RAZIA

“The events, characters and firms depicted in this story are fictitious. They do not bear any sort or resemblance to actual persons or professions, living or dead.”

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It’s a foggy morning. It’s September but the sun’s still not visible. Slowly the light rays make their way into the cramped room through the spaces between the iron rods, as rustic as the hues of the golden sun that splashes all its colors at once; dramatic, enchanting yet temporary, lasting till the night sets in and paves way for the uninterrupted darkness.

Razia stared at the ceiling, then her gaze fell at the man sleeping next to her. He was handsome, his fair skin contrasting with her dusky one. Soon, the heat inside gets unbearable, and the man gets up. He puts on his shirt, makes his hair, gets his cellphone and calls up his wife.

“Sorry sweetheart I was stuck up with some urgent work. You know how these IT industries operate. We have foreign clients. Sometimes we need to work overtime and stay back for night shifts. Yeah I’ll be back in an hour.”

“I know what you must have been thinking about me, Razia. A man must be dedicated to his wife. But you know what? I’m in love with you! You surely have something in your eyes that makes me come to you again and again! The comfort you provide is unmatchable! I mean, my wife can never live up to my expectations. You’ve set a benchmark. Will meet you soon!” He left with a wink and a smile.

Razia smiled back. She didn’t respond. How could she know about the relationship between a husband and a wife? Unperturbed, she got up and cleaned her face, smeared with kohl and lipstick, and put on her clothes. It had been a steamy night, like all other nights.

The phrase “I love you” was no more a melody to her ears. Everyday someone or the other used it on her, to soothe her burns, only to cut them up again, just for a few hundreds of rupees per hour. But she has learnt not to complain.

“Listen to what your customers say and don’t be a hassle. This is our business, and we must do it the right way. Sometimes settle down for a bargain. Business is slow- so do as the men say. Don’t let your ego get into your head. It can ruin your career. Utilize your youth before it is lost behind your age. And yes, sell your body, but not your heart. This isn’t a place for weak hearted individuals. Once you’re in, you’re out of the game. Understood?”

Understood.

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Mornings are filled with hustle and bustle in this part of the city. Sometimes Razia goes around the electronics shops, looking at newly ordered gadgets. Goods starting from televisions, microphones and cameras-all glitter through the glasses. She had managed to get enough money saved to buy a smartphone for herself. How she wished she could call her mother and talk to her, at least for once! She might be still alive and languishing somewhere, begging for a livelihood, or she might have died of a disease…who knows?

Budhwar Peth- a name synonymous with Lord Ganapati, houses three temples out of the five major Ganapati temples located across Pune. Every morning after she took her bath, Razia would go and stand outside one of the temple premises. She never dared to go inside, for the world had labelled her as impure; a creature who has no past and no future, a creature not even worthy of a penny, nothing. Just a creature whose existence was carved up long time ago inside the four walls, who was silenced forever. And God wouldn’t like to see His ill-fated lesser mortals. It would be a disgrace.

The ABC Chowk was the favorite destination of students. Every day she could see scores of children, teens and adults thronging the marketplace as if it were a sweetmeat shop. She could see so many girls carrying schoolbags with them, chatting loudly as they stop to eat Dabeli and Pani Puri. Small girls, with oiled hair neatly tied up into two long ponytails in their red and white Salwar Kameez, looked adorable.

She had the freedom to go into any bookstore she wanted. She could glance over the stories from the Panchatantra and the Aesop Fables. Diagrams from twelfth standard chemistry textbooks. Images of the Universe. She used to get astonished by the photographs of celebrities in glossy magazines. Some were identifiable, from the item songs that they perform; some were not. They looked so gorgeous!

She looked gorgeous too; her kohl rimmed eyes spoke of a feminine aggression; her ruby red lips gave her face a new dimension, already overloaded with powder. Jasmine flowers adorned her long hair and she wore strikingly bright colored saris. Her wrists grooved to the tune of her bangles.

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“Why am I not rich and famous like them? Even I put make up and wear dazzling clothes”, she had asked her Madam one day.

“They work for the entertainment industry; you work to entertain men. They encash their beauty, you encash your build.”

She was infamous; for her identity belonged to the city’s biggest brothel. Never did a single day pass on the roads where she could walk with peace; the men catcalling and making jeers, the women throwing disdainful glances. Mothers could often be overheard warning their kids, “Never go near her, she’s a prostitute!”

Running away was not an option. This was her home, her only identity. She had tried running away a long time back. She doesn’t even remember the dates anymore. The stigma associated with the monotonous humdrum of her polluted life followed her like her shadow.

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It had been a summer night. Razia was a teenager back then, barely 15 years old. She was sleeping beside her parents. Suddenly, she was woken up by a commotion outside. There was this loud sound of firing and gunshots, and before they could understand what was going on, she saw her father being shot in front of her own eyes. They dragged away her petite mother, who didn’t even get a moment to cry over her husband’s corpse.

Razia was confused. Her father’s lifeless body was before her; his calm eyes wide open. It seemed as if he wanted to say her something. The ethnic cleansing of their community was getting violent and deadlier with each passing day, but Razia had never ever thought in the wildest of her dreams that she’d have to lose her parents in such a horrific manner. She ran away to the village mosque nearby, and sat inside, clutching the Quran tightly in her fists. The mosque was a dilapidated structure now, which bore the signs of religious discrimination and hatred.

The next day, she could hear the screams of women and children who had lost their husbands and fathers last night. She was still scared to go out of the mosque, she felt secured inside. “Allah would stop all wrongdoings and punish the goons”. She had full faith on her God.

In the blink of an eye, she saw her Ammi Jaan.

Ammi Jaan looked no longer petite, it seemed as if she was in the possession of some djinn. She had disheveled hair and her clothing torn to pieces. Her face was swollen and her eyes were red. Her body was full of scratch marks and wounds.

“They’ve burnt our house. We have nothing left in this country. Let’s go.”

“Go where, Ammi Jaan?”

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Soon they were busy walking amongst a sea of people who seemed to be knowing where they were going. It was bad, crossing jungles in those same set of clothes and barefoot. The thought of death scared them no more, they had already lost everything back home. The hopes of a new, dignified life at a distant motherland—-

“So is this your story, miss?”, the reporter sipped tea as she made notes.

“Yes.”

“And what is your name again, pardon?”

“Razia. Razia Sultan.”

“Razia Sultan was the—’’

“Was the only female ruler to rule the Delhi Sultanate in your country”, came back the curt reply. “I don’t know why my parents christened me with this name, but I had read about her in school. She had been a brave lady, and had always tried to connect with her subjects. She had protected all kinds of ethnic minorities in her state. Unfortunately, she couldn’t reign for long and was killed. Three burial sites in India claim to hold her dead body remains.”

“You’re literate?”

“Yes. I had to leave my country the year I was in 10th standard.”

“Please continue with your story.”

“Where was I? Ah, yes. My mother was acting strange. She had this grave look on her face and wasn’t crying or talking. She just held my hand firmly and led me through the forest. After walking some miles, I realized that we were fleeing our country. Imagine, leaving your country in this condition—’’

It was a hot sultry afternoon, and the reporter was getting impatient.

“I meant your story. About how you landed up with this Madam here.”

