In this city hot and cold

In this city hot and cold,

live many a young and old;

some doomed to everlasting misery,

yet some do strike gold.

I see some houses crumbling,

their dwellers have no choice;

yet passing these houses by are,

cars costing a house and twice.

And so, in this city, lovers abound,

some of them even in love;

yet there are hearts as hard as

can smother to death a dove.

Here live dogs birthed in colder terrains,

their masters do them adore;

and yet eat cows garbage,

their stomachs swollen and sore.

Natives do love the smell of this city,

and yet no end to migration from here;

Tourists too come to probe this city,

yet some do flee in fear.

Here live ardent believers in God,

yet in their houses rebel;

their loving sons and daughters who,

they believe were taught so well.

Here live the high and the mighty,

who make the law a trade;

and also languish in prison those,

whose crimes still lie in wait.

Why wonder what it is,

this city so hot and at once so cold;

here live so many stories,

some new and yet many so old.

The case for speaking out

There are two kinds of people, of course. The funny thing about the ‘two-kind’ theory is that it applies to every situation. Let’s take my situation now: a man in his 20’s raised in a deeply religious, ultra-conservative culture, coming to terms with a completely new way of life — atheism. What does one do in such a situation? Two kinds of people. I forget the particulars, but I learnt of someone who kept praying because he didn’t have the heart to tell his mother that he has lost belief in God. So, he lied. He pretended. So, should I?

When you choose to do that, I believe, you are taking the easy way out in the name of moral values. ‘I cannot hurt the people I love’ is, to me, a mask to hide the real sentiment: ‘I do not have the courage to speak out’. How will I, the person worries, how will I explain to my loved ones what I went through, what I have learnt, what I have realised, what has changed in me? That I am not the same person anymore and yet have not changed entirely? That I love you all the same but that I cannot accept your ideas, your beliefs anymore? That I now disbelieve in everything you stand for? That you can never agree with what I endorse now?

The other kind of person does this. Calls the spade a spade, even though he used to carry the spade around in his upper pocket earlier. And this isn’t easy either. One, you have to deal with the hurt you thus cause to your loved ones. The friends you lose. The loves you let go. I forget the details again here, but I also read about a young Muslim wife who asked for divorce from her now-atheist husband, because she couldn’t understand him or accept his beliefs now, even though the two had married out of love when they were both believers. This isn’t the easy route to take, this speaking out way of dealing with your changed conscience. In conservative societies such as ours, then, there is also the added pressure of keeping shut, lest the gun- or knife-wielding mobs find you and silence yet another voice.

What do you do?

I believe you cannot make a conscious choice in this matter. ‘Here now, let me weigh the pros and cons, measure the weight of the ethics involved, and then decide whether to hide my atheism from my family and friends or not.’ As much as we would like to think that it should be this simple, it is not. Far from that, in fact. You do what you are impelled to do. By your own nature, your innate character, your temperament, personality, call it what you like. In a sticky situation like this, you do what you ‘feel’ is right. This ‘feeling’ is independent of logic. It is indifferent to the world’s ideas of right and wrong. It is like the urge to eat — it is not a conscious choice; your body tells you that you must eat now. Similarly, your mind, heart, gut feeling, whatsoever it is that drives your decisions, tells you that you must do this. To some people, their inner voice tells them to carry on behaving as if nothing has changed. To others, it demands an open conversation. ‘Why not tell them what you feel? Why hide under the blankets of hypocrisy? Why behave as if you are not disturbed by their faith and their ardent practice of it?’

Why?

I choose to speak out for the larger good, I told somebody who laughed it off. Perfectly understandable, this scoffing. What larger good? You’re not going to change the world, now, are you? You’re not as pretentious as to believe that you can make a difference? But, the man who speaks out derives his satisfaction from the hope that he is making sense to a few, somewhere, somehow, and thus, by sharing his new beliefs and by being transparent about the demise of his faith in the religion he was raised in, he contributes, in some small way, to the cause of helping those who are still pretending. Those who are afraid of speaking out. Those who feel abnormal upon losing their faith. Feel dejected by their families, friends and loved ones because they stopped going to the mosque, temple or church. It is a holding of hand, in a world large but connected. A world in which one hand stretching out has the potential to change, in small moments of shared learning, the whole world. All great changes have come about because a small minority of people chose to speak out even when the large majority chose to remain silent. It is this potential to affect change for which those speaking out get threatened and, sometimes, killed.

I have been told recently, of course by somebody I love dearly, that it’s almost acceptable for me to disbelieve but not to speak about it. That if I live as an atheist, I have, in Islam, a chance of salvation. Slim, but some chance. If I speak out though, I qualify for the grand, ultimate punishment of being sent to the gallows. That it is okay, even right and necessary, to kill me (and anybody else) because I am speaking out. The justification given by Islam, or by those who practice it and seek counsel from several scholars of great learning, is that a man like me, who speaks out, is polluting the society. ‘What if everybody starts to think like you, then? It is hence necessary, after giving the benefit of warning, to put to death the man who speaks out against Islam.’

It is for this reason that I choose to speak out, and will continue to do so.

Modi

The Prime Minister, his promises, and his unpromising silence

There is a tug-of-war on the internet. Cheerleaders of the nationalist right wing parties are still cheering their leadership. Naysayers, or the liberal-minded, who never got along with the ruling dispensation, are pointing out how the BJP at the Centre is failing in keeping the very promises that helped it acquire a sweeping majority in the Parliament. And, among the many ongoing arguments between the supporters of the two contradicting ideologies, perhaps the loudest is that of nationalism. The BJP has espoused, openly, a hyper, chest-thumping form of nationalism. While the press is largely silent on these matters, Twitter serves as a bank for anybody interested in pulling out the salvos the BJP leaders used to fire at the Congress-led UPA government at every step it failed to make the nation proud. The matter of ‘teaching Pakistan a lesson’ was among the hottest ones, prior to the 2014 general elections. Tweets from 2013 show Mr Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders such as Amit Shah mocking the previous government for not retaliating to Pakistan’s cross-border aggression. Perhaps as a way of showing that Pakistan is not afraid of Modi’s India, the neighbour has become ever-more hostile and aggressive, going to the extent of mutilating bodies of Indian soldiers time and again.

