Saturday, 4 April 2020

os : To catch a shooting star...

They were lying on plush lawns of the Orphanage to which they were visiting. It was a cool night and they were tired after hanging around the kids for far too long. That was when Armaan suggested the game; game of twenty questions. Riddhima had flat out refused so he had to spend all his charm smiles to get her agree to the game. He had not honestly cared for a game and he had suggested twenty questions just to spend some time with her. Finally she had relented but with condition that they can ask each other ten questions and the answers has to be truthful and honest. There were no other rules nor were there any boundaries.

"Let's start with simple questions, alright? What is one thing you want to learn?"
"I want to learn Mandarin Chinese." He should have guessed it. Between them, she was classified as a total nerd. Not that he dared to tell that on her face.
"What about you Armaan?"

"You are asking me the same question Riddhima? Lacking creativity, are we?" He continued hurriedly before she could smack him.
"I want to learn Origami. There was this teacher in my school who used to teach us paper folding techniques during recesses or free periods. She wasn't with us for long as her husband was transferred elsewhere. From then onwards, I had always meant to learn but somehow I was never able to."
"Show me your hands." She gently took his hands in hers and ran her thumb over his fingers. He couldn't help but smile at her actions.
"You have nice long fingers which would help you while folding paper. Given the fact that you do surgery, you have good dexterity of your thumb and forefinger and this will help you when you will have shift paper around." He was surprised to hear that detailed analysis.
"How do you know all this?"
"I loved Origami as a child. I learned basic folding techniques in school first and after that I taught myself newer models. Maybe I can teach you sometime. It's been awhile for me too, but then again, we can always learn together right?"
"Yes, you can teach me Origami. And in case you forget something, remember that I will always be there next to you to help you to recollect or to relearn things, alright?" She understood that he was offering something more than helping her remembering Origami folds and it sounded like he had put validity for the offer for the rest of their lives. And she was OK with that.

"Riddhima, what is your favorite thing in this nature?"
"It's not easy to give an answer to that Armaan because I like everything that nature has made. I like the way how nature is always trying for perfectness. Nature chooses the best species, helps them to continuously evolve, change and grow; to achieve perfectness. I like how universe is always looking for equilibrium; adding things, canceling out, creating new things, and things getting extinct. As nothing is ideal or perfect, it is never achieved. That's why there are certain things in excess and certain things are lacking. That's why some people suffer while some are happy. After sometime, these roles get reversed. It's always a matter of time." She gave him a shy look. She had been rambling for last few minutes and she had digressed from initial context; and he was listening to her very intently.
"No need to be sorry for anything, Riddhima. You know I love to listen you talk about what you think and what you like. So it's fine. This exercise is all about knowing each other is it not? Now I know that you can talk continuously when it comes to cosmos." He smiled encouragingly at her.
"What about you Armaan?"
"I like night sky; stars, shooting stars, meteor showers, I love them all."
"There is a familiar sense of serenity when I am looking at the stars. It's as if they are my closest kin. That's why I came out here in the first place. It was my father who first introduced me to stars and night sky. Our house had a huge terrace and it helped that we lived in suburbs where city lights didn't out glare the twinkle of the stars. I don't know if my father was considered to be a good man or not, but I know that he was a great father. We used to eat ice-creams in terrace when he explained about constellations. He showed me shooting stars and sometimes he took me to fields outside the city just to catch a glimpse of shooting stars." His tone had a nostalgic ring to it. She liked this Armaan; this man was unguarded, vulnerable and serene.
"Riddhima, next time there is a meteor showers, will you come with me to see them?" He hoped that she would say that she would at least think about it. It would be little heartbreaking if she said no now.
"Yes. I will surely go with you Armaan." He matched her smile. He wondered, if he had asked the same question some months ago, would she have answered him so positively? So, this is how far they had come. She trusted him enough to give a clear positive response rather than an ambiguous "let's see".