Razia smiled. Her shadow followed her everywhere. Such a wretched luck that she had, the misgivings of her fortune had even robbed her of the status given to a refugee.

“Okay let’s stop it here. How many times do you reporters need to learn about the stories of these women? Do you think the police has the entire day to spend over both of you? Off you go now! I have to go through these official proceedings,” the Police Officer came in and took the chair next to her.

“How long you’ve been in this service?”

“Three years. Maybe four. I don’t remember exactly, Daroga Sahib. During the initial days, they used to hit me because I was always trying to escape from their clutches. I never cooperated with the clients. I used to cry and scream and kick my hands and legs in anger and disappointment. So, Madam and Ashfaq used to beat me hard. Very hard.”

“Ashfaq?”

“The guy who sold me to Madam.”

“We’ve issued a notice to look out for him. He is responsible for a lot of cases like yours. By the way, do you have any medical issues?”

“I don’t know, but I have had abortions quite for a few number of times. I wasn’t taken to any nursing home-Madam used to hit my stomach hard with the heavy sticks like you use.”

“Your medical reports suggest that you’re HIV positive.”

Raziya’s face went expressionless.

“Technically you’re not an Indian citizen, but you have a voter ID card. You are an orphan and you don’t have a family to go back to. Also, you’re infected. We don’t know what to do with you. You’ve to stay under detention for a few days till we find a reprimand home for you. As I said, there are lots of women and children being rescued every month, some have families while some don’t have, and mostly the families don’t want their daughters back. We don’t know where and how to accommodate you all. The NGOs are in constant collaboration with us. Let me see if I can register you with any.”

“Thank you very much, Sahib.”

“And while you’re here, you can keep on entertaining us.”

It’s late evening, and the sun has started to descend, throwing its golden hues for the one last time tonight, before paving way again for the victorious, uninterrupted darkness.

**********************

The red light area at Budhwar Peth in Pune is said to be very huge with 4000-plus commercial sex workers. Where is our world heading to?

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THE OLD COUPLE

At 2.30 a.m. in the morning, Mommy got a call. She switched on the lights, and sat with her head downcast for a few minutes. Tears were streaming down from her eyes. Then she frantically started moving around the room, arranging stuff, making more calls to daddy.

I woke up in this commotion to realise that Grandpa is no more.

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My Grandpa was 90+. He was the tallest in the family: 6 feet, and not a single child from his seven children could grow up to that stature. He was twice the height of Grandma, the domination visible even before we could take a sneak peek into their lives.

Grandpa had been sick since a few months but recently he was making rounds in various hospitals. My parents and his other children were taking turns regularly to be with him. Towards the end, he was at the ICU and the day before he left us, he was already on the ventilator.

The last time I had met Grandpa was a couple of days ago. I remember going to him with Daddy and Nishi. It was pitch dark outside when we reached our uncle’s home. Grandma hugged us tightly.

“Both of you’ve grown up! Nickie, you’re getting darker and thinner. You don’t take care of yourself. Look what have you done to your skin. Nishi seems all right, all sweet and cute like she was since she was a child.”

The three of us held each other and cried. Grandpa was there on the bed, barely able to move; his tummy was swollen and he had a catheter attached. He wasn’t eating anything, and had a bad pain in his lower back.

“See your grand daughters have come. Have a look! Nickie and Nishi have come to meet you!” Grandma said, all excited.

My grandpa was moaning. He took my hands and  made me touch his forehead. Grandma said that he was giving his blessings. He then signalled me to press his back, the pain was getting unbearable.

He asked where my mother was, and why hadn’t she come that day. He ordered daddy to bring her the next time we come to meet him. He was missing everyone and wanted to see his children. I was shocked to see a man like him, lying like that on the bed, desperate and helpless.

Auntie was trying her best to make him eat something, but he won’t budge.

You’d have been shocked as well if you’d have seen him in that condition: Grandpa was thin, yet strong. He could still walk for long distances and could stitch clothes with ease. He was a very active person, always doing something or the other. He had a sharp brain, and remembered everything. In short, he was a self made man who made his own decisions and listened to no one.

Grandpa used to come home when I was a kid, and he used to tell me lots of stories from The Mahabharata, The Ramayana and The Bhagavad Gita. He always told me to pray and believe in God. I could listen to him for hours, the daydreamer I am, and when he used to ask me for a pen I’d hand him over an entire packet.

Grandma used to say me that she had once married man when she was 20 years old, not rich like her family but well to do. Some days later, there was a robbery in her household and that left them with just fields enough to survive, not live and they became poor. Grandpa was living with his parents and siblings and their spouses and children, plus his wife and children, plus the livestock, the pond and the agricultural fields.

It was not enough to sustain such a huge family.

So grandpa worked in the fields and ran small shops to finance his children’s education. He always saw to it. Whenever he used to go out or come back into his mud house, he would spank his children. “Are you studying or sleeping?”

So it had to be like that. I am keeping daddy’s deeds for another day, today’s it about our old folks. There was always a financial crunch back at home and daddy was preparing to become a Chartered Accountant in Howrah, but he always sent him money, however little in amount. He wanted Daddy to become rich and successful, even though it meant sacrificing his own comforts for it.

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How do we all remember our grandmothers? Loose skinned, white haired, old ladies who don’t understand a thing that we say, don’t know that you don’t need to put turmeric while preparing Maggi. Pray to God the whole day for our happiness, prosperity and longevity. Don’t know a thing about phones. If they’d know, won’t they learn to make calls themselves? Don’t understand English and yet are proud that we can speak in a tongue not so native, not so close to their hearts and that its taking us apart.

We think that we’re too smart, don’t we?

My grandma must have been beautiful during her youth. She’s got probably more hair on her scalp now then I’d be having in my entire life.

Grandma claims to have seen the Britishers before India’s independence in 1947. I really don’t support the story, but it is funny and interesting to listen to her: her stories of ghosts, ghouls, souls, spirits, werewolves, Gods and Goddesses and what not. She can keep any child captivated with her enthralling style of storytelling. She even says about the big orchards bursting with fruits they had, the large ponds filled with fishes to the brim, their rice fields covering hectares of land and the large vegetable gardens. No matter how hard I try, I can never be as good as her.

I remember Daddy telling us so many times about Grandma going to the bed with an empty stomach, lying to him just because there was no food for her child.

“Today’s my fast, I won’t be eating tonight.”

“But Ma, today’s not a Thursday.”

“You don’t know anything. Now finish off this rice gruel even before it gets more thinner.”

Grandma was working hard, supporting her husband, helping with the housework. She bore her last child while she was working in the rice granary, trying to separate rice grains from the chaff. Just in case, if you think that these old ladies are weak.

Grandpa was ten years older to Grandma; she dutifully abided to her husband till his death. She supported all his decisions, whether right or wrong, knowing that sometimes she’d be judged as a mother, an in law, a sister. But she never paid heed to her reputation, because she was a trustworthy housewife, taking blame for her husband’s faults, listening to the tantrums of her children and filtering them before presenting them in front of Grandpa, and loving her grandchildren unconditionally.

