Thursday, April 30, 2015

Aisha #6

‘Closed until further notice,’ the sign on the inn's door read, and when she went in, she saw Anand sitting in a chair with profound distress in his face, too sad to cry out loud. His tears got dried up. She couldn’t have gone to him at a better time. She put her hand on his shoulder, “Anand, what happened?”

“Aisha, my grandmother died,” he said still with a vacant expression, he continued, “We never realize the value of the people until we lose them. It never occurred to me my granny is the only one who gives me a little history and credibility to my presence. Now I’m an orphan. I’ve no one to claim my own now. No relatives, no parents. I’m an orphan Aisha, an orphan.”

“Why do you say that, Anand? I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you. We’ll make a history of our own. We’ll have children and grandchildren. Their life partners and their relatives will become our relatives and our people. We’ll make a history for ourselves.”

As she finished saying it, he hugged her, hugged her tight as if she might disappear otherwise. While she patted him on the back of his shoulder, he cried, laying his head in the safety of her neck and shoulders. While she was comforting him, a part of her mind couldn’t help but think about the quote on her last card, which she still didn’t add to her collection yet.

It had been a month since she came to Keylong and she became busy consoling him that she forgot her own despair. What she wanted was not sympathy, but love. And love she got from Anand. Broken though he was, he tried to make her stay as comfortable as possible. He brought food from outside for both of them and bought her clothes as he noticed she didn’t bring many, made changes to the house to suit them. He asked her to sleep in his room while he slept in a newly vacated store room. But as his leave came to an end, she started feeling lonelier. Part of her wanted to tell him of her own pain and loss, but he seemed too fragile, moreover, his wound was fresher than her own, and technically he lost all of his family, unlike her, who still had some relations, although they don’t mean anything to her anymore. She needed some vocation to engage her mind, so she convinced him that they should restart the inn, she assured him she can handle it. She learned to derive pleasure from the happy faces and families in tourists.
Two months after she came to Anand, one night, just before sleep time Anand asked Aisha if she can make some tea. Not the tea from the inn, but homemade tea. It was a weird time for a tea, yet she went to the kitchen, to make some. As she opened the tea box there was a slip in it, which said, ‘Please switch on the tape-recorder’. 

It was funny. Passing notes like kids. She went into the hall and switched on the tape recorder. After some static, there came out a noisy voice which was unmistakably belonged to Anand, “Hi, I wanted to tell you this directly, but as you know I’m a shy person. So Will you marry me? There is an auspicious date next Sunday. If your answer is yes, come into my room. If your answer is no,” there was a long pause, Aisha thought the tape ended, but the static was still there, “go and sleep in your room,” and there was a click, but it didn’t end yet, “Bhai, this tape is working, na?” and then the tape finally ended. She laughed. She put her hand on her mouth to stop laughing noisily. It’s been a while since she laughed.

She entered his room, but his bed was empty, and there was a sound behind her, the sound of an old rusty bolt falling in its place. He hugged her tightly from behind and kissed her hair and stood there breathing into her hair for what seemed like an eternity, and then turned her towards him, and was kissing her ardently. She was gasping for breath. “Wait, let me get the tea.” But he couldn’t wait. He lifted her feet off the ground and took her to the bed, while she giggled, not bothering to keep her sound low this time.


“Always junk food. Too many coffees, too many teas. Stopping every passing vendor,” Anand was scolding Aisha, fiercely, reprimanding her like never before, while covering her ears with his hands while she was vomiting into the sink near the train door. She washed her mouth and quickly left him and sat in front of  another woman, on a side lower seat, talking with her urgently, and nodding her head a lot, like agreeing upon the other woman’s views on character in a TV serial. Just as she finished talking, her eyes lit up, a radiant smile spreading over her face, like the rays of an early morning sun and she stopped the soan papdi vendor, in his railway-vendors uniform, to buy the sweet.

And just as she was stopping the soan papdi vendor, Anand ran to her and scolded in the same angry tone he has been, “Is the junk you’ve had till now not enough? It has already upset your stomach and you’ve been bent over vomiting for almost fifteen minutes, and yet you learn nothing, going for junk food again.”