"Armaan, what was your favorite subject in school?" He gave her a dimpled smile. She wasn't sure why he was smiling at her since her question had been fairly easy one but she couldn't stop the smile that was breaking out on her face either.
"You are joking", she said flatly.
"I had decided that English was going to be my first language. My teacher, one day, asked me to go see the principal since I was being mischievous again in the class. While I was waiting I saw our principal talking to this really beautiful woman and I heard him telling her that he was surprised to see such a young woman to be Sanskrit teacher."
"And that's when your first language got changed from English to Sanskrit and not to mention a huge crush on the new teacher." She was grinning at him.
"You got both right there, Riddhima. In the beginning I read Sanskrit stuff outside the school curriculum just to impress my super gorgeous teacher. But over the course of time, I really came to enjoy the language; grammar was challenging and some poems were tricky to memorize. And with the fiasco of my father, Sanskrit became my escape from all the messy tangles. I searched for more and more complicated poems and dramas so that when I concentrated on that, I could ignore the fingers that were pointed in my direction and drown the hushed whispers in my poem recitation." There was a hint of bitter sweet melancholy in his voice. She imagined a little boy with dimpled smile walking around a park, finding a place to hide from people. At that moment she wished she could go back in time, kneel in front of that boy and run her fingers in his messy hair and ask him to recite a small stanza of any poetry of his choice to her. And maybe then, the boy would give a smile to her and a toothy grin, removing all traces of previous brooding state and recite her a few lines in his boyish voice. She wondered if that boy was still hiding underneath charm, wit and smartness of her boyfriend. She had a sudden constriction in her throat and her eyes were filled with tears. She looked away from him because if she even chanced a glance in his direction, she wasn't sure if she would be able to hold herself up. After a few moments, she spoke.
"I liked history." She offered no further explanation and he didn't probe any further. He had felt the shift in her after he had finished speaking and he was sure that before the end of this game, he would know why.

"What is one thing that you want to do now but you are not able to do?" He asked a silly question just to lighten the pace. She was withdrawing from him and he didn't want that to happen. Not now, at least.
"I would love to have long nails and paint them to match the color of my dress everyday. Born to a house full of doctors, my parents were very stringent when it came to personal hygiene. In younger days, my mother cut our nails every Sunday. When I joined medical school it became more of a mandate rather than a habit. Now, its completely ruled out." Her tone held a very small tinge of sadness. She was looking at are short finger nails very longingly. He smiled. With all the fantasies of the world she could have wished for, she wished for something that was kind of a sacrifice done due to their profession.
"What about you, Armaan?"
"I want to visit Manasarovar with you and watch stars in the night. A friend of mine sent his pictures from there and it looks like heaven. If we go there, I think I would be drowning in its tranquility. It's not like that this is impossible to do at this juncture; it's more improbable given our jobs and our mutual social constraints. And I am not ready to pick up a bag and hop into the flight and go there. The first time I see that lake, I want you to be there next to me." She smiled at him gently. She preferred his casual acceptance of her in his life and making her a part of every dream he ever wove, over his romanticism. There was something utterly charming and in his matter of fact tone that she simply accepted her place in his life.