The answer by the Centre that the Army is capable of retaliation and will do whatever is required whenever it deems fit, is the very argument the BJP leaders used to scoff at, when they were in opposition. Now, as they control the levers of State dynamics, they seem to have become just as cautious as their predecessors in the Parliament, if not more. The only difference is that the ones leading the nation today are louder than the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi leadership of the decade gone by. That, however, does not make up for the losses India is being subjected to, at the hands of other countries and of economic realities such as the increasing price of the dollar, the growing influence of China on world market, Trump’s shrewd give-and-take-equally campaign, and the failure of the education sector in adapting to new tech-driven markets.

There is also the matter of Afghanistan. Mr Modi has, for the most part, shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with world leaders, and he is prolific in his foreign diplomatic tours. How has that translated into policy-making? Are we any clearer on how to deal with Pakistan’s dirty cross-border tricks or Taliban’s growing resurgence in Afghanistan? What are we doing to ensure that India does not become isolated in its own territory of land and sea, keeping in mind the Silk Road project that promises great bonding between China and Pakistan, and the growing tensions in the South China Sea? What is our policy on Arunanchal Pradesh and Tibet anyway? How are we going to end the impasse that China insists on benefiting from?

The same kind of probing applies to Kashmir. Revocation of Article 370, which gives some autonomy to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, was one of the main agendas that BJP leaders such as Amit Shah and Narendra Modi used for canvassing. This May, the BJP completes three years in power at the Centre. Apart from flexing its muscles and growing in its influence across the country, how has the BJP kept its promises? The crisis in Kashmir is deepening, and Mr Modi hasn’t made his stand on the State clear even after J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met him and gave him clear directions on what is required to bring back some stability up there. The Prime Minister has remained as silent as the one he used to habitually mock at. When, and how, will we better the life in Kashmir?

Keeping aside all political inclinations and ideological inclinations, we must, as citizens of a democratic nation, demand clarity on State policies. It is time for Mr Modi and his government to come out with real policies that have the potential to change the country for good. We have had enough of feel-good statements made by those in the corridors of power. The BJP must prove to its voters and haters that it is much better than the ailing Congress party. After all, it is in their agenda to make India Congress-free.

If we must go to war with Pakistan, as was suggested by the BJP’s loud political campaign for the 2014 general election, let us do it, then. What is the wait and the silence about? If we are to weed out terrorism and join the global fight against it, let us start with helping Afghanistan deal with its Taliban malaise — both Afghanistan and the US have asked India to take action here. What about Hafiz Saeed? How far has justice been done in the 26/11 attack case? Also, how many home-grown terror suspects have we detained and charged?

Mr Modi has also promised the world that India will go solar — any progress there? Why not? Trump has now openly called out India along with China for contributing nothing to the global fight against climate change — is that unfair? If we have contributed nothing, somebody or the other was bound to shame us. Policy changes in the US and Australia already have made it tougher for Indians to migrate to these Western nations. And this after Mr Modi jovially shared pleasantries with their leaders. The writing on the wall, in the context of world economy, is glaring — nothing is more important than the interests of one’s own country. More and more countries will follow suit and change policies, affecting adversely the developing and under-developed nations. Are we — taking ‘we’ as collective for a nation led by the democratically-elected BJP — up for fighting the change? Or are we just going to grin and make more promises?

 

 

The Groom’s Waistline

He trembled as he moved his hand to touch her. Sitting on his new bed, wearing new silk nightwear and not a lot of makeup, his bride looked prettier than he ever imagined he could have. He had been dreaming of this moment for about nine years now. Not about having sex. He wasn’t going to have sex on his wedding night anyway. But ever since he turned 19, something changed inside him and he became convinced that he would find everlasting, unconditional love in a marriage, and not in any other relationship. It is going to be an arranged marriage, he had decided, since he believed it would displease his God if he ever fell in love. A big risk, he knew, trusting the choice of his family, but he was prepared for it. Part of his elaborate preparation was a questionnaire, one written down, which he had insisted be given to the bride before he even meets her, so that he gets to know her well and does not make the horrible mistake of marrying someone incompatible with him. He had always feared the heartbreak of a failed marriage, although he had never been in a relationship, let alone a failed one.

He pulled his hand back. He couldn’t do it, he decided. He could not touch a stranger’s face, no matter how softly, and no matter that the stranger is married to him now. He decided to just sit beside her and talk. Show her the wedding photos clicked in his phone by his siblings. That way, he thought, he could ask her what he really, badly, impatiently wanted to ask her – how does he look?

He had been obsessing with the way he looked for many years now. His brother scolded him for asking about a nose job – have you totally lost your wits or what, he had asked. He still was going to go for it, but decided to let his nose be not-so-taut after the surgeon told him it will hurt like hell and could even lead to lasting complications. ‘Your nose is absolutely fine. Why would somebody as good looking as you want any cosmetic operation done?” the doc had asked.

Gym time had been his most gruelling part of the day. The first time he had stepped into the gym, he walked out unsatisfied, calling off his membership within four days of joining the neighbourhood fitness centre. That was different. Back then, he wasn’t happy that his siblings were getting physically fit and strong while he was the butt of all ‘soft skin’ and ‘jelly belly’ jokes. Four days into weightlifting, he had decided it was no fun. It’s not worth the effort, he had said to himself and many others. But this time, when he joined the gym two years before his marriage, he was clear on his goals – look spectacular. “I want to look so good that my wife would never need to look at any other man,” he had told his brother, a wise-ass of a fellow, who laughed him off saying, “women don’t ‘need’ to look at ‘other’ men – they just do.”

“You look nice,” she told him in a voice that could have passed as a whisper. She never wanted to marry a stranger – she didn’t trust men, she was never treated well by them, she thought, but she had to marry because, well, she wanted to be loved after all, but more importantly because her family wouldn’t have it otherwise. Realising that not the whole marriage is in control of her, she had decided she will be her best self, and if the guy happens to like me for that, he will love me, unconditionally. Of this she was uncertain. What if she gets stuck in a loveless marriage? Did she have it in her to ask for divorce? What if she fails to find love any which way, even after securing a divorce from a husband who wouldn’t love her?

“Nice?” he asked her, his tone suggesting he was taken aback by her answer. Nice was an empty word, he thought. Anything could be nice. You say nice when you have to be nice but don’t really mean to be. You don’t think he’s handsome, but you can’t say that to him, so you say he looks nice. A more convincing answer would be specific. You look handsome. You look awesome. You look hot. You look like a million bucks. Or, as his brother had told him after he was all suited up as the groom, much to his chagrin, ‘you look tall’.