The vendor looked indignant, and he straightened up to leave, but not heeding to Anand, Aisha gestured the vendor to stop and bought the sweet. She haphazardly tore the sweet packet spilling a large amount of soan papdi on the floor, but she was too excited to give that any notice. She took a handful of it from the pack and offered it to Anand, saying, “Eat it first, the sugar content will help you cool down,” she went on, “this much anger is not a good environment for our daughter to grow up,” and she went on to offer the sweet to the other woman and her husband.

“Me? Angry? You always take it negatively, always. I was just worried about your health. You’re retching like you’ve eaten some furry wool, and we’re in the middle of a train journey, we can’t even go to a doc--” and then suddenly it striked him, “Our daughter, do you mean--”

“Yes,” she replied, turning back to him again. The other woman and her husband came to congratulate them, with the hands full fibers of soan papdi they’ve just eaten. He was literally jumping with joy; he hugged his wife, and in his euphoria he hugged the other woman’s husband, and would have hugged the other woman if she didn’t shrink back in the last minute.

He offered the couple a meek apology, not even properly looking into their eyes and hugged his wife again, and didn’t leave her for a while.  It was silent except for the rhythmic and continuous of the din of train wheels over the rails.

Aisha extracted herself out of the hug to look into his eyes. He had happy tears in his eyes and though was not able to make any sound, his eyes spoke volumes. “Now that’s a girly thing to do. You’re doing what I should have done,” saying which she kissed him.

He finally found his voice, although it was still a little scratchy, “It’s not girlish, happy tears are universal. Now we’ll have a family. And, and, how are you sure it’s a girl?”

“I don’t know, I just feel it. And we will call her Anu.”

“You’ve always wanted a son,” he pointed out.

“I know, but I feel it’s going to be a baby girl.”

“Why the name Anu?” he asked, remembering it was the same name she asked him to write her the letters.

“You see my name and my boyfriend’s name both start with ‘A’ and I want the tradition to continue, you know, family custom,” she smirked.

“Your boyfriend?” he asked naughtily.

“You know, a dimwit called Anand,” and they laughed.

They are bursting with anticipation for the addition of another member of their ultra-tiny family, and their joy knew no limits. Both Anand Aisha used to travel a lot and were always sulking when they have to return back home, but now they just can’t wait to get back. They wanted to tell the good news to only other people who will be happy for them, their friendly neighbors, new couple Yuva and Shruthy, who were more like relatives to them.

As they got off the train in Delhi, they’ve decided to go home by bus, and before leaving, as was her norm, she went on to get that weight card, accompanied by Anand. There was a slight modification to the way it is done, after her marriage with Anand. As she was becoming more conscious of her weight, as soon as the machine spits out the weight card, Anand will grab it, and with the help of a pen or his nail, scratch or scrape the paper that shows weight, and once that layer of paper has been made obscure or obliterated, he then gives it Aisha, who would then read the quote, without having to worry about her weight, although as Anand said there was no need to, often remarking, “I think you’re becoming more ravishing as you become a little chubby, you used to be, um, a bit thinner for my liking.”

The quote that day said, ‘Remember to look at your glass half full and not half empty.’ After a long time she got a card which she didn’t like. Somehow the card seemed sinister, as if portending something bad. She looked at Anand, who was evidently in euphoria and was indulging to plan about how he will make a cozy nest for their daughter. She didn’t have the heart to say what she felt, besides it was just a weird feeling.

But secretly she was preparing to take on any calamity. She felt she can handle anything if only Anand was beside her. 

Anand’s excitement grew along with the size of Aisha’s belly. He even bought a Kodak camera to take a picture of his girl immediately after she comes out into this world.


Aisha #5

By the time she went back home, there was a big crowd of relatives; almost all of their relatives were present. As she walked into the middle of their big spacious hall, her uncle came and slapped her with such ferocity, “It is unbecoming for a girl to roam around the country alone. You’ll ruin our family name.” 

His uncle would have never dared to behave like that in the presence of her dad. She glared at him, “Where is my father?”