She was in a dilemma. Should she ask or shouldn't she? She gave into the moment and asked her next question.
"Tell me about your father."
It was as if everything around them had stilled and the entire universe was waiting to see his reaction and next move. But the look on his face was anti-climatic. There were no ground shattering words nor was there any display of hurt or anger; he sported the look of a man who had come in terms with his past. And he was too young to be in that position.
"We were a happy family. In the beginning we were just like any other family; loving parents, only son and affluent background. To everyone else in the society, it was utopia. It was Zion. Maybe we were that way, I don't remember as I was very little. If my parents had any marital issues, then they hid it well. My early memories of my father is the of the times when he used to drop me to school, helping with my homework, keeping me entertained and introduced me to comic books. He taught me how to play basketball and always helped me with school work. He taught me about society and punished me if I pulled any 'I am better than you' attitude. He was my best friend in the whole world. I got good grades, I was liked by everyone in the school and I had an amazing dad. I was the luckiest kid in the world."
"But everything changed."
"It was a gradual devolution of a man you know. It was like my father was the complete anti-thesis of nature. I actually saw him deteriorate from what he was to what he became. After that fiasco, the next day in school, it was one of those moments that I can never forget in my life. I was no longer Armaan. I was a boy whose father's carelessness got a man dead. My whole individuality had reduced to being someone's son; and I, was just a constant reminder of my father to the society." He was staring at the stars; voice distant and eyes reflecting pain. She could see a tiny tear caught in his eye lashes. Before she could speak anything, he continued.
"I worked really hard to earn my grades all through out my career. But you know, on a normal day, I introduce myself to some random people and suddenly they would say 'Oh! Wasn't it your father who…' and on that day, everything comes back to me in double force."
"Armaan, it's not fair that you get treated by people, however seldom the occasions are, in this manner. It's not fair that you have to pay the price for your father's mistake."
"Do you know how respected you are in hospitals and amongst doctors' community. Half the respect comes to you because you are your father's daughter. The other half of it is completely earned by you. But before you get to know someone, as soon as they come to know who your father is, they draw this conclusion about you that the daughter of such a famous doctor has to be intelligent, kind, smart etc. And none of them are wrong, anyway because you are all that. So when you think about it, we are both experiencing the influence of our fathers in our lives; you get respect and I get sins, which are the only differences." She knew what he was saying was true. But she still didn't think that any of it was fair.
"What's your unfounded fear Riddhima?" He asked her before she could ask him further about his father. It was his way of asking her to not to question about his past anymore. She respected him enough to agree to that silent request.
"Ceiling fans" There was silence for a moment and then his full belly laughter filled the air around them. It was as if the invisible sheet of ice had melted and now it was warm all around her.
"Armaan, stop laughing", she whined. His laughter had now reduced to chuckles.
"Really Riddhima, ceiling fans? Talk about being obscure."
"Armaan", she whined further and he decided to let her off the hook, for now.

"Why do you like comic books?"
"Why are you using that tone?"
"What tone?"
"You know that condescending tone that you use when I pull a prank on you? That one."
"I am not using any tone Armaan. Really, what is so interesting about them?"
"As I said before, my father introduced me to comic books. I liked caped and masked men who fought for the good and punished the evil. As and by I grew up, comic books were like escaping from reality. During my late teens, I moved on to graphic novels. I loved works of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. The ink work was much darker and storyline more complicated than anything that I ever read before. After getting a job, I saw enough depression around me so I went back to reading comics."
"Will you lend me some?" He couldn't help but smile at her adorable puppy faced expression.
"Definitely. Now tell me, if you were to switch profession, then what might that be?"
"I would be a history teacher for high school kids. I really like teaching you know."
"I think you would suit that role very well; you are patient, you are kind and you are pleasant to be around. Kids would love you." She crimsoned at his compliment.