“Yes,” she said, now much more nervous but not knowing what else to say. This was the first time she was sitting so close to a man who was not sharing her blood. But, here she was, sitting with a total stranger, in a bed, inside a dim-lit, locked room – the whole thing is so absurd I just cannot understand why we do it, she thought, but we do it anyway. What does he want me to tell him, she wondered, knowing well that he is looking for some kind of approval, but how could she tell him what she really felt? This was only the first time they were together, the other and only time being a pre-marriage group conversation with families of both.

He decided not to pursue the matter, as his brother had advised him. ‘Don’t pester her to talk and open up on the first day itself. Girls take some time to open up, and you must make her feel comfortable. Be patient,’ he had said. Not that his brother was married, but he had been in a long, committed relationship, so he must know well about women, he had presumed. Later, as he did his own ‘research’ on ‘what women want in men’, he realised that his brother knew the heart of only a chunk of women, while there are many who don’t fit the description he makes. He told his brother as much. ‘You don’t know all women. There are many women who are just like me,’ he told him proudly, happily. ‘Maybe,’ his brother answered, ‘but you may have to live many lives to find one like you.’
She felt relieved when he stopped looking at her questioningly, and focused on his tablet-like phone again, telling her about the different people in the pictures, what relationship he has with them, and what their names are, although he admitted to not knowing the names of many of his relatives. Okay, she thought, at least in this matter, he is just like me.

***

“I didn’t know what else to say,” she texted her friend the next day, as her friend chided her for not saying something better.

“You could have said he looks handsome. That would have been a decent start to a long flirting season,” her friend scolded her.

“I don’t know. What if he thinks I am too frank or flirty a girl? I don’t want him to think me a flirt. I am not one,” she texted her friend back.

The two had been friends since school, and now, living in two different countries, both married, their stories couldn’t have been different. She was a shy, timid sort of a girl, while her friend was as in-your-face as it gets. She had told her parents she liked no boy and that they would have to find him one, but he would have to be someone who would respect and love her for who she is, and not expect her to be a ‘normal girl’. How can we know that in advance, that is something you’ll find out only after living with the person, they told her, but she had insisted that they do their homework well. She had devised plans to make sure the guy she’ll marry will be just the kind she wants – somebody sensitive and extremely loving. After all, she was getting married only because she did not want to disappoint her parents by living alone the rest of her life. Otherwise, she had no interest in marrying, neither in men. She thought the male species unintelligent, uncaring and most of all, the major reason for the world’s worries. If the world had more women leaders, it would have been a much better place, she always thought. The only person she resented in her family was her father – all her three siblings were of her gender. As a child, she used to openly complain to her mother that her father didn’t love her. As an adult, she knew better; she only dropped subtle taunts.

“I just don’t care about how men look. It’s the mind inside I’m worried about. Had he asked me what I think about him as a person, I would have tried to start an honest conversation. But he asked me about his looks, and I couldn’t care less about it,” she texted her friend.

“I know that, but how many times do I have to tell you that you must now adapt to what he cares about, and not just be stuck with what you care about,” her friend texted back.

“But, why should I change myself for him? If he cannot love me for who I am, I do not want his love,” she texted, and her friend almost gave up on persuading her.

Lunch was prepared, and her mother-in-law called her. She told her friend she’ll catch up later and hurried off to join her new family for lunch. The night was long and the wedding dinner heavy, so nobody bothered to wake up for breakfast. This would be her first meal in her new house. She prayed she does not come off as too hungry a girl, but her stomach was hurting for want of food by now. One glance at her husband on the dinner table and she could tell that he’s lost in thoughts. Have I married a philosopher kind, she wondered, and hoped that isn’t true. They had told her that he is fun-loving, and not really quiet, but is shy around new people nevertheless. They had said he takes time to make friends, but sticks with his friends for long. Most of his friends are carryovers from school, they had said. ‘They’ were her in-laws. She fervently hoped they weren’t lying. Hoped that he’s as talkative and caring as they told her he is. That he’s not the quiet, reserved and loner kind they said his brother is. She couldn’t take silence for more than a second or two.

He dropped a bit of curry, but that didn’t bother him. He usually dirtied the dinner table, and got chided for it, but it never bothered him much. He had two major worries for now. What if she doesn’t like the way I look? And, what if she doesn’t like the way I love? It never occurred to him that she could also feel annoyed at his not-so-neat way of eating food, his leaving piles of smelly clothes on the bed, his wiping his mouth and hands with new curtains. Whenever he was told that he would disgust his to-be wife by his dirty habits, he would be shocked. ‘What?’ he would ask. ‘Can anybody care about such trivial things? My heart is inside of me, not inside of my cupboard,” he had told his brother when the wretched fellow told him that his wife will run away seeing his mess-of-a-cupboard.

She didn’t notice him drop the curry. If she did, she couldn’t care less. In fact, she wouldn’t even think it is something silly, wrong, impolite or unmannerly. Who cares about manners, she’d always say. It is the heart that matters. How can people be so selfish as to judge others based on their superficial appearance, etiquette, knowledge, qualifications and income? For me, she would always tell her friends and siblings, it’s the person inside that is important – nothing else matters. She would be teased often when she said such things. Her mother once asked, ‘What if he is a sweetheart but poor? Will you marry a man who cannot provide for you?’ The question had annoyed her to no end. ‘Of course, I will!’ she had retorted, clearly anguished, appalled at how her mother could ask a question that suggests such a great measure of selfish materialism. But, the next moment, her mother burst her bubble of anger and disgust, and told her something she would never forget. Something that changed the way she used to think, in a small but significant way. ‘Okay, then. I’ll find a noble-heart mechanic guy for you. I’m sick of hearing your father whine about how every car mechanic is a thief and steals from his car.’

***

Later in the day, he was treated to an intense lecture on manners and ethics by his brother, for his unmannerly lunch, and it instilled a deep fear in him this time. He usually always dismissed such ‘gyaan’ from his brother, or anybody for that matter. This time though, his brother was clearly disturbed, and selflessly so.

“Look, man, do you care about your marriage or not? Why do I think you care only about yourself and how much you want to be loved? Does it not matter what the poor girl thinks or likes? What kind of person would not be grossed out by your show of curry-dropping prowess? Look at me, hah! I am so dirty, I am what I am, love me or not what do I care… Is that all you are capable of, man? Come on! I expect better from you. You must understand that the world does not exist for the sake of your pleasures and that the girl may very well be unlike you and still be a devoted, loving partner if only you don’t put her off from day one! God! I am so pissed at you…”

He argued with his ‘neat’ brother for an hour or so, and tried, vehemently, to deny any significance to his arguments at first, but eventually he was poked too deep that nagging question — what if this idiot is right? He took a deep sigh and gave up.

