The Flying Dutchman

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Piyush was once more flying…from one town to the other. Once more, because it had only been few months that he had come to this town and was now looking forward to settling in a new one.

He remembered his childhood as he looked outside the rounded airplane window on his right. The huge airplane wing was disrupting the panoramic view of town from the above. He looked at box shaped houses midst the green areas from above. He wondered what people must be doing in each one of those. He wondered how many were sleeping, talking, sharing a joke or making love. He thought of troubles some of the people must be living with, in those houses which now went from box size to tiny dots. He recalled himself sitting outside his house back in his school days and gazing at the sky.

“Mamma, you know which one is my favourite bird?” he would ask her, keeping his eyes focused at blue skies.

“Which one?”

“Kite! Ask me why.” He would demand.

“Oh why is it so, sweetheart?”

“Because mother, it flies up…goes high and higher, as in highest and I love the fact that it flies so up in the sky.”

His mother would smile and ask him, “So, you don’t like other birds like Parrots or Sparrow?”

“Umm…Not really, I think the kite gets to see so much. Much more than any other bird in the sky.”

“Oh but son, do you know that kites don’t have a cozy home like parrots do?”

“Uhh?” six year old Piyush could do nothing more than scratching his head in reply.

Airplane was moving steadily now. Seat-belt sign had gone off. Piyush offered a smile back to the air-hostess as she handed him a glass full of water.

Drinking it carefully, he looked at the vast sky outside. It looked like a long bed sheet with huge pillows of cotton resting on it.

He badly wished that he could point those out to Sana, while sitting next to Sakshi. It had been a year that he had seen them. Sana was five and half year old now. He had missed her last birthday due to his work schedule. Thinking of them brought back memories of the last day he had met them. He could see Sakshi walking off the front door, holding little Sana’s hand who looked just once at Piyush before walking with her mother…without saying anything. He had hoped that she did…he had hoped she would at least resist a bit…say that she wants to stay with him. But maybe his absence during her school gatherings had much more impact on her naive heart than he had thought.

He missed her now. He missed Sakshi too. Maybe one of them more than the other. He couldn’t decide which one. He did not want to.

How he wished now, that he had not taken up that big assignment. But then again, it was big after all. Travelling across twenty towns doing what he loves to do the most and getting handsomely paid for it. He was going to live his dream. So what if happened later than he had planned, it did nonetheless. But then…Sakshi and him…his inner voices kept debating with contrasting thoughts throughout that journey.

Seat belt sign glowed once again. Routine announcement was made and the plane started its landing process. After doing few squats in the sky, plane finally touched the ground and Piyush could feel the speed at which he was moving closer to his destination.

Getting out he joined the flock of passengers waiting at the conveyor belt, desperately waiting to claim their baggage. In his head he could view the scene as parents waiting outside the school, for their kids – looking all alike in similar uniforms. He smiled at the thought.

He even heard few passengers speaking his mother tongue and felt genuinely happy. He felt that there really needs to be a special word in the dictionary for this – for the special kind of happy and content feeling that tickles your heart, every time something reminds you of your home.

“Take these extra twenty and put some Daffodils along with Lilies” Piyush told the flower vendor.

Holding the bunch delicately in his hand, he adjusted his jacket and made his hair before ringing the door-bell.

He saw the eye-hole turning dark with someone peeping from inside and it was followed by a pause. He had expected that.

Shahid opened the door and things couldn’t have been more awkward with Piyush standing there with flowers in his hand.

“Hi Piyush, wasn’t expecting to see you here!”

“Well you shouldn’t be. This is not your house.”

“Says someone who doesn’t have one” Shahid replied with a smirk on his face.

“C’mon guys, cut it out!” Sakshi came from behind and let Piyush inside.

“What the hell is he doing here?” Piyush followed Sakshi to the kitchen without taking his shoes off.

“Why do you even care?” Do you stay here? Oh let me guess, you are here to collect something you forgot the last time. Or maybe you made a girlfriend in this town.”

Piyush smiled at all the sarcasm she gave him and put the flower bunch in front of his face for her to hold it. She did not.

“He has just come to collect my signed divorce papers. He will be off then” she told Piyush while slowly accepting her favorite flowers from his hand. He leaned ahead and hugged her as her back touched the wall of the kitchen.

“Get off, you” Sakshi said blushing. “Go and meet Sana. She is upstairs.”

“Yes” he said kissing her once more before asking her,

“Did he meet Sana?”

“Yes he did. But don’t worry. She still loves this flying Dutchman more than her so called real father.” Sakshi spoke loud enough for Shahid to hear who was leaving the house, having collected the papers.

“What about your job Piyush? What are you going to do and how long are you going to be here this time” she said moving the wavy hair off his forehead.

“I do not know. I do not know where I am going to work, not as of now. But I can tell you that I’m here…now and I’m not going anywhere.”

“C’mon honey, let’s both go to her room. Come with me” Piyush said to her and took her along like a kid pulling his mother out of shopping mall.