Grandma was with me for a few months when I was born. But when my parents had brought Nishi home, perhaps Grandma was the happiest amongst all of us, because she was entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of me and my sister while my parents were away on work for long hours. Those were the days my mother had just started her own venture, back in the 2000s, it wasn’t easy for a female entrepreneur, a mother, a daughter, a daughter in law. But Grandma is perhaps the sweetest mother in law I’ve ever seen in my life. She loves my mother unconditionally. She took care of the entire household, the cooking. Sometimes she would make my mother’s hair or would put her headache to rest. Or maybe made a cup of tea for her. All of this, while managing little Nishu. Nishi literally lived on her, breathed her, exhaled her, ate on her, spit on her. Grandma bore it all. If she loves my sister so much, I can’t imagine how much she’d have loved her own children throughout her life?

I remember while Daddy was leaving for Sikkim, my Grandma cried. She was very disturbed by the fact that her son was going to a state she had no idea about. She cried when he left for Libya, too. She was so confused about what was going on, why her son had got this need to go to a foreign country when he could work here. Poor grandma, how could she ever understand brain drain?

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By the time I’m writing this, it has been already 21 hours since grandpa left for God’s home. Grandma’s life whisked away within a second, just like that. Sixty years of togetherness gone within a whiff, just like that. “Till death do us apart”, they say. See, death is here, and has taken away the man of the house. No matter how strong the lady might be or how populous her family might be, no one can replace her husband, her companion for life.

Sometimes I think of death. I feel afraid. I know cowards die thousands of times before their time comes, I might be a coward; I might be imagining myself in a heroic scene being killed for the nation but the next moment I get up and think about what happens after death.

One day, we are all going to close our eyes and are never going to open them. I fear death. Death is like a shadow; it follows us throughout our life till it gets a chance to get inside us and take our souls away and leave behind a lifeless body, a body without its achievements, its history, its future. Just a concoction of  bones and muscles.

Death can be painful. It is painful for the ones who are spared by it. The person dying might undergo a lot of trauma, but the people surrounding him to get a hole in their hearts, that gets filled with time but there’s that mark that says that it has been operated upon. We don’t forget the past, the dead, we just become accustomed to the silence and loneliness associated with it. Because that’s what life teaches us: to accept and move on.

Red bangles and vermillion, her saris all snatched away from her, because it is the norm. What kind of norm is this? To let a widow die under her grief? To make her collapse under depression? To make her realise every minute, every second of her life that her life is over despite of the fact that her heart is still beating, she can count her heartbeat, she can feel her heart that bore seven children and many grandchildren, that heart that she gave to no one save her husband, that heart which was there with her, pumping blood and mixing adrenaline, estrogen and oxytocin in her veins.

Well, who am I to question the authenticity of these customs and rituals? They’re being done since generations, so they must be right, they say. These customs that literally suck the life out of a living human being, why to talk of a dead one?

How ironical is this. White is not the same for Christians and Hindus. One girl starts her life wearing white, while another keeps fasts to stay away from it, because she knows that the color looks good only on a bride’s face. One world and infinite differences.

I must stop here, I can’t go on anymore. I can’t imagine light colors on grandma. She must be looking beautiful in tragedy. She is beautiful.

This society can never be mine.

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HALF GIRLFRIEND

Pages from her diary:

“My soul houses that unfortunate heart that greets rain bearing clouds every season but still receives no water and remains dry and parched, and hence I stopped planting seeds of hope inside, because they’re never gonna bloom.”

”Every now and then, as my world gears up for an evolution, tectonic plates clash and collide, new continents are formed and old ones are dropped, the whole life thriving inside me is massacred in a mass extinction process. But there’s no progression. The lands are still cracked, lifeless and barren. There’s birth of erupting volcanoes, but no signs of flora that reside below the ice capped mountains. My beautiful world is ruined everyday and nothing fruitful comes out of it. This is my earth, my failed planet.”

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Do you know how it feels to be depressed?

Imagine you’ve been imprisoned inside an underground cell. There’s a bustling world above you, alive with its crowd. The people above know the presence of the jail. Sometimes, they might tap the ground to check if there’s still life inside.

There are other cells surrounding you. You can hear the inmates, sometimes happy, sometimes hysterical. You realise that everyone inside might not be sharing your story but the lessons learnt are eerily similar and painful. There is some form of interaction amongst you people through the thick walls of that dungeon.

There is a man sitting outside your cell, the prison guard. He knows that you’re not guilty and you’re just a girl arisen from circumstances. He knows everything. He has the key to your freedom, your happiness and liberation from this suffering.

Some days you explain yourself that he too must be a man of circumstances, must have gone through a lot, maybe more than you’ve gone through. You should forgive him, he’s nice and he’s just doing his duty. It is his greatness that he has bestowed some kindness upon a girl like you, who has been imprisoned for no reason, but still a prisoner is a prisoner, no matter what. The next day you’re angry at him. ”He knows I’m innocent. He can go out of the way and release me! What is my fault? Is it wrong to be different? Is it wrong to take a road not taken? Is it wrong to expect? ”

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On the days when the pain is unbearable, you shout. You cry. You keep begging him to set you free. You keep up the hope. He knows. He knows you more than you can ever know yourself.  He knows that only he can bring you out alive from that cold and dark cell.  He knows your pain, he has been through the same; yet he forbids to open the door. When all the howling gets cynical and crosses his threshold of patience, he starts to walk away.

“Please, I beg you, please let me go. Please let me come to you; I want to see this happy world. I want to build a life of my own. I imagine the wind touching me and the sun kissing me. I want to stay alive in reality. I can’t stay here anymore!”

After sometime you realise that he’s disappeared and you were just shouting into the void. Now it may take days, maybe even years for someone to cross that path again. Till then, you keep up the hope. There’s a grim solace in that silence.

But he might change his mind one day, who knows? Be positive!

He’s never gonna come back.

Leaving girl boy rethink this

***************

She sees him in her daydreams and in the paradise at night.

He and she, both holding hands and walking in the glow of the beautiful sunset, red and orange hues around. She, taking pride in her sindoor and my red inexpensive yet priceless bangles, holding his hands tightly as if it was her birthright to do so; and his herculean arms swinging over her in their ever protectiveness nature. There is no need of an abroad trip, just the walk to the local market is enough for her; I, being fiercely proud of her husband, her honour. She wants to show him off to everyone. Look people, here we are, from different castes and occupations, with different ideals and ideologies, yet we stay together. Who said that true love couldn’t be perfect?

It is past 9 pm. It’s getting late and she’s running home. He opens the door and she literally jumps on him. He gives the most reassuring hugs in the whole world after her parents, and she’s so grateful to God that she found him! They talk about our day. She’s chirping like a morning bird, constant, too excited to stop. He reaches for her hand. They are so comforting. She puts her head on her shoulders and doze off.

It’s been a bad day at office and she has got this splitting headache. She’s home and she’s getting mad over little things, being stupid and irrational. It’s been a tiring day for him as well. Going through wards filled with ill patients and checking on them for sixteen hours is not a joke. Yet he says nothing, just goes to her and listens to her ramblings, caresses her hair and says, “It’s okay.” Then there’s again that silence, so soothing, so known and so warm. She hugs him tight and his shirt is wet with angry tears.