“Okay, man, I guess you are right. I will try to be more like you. I will pretend to be all neat, clean and organised. If pretending is what it takes, let it be so. But, later, when I have enough money, I am getting a maid to do all the cleaning up for me, okay?”

“We already have a maid. We are only missing good sense here,”

“Screw you and your good sense, man”

A wave of hand. Consul dismissed.

These relatives, I tell you, he told himself. Keeping my wife away from me. What right do they have to come over and take from me this precious time I am supposed to have alone with my wife? And for what? For asking how are you and how do you feel? She’ll feel something if you just leave her alone, duh! And what do they have to justify this untimely intrusion? A box of sweets! How ridiculous!

Now he really was close to a state of panic. Sheer chaos in his mind. She is so lovely, he thought, so careful in the way she moves and talks, so stable, so graceful and elegant. She seems far more mature than me, he thought, and hoped that it was true. And the problem with these ‘mature, sensible’ kind of people is that they usually care a lot about neatness and all that nonsense. Oh, my my my! What would I do? Will I ever be able to behave like my mother, brother? How do they keep so neat? How does it even cross their mind to put the god damned towel back in its place after shower? What is its place anyway? Or, maybe, he thought, the problem is with me and they are normal. Maybe my brain does not have that part that processes such information, you know? Like it just doesn’t see why the dinner table has to be neat and clean, free of all food morsels at all times? It’s the dinner table, woman, not the study table! Aaagghh! What will I do? I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want her to think I am a loser. I am already falling for her, and all I need to know is what she thinks of me, and then I will give her all my love, all of it that I had been stuffing inside for all these years. Wait, would that be too much? God damn it! This love thing is a lot harder than what they show in movies…

He saw her phone on their bed. Ooooh! Her phone! Should I? Of course, I should not. What was I thinking? Hey, she’s my wife now, I can snoop in a little, no? I mean, look, if she wants to see anything, anything in my phone, she can just go ahead okay? So how bad is it if I take a little look? Huh?

Ping. A text message. Who could it be? Ah, it could be anybody. No, I am not going to doubt my wife’s fidelity on day one of our married life. But, hey, I’ll just take a look at her downloads, you know. If she sees all my downloads, I am screwed. But, she’s a girl. She won’t download any porn, now, would she?

Ping. Another text.

Okay, who the hell is it anyway?

There is no lock on the phone. She’s secure enough in her conduct that she does not need to lock her phone, he thinks, impressed. He could never do that, he thinks, ashamed. Okay, WhatsApp. A friend. Female. Asking after her wellbeing. Is everything okay sweetie and all that. None of my friends texted me to ask, he thought, how rude!

And then, he scrolled up, up, and up into his doom.

“I just don’t care about how men look.”

“He asked me about his looks, and I couldn’t care less about it.”

“Why should I change myself for him? If he cannot love me for who I am, I do not want his love.”

And that sinking feeling again…

***

“Can we talk? I think we should talk,” he told her, surprising her a little, as she walked in from a decent meet with her new relatives. Aunts, uncles, new sisters, all of them seem to be caring and sorted people, she thought, I haven’t come across a single person like my father in this family, well, yet.

“Okay.”

“Why did you marry me?”

She sighed a deep sigh after what felt like a lump of air stuck in her throat. She was afraid this man would just ask her this silly question.

“I guess we all have to marry someday.”

He cringed. He had made a list of answers she could give him, and this one he had marked ‘I hope not’.

“That’s a really sad reason to get married. Are you sure you want to spend the rest of your life with me? I mean, you don’t know anything about me!”

Okay, she thought, if he wants a heart-to-heart, he’ll have it. If I say something that offends his sensibilities, well, he asked for it.

“That is not true. I do know you somewhat. I asked my family a thousand questions about you, and in turn they asked your family a thousand questions about you. Whatever I learnt about you, I liked. Otherwise, yours is not the first marriage proposal that came to my door.”

He felt a part of gloom leaving his body in this moment. It was as if he could see some sad little man inside him give up and walk out. So, mine was not the first proposal. She has rejected several, like I have done. She asked a thousand questions about me, like I did about her. So…

“So, you can’t trust new people?”

“God, no! How could anybody possibly do that? Never! Do you?”

He laughed a little at her surprise question, asked so innocently.

“No, me neither.”

“Oh!”

“Well, I don’t think my family would have been that much honest with you about me. I’m sure there are so many terrible things about me that they chose not to tell you. I would like you to know everything about me, though.”

“I think so too. I mean, your family may have been completely honest with mine. But, yes, we should talk about the worst things first.”

As she said this, a small but visible small formed on what he thought was her painfully beautiful face. Painful because he hadn’t touched it yet.

“Yes, right. I’ll go first. Look, I don’t know how to put this across politely, but I’m very dirty. I mean, I bathe every day, but I just can’t put the shoes back in the rack, you know? I make a mess when I eat, as you may have certainly noticed at lunch…”

“What? No, I didn’t notice. But, why would that worry you? I make a mess too. I just cannot understand why the towel can’t be left on the bed after its wet. My sister says it stinks if I do that. I never smell the stink. How does she always smell the stink? Look, I don’t think we need to discuss such trivial matters, you know…”

***

Musings of a honeymooner

The quiet

It is some form of bliss, this resounding silence.

The trees at Chikmagalur are welcoming. They are polite. Serene and quiet, they seem to be wanting to ask questions; “How come you are so late? What kept you from coming here all this while?” They are one family, these thousands of trees. There are fences between them, marking which belong to which coffee planter, but they bear the unmistakable resemblance of family members. If you are quiet enough, you can see, hear and feel them talking. They have a lot to say, it appears. Not many tourists are willing to listen, though. My wife talks, my driver honks. It is a form of injustice, this oppressive disturbance of peace. I want to ask them not to do that. I want to tell them that what they are doing must be hurting the trees – the way you hurt a playful child when you ignore her. I want to tell them that they must be quiet – lest the woods give up being so lovely. But then, I see a long, winding road, steep in its height and furious in its sharp, narrow turns. They are called hairpin turns, and they kill. The driver tells me that a van had fallen off this cliff in 2006 – none survived. And so, we have to do what we have to do, whether or not it is beautiful. Sometimes, it is ugly, and we still have to do it. No honking, no warning. No warning, no brakes. No brakes, no mercy. You die, and not many care. Life moves on. The ghaats will still be driven on, coffee will still be served, the place you work for will keep working, and surely but slowly there will be built a small boundary wall on the site of the accident, to prevent more accidents, if only for a while.

