Thank you for being patient with me. I've finished most of the projects I had set out for, in this break. I will post about them soon. For now, I won't come between you and the update :D I hope you all are safe, healthy, and coping well. Love you all... a lot... ........................................................... She grasped his shirt at his shoulders when she was near him, terrifi...
New Delhi, India.
Preksha tried several different western outfits to be taken on honeymoon with Varun. She had ordered a few dresses online and bought a few from GK 2 last night.
Most of the tops and shorts were so trendy that her face lit up when she tried them and came out of the washroom. Manasvi gave her an excited nod with each. The girls giggled, visibly happy with their choices as they had taken a lot of time to select each.
“Why don’t you try a few?” Preksha gave beige culottes and mustard top to Manasvi.
Manasvi nodded frantically, “I don’t wear dresses of this kind.”
“Why? This is a simple dress that any college going girl wears. It’s totally covered too. It doesn’t reveal anything!” Preksha examined the spaghetti strap top and culottes with a slit at the calf.
Manasvi smiled at Preksha’s innocence. She had been brought up in such a secure and open environment that a spaghetti strap crop top and a slit till calf in the bottom appeared like nothing. She didn’t say anything to counteract her statement about how it was different for her. She had always seen men ogling at her for no reason at all. It wasn’t that her salwar kameez stopped the roving eyes of filthy men. But she didn’t want to give them another reason.
When Preksha saw her thinking deeply, she tried to explain her point of view, “Manasvi di, never allow anyone to tell you what to wear and what not to wear, that’s what mom and bhai tell me. They always say that a woman must decide what to wear, where to go and at what time to come back!”
Manasvi smiled, “I agree with them. But you should sometimes see the circumstances too. Like, my mother used to say that you should not stand out in public. You should disappear in the crowd and merge with them to stay obscure. That is how you will not be noticed. People will not pay attention to you. They will not try to find out who you are and will not create problems when they come to know that you are alone.”
Preksha tried to understand her point of view but couldn’t. There was not a single person in her college and now, in a job, who thought like that. Neither their families and parents. Girls wore everything they wanted to and attended whatever functions, parties or celebrations they wished to, in all types of western and ethnic wears. They never thought so much before wearing something.
Preksha sighed, “Is that why you wear these dull salwar kameez and kurtas?”
“These are not dull…” Manasvi laughed, taking her legs up on the bed and wrapping her arms around her folded legs, “I like them!”
“And you also like this dupatta on your head? Why do you always cover your head?”
Manasvi shrugged, “This is the way I was brought up. I could always sense that my mother wanted me to cover my head. So I followed it without questioning it.”
“And you like it??”
“Err… I would say that I am used to it now. I feel odd and awkward when my head is not covered.”
Preksha nodded, “I don’t believe it. You don’t feel like wearing all the western outfits people wear around you or we watch in films and TV shows?? Don’t you imagine that someday you will wear something like this and feel free…”
Manasvi giggled like a small baby, “Shall I tell you a secret?”
“I’ve tried a few tops and shorts in trial rooms of Shoppers Stop!”
“Really??” Preksha shrieked.
“Yeah… once I did that!! I know that I will never have the courage to wear a dress like that and go out in public. I know I can’t carry it. But I just wanted to try, nevertheless! Just to know how it feels…”
“And how did it feel?”
Manasvi shrugged, “It was weird. I have never worn anything like that before. It felt really awkward!”
Preksha giggled, “Oucchhhh!!! It hurt!”
“No offense meant.” Manasvi smiled cutely. She didn’t mean to hurt Preksha. She couldn’t have done that even in her dreams. She just told candidly, how she felt about short dresses.
“None taken!” Preksha assured her squeezing her hands and added, “It’s all about comfort level. Like, I would be suffocated in salwar kameez and that duppatta over the head. How do you breathe?”
Manasvi giggled with that and Preksha stood up with another set of a designer gown and overall to try.
“When Bhai takes you with him to New York, you can wear every damn thing without overthinking about people around you.”
