eyes had a fond longing in them. They were focussed on a pebble on the road. She wasn’t looking at a distant tree and dreaming. She was looking at a nearby pebble with focused thoughts.

His eyes wandered once again to her fingers. “She doesn’t look like one to pretend Gaurav. Neither is she weak. Look at her hands. They are holding onto the gate purposefully. She isn’t leaning on it, or even holding on to it for support. It’s more like she is holding the bars up,” he said. “Oh ok,” Gaurav responded. “Then it is curbed-at-home syndrome. She wants to be free but her family isn’t letting her be. She stands at the gate and wishes she could go out. But after having wished and dreamt and lamented, she will go back dutifully and stick to the restrictions imposed on her by the family and the society.” “So, she isn’t waiting for someone to come in. She is waiting for an opportunity to go out, is it?” Ajay asked. This seemed to make better sense. “Yup,” Gaurav replied, eager to shift to a more interesting topic than sad and gloomy girls who seemed to be doing nothing with their lives. He picked up a wet fallen leaf from his chair, wiped it off a few drops and dismissively threw it aside. Ajay felt better. “Yes, she wants to go out,” he thought to himself. “She wants to be free. Lack of freedom is probably the worst punishment one can give another human. Poor girl. How much she must wish she could do whatever she felt like. Be with people she liked, go to places she wanted to, live life her own way. Wish I could do something for her. Feel sad,” he thought, the last line coming out aloud from him. “Sad? Huh?” asked Gaurav. Ajay turned to him with a smile. “Nothing. We are lucky buddy,” he said. “This I agree with. Awesome life I have,” said Gaurav, raising his arms in the air and stretching out lazily on the chair. Ajay’s smile widened. “Trust Gaurav to live a life fully and enjoy every moment of it. Eating, sleeping, travelling, bungee, drinking… There isn’t a single thing which Gaurav has wished to do in life but hasn’t gone forth with. He is a source of motivation for the people around,” thought Ajay. “You never have a dull day, do you?” he asked. “I do,” replied Gaurav with a humble nod. “But, I don’t worry. Worry is for those who don’t have the courage to use their freedom.” Ajay nodded, more so looking at the girl than appreciating Gaurav’s quote. “Well, I don’t think am going to have a nap today. Tea?” asked Gaurav. “Yes, lets go in. Let me show you some pics I took in LA while the tea gets ready,” said Ajay.

As they got up to leave, a movement caught Ajay’s attention. A small kitten had got caught in the bush it was hiding in to save itself from the heavy rain. It had probably slept off but it was only now that it had realised the rain had stopped. The lady saw the kitten unable to entangle itself. Her hands confidently left the bars of the gate and pushed the latch open. She then opened the gate comfortably wide and walked out. She crossed the lane onto the other side and went over to the kitten. With delicate hands which knew where the kitten’s legs were in a knot, she methodically untwined the twigs. Within a few seconds, the kitten gave a squeal and trotted off. Ajay thought he caught a glimpse of her smiling then, but he wasn’t sure. She turned back, retraced the path she had taken and went back to her house. She closed the gate with the same decisiveness with which she had opened it. Her hand didn’t waver, didn’t linger. Ajay realised she was neither scared nor longing to be free. “Then…?”, he wondered. After she had firmly put the latch back in place, she gripped the bars once again and stared at the lane. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Slowly she opened them back and turned around to go back into her house. As she walked down the courtyard to the door of her house, she turned once to look at the lane. There wasn’t a dream in her eyes, but a promise. As if she was reminding herself of a pending goal. A task that had to be done. Maybe now wasn’t a good time to stroll in the lane. To roam around basking in the beauty of nature. But, these were things she would love to do later. And there in her eyes was the promise that the later would indeed come. “It isn’t that she cannot open the gate. Or she isn’t allowed to open it. She very well can. I just saw it. But she has chosen not to. She has wilfully latched the gate and gone back in. She has opted to do so. Isn’t this freedom?” thought Ajay. “Latches are not always a restraint. Wonder why I thought she was caught inside. Latches are, at times, a symbol of freedom – a freedom of choice, a freedom of not being dominated by our urges, a freedom to live life our way, a freedom to be free from the confines of ‘me’,” he realised. Ajay imagined the courage it would take to close an open gate and wait patiently for a suitable time to open it again. One had to be free from the fear of death to have faith for such a time to come in the future. He walked into his house with an imprint of a little girl excitedly waiting for the clock to strike midnight so she could open her birthday present. A blurred image of his mother, tired from an incomplete nap, doggedly serving Gaurav tea and snacks, crossed before his eyes. Ajay didn’t notice them as he silently willed the clock to strike 12. He imagined the smile on the girl’s face even as he heard Gaurav munching on the cookies saying “This is life!”