She has to talk, too. A honeymoon, for a newly married couple, is supposed to be the time when they get to know each other. How would they do that without talking? By watching movies together, maybe. I watch a Mani Ratnam movie with my wife, and I’m struck by how much the heroine’s mannerisms reflect those of my wife. She loves the work of Mani Ratnam, and by watching it, I feel that they inspire each other. A character in his movies inspires her, and in turn, some of Mani Ratnam’s characters are inspired by her like. I take her to watch bloody, brooding movies. Watching a movie by Anurag Kashyap with me, does she understand that I am short-tempered, prone to violence, and extremely detached? Because, I wouldn’t tell her all of that. Why would I?

Talking can be a menacing deceit. We talk because we have to, not because we want to. Is there always something to tell? If not, how come we are always talking? And if there is so much to tell, how come we, as people, don’t understand our friends and foes even after years and years of conversations?

But, talk we must. It is a way to tell each other that everything’s fine. Two bodies passing by each other, and not talking, or sitting together, and not having anything to say, convey to each other that, in the moment, there is no need for such proximity between them. Later though, the need to hold hands may be felt.


Humility

I have always dreamed big – bigger than my own understanding of the world. That is a dangerous way to dream. It could get you into much trouble, because you may just realise your dreams. If your dream comes true, you become like the fellow with the extraordinary luck to find treasure. How lucky is that man? All his life he had wanted to find a treasure, and now he has it. But then, he also has the whole world to protect his treasure from, and not many will stand by him in such a war. In fact, those who know him dearly are the first ones to ask him to give up his treasure – it’s too big for you to handle, they tell him.

In my worst days, I would close my eyes and imagine a life of immense luxury. There, in a palace-like abode, I would see myself ordering servants, a dozen or more of them, and hosting friends pompously. I would imagine that when I have it all, I would have much reason to be arrogant, but I would not be so. I would tell myself, eyes closed, that a rich man needs to be grounded to be happy. Arrogance leads to trouble, and trouble takes away peace of mind.

In Chikamagalur, we were welcomed into a wonderful villa by a lady and two men. They were, in fact, waiting at the door. The lady was loud and quick in saying hello, so we paid all attention to her, and not much to the two men who were waiting with her. In any case, they looked like servants, and were humbled by our presence, like only servants are. And hence we spoke to our host lady only and invited her to join us for dinner later. She was cooking for us, and although we were paying for the food and the stay, we could pay for her uncommon warmth only by being nice ourselves. And so, at dinner, she joined us, but she looked uncomfortable, and ate only little with us. We decided that it must be the communication gap between us that made her feel awkward. After all, she couldn’t speak anything except Kannada, and we couldn’t speak that.

The next day brought with it a lesson in humility. We were told, by our very surprised car driver, that the owner of the lovely house and its adjoining 20-acre coffee plant was one of the two men we had mistaken to be servants. When we had reached the place, we had asked our lady host where her husband might be, and she had said that he wasn’t home. This statement of hers was translated to us wrongly. Our car driver had told us that ‘sir’ was out of station. Now, he was unable to contain the excitement of this shocking revelation.

“But, we thought he is a servant. You told us he is a servant. You told us that the owner of the house is out of station,” I screamed.

“Yes, sir, I am surprised myself. It was a misunderstanding. I thought she said he is out of station. She had said that about somebody else that she guessed you were asking about. I had also been taking him for a servant only, sir, and I am so sorry,” replied the driver.

I felt numb in my ears for a while. I tried recalling everything we had been doing in his presence; the way we treated him. The last encounter I had with him was to ask him for a small garbage bin to keep in our room. I was holding some waste tissue papers in my hand and I told him we’d like to dispose of this trash. He held his hand out and asked for it, and although reluctantly, I gave it to him, and he disposed it off, and apologised to us that there is no extra bin.

I had not just been ignoring the presence of the owner of the house I was living in, I even gave him my trash, into his very hands. Way to be nice. I looked at my wife helplessly, and we just shook our heads.

We decided to apologise to him. We asked the driver to translate for us once we get back to the place. We even thought we’d buy him a box of sweets to make up for our ignorant behaviour. But when we got back, we found that there was no ill will in his heart whatsoever for us. He was waiting for us with his wife, and when we greeted him, he smiled a humble smile and held out his hand for us to shake, bending a little at the waist, tall as he was, and welcoming us inside with the warmth of family.

There is much to be learnt from the people we ignore.


 

Want & need

It is perhaps the easiest to hate the ones we love. After all, we know all their failings. When things go wrong, we look around and blame someone we understand. I understand my wife – it is myself that I fail to understand. It is thus easier for me, in moments of anger, to hate my wife, than it is to hate myself.

As part of our honeymoon, we visit temples, we stop for rest at Mysore. Everything has been pre-planned, everything was decided by her. I had not even looked up the places we were to go to. In Mysore, the hotel staff have a problem with ‘inter-caste couples’. At Mysore Palace, a couple of loitering, burly men randomly ask my wife if she is a Muslim. At a historic temple on the way, an ASI-certified guide tells us, a dozen times, that the temple was a spectacular example of ancient architecture, and that ‘the Muslims’ came and destroyed it in the 13th century.

I argue with my wife. I blame her for bad planning. I tell her she is too naive, too optimistic, too blind to the terrible traps laid out for the weak. I ask myself, why did I not find a girl who is more like me, thinks harder than me, plans better than me, worries more than me, broods more than me? Someone who is me, only more than me. That way, I ask myself, I would be a happy man, would I not?

I would not.

By evening, my temper calms down, and I look at her. The girl I married. The bundle of innocence. The child-like crier. The harmless heart, free of all evil. All she wants is to be happy. To eat spicy food, see waterfalls, play with dogs. She can never want anything bad to happen to anybody – not even to the people who hurt her.