They went to Sana’s room and knocked the door.

“Daddy!” Sana looked at him from head to toe as he sat down to come to her height and hugged her.

She showed him the drawing saying, “See…see I drew a bird – a parrot. Mamma made me erase the cage I had put him in. She says it needs to fly sometimes. Do you like Parrot, daddy?”

Piyush had tears in his eyes as he held Sakshi’s hand tight and told their daughter, “Yes, sweetheart. It’s my favorite bird.”

Long journey cut short. Part 2.

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“So?”

“So? C’mon how often it is that you come across a good looking and your kind of person, that also in a train on an impromptu trip?” I spoke hurriedly to my sister over the phone.

“Dear little brother, just because ‘you saw some pretty girl inside the train, she had a laugh with you and the fact that she likes the same bizarre thing that you do’ doesn’t mean she is your soul mate or something.”

“Whoa first thing, I never said anything about soul mate. And the second thing, writing is not a bizarre thing to do” I spoke on the other line trying to convince my sister that Jia was indeed the girl I had been looking for.

“Well, your choice. But remember that you are only looking at it from your side. If she really was your girl, maybe she should have been looking for you as well. Right?” she said just like two of my closest friends did that day, none offering me a ray of hope to go and look for her.

But I had already made up my mind. I kept the phone & walked outside the hotel room to come to its square shaped balcony.

Straight down the road, I could see the market just waking up & putting on a mascara of colorful items over its face. Then in front, there stood houses with slanted rooftops animated with squirrels occasionally running across them, then pausing for a minute and again disappearing into tiny vents of the roof. Behind the houses was the mammoth sky looking crystal blue & freshly bathed with few clouds here and there. I exhaled air out of mouth just to see the fog being dispersed, like my school buddy & I would do back in school time. Don’t know about him, but I still enjoy doing so.

It was early morning & my feet had gone more of numb than hardened to the frozen floors of the hotel room. Rubbing my hands together, I gently removed the phone out of my pocket & googled places to visit at Mussoorie. Eliminating family spots, I decided upon two spots out of those. Putting the camera bag over my shoulder & hands tucked deep inside my winter jackets’ pockets, I left for the first spot – Gun Hill.

Local school children were walking briskly towards school, wearing deep green jackets & ties. I wondered how many of them knew how to put their own tie. I walked further through the misty road as I was greeted by rickshaw drivers looking hopefully for me to agree with their request to visit some famous garden nearby. I refused with a smile & marched ahead onto the narrow lane covered by hills on one side & overlooking the valley on the other. The road went up & down like a swirling skirt of Marilyn Monroe and I let myself to be swayed ahead along. It took me to the board directing towards Gun hill and I trusted the sign.

The air went thin & oxygen thinner as I hiked upward the hill. I realized how much stamina I had lost over the years as I rested few times along the trek. Turn by turn, stepping over the stones & crossing big-small rocks in the path I finally reached the top.

It is always disappointing isn’t it, the view at the top? Maybe because we build up & imagine too much in our head while we are climbing up. But no, not this time. This one was breathtaking. I tried to slow down my breathing while I looked at the series of mountains as far as the eyesight could capture…I stood there enthralled, taking in moments one at a time, inhaling every second, pausing & looking around for more, not taking anything for granted…until a local guy came from somewhere and started telling me about the names of mountain range & the masala tea he makes at his restaurant nearby. His words were slowly lost in the waves of thoughts splashing against each other in my head. I do not recall nodding my head, but he came back after some time with a glass full of ginger tea & offered me a seat.

The tea was strong enough to drag the tiredness out of my body & demand me to drink it, but at the same time sweet enough to make my lips to form a smile at the edge of the glass. The aroma of ginger tea stimulated my thoughts and made me think of her again. How stupid could it be? Just one meeting and a long search so far. If nothing she could be a great story, I told myself and then again refuted that thought thinking it would be like giving up.

Jia. Probably years it had been that I felt so strongly about someone. It felt like a dream. And you know you’re a multi-tasker when you’re in love. You might be staring at a Himalayan range sitting on the last bench in the big classroom of Mussoorie hills, but secretly you are thinking about her. Questioning the present, wading through the past and dreaming of future all while looking at the gorgeous sunlit valley…I was lost in my search for her. I had not simply lost her at that train station the other day, but every time I touched, heard or thought of things that reminded me of her; I was losing her all over again.

I sat there thinking, outside the restaurant at the center on top of the mountain, wondering if she ever sat on this side…hoping to capture a part of her that might still linger there, but in reality, it was just a lonely chair.

Watching the army of dark clouds slowly marching forward the sky, I left the place and took a trolley back down the hill.