"Riddhima, you asked me a tough question so it's only fair if I ask you one too. So, here is my question. Tell me about your dilemma when you found out that you were adopted."
"There was no quandary on my mind Armaan. There was only confusion, tangled web of truths and intangible fear about who I was. There were people who used to tell me that at times I behaved like my mother. On that day when I found that truth, I wasn't able to comprehend if people were just being whimsical with their words."
"So, the dilemma was between whom you resembled the most emotionally; your birth mother or your mother who brought you up."
"Initially, yes. As a doctor I am aware of the influence of the nurturing environment on a child. We all do hero worship of our parents and I wasn't out of it either. I was loved in my family and I never got the feeling that I was an outsider. Even now, I am my father's daughter. It took me some time to come into terms with reality. I am glad that my birth mother turned out to be someone who has been a part of my growing up. I am not sure how I would have reacted if it were to be a total stranger."
"Have you ever wondered what would have been if your mother was actually alive."
"Yes. Just because I discovered that I was adopted, I wasn't going to pack my bags and leave my parents who have raised me Armaan. Please, I am much more than that. It would have taken more time to come into terms with reality, I think. And maybe one day, I would go with my birth mother to live with her for a few days. I don't know Armaan, it's hard to opine on something that isn't tangible in this reality." She was quiet for a few moments. He knew that she was organizing her thoughts, cataloging her emotions. She continued.
"After that incident, I realized that mothering is something that has nothing to do with birth or adoption. It's a biological imperative that we are all born with. Mothers, by nature get to show it more than others because of the role that they play in family. Even you become my mother when you come to know that I have skipped a meal by giving me an earful of lecture and thrusting a candy bar in my coat pocket. My father becomes my mother when he gives me a lesson on morality. My sister becomes my mother when she coos about how cute I look. This mothering nature is all around us. We simply quantify it as taking care or something along those lines." He was actually impressed with her reasoning.
"Now tell me Armaan, what has been your most non-people oriented exhilarating experience."
"Non-people oriented? Scared that I might tell you an anecdote which has you in it?" He grinned at her annoyed expression.
"Skiing. I would say that it was the most beautiful experience. I was seeing snow for the first time as well so my excitement was doubled. Touching snow for the first time, seeing the way it melted in my ungloved hand, it was a poetic experience. Have you felt a snowflake on your skin?"
"No. I have never seen snow Armaan."
"We should go there sometime. When it snows, in all its pure white glory, a falling snowflake decorates new love and if it finds heartbreak on its wake, it will hide it." They were quiet for a few moments. And then she asked him her next question.

"Armaan, if you were to go back in time and were to act a movie, then which one would that be?"
"That's easy. It would be Johnny Mera Naam."
"Dev Anand's classic, Why?"
"My father and I used to visit video cassette renting stores as we used to watch a lot of movies at home. There I had seen a poster of this movie; there is a girl, a gun and Dev Anand. What was not to like for?" He waggled his eyebrows. She simply rolled her eyes and muttered "Men" under her breath.
"What about you Riddhima? What would be your movie?"
"Seeta Aur Geeta. I enjoyed it the first time I watched and I enjoy it even now."
"I hadn't pegged you for classic cinemas, honestly. Actually, it's hard for me to believe that you even watched movies in your childhood."
"I actually love classic cinemas. Even now my sister teases me that my taste in movies is stuck in my parents' generation." He chuckled.
"I like classic cinemas because they are not loud and they are really very sweet. It's hard to find that kind of escapism in cinemas today. Riddhima, next time there is a classic film festival, we should go."
"We most definitely should."
"Riddhima, have you noticed that in last few hours, you have accepted to come with me to movies, to Manasarovar, to see snow and to watch meteor showers. You have made me a very happy man today."
"Armaan, there are still four questions left." They shared a laugh.

"I know that I am not the first woman in your life. But I don't know if I am the first love in your life." He checked her face for any underlying trust issues and he was relieved to find none. It was her insatiable curiosity that made her ask this question.
"Riddhima, The women I invited into my life were nearly always those whom I trust and I can be sure that they wouldn't do something conniving. There are always exceptions, but don't we pick people with our heads? And then there is our instinct as well. I never really came close to any of those women as I am with you. I have best friends who are women, but I have never shared with them the things I have told you. Maybe because I didn't trust them as much as I trust you with my insecurities. Maybe my ego and my pride meant more than actually being honest with them. So, to answer you, you are the first woman in my life with whom I have shared so much, whom I trust unconditionally and yeah, love you too." He wished he could take a picture of her now; she was a picture of true contentment. He gently kissed her forehead to reaffirm his words.
"Who was your first crush Riddhima?"
"None. Well, you, if you want to count yourself" She gave him a cheeky grin.

"Riddhima, if you were to sum up our relationship in one word, then what would that be?"
"Mutualism" They were extremely independent people. Still she felt emotionally crippled when he wasn't around. It wasn't about mere existence. It was about living meaningfully.
"What about you Armaan?"
"Dogma" For him, what he shared with his girlfriend was the ultimate truth; everything else had a loophole.




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