A bright green parrot with a red collar around its neck

Freedom

The owner fed its bright green parrot a pomegranate.

Because he was a loving man.

He offered parrot a home adorned with golden bars around.

And a small door, that occasionally borrowed freedom from the wind.

The owner fed its bright green parrot a papaya.

And parrot spoke the words he liked to hear.

The bright green parrot with a red collar around its neck.

He told his pals that they envied his comfortable life.

The owner fed its bright green parrot a mango.

Because he was a caring man.

And the parrot sang the tune, owner asked him to.

The owner brought his friends home the other day.

And fed bright green parrot an apricot.

The bright green parrot with a red collar around its neck.

He muttered curses under its breath.

He told his pals he envied them.

Every time his wings longed for a flight.

 He spent his days banging himself on the golden bars.

And a small door, that occasionally shared its darkness with night.

The next morning it was swung open.

By owner to collect bright green wings, gone numb with time.

If possession was a definition of love,

The owner would have been the most romantic of them all.

Not my cup of tea

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You would say I’m still a boy, if you ever see me trying to catch the train’s window seat. The world outside it still manages to keep me enthralled throughout the journey.

The other day, I was visiting Dahanu as per my work schedule. It was the last stop in Mumbai, almost kissing the Gujarat border. It would take me not less than 2 to 3 hours to reach there. But I had no complaints. The train crossing the river bridge and making da-da-dum sound always kept me engaged in conversation with her. It was monsoon and lush green lands on the both sides getting sliced by a river was a charmingly bucolic sight. It was well garnished with a row of mountains holding hands far behind the lands.
Fishermen could be seen taking their motorized boats filled with fishing nets and an anchor. None of them ever seemed bothered by the rhythmic movement of train wheels through their town. Maybe the train knew only too well how to march in tune with those tiny villages.

There were only few stops where passengers could get down and hop in at. Umroli was not one of them.
I think the little town wasn’t particularly happy about being left out. It looked morose watching the train speed past its old crooked platform. It was always deserted except for few dogs, elderly men and a tea seller kid.
The tea seller kid. The first time the boy caught my attention was, when he raised the tea kettle indicating he hoped to serve us. The train didn’t have time for the little boy and kept racing ahead. Next time I saw him again standing there and yet again the next month as I passed that station. I think the boy started to recognize me then, watching me study him. He started smiling at me. I didn’t smile back. I wanted to buy a cup of tea from him. But the train wouldn’t let me.
All I could do was to watch him stand there in shorts and a surprisingly clean white shirt. I wondered if he learnt about cleanliness at a school. And then immediately I hoped that he does go to school in the first place. I tried guessing how much he would be earning by selling tea in that little town of his.
It became a routine for me.

Few months passed. I had not been to that part of town. I had forgotten about the tea seller in my errands of work life.
It was raining heavily the day I was once again on my way to Dahanu. I was excited. I was hoping to see him again. I wondered if he would still recognize me. The train moved slowly that day for whatever the reason it was. The river was laughing its full mouth with rainwater and only few fishermen could be seen. I looked outside as the train approached Umroli village. The platform seemed even more deserted today. I could spot not more than 3 to 4 people. They didn’t include that boy. The barricade behind the platform was broken and was hanging down.
Platform was submerged in water.

“What happened to this place?” I exclaimed.
“It got flooded. A huge flood that swept away this and nearby towns” said the fellow passenger.
“How bad was it?” I asked.
“Bad enough for few people to go missing. Almost all of them lost their houses”.
“Hmm” I sighed and retreated back into my thoughts.
The journey seemed unusually long that day. I was trying not to think about the tea selling boy.
I reached Dahanu. I met my client. I changed the topic every time he spoke about the horrible flood. He offered me tea and I found it difficult to gulp it down.
On my way back, the train again moved at slow pace due to water on the tracks. Just a station before Umroli, a tea seller got into the next compartment. For a moment I thought he was the same boy. He wasn’t.
I knew I was not going to get down at Umroli someday, even if the train did stop. Although I thought about it several times.
I don’t know what happened to him. Maybe I will never find out.

But I’m a sucker for happy endings. In my story, he did survive. He reunited with his family. I would like to believe that he even found a little puppy dog. Yes, I would like to think so.

 

Cliff divers

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We met again.

Yet again.

After 5 years.

2020 the year, they said it was.

I loosened the tie around my neck.

Hemant followed the suit & threw his jacket off.

Wind blew hard that day.

As 5 friends stood at the edge of a cliff.

Rahul & Kaustubh looked all the way down.