In the form of running waters, falling cliffs, flying trees and diving birds, I have felt bliss – I have felt moved to tears. All this has happened because of the unwavering energy of this girl. A wife too much like me would have been content with life as it was. She would have been too lazy and too philosophical to find the time and energy to take a honeymoon trip. After all, I always asked my wife, what is a honeymoon? A holiday for newly married couples, so that they can open up? Well, I would tell her, we are quite opened up already – why do we need a honeymoon? And who has that kind of money? We live on the edge, money running out before the month does. A wife like me would have agreed. It is because of this girl I fell for, because of her refusal to accept life as it is, that we both saw a piece of paradise on this planet.

In the moment, on the ghaats and between the candlelight dinners, we felt like royalty. We, who delay buying gas because we don’t have enough money just now, we felt rich. Felt complete. Pampered. We felt human.

In the child-like energy of my wife, in the absoluteness of her love, in the blindness of her innocence, I have much to be grateful for.

 

Numaish

When the four kids got into the cycle rickshaw, they had only thing in mind – we have to win the race today. Every day, they would get off their school bus, the four siblings, at around 4 pm, and head home in a cycle rickshaw pulled by an old mullah kind of uncle. They knew his name, but they would just call him uncle. He was their regular. He had served this family of the Ahmeds for three years now. With any other customer, he would never do this. He would never speed as if he is a professional cycle rickshaw racer. But, these were kids. And, four of them; all of them lovely little angels, he’d think. They were no different from his own grandchildren, only that their grandchildren couldn’t afford a rickshaw ride home from their school bus stop just half a kilometre away from home.

The eldest was the quitest among the four. They all loved him, but they were also afraid that he spends too much time alone. Every Sunday, he would disappear for hours. After a hearty lunch, when the elders would ask the four siblings to take a nap, he would pretend to do so. Then, when everybody around him would be asleep, he would sneek out and quietly climb up two floors to the terrace. He would have to be really quiet though. In this family of many, no kid would move around unnoticed by the elders. He would be seen by somebody or the other on the ground floor itself, and be asked about where he’s headed. He’d have to lie. He’d tell them he’s going out for just a while, and that he’d be back in a half hour after meeting his neighbourhood friends. He would then have to go to the iron gate of the bungalow and open the gate, then close it. He would then look back sheepishly – has anybody noticed I didn’t go out, but just pretended to? No? Excellent. Now for level 2. The relatives upstairs were even cheekier than his own mother, aunt, grandmother, uncle and their guests, whose attention he’d slip through on the ground floor. Floor 1 was tougher. These were women who would stay home all day, love him dearly, but see him occasionally only, since, well, he was not fond of people. This was the mid ’90s, and so, there was not much technology to keep people busy. Work for women of the house would be done quickly as there were many women at home. They would then sit and chat with each other, talk about how men are stubborn and stupid, and what to buy from Numaish on their next visit. Numaish, you know, the grand annual exhibition. The 11-year-old would step on each concrete step lightly – even scaring the lizards on the walls could lead to scaring the women behind them. One out of three times, he would get caught, and then, much to his chagrin, they would make him sit with them and talk.

Talk. He hated talking. He could bear to listen to people. But, to actually talk, say something, was quite a task for him. And plus, what did he have in common with these women, the youngest of whom was 15 years older than him? And so, he would just smile and listen, and listen, and listen, until they’d give up and free him from the shackles of their meaningless banter.

He would then have to lie again, telling them that he’s going back downstairs, back home, but he would wait for them to look away and quickly-yet-quietly climb the steps another floor and reach the terrace. Phew! What a relief! He loved this place. It was open for the most part, except for a water tank made like a cube of cement. There were three walls, half walls, through which he could look down directly into the open washing area of his home. He would just glance, careful not to get caught lest anybody looks up, and check if everything is okay. When all was fine, he would proceed to the wooden divan, with no covers or cushions on it, and just lay with his back on it. He would stare at the sky, dreaming, watching the clouds move, the kites fly, some made of paper, some made of flesh, and just take long sighs. This was what he loved doing. Being alone, under the sky, until it gets dark, and just talk to himself, not at all aloud, lest anyone hears. He would smile at the sky, and, most times, the sky would smile back at him. Sometimes, though, the sky wouldn’t be so polite – it would sweat him, or, worse, drench him. But, he loved the sky – it never asked him to talk. It never made fun of him, never scolded him, never asked him where his homework was. The sky would simply play out stories for him. Stories in the flight of birds, the artistic movements of the clouds, the suspense in the change of its hues. On good days, he would get to see a small plane fly by low, making terrible sounds, but it would be flying! He would just cheer up looking at anything that could fly.

On this particular day, a Saturday, the kids were promised an after-school visit to Numaish. They were asked to behave well, lest their trip be called off, and then they’d just have to make do with watching cartoons or the WWF. In reality, though, the boy knew they’d never cancel – he could see the ladies were much more excited about going to the Numaish than were his younger siblings. After all, he and his siblings would get to eat and sit in a variety of rides, the fun of all of which would last only one night. The ladies, by contrast, would shop for a whole year there. He knew they’d never cancel, even if he broke a bone or two. Not that he planned to.

Two kids, from their school and their school bus, had become fierce frenemies lately. The little siblings would get into their respective rickshaws and ask their rickshaw pullers to, well, pull faster. “Faster, faster,” they would scream all the way down the hilly road. The slope was steep. It was steep enough for the rickshaw pullers to not have to pedal at all – gravity would do the job. At the end of the slope, the first right would be taken by the four kids, the following left by the two nameless ones. The two kids were about 6 and 8; the youngest of the team of four was 6 too. They had never become friends, but they would smile a sinister smile at each other whenever they would run into each other in school. They may have felt shy to talk to each other, or maybe it was just too awkward to talk to rickshaw race competitors. In any case, the only words they spoke to each other were shouted at each other from their respective rickshaws every day after 4 – “faster, faster, faster! Hahahaha! We win; loser, loser, loser!”