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He’s a shy person, always buried in his own work, yet makes time for his loved ones. He never reverts back, he’s such a patient listener. He’s got such innocent eyes that you can almost see through them what lies inside: honesty and a never give up attitude. He’s a self built man, rather adamant, but that’s the best part about him: once he takes a decision, it is final as if it were a bill passed by the Parliament of India. He laughs when you laugh, cries when you cry. He takes time to explain you stuff that always escapes your little brain. It is always so cute when he asks you questions; you feel like a celebrity and transform into the Professor mode instantly. He accepts his flaws gracefully and tries to learn. He checks your pulse and counts the bones of your fingers.

Oh, the perks of marrying a doctor!

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He never fails to remind her that no matter what, she needs to work hard and prove myself, because education comes first. And makes me realise that there’d be moments when you’d feel like running away but you’ve to come back because the world sees your performance, not your perseverance. He’s the pole to her climber.

He is romantic, but he doesn’t like to show it off. He doesn’t post pictures of *we are such a happy couple* on Instagram, or doesn’t go live on Facebook. Like all men, he doesn’t understand what is going on in your mind and sometimes his ego takes over his soul but nevertheless he is still cute, he accepts his mistakes even though they are yours and he makes peace with you and sleeps on your lap like a newborn.

Sometimes he lies to her just to make her angry or jealous. A handsome man that he is, she is constantly under this threat that someone who’s better than her might come and steal him away. Because loneliness is a human’s biggest fear. She can stay without food, but not without him.

She doesn’t  know what love is, maybe it is this: a hectic life with him by her side, to pick her up when she falls down, to listen to her blabbering which isn’t equivalent to the worth of 2 cents as if they’re holy sermons from the Bible, to guide her when she’s lost, to be her light when it’s dark.

She doesn’t know what love is. She doesn’t  know what commitment is. She wishes she knew.

***************

No sooner than she wakes up and tries to distinguish between the fragments of her unconscious memories and the original ones, reality sets in. She realises that there’s no happy go lucky life, it is an everyday fight. To pursue him, to persuade him for giving her the seven vows. It is not an obligation, it is a necessity. But for him, it seems as if she’s playing around with his family honour. He feels sorry for her and she feels sorry for him. His hands are tied up. Hers are in no better condition, but at least she’s trying to open the chains, the chains this society has brandished them with. The chains that were supposed to bring communal harmony have now become the noose of their necks. He’s afraid of the scars the jute ropes would leave on his wrists, however he fails to look deep into the scars he’s busy carving on her  mind and heart, unknowingly and unintentionally.

There’s a war raging inside her, for her, against her. One part of her soul screaming to get away from this isolation and live the final moments as if they’re gonna stay with them forever, the other part calming her down and settle down for self respect that she has been avoiding since long, to forgive and forget, to restart her life. One part of her brain telling her to stay updated on all the recent advancements of his life and that of the Constitution, to gather enough facts and prove him what you’re asking for is not wrong, what you’re asking for is your right and there’s no dishonour in it, no shame. The other part of her brain telling her to focus her energies on better things, because he won’t understand, you’ve been doing this since last year I guess.

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She doesn’t remember their first meet. He had seen her in the bus, while she was trying to focus on her biology notes. Those were the days she was planning to run away from Engineering to Medical Sciences. He told her later: “Everyone made fun of you and laughed behind your back for doing so.” She had first approached him, because she used to be an expert in starting conversations. And very soon they became close friends. She had thought that it was the end after he had left for his new medical college but as fate would have it, he returned back to her university after a year.

She still walks through his corridors, trying to feel his presence in his absence, leaving her space, trying to understand his world and hers, trying to entangle them, to mix their planets. The hospital feels like her temple, she being the only devotee, and he residing in the sanctum sanctorum of her heart. She walks aimlessly through his campus, sometimes bumping into security guards who sternly warn her not to go inside because it is not allowed for civilians. If only they knew that she was a patient. It then dawns upon her that there are more lines that separate them, more parallel than intersecting. The more she tries to make their bloods an emulsion, the more strongly they turn out to be immiscible. The word caste churns her stomach and makes her blood boil.

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There is affection, but there are no promises. There is fun, but there’s no happily ever after. Everything is so hush hush, as if they’ve committed a crime and they need to wash their hands off in silence. He gets suspicious when she’s with other guys. She starts getting trust issues when there’s no text from him. She’s always in this fear that he’s getting ready to take off, irrespective of her efforts to keep him close to the ground.

He says, she’s more than his best friend and less than his girlfriend. She has importance, but no identity in his life. He loves her deeply, but then she’s just another woman. She’s talkative, loud and funny. She gives weird advices and laughs for no reason, behaves like a madman. She walks around acting like a man, it’s her swag. So people feel that this girl is everyone’s pockets, and that she can be used, she won’t mind because, you know. But they forget that even she has got feelings. She dreams of everything a girl sets her eyes upon, innocent and small wishes in life. She doesn’t dream of burdening others, she dreams of setting up things on my forte and giving him surprises. And all these dreams just stay back in her heart as dreams.

The final verdict from his court of justice has been delivered yet again.

“Your Honour, you’ve again rejected my plea. You’ve yet again proved that the background of a person is more important than her character. I object Your Honour, I object. All my hard work in finding and submitting evidences and examples to you have failed. Your Honour, if you must punish me, then give me the death sentence. Don’t imprison my life inside the walls of the splendour of your goodness and affection for me.”

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The court has been adjourned till the next session.

“Maybe, just maybe, next time, I’ll get justice.”

THE POTRAIT OF A LADY

It is one hot sultry afternoon. She’s come back quite early from her workplace, tired, hungry and sweaty. She felt like collapsing on the floor but then remembers that there’s no one there at home to even serve her food. Her husband’s away on a business trip, her daughter is in her college. She freshens up and goes to the kitchen. The rice is cold and the curry is bland. Seems as if I have forgotten the spices today as well, she says, dipping her long finger into the bottle of homemade pickle, made with the age old recipe that her grandma used to follow. She finishes her lunch and decides to take a nap. She chooses her favourite spot-the sofa in the living room. She sits down, the cushion sagging behind her. Motherhood had burdened her with excessive weight.

There’s an unexpected guest: a shower in the middle of the summer. She rushes to get the clothes from the terrace. The staircases are steep and her energies low. All my hard work wasted, she mumbles. Finally, after all this running, she once again settles down in her cozy seat and closes her eyes.

A small girl is dashing across the courtyard, eyes shimmering with innocence and excitement. Suddenly she stumbles upon an object and falls down. She starts crying, seeing the blood on her bruised knee. Her mother comes outside and takes her in her lap, trying to soothe her. She wipes her tears, adding ” If you keep getting scars like these, then no one’ll marry you. You’re as such a dark girl.”The girl looks back at her mother, confused.

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“Is it wrong to be dark?”

The mother looks at her with hollow eyes.

And thus she starts her journey on a rocky path without a map, just following her conscience and goodwill. Her sober nature wins everyone’s hearts at a glance. She grows up fast, her childhood undeniably smaller, saddled with enormous responsibilities. Being the elder daughter, she is entrusted with the duties of scrubbing the floors and washing the clothes. Though never a star student, she takes her education very seriously, burning the midnight oil after putting her younger siblings to sleep. Her presence is limited to the walls of her home, her classrooms and the library. Sometimes she spends her leisure time knitting sweaters and cardigans or making dolls and bags from reeds.