Down at the ocean blue water,

A sight that Hardik was a bit afraid to jump at.

30 feet down and much more deep inside.

Decisions to be made, fears to be overpowered.

To break the cocoon of changed lifestyles.

I took my shirt off.

Some of us had lost the toned bodies long back.

Age had caged our hearts from flying.

But today 5 hearts fluttered so hard.

‘Let’s do it.’

‘Jump? But we haven’t…it’s been a while.’

‘A while? Been a long long time.’

‘We are here. All of us. It says, ‘We dive!’

Don’t remember who said that,

But all of us listened to that voice.

And we pushed ourselves off the edge.

Only to realise that we had wings all this while.

With arms spread wide & a deep breath held inside.

Five of us dived together from the cliff so high.

Within moments of adrenaline & fears escaping minds,

We made it to the reflection of blue sky.

Triggering the sands of time,  

We entered a world,

So different from the one above.

Time had played its trick

And I couldn’t believe what I saw.

I was talking about the latest book I had been working on.

Rahul had his own research firm back in town.

Kaustubh was back with the one he should have called back.

Hardik had come back to India,

And Hemant simply smiled watching us showered with joy.

In a land of money chasers and runaways,

A ripple was created along the water.

The only culprit had always been the Time.

To the tune of which we all had danced.

Until we stripped down the plastic smiles.

And all it took was one dive.

Water did not change the direction though.

It was a ripple after all.

It was a dream.

It was a naked thought.

It was short lived.

But nevertheless, damn good it was!

Begging and Praying

 

 

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I must have been about 7 year old. I had recently learned how to tuck in my shirt and do my hair. But I was more proud of the fact that I could now cross the street on my own. 
Summer vacations were on and Sun had no plans to bestow its courtesy on us Punekars. I was out that day visiting a famous temple in Pune along with my mother. Temple was famous because God sitting there was not only rich but also answered prayers of everyone visiting him. Or that is what my mother told me. I don’t know what prayer my mother had to offer. I was just feeling hungry and wanted to get done with it as soon as possible. So stretching my neck and lifting my toes up, I tried to get a good look at the hoard of devotees. God’s fans. ‘Fans’ because ‘Followers’ was too big a word for me. 
I could see we were part of a big queue looking like a tail of rat going inside a hole. It was hot and it was getting annoying every minute after another. After having carefully observed how the little kitten lapped up spilled over milk over the stairs, I did not know how to pass my time. I kept hoping that we get close to the temple’s door as fast as possible. 
And then a sound of 50 paisa coins jumping into the steel bowl caught my attention. I saw a man with tattered clothes sitting outside the temple. “He is a beggar” mother told.
I looked at him and then looked elsewhere as he caught me doing so. He was not bothered. With an askance glance, I spotted a little girl sitting next to him. She was wearing a red frock or rather ‘once used to be a red’ frock. Her hair reminded me of Pinki, my neighbor girl. Kedar and I used to tease Pinky all the time over her messy hair. For some reason I felt, this girl had much better hair than Pinky.
And suddenly the girl smiled at me and I saw that she had really bad set of teeth. She surely did not brush them 2 times a day.
She kept looking at me and then the man sitting next to her, maybe her father stretched the steel bowl towards me. 
I felt a little scared. I held my mother’s hand tighter and tried to hide behind her. 
The little girl was no more smiling. But she kept looking at me. Next thing she did was to fold her hands at me. As if I was someone who could really help her. I even wanted to. I did not know how. 
Meanwhile mother took me inside the temple and I saw her with her hands folded at God. Same way the little girl with curly hair did at me. I was not God. Or was I, for her? I kept seeing her in my head as I closed my eyes. 
Beggar outside the temple had his back against the God, whom people came to visit from so far.
Here inside, I folded my hands after a reminder or two from mother. That was the last time I prayed to that Idol. I asked him to give her a new frock and not make her fold her hands like that. Ever.

Later before taking an auto rickshaw back home, I looked for the sight of that girl. She was still sitting there. Kitten had jumped into her lap and she was patting its back. Although I was far, I could feel the kitten was making a purring sound. It tells you that it is happy. And that little girl?

I kept looking at her while the rickshaw driver started the vehicle. She finally lifted her head up and saw me from far. She smiled wide open. She looked cute in spite of her yellow teeth. It made me happy. Smile was all I could give her that day. I felt much taller than I was. 

Mood swings of a restless dream

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Brain over heart. Job over sweetheart. Money over profile and Career over dreams.

Because we are supposed to. Because we are a part of the society, that trains us to be one amongst the flock.