“Your father? You care about him? He died two days ago, while you’re roaming around the country half naked,” and he went on, “Maybe we should scold your father, for being so lenient on you and spoiling you.”

“Jalal! Mind your words, we don’t talk demandingly about the dead,” reprimanded her grandmother. She would have liked to give a nice lashing to Aisha herself, but not yet, not when all the relatives are still present, “You go up and wait in your room.”

It felt as if she was pushed into a bottomless abyss and she laughed hysterically as a profound confusion hit her, the world was spinning, and her loud laugh turned into loud sobs, and before she know what was happening her head hit the floor hard. That was her first ever mental breakdown
By the time she opened her eyes, it was white everywhere surrounding her, stale greyish white walls greeted her, while she was hooked to a myriad different instruments and the stench of medicines, something which she hated the most.

Understanding slowly dawned to her. Her father, her best friend died. Strangely the thought was triggering an acute pain between her eyes instead of tears. “How could he go leaving her alone?” She felt indignant at her dad. She was her daddy’s daughter through and through. “For all it matters, I’m an orphan now.”

“Your classmates came to visit you,” said Jalal, her uncle, in the same menacing tone he had before she fainted, “More boys than girls. I didn’t allow the guys of course. Have some shame, and don’t go rubbing your shoulders with boys. If another boy visits you I don’t even care that you’re recovering from a coma. Where your hijab and cover your hair whenever someone comes into the room,” he said posting to a table beside her, saying which he left the room.

“I was in a coma?” she asked no one in particular. She searched the table beside her for her things and extracted her digital watch, a gift from her father. “You’re an adult and big girl now, make wise choices and I hope you spend every minute of yours in absolute bliss,” her dad said when giving her the watch.

She pressed one of the four buttons on the watch and realized she had been unconscious for a week.

After her discharge from the hospital, she was told not to step out of her room, not unless called for. She came to know that she was to be married away shortly; they are searching for the grooms. She earned another slap from her uncle when she tried telling she wasn’t yet ready for a marriage, she tried asking some time for recuperation.

She ran away to her room crying, and fell on her bed, and she noticed her handbag and her other items she had when she came back, on the nightstand beside her bed, there was also the weight card on the table beside her bed, the last weight card she got, which she hasn’t yet glued to her book. She looked at the quote, “You’ll realize one’s value...,” and the quote made total sense now. Her dad wasn’t the only one who died, along with him died, her freedom in this world. Never for once her uncle raised his voice when her dad was alive, for her dad was fiercely overprotective about Aisha. She realized her dad has been protecting her all the time, screening her like an eggshell so that she can have her life. But like all shells, he had to break one day, and now she was exposed to the cruel bigoted world.

Her dad was her best friend, with a tone that’s different from the rest of the family. He could joke about just about anything, always taking her with him whenever he can, as if he knew she was safe only with him. He used to tell her, “My princess! You give a reason for my existence.” He took pleasure seeing her enjoy her life. He was a two faced person, and always had his best side, the soft side to her, while the vile one tuned towards the rest of the family, because it was necessary to ensure no one interfered with Aisha’s life. He never asked her to wear a hijab or a burqa. He had a curious knack of explaining everything with a reference to trains. A lifelong view from a train locomotive has made him relate everything to trains. When she was little she asked him why her mother and aunt and everyone she knew wore burqa, which she felt would be totally uncomfortable. Her dad smiled and said, “Some people like it, they believe it helps them.”

“What about you abba jaan, you want me to wear that thing. It looks very uncomfortable, and...  and sultry.”

“If you don’t like it, I will never ask you to wear it, my princess. Say if you were in a train to Delhi, and say, someone painted the exteriors black. Will that change you? Or can it alter the destination of the train? No, right? All it matters is what is inside. All it matters is how good we are here,” he said, putting a hand on his heart.

When she was in high school, she had a rather daunting doubt about religions and her dad gave a similar explanation for it. “Say you and your friends want to reach Delhi. And say you’re here, one in Bombay, one in Madras, and one in Calcutta. Each of you have a different path and different train to catch though all of the need to reach Delhi. Religions are just like those trains, to help you reach the God. Each one needs a different one. But essentially all of them do the same thing. Help you reach Delhi, I mean God.”