It had gotten onto the nerves of all four of them. The two little devils had won the race for three days straight now. The four siblings had even complained to their grandmother that their rickshaw uncle was not pulling fast enough – no matter what age, who puts up with embarrassment like that? Losing three days in a row? Ridiculous! Their grandmother was this strong, intimidating lady, who would scold the flaws out of anybody; nobody escaped her wrath, not auto drivers, not rickshaw pullers, not neighbourhood goons. She promised the four she would scold the rickshaw uncle and set him straight – how dare he embarass her little angels like that, day after day?
She must have scolded him, the kids thought, for their rickshaw uncle was pedalling like he was on fire today. He was not even turning back to see if the enemy was tailing them or not, which was a thing completely new. He always looked back. In fact, the kids had only recently discussed among each other and decided that the constant turning-back of their rickshaw uncle was costing them their race. Today, he pedalled like his life depended on it. They couldn’t see his face, but it must have looked all red and veiny. He sped, and sped, and sped past his younger, much sturdier competitor, and grinned widely as he left his hurt ego behind. He heard a bang, though, and looked back for just a second or two, but then quickly turned around and pedalled even faster. He turned the rickshaw into the lane of the destination, and, with a face that only spoke of horror, he ran back, shouting at the kids to not leave the rickshaw, “no matter what”.

The kids craned their neck and tried to see, but they couldn’t see anything except traffic coming to a halt and people running towards where their rickshaw uncle ran. They asked each other what happened, and if they had heard or saw anything, but each of them only heard a big thud – nobody saw anything. The rickshaw uncle came only ten minutes later, and, relieved to see all four fixed in his rickshaw, pedalled them to their home, returning their persistent questions with only his indifferent silence.

The kids were met by their grandmother at the gate, which was usual, but they told her what was unusual today, and asked her to ask the rickshaw uncle, but she asked them to go in and freshen up first. They insisted, but she glared at them. They went in.

“A wall fell,” the old lady told her daughters, the kids listening keenly and with highly confused emotions.

“What wall? Where? What happened? Are those two kids okay? Tell me what happened!” yelled the boy, the eldest.

She had a stoic silence to herself. She didn’t look at anybody; just kept cutting her paan, the beetlenut she couldn’t pass her day without. Her voice and silence were both heavy, perhaps with the weight of what she knew but couldn’t tell.

She didn’t tell.

Hussain

Fiction: a short story based on true events

It was not his fault, really. At least, not that much. All he did was drive his auto the wrong way. But, then, he does that every day. It was nothing new. Others do that. Bikers, carwale, even the maamu – the cop – goes the wrong way when the right one is too long. That day though, it cost him a lot of love, a lot of dreams.
Hussain was married only recently, and his was a love marriage. For a life with him, his wife had nothing to look forward to, but she married him anyway. Such is the power of on-the-phone romance. Luckily for both of them, Hussain had his own auto, and lived in his father’s own house, so there were no major monthly rents to pay. In his own society, he was upper-class.
It was her birthday that day. Her first birthday after their marriage. While he couldn’t really grasp the apparent immensity of such an event, his wife was extremely excited about it, so he had decided to do something special for her. In the life of an auto driver, there’s not much that could be special. But, he had heard of a fancy restaurant in the city where they’d serve some sumptuous biryani and play live ghazals. Knowing how much she loved good food, especially that which was not cooked with her own sweat, he decided to take her to this place. He knew she would reminisce happily about it for months to come, tell all her friends and willing-to-listen relatives about it. However, there was one major problem – he couldn’t afford to blow three day’s income on one dinner. He had never done so, and had never imagined doing so. His wedding was paid for by a multitude – his father, uncles, aunts, friends of all these people and also a few kind regular customers. Plus, he couldn’t just take his birthday girl to a fancy place in his own auto – the whole point of the special dinner was to make the wife feel special. He had decided to take an air-conditioned Uber cab for the commute, and that would add a good 30 per cent to the cost. Also, she was so excited that he just had to buy something for her. He figured that he would buy her a lovely dress – that way she’ll have something decent to wear to an upmarket restaurant and also have a birthday gift. All in all, he figured his wife’s first-birthday-after-marriage would cost him at least 3,000 rupees. No way he could pull out that kind of money from his savings – it was absolutely necessary to compound the savings untouched if he was ever to have any children, and he was going to have one this year itself.
His wife was totally against it, but he decided to go ahead with it anyway. He’ll work through the night for a week before the birthday, and then the whole day on her birthday, and get back home by 8, freshen up, dress his best, and book the cab. Thanks to the shameless persistence of his younger brother, his father had installed WiFi at home, so booking a cab from home wouldn’t be a problem, but he knew he’d struggle to book one to return home, with his painfully slow 2G. His wife wouldn’t agree, at first. She wanted him to take off from his work that day; spend time with her; she said he never talks to her anyway. Make an exception for me this day, she had said, but he went to great pains to explain to her what all he had planned for her and how he would need to work much more to make it happen. She had agreed only reluctantly; she still wanted him home that day, but he made her shed her insistence like you shed a dress that looks great on you – slowly and with some regret.
In the one week that he had worked at night – he would come back home by 8 otherwise – he had met a decent fellow by chance. It was about 11, and he was losing hope of finding a decent-paying customer, but this one young man just said yes to his fare and did not bargain even a bit. And then, when he dropped off the man, he gave him Rs 200 extra (who does that?) and said that he just wanted to help somebody in need, just like that, for charity. Hussain didn’t know how to thank the man for his surprise generosity, and just smiled and shook his hand once. The man gave back what looked like a genuinely contented smile.
On his wife’s birthday, he was desperate for long-touring customers. He kept looking for such people who needed to go to the peripheral parts of the city, but then he was afraid of not finding customers who would want to get back to the core of the city. He was willing to take the risk though, but as luck would have it, he didn’t get any such customer, and in his greedy search, he lost many short-tripping customers too. It was near afternoon when he reached the limits of his despair; he called up an old man he knew well, a good customer of his, and asked if there was any auto service he would need today. He did.

“I’m so glad you called, Hussain,” he said, “I had lost your number and so I couldn’t call you, but I really need you today.”