Wisdom teeth start making their way in, while we are busy murdering the teenage dreams. High school crushes from the scrapbook make themselves seen after a long time, adding their honeymoon pictures online. Paycheques in your bank account have become a routine, finding their way out to somebody else’s wallet every time you buy yourself a pint.

Amidst thousand racing thoughts in your mind, you seek peace. Peep your head outside the bedroom window and feel the night kissing your cheeks. Moon is there already, slowly playing its tricks on you. One minute you are dreaming and the next it is your reality. You have a mind tickling realisation that you’ve been through your best times already. You wish, someone told you so.

In the world where most of us are looked as replaceable, you wonder how you still manage to keep few relations tucked safely in. ‘Friends’, such a fancy label given to those who enter your heart unexpectedly and carry a piece of it with them forever. You feel happy to have let them steal it.

Most look at themselves in the mirror, but you look for yourself. At your messed up hair and the dark circles underneath your eyes. You smile once and yet know this is not how you do it. Cold water drowns your eyes into a moment of ‘nothing’ for a minute and immediately throws you back to the present time.

‘Today’. And you know you have to deal with it. Alone mostly. A series of bad decisions do a mocking dance every morning and Sun tries its best to make you smile. Birds are still chirping like they used to and streets are full of smiles. Hoping you could see it.

Rubbing your eyes, you snooze the dreams yet another time and tell yourself, it is a new day.
Caffeine has become your drug and newspaper the first person you make eye contact with. Skipping horoscope section intentionally, you fold the newspaper back and leave. Hoping you will take a stand at least today. For yourself. And take a leap over the puddle of boredom. To the dreamy land. It waves at you.

Grass is greener on the other side. You know it. Because you fertilized it yourself in your favourite dream. We all know secretly where we have to be.

Heart over brain. That’s how it was always supposed to be.

Living life Nawabi style

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With winters kissing your cheek under the white moonlight, you are standing at a fairly busy street of Hazartganj on a Saturday evening.  Watching the shops and brand outlets draped in black and white clothes and a hoard of townspeople crowding them.

LUCKNOW. Like an old Bollywood film, the town welcomes you with its name flashing in front of your eyes in a big Times New Roman font followed by Urdu as you get down at Lucknow Junction.

After paying the rickshaw guy twenty odd rupees or so without much hassle or negotiation required, you reach Hazartganj Chowk or Chouraha as they famously call it here in pure Hindi. So, standing outside Royal cafe restaurant, one of the most popular ones – you watch several people relishing a basket chat and chatting about the week that just went by. A mixture of mashed potato, curd in a basket made out of sev is enough to satiate two rumbling tummies at a time.

Food is one of the many reasons why one shall visit this town. Not more than 200 meters from Royal cafe you come across Shukla tea stall, where you can spot the chap heating creamy milk outside a small restaurant and pouring it skilfully in already laid down glasses in rows. It is then topped with a layer of tea diving into milk, as he fills the glasses almost overflowing it. A delight to one’s s eyes as well as taste buds craving for some tannin.

And it doesn’t end there, my connoisseurs! Take a ride through this city in a cycle rickshaw. Through the busy streets of Aminabad, the rickshaw driver will take you to food joints like Tundey Kabab and Dastarkhwan. And while he drives through the crowded parts of Lucknow, he will narrate to you tales of their existence in town since pre-independence era. Both the places serve a mouth watering delicacy known as Galawati Kabab. A folk tale follows the dish that, once upon a time there lived a Nawab at Lucknow who had a weak set of teeth and hence ordered his chef to cook kababs accordingly. And so in process, Galawati Kababs were borne. Pick up a piece of these kababs gently with a spoon…gently because it is so tender to be broken otherwise. So lift a piece and wrap it neatly between the crispy buttery Mughlai paratha and simply rest them on your tongue. With the blink of your eyes, kababs shall melt in, spreading the mouth watering taste of it down your throat.

Apart from food, the city is known for its love for Hindi & Urdu language. And it is overwhelming to hear people speak purest of Hindi, marinated with respect. You won’t know respect until you hear an elderly Lucknow businessman speaking to a chap dropping him home for few bucks and thanking him in most respectful way you would have ever heard of.

As you ride your bike along with white fiat cars topped with blue lights demanding you to give them way ahead, an open bridge spreads its arms wide over Gomti river – separating the town into two distinct parts. And old and new Lucknow.
Old or new, the city wears a serene mask on its face and lets you do your job at peace. A fountain laughing a mouthful of cold water will welcome you at every corner of this town.