Immediately, the colour drained from Manasvi’s face. Speechless, she couldn’t utter even a word. Though she could hear her heartbeats clearly.
Preksha drew the curtain separating her changing area from her bedroom and spoke from inside it, “Mom didn’t tell you? She had planned to talk to Anshuman bhai this time, to take you with him. But he didn’t come…”
Manasvi had no clue what to say to her sister-in-law-friend. It was clear that the family didn’t know about Anshuman’s request for divorce. Should she tell them??
But when he hadn’t shared it with them, how could she betray him and reveal his intentions? It was not right. Maybe, he wanted to talk to them face to face and tell them by himself.
She didn’t say anything and kept quiet. Preksha withdrew the curtain and stepped out to look in the tall human-sized mirror in her room and grumbled, “Mom and dad wanted to talk to him about you. There are so many other things too that we want him to know… about our family, properties, cousin’s weddings… he is not available for anything!! You know what, we had made so many plans for this engagement. He just broke them all… Sometimes, I feel that he is heartless… he doesn’t care…”
Manasvi replied, “You said that he was stuck in an emergency situation and his leaves were cancelled.”
“That’s what he told us! But you tell me, just how busy can a man be in his job, career, and responsibilities that he doesn’t come home in 3 years!! Three years, di!!! It’s a huge gap! We have been telling him since six months to be here for the engagement… again… the same nonchalance… Is his job more important than us??”
“I have no idea about how doctors in his hospital work, but I have heard that it is the same all over the world. Tough job. Difficult, hectic rosters. Night duties and emergency jobs. Let’s not judge him.”
Each deafening sound of a blast and the resulting chaos brought with it a new surge of uncertainty. A confusion. A fear.
Whether it was going to be their last day on earth. Whether they were going to die without meeting their loved ones. Without the last goodbye.
Captain Dr. Anshuman and Dr. Alex were huddled inside a bunker dug six feet under the ground to provide for an emergency shelter for all the people taking help at a humanitarian camp by PBB. There were several such bunkers as the unrest continued and blasts increased. The airstrikes too increased, not leaving any scope of survival. Hundreds of civilians were killed. Their houses destroyed.
The largest PBB camp in the surroundings was smashed in the bombings and along with other civilian patients, the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff working for ‘People Beyond Borders’ had to run and hide to save their lives.
Dr. Alex sitting by a wall in the bunker, tapping his head at the wall behind, asked, “Any idea, how long it’s gonna take for the army to save us?? I’m feeling like a rat holed up inside this tunnel.”
Dr. Anshuman smiled, very subtly, “No idea! These are US-led coalition airstrikes and artillery fires. The ground troops from Russia and France are supporting them. Possibly it is the biggest battle to free this area.”
Alex opened his mouth with a hopeless grunt, “Will there be any rescue?? At all??”
Anshuman simply shrugged in reply. Alex opened his eyes wide and whined, “No mannnn!!! I am claustrophobic. I can’t stay in this dug hole for a long time.”
“Ask me. My sister is getting engaged in two days. And I can’t go to attend this beautiful day of her life. I’m missing her so much!” Anshuman sighed and chewed the inner buccal mucosa on the left side of his mouth.
“Aww… So unfortunate man! It’s like that for us. I’ve missed so many functions myself! … I couldn’t even go to my ex’s wedding!!” Alex always tried to crack silly jokes and invariably succeeded in making people smile as his jokes were a respite in terrible situations.
Anshuman smiled, “Oh, how sad! I’m sure she missed you!”
“Jokes apart, did you inform your people that you are stuck here?!”
“I could sense the situation worsening, so I informed them last week that leaves are cancelled. But about this bunker?? No way! They don’t even know that I work for PBB.”
“They don’t?? Why??”
“My mom got paranoid when I joined the Indian army. She says she has been living on an edge all her life since my dad was in defense services. I was hardly there for a few months, when she nagged me, emotionally pestered me and made me leave it. Now, I think she sleeps well at night knowing that I work at a private hospital in New York.”