He would laugh with her. He was his true self with Aisha, and had nothing to hide from her. He told her his failed love story, how he couldn’t marry the girl of his choice because she was a Hindu and he was a Muslim. He even took her to meet that woman, when she was on her deathbed, the woman who was Aisha’s real mother.

She didn’t realize her cheeks were so wet and eyes so puffy; tears flowed unchecked as she sat reminiscing about her father. Now that her dad died, she became so twitchy whenever anyone came near her, her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, for he never trusted any of them. Her eyes, though open, seemed frozen with a lifeless stare at blank walls.
Sitting near the table beside the window, at two in the night, she felt as if the tar-like night was inviting her. The night was unusually heavy as if it was laden with the burden of carrying the memories and unfulfilled wishes of the dead. Dead leaves crackled in the wind. She had a lantern lit up on her table, and an owl flew on to the shade outside her room extending from the window, returning from its hunt. It had a small bird in its claws, wriggling in its grip. After plucking off few feathers, the owl swallowed the bird, and flew away shortly.

Aisha brought a knife from the kitchen carefully. She considered writing a note, but then realized there was no one left in the family she needed to write to. She looked at her book in an apologizing way and made the first gash on her left wrist. It was not a very deep one. It’ll take few more gashes before she can go deep. In the dark, she brought a vegetable knife, instead the meat one. Just as she finished making second gash, there came such a heavy and wild wind with full of dust that she could barely open her eyes. The book beside her was fluttering in the wind, pages, making rapid short noises, beating back and forth. The wind was too heavy for the book and a particularly worn paper got torn away and landed on Aisha’s face as if glued to it. She still couldn’t open her eyes. She moved away from the window and peeled off the paper opened her eyes.

‘Luck favors the brave,’ read the fortune cookie on the first card of the paper. And as suddenly the wind stopped and became a mere breeze. The book was advising. No, her dad was advising her to be brave, she thought. She ripped a small piece of her dupatta and tied it to her wrist to stem the flow of blood.

Taking nothing but her most valuable items, which included a few photographs of her dad and her book of the weight cards, she ran off from the house, to her freedom, to her life and to her only hope, to Anand.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Aisha #4

It was evening at Kanyakumari, a lot of people gathered at the beach to witness the sunset on the intersection of the three seas, The Bay of Bengal, The Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, jut further down the famous Kanyakumari temple. Aisha insisted they should walk to the stretches of rocks on the beach, “Don’t you want to come to the south most point of the mainland India?”

“We are at the south most point.”

“Not yet, those people are, see those rocks?” she pointed to a group of people standing on the rocks further away from the land.

And they treaded the crisscross of rocks and overtook other group and were finally the people who were the farthest from the safety of the full-fledged stretch of land.

Yay! We’re at the south most tip of the mainland,” overjoyed she yelled into the wind, which was howling and making their dresses all willowy. She was holding his right hand in her left hand and with her right hand she’s keeping her dupatta in its place. She decided it was impossible to revel in the moment while struggling with her dupatta, so she finally took it and tied to her waist. She faced him and said, “Say with me, Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip --” she broke half when she saw a big breaker wave approaching them.
And the bigger wave was approaching fast and their place seemed like a bad place to stand. It was much more terrifying to watch it from a solo island-ish rock; the group behind them ran back. And Aisha and Anand couldn’t because they are blocked by the earlier group who were running back, jumping up on the rocks. “It’s okay, don’t worry, don’t look at it. Look at me,” he was saying while he himself was scared as hell. He was shivering. They did the only sensible idea they’ve got. They hugged each other as tightly as they can and closed their eyes shut. The water wave was not as destructive as it felt. It totally drenched them, and thanks to the groovy rock which offered much stability because of its height. Once the water receded, they extricated themselves and returned to the land in an awkward silence. Something happened to both of them during that hug, which spread unknown warmth into their chests.
They checked their plans and merged them to make a master plan for the South India trip. Going to Munnar, Alleppey, Mysore, Ooty and Hyderabad.