She’s never allowed to forget that she’s dark. As if having a higher concentration of melanin is a sin. She later learnt that skin color is an example of polygenic inheritance, which means that multiple genes collectively influence phenotypic expression of the trait. Apart from that, environmental factors also play a role. “I walk to school and then back home every day. It is natural that I have got some extra protection from the sun. What can be wrong in that?  Lord Krishna and Goddess Kali are dark too. But they are worshipped despite of their color. Why am I not acceptable?” Still, like millions of Indian girls, she succumbs to the societal pressure and definition of beauty and starts using the iconic Fair and Lovely.

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Being a girl seems difficult in this country, she thinks while convincing her father to leave her for a study tour. All her friends wave at her and await the surprises they’re gonna enjoy, while all she does is look at the speeding bus with eyes, welled up with tears and biting her lips. She has to fight at her home to allow her to go outside her small township for higher studies. Fighting with your family is never easy, even if you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s not safe for a girl to stay away from home, they say. It’s not safe for a girl to go out after dark, they say.

As she prepares herself  to leave her tiny nest to fly high, she understands that life comes with its share of troubles. The hardest part has just begun. Staying away from family in an unknown city is never easy. She battles her way through all her courage and determination, and completes her Masters in marketing. There’s always that financial crunch, but she never shows it. She starts her career with a multinational in a cosmopolitan city. Her first salary gets stolen in the local bus. She gets eve teased on the same streets that lead her to the working women’s hostel. All this for a job. For her self respect. For building up her identity.

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But there are beautiful moments too, like taking her parents on a tour and buying them stuff with her own money. For someone belonging to a lower income group family, this can seem as an achievement. Seeing the glow on your parents’ face because of your good deeds is indeed an achievement.

She’s called back home after 3 years. “You’re old enough to start a family now. When are you going to get married? You’re dark as such. And you know about the biological age for women………”

“But ma, there’s this guy……”

“Yes?”

“There’s this guy, whom I love very much. He also adores me a lot. He is a doctor. Remember I had told you about him while I had been to the hospital regarding those new tablets my company had launched?”

“Ah yes, I remember. So, what is his caste?”

She knew that this question would come up. He had said the same thing. ” I love you, but I won’t be able to marry you. We belong to different groups of societies. My parents will never agree to a match who’s dark, highly educated and of a separate caste.” She was shocked to hear all this from him, a doctor, one of the highly respected professionals in the society.

“I thought that you’re proud of me. And don’t tell me that I’m dark. You’re no whiter.”

“Yes, I am, but I believe you won’t make a good wife.”

“Why so?”

”Because you’re a working woman. Your marketing job will take you to places, while I’d be mostly staying in my state. I need my woman to stay with me, to do the household chores properly, to take care of my children, and to be a good wife. I have my own dreams and aspirations. How’ll they get fulfilled if my wife works? A working woman can never be a good housewife.”

“But we can manage everything. We live in a democratic country that believes in justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Everything is possible if we take a stand. We can at least try once. You talk at you home and I’ll talk at mine. I am sure that we can get positive results. Because we have got only one life and I have some dreams too………….”

“I am sorry, I don’t know about you, but I can’t go against my parents’ wishes. Nor my dreams.”

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Her mother nearly slapped her, tears in her eyes and anger in her throat.

“You wretched girl! You fell in love with a lower caste man and you expect us that we’ll marry you off with him! How dare you? Don’t you know that we are Brahmins? What’ll people say? That’s all we need now, to ruin our reputation! He left you for the sake of his parents….and you? You’re arguing with me? Wretched girl!”

She imagined herself on a boat stranded in the middle of an ocean, felt as if thousands of waves were hitting her, all at once, trying to knock her off and break her down into pieces. She felt as if she was drowning, the waves pushing her and the sharks pulling her underwater. She couldn’t exactly comprehend the aim of her struggle. Why was she fighting for that man who loved her but didn’t respect her emotions and treated women just as objects for work and recreation? Why was she fighting with her mother who had cared for her since childhood and whose hands were tied up with the patriarchal and orthodox ideas since generations? Why was she fighting with herself and ruining her state of mind? Sometimes she couldn’t understand why she behaved this way, let alone others.

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News was to relatives and friends that there’s this suitable Brahmin girl who’s 5’6” tall, highly educated, works for an MNC, skilled in household work and has good moral values. The compact ad was published in a local daily.

Prospective grooms visited her one by one, throwing occasional glances on her slender figure.  Prospective mothers in law checked her face complexion and her walking style. The families exchanged pleasantries, had chai samosas and then talked about dowry. Two lakhs, because, you know. She felt the jolts in her body every time someone demanded dowry or rejects her.

Finally, by the grace of God, she gets her husband who is equally qualified and is fair colored. “Girl, you have struck a gem”, her relatives said. “He’ s too good for you. You should be lucky that you got him, just for one lakh!”

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She’s quickly wedded off and then finds herself in another dimension of life. She’s now a married woman, and they say that it is the honor of her husband’s family that is now at her stake. So she now must learn to live like they decide. Marriage is all about adjustment, they say. New family, new relatives, new customs, new clothes and jewellery, new bedroom, and that too with a complete stranger………………

One year fast forward. She is returning from the doctor, her eyes shining with excitement and dull with tears at the same time. Her doctor is the same man with whom she had imagined her whole life. He was now married as well. Congratulations, he had said. You’re going to be a mother. She tightly clutched her husband’s hand, wiping her face, smiling. She questioned herself again. “Why haven’t I been able to forget this man who has given me the darkest years of my life? Am I not being a good wife?”

Nine months later, as she held up her daughter in her arms for the first time, she went wild with ecstasy. Her daughter had large black eyes and looked like a doll. She was so proud of herself. After all, her child was a part of her blood and bones. Her life had come to a full circle, she thought. After all, this is what a wife is supposed to do.

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Being the most beautiful period of a woman’s life, pregnancy gives her the most precious and powerful gift of mankind, the ability to create a new generation. But it comes with its perils. Her weight soared up like anything and her hair fall aggravated. She no longer looked young like before.

She was soon expecting her second child. Her mother in law prayed to Lord Krishna daily. ” A Bal Gopal, please God bless our home with a Bal Gopal this time.” But destiny had some other plans for her. A minor road accident while driving back home led to her miscarriage. Her doctor replied that she would never be able to become a mother again.

And it was then that her husband started going away on frequent business trips. He avoided her every time he could. His family believed that she had knowingly taken away the chirag of their home. They released their frustration on her every time they could. Her husband, for whom she had settled down with a low paying job so that she could manage his family well, was not in love with her anymore. Was it because of her failed pregnancy? Maybe he was not in love with her at all. Sometimes, people are in love and they can’t marry. Sometimes, people marry but they are not in love with each other.

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There had been a few times when she doubted that her husband was cheating on her.

One day, she broke down in front of her mother.

“Ma, I can’t go on like this anymore. I sacrificed my career for this man years older than me, and yet he can’t provide me solace. I have lost my child, yet I get no words to soothe my heartache. You know how it feels? It feels as if I’ve lost a limb and I am still experiencing the phantom pain, oh Ma!”