“And what makes you so adamant to work in these dangerous areas, even when your mother gets sleepless nights because of these??!”
Anshuman stared at the floor. The poignant gaze boring deep into the ground. Taking a heavy bout of breath, he replied ruefully, “It’s a long story. I’m not comfortable discussing or even revisiting it!”
“An old sore?”
“Hmm! Yeah!!” Anshuman nodded.
“So strong that you will go ahead… especially, after lying to them… they don’t even know that your life is in danger right now…”
“I have no option either!” Anshuman’s voice was so grave that Alex was stirred. He tried to ease the situation.
“I’ve seen people shaken due to marriage. But yours is an extreme case.”
Anshuman smiled again. “Nahhh!! It’s nothing related to my marriage. In fact, I don’t even know Manasvi.”
“Okay!!” Alex shrugged, accepting Anshuman’s point, “Someday I would like to know the reason that makes you so dedicated towards services in dangerous areas.”
“What about you?” Anshuman diverted the topic to Alex.
“I always wanted to give my services for people destroyed in war, disasters or epidemic. They are the neediest. For rich and famous in NYC, there are hundreds of other doctors. I wanted to help dying or sick people who needed me in dire emergencies. But for two years, every few days, I find myself running for shelter and hoping for a ceasefire so that the tension is not escalated! This was not what I was looking for.”
Anshuman took a deep breath and clasped his fingers into each other. His hands resting on his folded knees. He was sitting next to Alex, with several other. He replied, “I was mistaken too. During every tense situation, I used to pray for it to be the last. But, I didn’t know that when it becomes peaceful at one place, the fight starts in another. It’s never-ending it seems. This war. This battle. This unrest… It’s never-ending!!”
Alex clicked his lips together in hopelessness, “Since almost a fortnight, all of the staff has been working tirelessly to help the injured due to blasts. I thought that this was a small operation. But I was wrong. The casualties kept increasing. This is my first Syrian experience, but I can’t say whether I find it any different than our last operation in Iraq.”
“The condition is same all over the world. Whether it was India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria. Iraq, France or Russia… One group works to kill people and exhibit extremism in the name of whatever they feel like – religion, freedom, anti-government policies. Other, formed of military and armed forces, work to curb them. There is a constant battle. Whatever the outcome, the civilians and innocent people suffer the most in the process… that too, in huge numbers.”
The sound of fires and blasts increased, along with ground led troops running around and the military tanks moving in a particular direction. The thunder and the noise kept increasing.
Alex sighed, and prayed to God, “I hope the mouth of the bunker doesn’t get clogged… I hope we are not filled in smoke and soot and sand…”
Anshuman sighed too, “I hope Preksha’s engagement goes well…and they don’t miss me…”
“I hope army reaches us… I hope we are saved and we don’t die today…”
“I hope this war ends…”
“I hope you do something. You are our hero, Anshuman!”
New Delhi, India.
Preksha was impressed when Manasvi speculated that Anshuman might be stuck in his work and suggested that they should not judge him. She exclaimed, “Oh myyyyy!!”
“What?!!” Manasvi couldn’t get it why the girl was so excited.
“You are defending Bhai!! That’s interesting!! You know di… When a sister is grumbling and complaining about her brother, only their mother or bhabhi support him and not her.”
Manasvi was flushed to the colour of deep red on her cheeks. Speechless, she nodded to correct the damages. “No…no… I just meant…”
Preksha changed her gown and came back to sit beside Manasvi. “You meant to defend him. Because you don’t want to believe that he can be heartless or he doesn’t care. Right?”
Manasvi didn’t reply to her. Preksha became so emotional that she hugged Manasvi. “Di, I have been waiting for the day when I begin to call you ‘bhabhi’… I wish, so deeply wish that things become beautiful for both of you…but it is all so complicated. You and bhai don’t even talk to each other.”
When she separated from her, she was almost in tears, “Mom, dad, and I don’t want to see both of you with anyone else. We have seen you as Anshuman Bhai’s wife for last 7 years and mom is going to try her best to convince Bhai and you to give this relationship a chance!!” Preksha revealed to her.