Back in Delhi they were waiting for their trains to return home. Aisha to the Jammu Tawi station. Anand to the Kiratpur, from where he has to catch a bus. There was palpable tension. She was fiddling with the ends of her dupatta, and he kept absently pushing his glasses up his nose bridge. His train arrived, both of them went inside to his berth, “Ah well, Aisha, then, um, we will meet later,” and he offered his hand for a handshake.

She grabbed his head and kissed him, a small kiss on his lips, “Well, you definitely lacked the courage, so I thought I bett--”

She didn’t finish her statement though, he took her in his hands kissed her back. This time it was a better kiss, not rushed like the previous one, a more passionate one like they were kissing moments before world would end. It was a while before they separated, sweating profusely despite the cool winter weather.

“I was lacking courage because I’m six inches less than your six feet requirement.”

“Oh yeah! But for you, I’ll make an exception,” she said and get off the train and went onto the platform.

Standing at the door entrance of the slow moving train, he asked, “Tell me one good reason, why I should not come with you this instant.”

“No, you shouldn’t because your grandma would be waiting, and you have a job to attend. Besides my family would freak out if they know about us. I have to tell all this to my dad and make him convince others. Write me a letter, under a girl’s name, let’s see, Anand, Anu. Yeah, use the name Anu in the signature.” And the train moved away.

She was definitely crying now, bittersweet tears coming out. She knew it’s him. She felt Anand is the only person after her dad she could trust her life with. Shortly after that, her train came and she left for Jammu.

Back at home, commemorating the end of her journey she again climbed the plinth of the weighing machine, and popped in a one rupee coin. The card came out after making the usual familiar noises, and flashing disco lights. She flipped it without waiting to see her weight, although she noticed, it read 54, on the back the quote said, ‘You never know what you have until you lose it.’

It didn’t make sense to her. She has never got such ominous looking quote when it came to those fortune cookies on the weight cards. She thought, “Right now there are only three important things in my life. Two important people- her dad and Anand - and the thing - her weight card book. And she valued them all. The quote didn’t make sense at all. She might have never guessed how it would start making sense a short while later.


Aisha #3

After sipping two glasses of masala chai each, they entered the train and proceeded to their respective compartments. Her seat was in S1, and his seat in S4. “Uncle ji, can you please change my berth to S4 31? My cousin brother is in 32. It’s that I’ve never traveled alone, and I’m afraid.” And sure enough TC helped her get a seat next to Anand.

“So, you know that TC?” asked Anand.

“Of course not. If I even had an inkling of who he was, I wouldn’t have asked for a change of seat. It’s difficult, you know for a girl. My dad is a very good guy and lets me travel alone. I don’t want people to report to him bad stories about me, I don’t want to put my freedom in jeopardy.”

Anand made a wry smile and asked, “And what makes you think this TC will not say to others, ‘a beautiful girl has asked me to change her seat so that she can be with a boy. Hey, Raam!”

“He won’t because I’ve said you’re my brother.”

The words deflated Anand’s face, and he became numb. He was fidgeting uncomfortably and trying to say something, but all he emanated were little squeaks.

She guffawed heartily, “Relax, I just told him that to make sure he won’t pry on us, I don’t think of you as a brother. Cheer up. I didn’t have any other option. I couldn’t have said you’re my boyfriend.”

Suddenly plucking courage, he asked, with a serious business tone, “Why not?”

Hmmm. You definitely look good, but I couldn’t say you’re my boyfriend because,”


“Because my boyfriend has to be a minimum of six feet and should be wearing glasses,” saying which she doubled over laughing uncontrollably.

He tried to smile, but it came out awkwardly, and then as if remembering suddenly he opened his bag and brought out his glasses, which just sent her into more violent fit of giggles, beating his thigh as she roared with laughter.

It did take some time calming down, “So where are from? And what else do you do other than popping coins into weighing machines?”

“I’m from Keylong, Himachal Pradesh; I just got a job in Indian Air Force, as an Engineer. So I’m on my holiday trip. I love traveling. I always wanted to go for South India trip, and I felt this was the right time. See all the places before I join my job. What about you?”