“That’s the life of a woman, dear. Women must endure all these sufferings. You need to be here and do your duties, whether you’re appreciated or not. This is your home till the end and you are the lady of this house. You should know the tricks to keep all the strings tight. Or else your shack will break down.”

“If I need to prove myself all the time, then why doesn’t he pass through the same litmus test? I have lost a lot in life. Am I here only to kill my hopes and aspirations? Even I am a human being and this is the only life I’ve got, Ma!”

“You ask too many questions!”

She’s suddenly woken up by a thunder loud enough to wake the dead. She realises that she had been dozing off with her head tilted towards the direction of the main entrance of the house. The heavy raindrops were still hitting the porch but she didn’t mind anymore. She opened the gate, took a few drops of the cold water into her cupped hands and splashed onto her face. She further moved towards the garden and got drenched in the newly found sparks of her old wounds.

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AN UNUSUAL GIFT

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To the guy lovingly called SSDPS by his best friends.

He had his birthday a few months ago. Usually guys ask for gifts or treats. Better, they don’t ask for anything from girls (how cute they are :P) But this man had something else in his mind.

One fine day, after a few days of his birthday that he celebrated by taking all his friends to a posh restaurant, he thought that he should give me a treat as well {let me tell you that last year too, he had taken me for a lovely treat :)} So after a delicious lunch, I asked him what gift he needs (because I am a dumb when it comes to gift, especially to guys :P) He posed a very strange request.

“I need a greeting card.”

So I took him to Archies and told him to pick one card. But he was adamant.

“No, I want a handmade greeting card.”

I looked at him. Never ever in my life had I heard of a 20 something guy asking for a card. Men love perfume, shaving kit and stuff like that, as per the websites disseminating knowledge on *top 101 gifts for men* ”

I thought about my last art and craft project at school back in 2006. It had been so terrific that I had been awarded a C grade.

“I need a handmade greeting card”, he continued, ” so that I can keep you alive in my memories forever. This is our last year in college, you know.”

Each and every word of his seemed legitimate to me. The word memory hung in the air.

I came back home and begged my sister to draw something exciting for him.

“I’m busy. And moreover, he’s your friend. You should put a personal touch in his gift.”

And hence started my epic journey towards the center of the DIY gifts on YouTube. Let me tell you that the journey is not easy. Channels of these Indian viners come in between and distract you from your main goal 😛 Anyways, I found an idea that looked easy and I started making it.

It has been more than a month but the craft’s still incomplete.

2013 was a year full of new experiences. It was a big change for me: getting out of DAV- my home for 14 straight years. I had got habituated with the same classrooms, same building, same teachers and friends. Even the barren school field reminded me of the infinite happy moments spent, sprouting from the gardens of friendship and innocence. It seemed as a big family: a home away from home.

My mind races back to my initial days at KIIT. August 2013. I had just got enrolled in the B.Tech course of Mechanical Engineering. New institution. New faces. One classroom. 70 hearts.  I had to quickly replace my Odia with Hindi: KIIT has students coming from all over the country. The campus is always over flooded with people,  bursting with excited talents , ever ready to showcase their best. A person coming from a limited sphere like me felt lost in the ocean. The once outspoken girl in me suddenly changed into a quiet person, quite often forgotten in the crowd. I always tried to mingle but then again stayed aloof from everyone. I was scared of the new surroundings. What if I said or did something wrong? Then people would laugh at me. Nuts. All screwed up.

One day while a professor was taking our introduction, SSDPS got up and said his name. Durgaprasad Sahoo. From West Bengal. DAVian.

Whoa! It struck a chord with me. Finally, an Odia guy! I had noticed him before, but he never spoke in his mother tongue.

I went to him to talk. And he was (and still is) a very shy guy. Would only answer to your questions. Didn’t blabber like me the whole day. Reserved kind of man, but very sweet, cute, knowledgeable and kind. Perfect person to make a friend!

Our interactions are always limited to library, classroom and WhatsApp. Our conversations are always related to assignments and exams. Durga never misses to notice and comment on my changed WhatsApp profile picture. While I keep on changing my status every now and then, his status reads “Patience is the key” since June’16. He truly lives up to his status. He’s a brilliant and a hardworking guy. He can always be seen inside the library, his nose buried in books. Whenever I need any help while solving assignments, he’s always there. Whenever I need to get any information from the notice board, he’s usually the first person to convey that message to me. When I go out of the line and I don’t feel like studying, he’s there to boost my morale and bring me back to the right track.

But sometimes we manage to have fun, like we went to watch Airlift last year with nearly 15 friends and had a lunch program afterwards. (we managed to achieve this after bunking K.C. Singh sir’s class…we should be given a medal for this magnanimous feat :P)

There must be zillions of moments like these, we have created a lot of happy moments that are gonna be cherished for a lifetime. Maybe we didn’t have much fun (I couldn’t join him for trips and photo shoots). But our extraordinary friendship that stemmed up from an ordinary conversation is unique and special, and I have loved and enjoyed every moment of it. I hope that you have enjoyed it as well.

Gifts might get broken, photos might get deleted, contacts might get lost, but the place reserved in your heart for a friend is never sold off to someone else. Sometimes it lies forgotten, but never lost.  I am freezing you in my memory with this blog post. Do remember the link 😛 Even if we stay across the globe, my wishes and prayers will reach out to you, no matter what. May you get the laurels and rewards that you deserve. You have done a lot of penance.  Now it’s time for the golden ripe harvest! I hope that you get success in each and every road you take.

Happy birthday, Durga, not only for this year but for all the good years that God has set for you in future.