Manasvi realized that the family, especially Madhu aunty will be broken when they will hear about the divorce plans of Anshuman and Manasvi’s consent for the same. Manasvi had to struggle with herself, not to tell Preksha about it. She didn’t want to create chaos right around her engagement.
“It isn’t that easy!” Manasvi muttered under her breath.
“Do you think about him?” Preksha asked.
Manasvi knew what Preksha exactly meant by those words when she asked her if she ever thought about Anshuman. She told her the truth. “He has been my saviour. My angel. I respect him. I worship him. That’s all about the way I think about him. Not more. Not less!”
“He is so mysterious himself. We don’t know what he thinks about you. He never tells!!”
“He is quieter. He doesn’t talk much, it seems!”
“No one knows what he is planning to do… and what he thinks… what he feels about any of us.”
Manasvi sighed, “Preksha, I am sure of one thing – You know that he loves you a lot… and he does care about you…”
Preksha shrugged, “Yeah, I know that he loves me… and he loves all of us a lot… but he never says that. Not even small gestures. Nothing!! And despite loving him so much, like any other irritated sibling, I keep grumbling to take out my annoyance on him…”
“I can understand!” Manasvi spoke softly.
“How?? And Why?? Why do you understand everyone di?? I am his sister and even I am not able to understand him… why do you excuse him, and everyone else… why don’t you ask questions?”
Innocently, Manasvi shrugged and asked like a small baby, “Which questions?”
Preksha rolled her eyes, “I know we haven’t talked about this before. But I am getting married now… I am a grown-up for such discussions… and with my marriage, I also want to find my Bhai and you, happy and together. Don’t you think you should call him and ask him why he doesn’t talk to you? Why doesn’t he take you with him? You are his lawfully wedded wife… why doesn’t any of you claim any right on each other?”
Manasvi wet her dry lips, and replied in a low voice, “Which rights are you talking about Preksha? It wasn’t a marriage by choice. It was a marriage of compromise. For him, it was a charity. For me, it was a necessity. There was never any scope of rights in our marriage!”
“But… I’ll ask again… directly this time… don’t you ever think about him – ‘romantically, I mean’…?”
“If not him, then whom do you imagine in your romantic dreams??”
“When survival is the prime concern, romantic dreams are also luxury. Not every girl gets to see those rosy dreams about a boy who will swipe her off her feet. At the age of 8, I witnessed terror and my parents fighting with the circumstances to remain alive each day. At the age of 12, we ran away from Afghanistan. At the age of 18, we were thrown out of Pakistan. I had nowhere to go. I was not allowed to live in this country in spite of being an Indian by descent and origin. I have been working hard, saving money, saving my dignity in the world full of vultures. Do you think, I ever had that luxury to float in pink coloured dreams of romance and relationship with a boy?!”
Preksha had goosebumps whenever she heard Manasvi’s story. It was true of hundreds of refugee women, surviving on all sides of borders.
“I’m sorry!!” She whispered, with tears in her eyes.
Manasvi hugged her, “Don’t apologize. When we live in a protected environment, we fail to understand the plight of people who are not so fortunate!”
“And I am such an idiot! I’ve grown up with loving parents, adoring brother, safe schooling and higher studies. I never had to change even the city, had a stable set of friends, fell in love with Varun while studying for CA and my parents never objected. I’m marrying the guy I love. Still, I keep complaining all the time!! I should be ashamed…”
“Don’t say that. I’m glad that you value all that you have. You have always given back the love you’ve received in abundance!”
“I wish, someone fulfills every void in your life di… and makes up for all the time lost…”
“It doesn’t even matter Preksha!! I’ve never thought about a man who will rescue me or make my life complete or happy. I was not brought up on fairytales. So, I never wished for a Prince Charming.”
Preksha had always been inspired by Manasvi. She had looked up to her as an epitome of strength and as a role model. Manasvi deserved every bit of it. She concluded her little self-motivating speech –
“In my story, I am my own hero!”