I paid few extra bucks to the driver for his generous smile and started walking back towards the hotel. The market on my way back was a lively scene. Tourists were doing the impulse purchases and I noticed few pretty faces walking, wearing thick scarves around their necks killing the winters. I looked at the hotels standing close together with most of those filled to their capacity. Yet there were not enough people on the street. Maybe the world outside was too cold and real for them to lose the intimacy. On the sides, there were vendors selling corn, Maggi, and hot soup. The flames of burners they used were giving warmth to onlookers’ eyes and stimulating the appetite. I saw few people resorting to cigarettes to fight the cold wind and it reminded me of twelve-year-old whiskey sitting firmly in my bag back in the hotel. My feet moved fast now.

Ten odd minutes and I was back in my room.

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Gulping the first glass of alcohol down, I stared at the dark sky. From here, the town Dehradun – at the base of this hill looked more like a gold mine. Or a diamond mine, whichever you find more beautiful. Thousands of lights coming out of tiny toy sized houses glittered in the moonlight and I reaffirmed that the journey was worth coming this far.

Pouring another glass of whiskey, I started writing the first paragraph of the story.

‘’If they were to develop a drug that lets you get the high of ‘how you felt the first time you realized you’re in love’, all other drugs would soon be obsolete…Sitting in that train bogey, talking to each other, stealing the look in each other’s eyes, watching, living every moment of that journey…Neil & Jia knew that they had struck a chord. Neil knew for sure….And that day like winners, they both lost each other…hoping to find each other again’’

With every sip of whiskey that dived down the throat, I could feel the warmth…much-needed warmth to balance the cold world outside and the cold-blooded heart that it had become. To go back to the worlds in my head that I had been avoiding. Because alcohol makes you ponder over words that you have been ignoring but yet had been circling in your head nevertheless. You had been ignoring them because listening to those words might give them a life otherwise.

I cared less about things now. Like a chain smoker searching for his cigarette early morning, I looked for my laptop. My fingers typed in words as they knocked the doors of my head…no refraining, no editing. Life seemed simple…and yet unnecessarily made complex. Love, hurt, happiness, drunkenness was all that was there to it. I wondered where did the thousand other things creep in & made it so complicated. Like people, like Jia…who you awkwardly fall for…Loved ones, such a fancy term for those who enter your heart unexpectedly and carry a piece of it with them forever…

I kept writing, till I could challenge my weary eyes to stay open. They held a vision of her & I could see her every time my eyes blinked. I worked on my story. The hills, the sky, the passersby, the ginger tea and a random kitten I came across…they all danced in front of my eyes forming a kaleidoscope. I tried to rearrange them in a pattern and asked the night to hold onto the moon for a little more time.

Keeping myself warm inside the blanket, I kept writing I do not know till what time.

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Next morning I was woken up by Mussoorie morning stripping its temperature further down. It was time to bid goodbye. To this hotel room, to the hotel receptionist, to the mountains draped once again in fog & sunlight. In order to freshen up my frozen brain cells, I stopped for some coffee at one of the cafes in Mussoorie market. ‘Chic-chocolate’ it read. And I instantly knew that I would love this place.

I was first welcomed by a glass cabin of pastries & dark chocolates. Further, inside, a man in his late fifties or something smiled a warm smile as I looked around his cafe. Brown walls adorned with paintings & movies photos from retro-era were bestowing the place a nice blend of classy & funky style. But what caught my eyes the most was the bar counter at one end – not for alcohol but coffee. An artificial anchor & a rope were hanging from above the counter, while the coffee machine was packed with coffee beans. I chose my booth & placed an order for an Irish coffee to go along with grilled chicken sandwich.

I admired the place more as I took the first bite of crunchy sandwich with perfectly roasted chicken and my lips kissed the orange mug for the strong coffee to smoothly flow down my throat. I could see that I was not the only one in love with the place, when I read feedback posts stuck on the walls – ‘’Please come to Brazil – Maria’’…. ‘’ best place for coffee in Mussoorie – Ila, ‘’Chocolates & Coffee, a perfect blend’ – Jia’’…

I finished my food & did bottoms-up for the last few sips of coffee. Walking towards the counter I smiled at the owner and told him how much I admired the place as well as my wish to write an article on the same. He let me know that it was started well back in British era in 1925 and the fact that they make these chocolates with 20 different flavors all fresh at the floor above. I tasted few myself before packing a mixture of flavors to take back as a souvenir. Roast almond, Rum-n-raisin, hazelnut, chilly flavored…it was a treat for my tongue.

He packed each one delicately before dropping them delicately inside the gift box and spoke,

“Of course you can take few snaps for your article while I pack these for you, go ahead. I know you artists love these kinds of places. I know few personally. Like Jia…she had come over here just two to three days back. She keeps visiting. A wonderful writer, she is.”

I put the camera away from my eyes as he said that & turned around to ask,

“Jia Shah right? The famous writer? I have heard she keeps traveling and gets her stories at beautiful places like this”.

“Yes, Jia. She told me, she is writing about some co-passenger she met on her way to Dehradun this time. He was a writer too…said she was really interested in…”

I wore my biggest smile of the journey as I made cannon 600D sit firmly on my right cheek & clicked.

The world isn’t too big after all. If you believe…