Your crazy friend,

Debashrita

FOR ALL MY LITTLE SISTERS OUT THERE, THIS IS FOR YOU

I guess you must have heard the song Fifteen by Taylor Swift.
If not, then let me write down the lyrics here for you.
15 is just an ordinary number, without any Vedic significance. If sixteen is sweet, is fifteen sour?
Let’s find out.
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You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors
It’s the morning of your very first day
You say hi to your friends you ain’t seen in a while
Try and stay out of everybody’s’ way
It’s your freshman year and you gonna be here
For the next 4 years in this town
Hoping one of those senior boys will wink at you and say,
” You know I haven’t seen you around before.”
This is the first step towards your future. High school! All grown up kids teenagers 🙂
Teenage: the most rebellious phase of our lives. Back when I was 13, I used to throw tantrums like hell. There was no patient talking in the house. Every now and then, one could see me and mummy engaged in a typical family drama scene, fighting over silly stuff, arguing endlessly. We just do the opposite of whatever is expected of us (Like I still do) and often get into troubles. Now when I look back on the memories, I feel so guilty. Intense stupidity, and nothing else.
Moral of the story: Don’t fight with your parents, it is a battle with a predetermined winner.
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‘Cause when you’re Fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You’re gonna believe them
And when you’re Fifteen
Feeling like this three’s noting to figure out
Well, count to ten, take it in
This is life before you know who you are gonna be
Fifteen
You are now neither a kid, nor an adult, which makes it more hard to cope up with the parental, peer and societal pressures. You are expected to behave like a responsible grown up, but at the same time required to behave like a child!
*Stop irritating me*Shut up*Give me my phone back*Mum, what’s wrong with you*I am studying with my headphones, it is called multitasking*I need a break I can’t study all the time*Engineering? I wanna do photography*Why can’t I go for that movie? All my friends are going for it*Need some hard cash, lunch time with gang*Where’s my mascara*Retail therapy makes me calm*I am busy, I can’t do it*So what if I talk to that guy late in the night, he’s just a friend, don’t over react*OMG ITS A PIMPLE*It hurts, this damned thing, every month, I’m sick of it*He’s so cute wink*Why do you need to be on guard all the time*Please leave me alone*slangs*slangs*some more slangs*
If you are familiar with these phrases, then trust me, you are a teenager.
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You sit in class next to a red head named Abigail
And soon enough you are best friends
Laughing at other girls you think you’re so cool
We’ll be out of here as soon as we can
And then you are on your very first date and he’s got a car
And you feel like flying
And your mamma is waiting up and you’re thinking that he is the one
And you are dancing around the room when the night ends
When the night ends
While you are busy understanding why your body has started showing bizarre changes and you’ve suddenly become hyper emotional and super sensitive (It is not your fault that hormones screwed you up), you realise that your schoolwork has grown up with you, too. Did your life have less troubles that you needed to complete and submit lab records of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics every week? God, this is unfair! With your frequent mood swings, incessant tussles with your loved ones and tons of home assignments, competition also had to enter the scene. Now your existence is reduced to that of an amoeba, struggling for a personal air bubble in that dirty pond where no one likes to live but has to because that’s the right thing to do. Period. But you need to win, because survival of the fittest, right?
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‘Cause when you are Fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You are gonna believe them
When you re Fifteen
And our first kiss makes your head spin round
But in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team
But I didn’t know it at Fifteen
Moving on towards the latest advancements: You are getting adrenaline pump when you see *him* And its natural. No need to freak out. No need to go crazy about it. Don’t be insane, just be normal. He’s just a normal person like you and you need to focus on your schoolwork and this transitory phase shall pass away. You are not supposed to have a boyfriend just because everyone has one or it is a cool thing to do. Don’t break anyone’s heart or get yours broken. Be a sensible person. I know that you are. You have powers beyond imagination, them for your benefit. I am sure that you’d be amazed.
It is hard to resist, this temptation. It is a painful struggle between your mind and your heart. Long hours of chatting and what not. The pleasure is unmatched with all the riches of the world combined.
You’ll find the perfect person one day, don’t worry, but maybe this is not the right time for it. Distractions abound your mind but you have got so much to do. Many a times, the things that look promising may never work out. So, beware of the sugar coated sweet poisons lurking around. A backstabbing friend is more dangerous than an enemy, my dear.
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When all you wanted was to be wanted
Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now
You do what your heart wants. Illogical reasoning becomes your speciality. Long hours of sleep and daydreaming disorient your thinking processes. When you grow up, you realise that you could have done so much to enhance yourself, but you badly fell into the pit your heart had set for you.
Wisdom comes late. You feel like a philosopher when you complete this perilous phase of your life but by the time it’s too late. Shit.
I just wish I could have studied harder, slept less and become more cheerful 😦 So you better take my advice and start preparing for the entrance examinations from now on(Just kidding XD)
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Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday
But I realised some bigger dreams of mine
And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind
And we both cried
Stop dreaming of a future that’ll literally never exist. You believe that you have a worth only if you have a lot of people who give you attention? Only if someone loves you? Wanna hog the limelight by becoming the next happening thing at school? It is an illusion, this glamour and vanity. Never fall prey to it. Happiness might not be everything that you try to pursue or perceive.

How can you expect someone to love you when you can’t love yourself? How can you expect someone to be serious about you when you aren’t serious about yourself, your studies and your career? You are vulnerable and lonely. People take advantage of the situation. They make you feel loved, they might be doing that genuinely as well, but then they lose interest and walk away with unfaithful reasons. So don’t think that love is the biggest thing in life. It is not. By God, you are blessed with such a loving and caring family, mad friends, a sound health and tons of goodness and riches. Utilize it and become a good human being and give back to the society. That’s what life is for. I have wasted my time, energy and peace of mind on wrong people and I hope that you won’t do the same.

Sorry for this long speech, I know you must have got irritated by now, but please just bear a few more moments with me.
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‘Cause when you are Fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You are gonna believe them
And when you are Fifteen
Don’t forget to look before you fall
I have found time can heal most anything
And you just might find out who you’re supposed to be
I didn’t know it at Fifteen
If something or someone hurts you, just let them go. Throw them out of your life. Never become a second option for anyone. Always think that you are special. Never compete with others, just compete with yourself. So what if you scored 9.6 and she scored 9.8. So what if she got awarded and you didn’t. You are an individual and you have the potential to achieve everything you deserve and desire. Winning is not overcoming your competitors, it is overcoming your own faults and making great strides! Just go for it!
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Your very first day
Take a deep breath, girl
Take a deep breath as you walk through the doors.
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All the best, my dear young ladies! A perilous yet promising future awaits you out there! 🙂
Love, The Funky Writer

TO CROCS, WITH LOVE FROM ODISHA

Happy new year, my dear followers and my fellow bloggers!
We writers are fierce, brave and bold. We believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Nothing deters us from exercising our freedom of expression. With Bangladeshi bloggers being killed, the Charlie Hebdo incident and Indian writers returning their awards, 2015 has been a tough year for the writer community. Nevertheless, we shall continue doing what we do the best: Writing. Let us promise to inspire people through our painstakingly handwritten texts. Let us bring out the brighter side of humanity. Let us spread happiness and awareness.
I have been reading your blogs religiously and I must say that everyone of you had something good to offer to the big World Wide Web. Well, here’s my share: my second travel journal.

Animals have always been associated with religion. Nature has inspired different faiths. Hence, my parents believed that there couldn’t be a better time than Durga Puja to visit Odisha’s very own biodiversity hotspot: Bhitarkanika. (thanks to my class mass bunk actually :p)
Bhitarkanika is a national park located at Rajnagar in Kendrapada district. What makes it special from other parks are its mangrove forests, spread across the Brahmani-Baitarini estuarial region. It is the second largest mangrove forest of India, just after the Sundarbans. Housing the saltwater crocodile, water monitor lizard, deer, migratory birds, turtles, and dozens of aquatic species, amongst others, Bhitarkanika is a treat for all the wildlife lovers.

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We started our journey at about 11.30 a.m. by road and reached at about 5.30 p.m. The long journey had tired us out. Sitting in the car the whole day with my cousin on my lap was fun, but exhausting as well. The countryside scenery was excellent. We crossed small ponds, gardens, paddy fields, rivers and saw the lovely sunset. After entering Rajkanika, we noticed fisheries on either side of the road, along with small huts surrounded by vegetation: the homes and the businesses of the local fishermen. We saw aerators in the pond to supply oxygen to the prawns.

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Our resort had a striking resemblance to that of a village: each cottage had been made in such a way so as to blend with the forest. Our rooms had all the basic facilities, though. There was a small pond, paddy cultivation, a small orchard and a flower garden inside our resort. No T.V, no internet. Most of the networks wouldn’t receive any signal except BSNL, so be ready to spend a day without social networking sites.