“I’m from Jammu, and I love traveling a lot, and usually I like to travel alone. After this trip my parents and relatives will most probably get me married, so I want to make the most out of this trip. I’ve not exactly planned my trip, but that’s fine. My dad planned a little and gave me a set of tickets, which he says can be used as a fallback. You know free tickets. Yay!”

“So what does your dad do?”

“My dad’s a locomotive pilot.”


“Okay, I get that stare a lot. It means he’s a train driver. Geez, how lowly it sounds when said train driver.”

The both took to laugh, which later subsided into an awkward silence. Anand was clearly trying to make a conversation, but obviously failing at it. So she took the initiative and said, “Did you ever travel in Train engine, the locomotive?” She didn’t wait for his answer, 99% didn’t ever see the inside of a train locomotive. She continued, beaming proudly, “I did, loads of times, with my dad.

“I am my daddy’s girl through and through. When I was small, no one else could control me. He used to take me with him every day until I started at school. And to much embarrassment most people think that a locomotive pilot is a low job in the railways. Let me tell you it’s not. It’s a challenging and well-paying job.”

“Seems like your father is a cool guy.”

“Yes, he is. He’s the best dad in the world. He lets me do anything I want. He loves me so much. And every day, mind you, every single day, he keeps telling me that I’m the reason and meaning of his existence,” she said all without stopping for a breath. She loved her dad a lot, “What about your father?”

Ummm. My parents died while I was still a toddler. So, I never knew them. My grandma raised me. We have an acre of land and a house that has been with us since like the stone age, half of which we use to run a small inn for the tourists, which is what gets us our food.”

“I’m sorry about your parents.”

“That’s ok. I don’t remember them.”

“Well, you have a good granny, now that’s a blessing. I’d rather put my head under train wheels than listen to my granny. She curses a lot. She’s a bitc--” She stopped her flow, not sure how Anand would react to the cussword, “Anyway, I hate my granny. If it’s not for my father, my granny would have killed me by now. I was always so jealous seeing the grannies of my friends who were so sweet. When I went to my friends’ houses, their grannies used to tell us stories, help us peel the oranges and used to give us a lot of snacks. My granny just complains about me all the time. 24 x 7, ‘Aisha, don’t go out, Aisha, don’t talk to boys, Aisha is such a bad influence to everyone in the family.’ She would define the word nag.”

“Just your luck,” said he.

She laughed at that and every time she laughed something happened to him, he was getting a pleasant feeling in his nape and behind his ears, like being doused with liquid happiness, while his heartbeat would become so palpable, which had been like undisturbed still water all these years. Her laughter, to him, was like slow melody with violins and bells. He cleared his throat, “Listen. Are you really hell bent upon that six feet height requirement?”
And she giggled again while he impatiently waited for an answer.

She went on speaking volumes about her dad, flushing with pride as she recounted how her dad, the hero, managed to avoid a train collision more than once. She was talking about her father's heroics as if he can drive the train safely on just one rail. Listening to her talk, he drifted into sleep, sitting in her seat, hands held in front of his chest and glasses askew, and his bent feet have now extended in sleep and touching the other end of the seat, the weight of legs was being borne by her lap. She didn’t want to wake him up, but she had to get his legs away to get up. She slowly caressed his legs, they were so cool, and it felt like touching snow, which felt so different, for her body seemed to be on a stove all the time, and her nerves seemed to tingle at that touch. She finally managed to lift the legs up and move out, and she took his glasses away and put those inside her bag and climbed up to his seat to sleep, for she didn’t have the heart to wake him and ask him to go sleep on his berth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Aisha #2

(Image via)

Aisha combed her handbag, mumbling prayers and asking God earnestly that she should have one rupee coin in her bag. She brought out her fist and heaved a deep sigh tensely hoping for a one rupee coin. She opened her fist; it was a two rupee coin. Her face fell, like a flower after a full night in hair, and she looked like she’s almost on the verge of tears. There was no one in the vicinity to ask change.