I am yet to see a town so careful to maintain the buildings and houses in their pristine form that even cafe coffee day paints itself black and white to be a part of its clique. Big clothing brands try and stand out with their showrooms taking shelter in white flamboyant architectures, reminiscent of its royal Nawabi past.

Wondering how to reach here? Simple. The capital city of Uttar Pradesh is just an overnight train journey from New Delhi and requiring a 24hours travel from Mumbai. Airlines hover around it every day, giving you a glimpse of wide gardens showcasing a tall statue of Buddha and several elephants standing in rows. So one can take a nonstop flight from metro cities or have a connecting flight from New Delhi/Mumbai from other towns to land here.

And yes, don’t forget to add ‘G’ to every surname that you come across here. After all, mingling with the local stream lets you appreciate the place even more.

Rest; there are plenty of places and faces waiting for you to arrive here – in Nawabi style!

Skipped

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she was yet to find a drug,

as potent as

his favourite song on her playlist..

Killing her softly,

every time she went for it..

Ubiquitous naked memories of him,

mocked every corner of her brains..

with closed eyes she could see,

his long fingers

Tap dancing rhythmically,

the buttons of piano in her head..

A piece of memories,

woven into a thread of colourful dress..

His was the voice,

that she chose every time to play..

Jealousy, hatred and love,

all pretended to be friends.

mood swings were always

there to be blamed..

Frown took over pink lips,

and her smile faded.

when she pressed her younger self,

deep down once again..

“never shall I ever”

she reminded herself,

not to play that song again..

And his song kept shuffling,

being skipped every now and then

yet never once erased..

Tune this world out

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Sitting in your bed with your back pressed against a wall,
You think of ways to ward off the demons of everyday life.
Eyes stressed out and yet projecting millions of things you let go off.
Plugging in headphones,
You let the music tune the world slowly out.
With drums and guitar ringing in your ears,
You make friends with yet another scotch to melt the reality down.
Feel little envious of your dreaming self,
Unlike you, he has the full access to your past.
Ghosts of murdered dreams laugh their lungs out,
And the walls around wear a familiar gown of those back in hometown.
Rusty hopes keep dancing like a tamed snake,
Slave to the tune of someone else’s songs.
As you drown yourself slowly in the whirlwind of golden bubbles,
Waves splashing the shores of glass drown out dark clouds of thoughts.
Alarm goes off yet again, while you snooze your troubles for a while,
And sleep becomes the only time you live life.
Definitions of ‘worst’ keep updating themselves like Adobe,
With ‘this too shall pass’ tattooed across your heart.

A game of rock, scissor & paper heart

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One half finished story in the pool of ink and

Few unedited verses of thoughts passed by.

Caffeine wears off his nerves slowly

And so do her thoughts,

As they seek refuge in draft folders of his heart.

 A kind of High that makes his heart beat,

in tune with the song melancholy to her smile.

A game of Rock, Scissor and Paper,

That he lets her win every single time.

They let their demons kindle the romance,

And he forgets they have paper hearts.

Happily ever after is where the story ends,

Curtain closes on the sweet past and

The reality jump starts.

He retreats yet again in the dungeon he calls escape,

Writing poems on the tombstone of love.

Reading them to the ghosts of her,

Not yet ready for a goodbye.

Blurred lines

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Waiting lips met the whiskey mug again,

And they kissed so tenderly,

A kiss that was exchanged a thousand times already,

Between the eyes that froze into each other’s sight.

Blurred lines danced upon the border of which.

The reality was marinated with drunkenness slowly.

I was back to the corner, where I had first seen you.

Guess you are sipping happiness elsewhere,

But in the vision, I still saw myself with you.

The place where we sat for hours at noon,

Under the tree that we carved our names into,

It was being felled down, what once used to…

Symbolise our love and I could see you,

Yes I saw you when the pretty little white bird flew,

It left the fallen tree because it had to search for a new,

A new house to rest its feet on…you did too.

And so did I…when our heart beats stopped rhyming to,

The same music we once danced to.

Yet I sat around the fallen branch,

Caressing it tenderly, watching the love wither away slowly.

We shared a bottle or two,

My inebriated heart and the bitter-sweet memories of you.

Blurred lines was the answer to,

Question whether we really burnt the bridges down.

Or was forgetting each other was a lie draped as truth.

My eyes woke up to the real world meanwhile and

I found myself sitting inside a cubicle with feelings so blue.

Guess, it wasn’t the magical liquid that got me high.

It was you.

Had always been you.