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The food tasted great, with sea food being obtained fresh. Most of the other food stuff, including packaged drinking water, is procured from outside, from a nearby village which is accessible only through boat. Every day, the staff resort toil hard and take dangers to ensure the perfect vacation for you. You can dine on big fish, crabs and prawns. Other veg and non veg delicacies are also available at special request.
The next day, we were up by 6 a.m. After taking bath and breakfast, we were ready to plunge into the wilderness. Our fellow tourists were mostly Bengalis, a few Odia people and two ladies from the Netherlands!
We hired a motor boat from Khola. The one room office was just next to the entry gate of Bhitarkanika, hence was being guarded. We had to give all our personal details which was necessary for the officials to initiate a search if we don’t come back (well that sounds terrifying :p)

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We saw what we were craving for: the mangrove forests. During the morning time, the water from the Bay of Bengal had pushed itself into the rivers, hence resulting in a high tide. When we returned back, the excess of water had already resided back into the sea.

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Our journey to see the crocodiles began. We had been warned not to dip our hands into the waters, as a hungry croc might be waiting inside to gobble you up. If your boat suddenly capsizes (not to worry as this usually never happens until and unless done on purpose), then you can see the heaven within minutes of touching the water surface. We had stretched our necks out in anticipation, to spot the oldest living reptiles on earth. I spotted a plastic water bottle as well. Trust the humans to dump plastic inside a national park!
And then, our motor boat suddenly stopped. As I was looking around in confusion, there it was! A saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus parosus) basking out! There was no turning back after that. We passed through various creeks and saw a lot of crocs: some big, some small. The scenery was pretty new, not of a regular kind. The mangrove forests are stretched across miles, with nothing but mud colored brackish water in between. The eerie silence of the vicinity can give you freaks, with occasional sounds of a bird or a croc diving underwater.

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Our excitement reached at a whole new level when we spotted deer! There were lots of deer by the riverside. But they weren’t drinking water. Perhaps they knew about the presence and timing of the crocodiles hence were taking precaution and waiting for the right moment to quench their thirst. We also saw a water monitor lizard and a white crocodile.
The riverside was muddy. So we could see fresh foot and body prints of crocodiles and the monitors, sliding into the water, which indicated their recent presence.
We reached a stop called as the Heronry. Migratory birds from foreign countries come during winter to breed here. We took a short walk in the forest. We reached a high tower and climbed on it so see the unseen: thousands of herons perched atop the tree canopies. The canopies looked white, with the birds building their nests on them.
While getting down from our boat, we noticed some small strange looking fishes on land. They were feeding outside water! Later I came to know that they are called mudskippers a kind of amphibious fish which can live both on land as well as water. Some have been reported to climb onto the mangrove trees as well!

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There was a board warning us to walk on the concrete path only, and not on bare land, as crocs might have sneaked into the small clearings present throughout the forest. Our walk was exhilarating, mostly mine as I spotted pneumatophores in large numbers, about which I had studied in Biology. They are also called as breathing roots and go deep into the soil before coming out of them and standing erect. Mangrove forests are present in brackish areas, which always have a lack of oxygen. Hence, to fulfil this need, the plants have devised this method of respiration. We also spotted tiny red crabs and eccentric looking insects on the mud.

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Our next stop was at Dangamal. Here too, we had to take a walk in the forest. We saw large tracts of ponds filled with algal bloom, with cacti along the concrete paths. We spotted two more towers, which were in use by the King of Kanika, during the Zamindari period, for hunting purposes. After independence, the Zamindari system was abolished and the responsibility of the sanctuary fell on the shoulders of the Odisha Govt. The towers have been repaired for the benefit of the tourists. There are two small temples, dating back to the time during the reign of kingdoms, where the deities are still being worshipped by the villagers. Walking on the plain grass spread out on the clearings, just below the blue sky made our trip all more enchanting.

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Our last stop was at the museum. Here, we saw fruit orchards and medicinal gardens being maintained by the forest officials. The collection of eggs, skin, embryos and skeletons of crocodiles, wild boar, deer, snake, turtles and other lizard species housed at the museum is fascinating. We saw the skeletons of 18-19 feet long crocodiles! Contrary to what I had seen in the zoo, I had thought that the length of the crocs must be about 10-12 feet at max, but this was shocking! Bhitarakanika has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest crocodile spotted of length 23 feet! That’s scary. It gets more scary: according to the 2015 census, Bhitarkanika has 1665 crocodiles teeming underwater. Hence, it comes as no surprise that during rainy seasons these crocs often wander into paddy fields and drag unsuspecting farmers to death. Some temporarily reside in the village ponds, killing cattle and sometimes humans.

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The singular attraction of this stop was:

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Gori tere pyaar main :p

The mangrove forest cover has increased, so has the number of crocodiles due to adequate protection towards the species, thanks to the tireless efforts of the State govt. towards the conservation of wildlife. The population estimation of the crocs takes place every January. The work being done towards the preservation of the biodiversity is remarkable, but the plight of the nearby villagers during rainy season is depressing as well. We educated people always preach to save wildlife but end up in killing the most indirectly. But the villagers are the true heroes who share their lives with these frightening creatures, without complain. They are dependent on fishing, agriculture and tourism to eke out a living. For this reason, the govt. needs to enhance their security so that it is possible to live harmoniously with nature.
FAST FACTS:
Where: Rajnagar, Kendrapada, Odisha
How: By road: Route: Bhubaneswar-Cuttack-Nischintkoili-Kendrapada-Salepur-a lot of the countryside-Kendrapada town area-Rajnagar. Can travel by bus/take help of Odisha Tourism
When: Can go starting from the month of Oct, but preferably during Dec-Feb to see the highest number of crocodiles and birds
What not to pack: Any kind of plastic/polythene which needs to be disposed off. There is no proper waste disposal unit out there, and the rules are even stricter as it is a national park. Therefore the waste is either dumped into the ground/burnt. So try to avoid polythene.
Travelling time: About five and a half hours by road, have lots of petrol saved up
Road condition: Fairly stable, some countryside roads need urgent government attention
Food: Local dhabas spread erratically across the region during travelling and resort buffets during the stay.
P.S. Kendrapada is famous for its sweets and if you are visiting during DP, do make a point to enjoy the Gajalakshmi Puja 🙂
People: Since you are a visitor and you are travelling by car(which is a luxury for most of the Indian people), some villagers might stop your vehicle from time to time, asking money on the occasion of the puja. Otherwise, the forest guards, the guides, the boat drivers and the staff at your resort are great folks, who shall make you feel at home with their warm hospitality.
Accommodation: Panthanivas, owned by the Odisha Govt. or private organizations offering cottages and food at expensive (read reasonable) prices, owing to the location of the park. Booking should be done in advance before 3-6 months, due to high demand of wildlife tourism.
Total cost of the trip (including stay, food, car travel and boat ride for 6 people for 24 hours): Nearly Rs 15000/-
During the trip: Do’s and don’ts
• Keep sufficient amount of drinking water
• The water might call you out to take a little feel of it, but you dare not to
• Stay close to people, specially your boatman and your guide
• Do not litter the forest
• Do not walk on bare mud
• Do not touch the trees as snakes and insects are abundant in that region

So this winter, come home to wilderness. Come home to nature!

P.S. For best results, do watch the Australian movie Black water :p

Debashrita 🙂