Anything, sir, said Hussain, and the old man told him what he would need.
Hussain would have to pick up the old man and his wife from Red Hills and take them to a wedding venue at the Inner Ring Road, about 6 km away, not a long journey, but he would have to wait for hours and take them back home too. They usually did so with him, whenever the old couple were refused being chauffeured around by their way-too-busy children. They being old people, hated to stand on the road for what would feel like eons of time, getting refused by one auto driver after another. So, they would spend three-four times the money but call Hussain to do the whole round-trip and the waiting. It was done twice earlier, both parties were happy, so Hussain thought this came as a major blessing to him today. He had already gifted his wife the pure-cotton dress in the morning. She couldn’t wait to tear the wrapping paper apart, and screamed when she saw the dress – it was her favourite colour.
This would easily be a 6-hour trip, or at least 5. The old man had said it wouldn’t take more than three hours in all, but Hussain knew he lies that way. Hussain also knew that this old couple never bothered to bargain – their bills were paid by their children these days, all of whom were earning well enough to have no time for their parents. He knew the venue, and also that it had enough parking inside, so he thought he’d get a nice little nap while waiting for his customers to come back, without having to worry about the money. He was happy now, really happy. When he rode to the house of the old couple, he smiled a silly smile all the way. When he rode back home after dropping them off in the evening, he desperately tried to hold back his tears. Never had he been through this much pain, physical and emotional, both pounded onto him at the same fateful time.
He was horrified to see the wedding venue packed this way – he had never seen it so busy before. Who’s getting married here, he asked the old couple, and they went on and on telling him how they are related to the bride and how the mother of the bride had called them time and again to remind them that they just have to, just have to come. He was stopped outside the main entrance, the venue entrance was still so far away for an old couple to walk, and he said so to the security guards. They didn’t relent – forget parking inside, there’s no space to even move in, they told him; “can’t you see?” The old couple finally told him to quit arguing with the security guards – we’ll walk in, you wait outside and come to the gate when we call you, Hussain, they said.
He had to go quite far to find a spot to park his auto. Lines of cars had been parked, no, double-parked, on the main road there. Both ways in and out of the venue were packed with cars trying to go in and come out – the security guards were blowing their whistles mad, and many exquisitely-dressed women were now getting out of their cars and walking to the hall. He looked at them and felt a deep pain – what fault is it of my wife’s that she’ll never get to look as pretty as any of these women, he thought.
When he finally did find a spot to park in, he slept like a child who had spent all day playing under the sun. The call came as a surprise – he woke up thinking why the old man called him in just a few minutes of going in for the wedding. Was it called off? But no, they were done, and stuffed and happy, and couldn’t stay any longer, it was 6 already and they needed to get back home because the grandchildren were waiting. It was six? He had slept for more than three hours? Wow! Anyway, he turned the auto around, and, knowing that the venue gate was only a minute ride back the wrong way, sputtered his auto there.

The first blow came completely unexpected. He had stopped his auto to see if he could even reach the gate or not – there were so many vehicles stuck, so many people fighting, so many cops. So many cops? Whack! He was slapped so hard he couldn’t feel the pain. Whack! He was hit on the shin like he was years ago, no, decades ago, when he was a kid and a bully had hit him with a cricket bat for bowling him out. Whack! This time it was a round object, from the back. Somebody hit him in his lower back with a round, hard object? Did it break his spine? He turned around to look at a cop glaring and shouting on him, hurling abuses, threatening to hit him in the head with a helmet. Whack! Another one on his neck, and he fell to the ground, but got back up in an instant as his nervous system reacted subconsciously. He regretted it later. He should have stayed on the ground, pretending to have broken a bone and unable to move. That would have saved him from the dozen more blows he got after he quickly got up in his unintentional defiance.

There was a young man arguing with the cops. That almost saved him. Or, at least held back the cops from hitting him until the old couple found him and asked him if everything is okay. The cops left him alone after seeing his ageing customers, but they were hotly going after the boy, who said he was from the press and that he knew for sure that they, the cops, had no right to beat up an auto driver so mercilessly just because he was coming the wrong way. They threatened him, said they will take him to the police station, but Hussain couldn’t care less. At least they didn’t hit the journalist. They certainly wanted to, he could see it in their eyes and their body language. The now-press-card-wielding young man was hitting raw nerves, telling the cops they had no guts to hit any car-owner from the dozens of car-owners who were refusing to follow their directions of moving away from the venue. There is no space for any vehicle to move any which way here, go away, park on the other side of the road, the cops were shouting their lungs out, but these were rich people, who wouldn’t even bother sliding down the window glasses of their swanky SUVs.

Hussain lied to the old couple. He told them nothing happened, and that the cops just abused him verbally, and that it’s okay. It was not okay. Every time he hit the brake, a sharp pain shot through his leg, starting from the shin and ending only in his thigh. Every time he pressed the clutch and changed the gear, he nearly shouted from the pang of pain in his wrist, probably the result of trying to block rapid stick blows with his bare hands. Every time he turned his neck to look at why somebody behind him was honking persistently, he immediately regretted doing so – he thought they broke his neck and that he would never be able to look anywhere except in front of him. His whole body was hurting, but, knowing that the old couple would insist he see a doctor, he refrained from telling them anything. But, much more than his body, he was hurt inside. He was now broken. They succeeded in bringing him back to reality. What was he thinking? He’ll go to a fancy place? Get chauffeured in a cab? Have food and send ghazal suggestions to the singing party at the request of his precious wife? Who did he think he is? He was Hussain, he now realised. Just an auto driver. A peck of dirt in a world that belongs to the rich. A nuisance in a world that wants to do away with all poorly-dressed, ill-mannered people, but has to bear with them for the sake of labour convenience. A world where a poor man has no chance of realising his dreams. A world that does not even give a poor man the right to dream. To make his wife happy. To smile in the afternoon without having cry in the evening. He is Hussain, he realised, a man defeated by fate.

When he reached home, his wife greeted him with a gleeful shriek first, and then a horrified shriek. She first did a pirouette for him, showed him how glamorous she looked in her new birthday dress, all ready to go have dinner with the elite of the city. Then, when she looked up into his eyes for the gleam she had hoped to see, she saw tears, and she took a step back, and saw that her husband looked shabbier than ever, and tired; exhaused, weak, and, yes, broken. He wasn’t standing straight. Something was wrong about his posture. She begged him to tell her what was wrong.

“We can’t go,” he said, in a voice at once gravelly and whisper-like.

“Why?” she cried out, stuck between two pains, one of feeling dejected, and another of not being able to look at the pain in her husband’s eyes.

“Can you please give me your painkiller tablet?” he asked her, his voice still low, his question coming out slow.

“What? Is everything okay? Did you get into an accident? Should I call Abba?” she went on asking him many questions, but he couldn’t really understand what she was saying.

“Please,” he said, “two.”

She ran to the kitchen, and he lumbered to his room. He started unbuttoning his shirt, but then buttoned them back – he had no energy to explain to his wife how those blue marks had come to paint his body.

She got him the pills and some water, he gulped it all down, and dragged himself into bed.
She decided to just watch him and not ask anything – there was nobody home today, no shoulder she could cry on. She would have to cry alone tonight, silently, watching her husband drift off to sleep, off to a place where her Hussain, her loving Hussain, would feel no pain.