The weighing machine would only work with a one-rupee coin. She still gingerly stepped onto the weighing machine, though unsure what to do. She stood there for a while, lost in thought. Just then, someone popped a coin in the one rupee coin slot.  She was back to her usual self, exuberant, and she stood in a stiff attention posture, like she always did, lest the machine adds some more weight because of the moving air. The machine made some familiar soft ringing sounds followed by card crunching sounds, flashed some disco lights and the red and white disk finally came to a stop. Her eyes lit and lips opened into a wide grin. There was a final bell ring following which the machine issued a card, She flipped it immediately, ‘you’re one who goes after your heart, no matter what,’ it read. She read it again two more times and was almost jumping on the balls of her feet seeing such positive comment about her and then she casually flipped it to see the weight, 55, it showed. ‘Ha!’ She gasped taking in a lot of air, and moving her hand to her tummy, absent-mindedly, “Am I becoming too fat?”  She asked herself. “How much is too fat anyway?”

“Don’t worry, you look absolutely perfect. Fat definitely doesn’t describe you,” he said.

In her ecstasy, she forgot that someone else had put the coin, for her. He was a charming guy, he wore a thin grey shirt, the shape of his muscles evident even on a full sleeve shirt, a radiant face, with a little stubble and grey color in moustache area, clearly shaved that morning, roughly her height, a tad bit taller and with an almost girl like soft hand stretching out with which he was gesturing a lot. She just realized she spoke out loud her weight. She bit her tongue a little bit embarrassed. He smiled so easily, and she thought it should be made illegal to smile in such a cute way. She forced herself to think instead standing there like an idiot and her mind reminded her that she owed him one rupee, “Wow, what a bizarre line of thought I’ve in such beautiful situation,” she thought to herself.

“I’m sorry, er, hi, I’m Aisha,” she said staring at his nose, she could definitely give it a little bite, she thought, and absent-mindedly extended her arm.

“Hi, I’m Ana--.” He extended his hand to shake her hand, but then he noticed she was offering him the two rupee coin she fished out earlier.

He was offended, and it was clearly shown by his scrunched up nose. It seemed like his nose itself can convey a wide variety of emotions and he was one of those who can’t hide emotions. “I can’t take that, I’m sorry,” saying which he turned away and walked off.

She clicked her tongue and gave a little tap to her forehead and ran and caught up with him, she overtook him and turning towards him she said, “I’m sorry,” she said touching her earlobes with both her hands while balancing her handbag in the crook of her right elbow. More than her words, her gesture and eyes pleaded apology.

It was a funny sight, and he loosened a bit, “I saw you didn’t have the one rupee coin and you clearly wanted to check your weight, so I popped the coin in. I wasn’t doing it as a profit venture to accept the two rupee coin from you.”

“Sorry, baba. It’s just, my father said never to owe anyone anything. I agree I’ve been a stupid. I’m really sorry. Forgive me na, it’s painting to be like this,” she said still clutching her earlobes with her hands. She pleaded innocently like kids did when apologizing to their teachers.

“Oh, k. I forgive you. And stand straight before you pull your ears off.”

She straightened and pulled her handbag up her shoulder. “So, what did you say your name was again?”

“Anand,” he added, “So where are you going?”

“Kanyakumari, you?”

“Me too. Kanyakumari. What’s your seat no?”

She moved her head a little back, looking skeptically, and eyes frowning.

He added, “That is if you want to tell me. I’m traveling alone. And I thought it’d be good to have a company. This is the first time I’m traveling alone.”

She laughed, “Don’t worry, nothing will happen, I’ve traveled alone infinite times. I’ll tell you my seat number presently, I don’t remember. Let’s go for a chai first. The train is going to be late by an hour, at the least and it’s really cold.”

They went to a small canteen just opposite the station and ordered cutting chai. Taking careful sips of the hot masala tea in those small glass tumblers, he said, “So why did you want to check your weight so badly? Did someone say you were fat? You almost cried when you found out you don’t have a one rupee coin.”

“I don’t care about my weight, I mean I do care about my weight, but that’s not why I was so anxious. Hold this,” she gave him his tea cup to hold and the accidental brushing of her fingers made his head reel with excitement, and sent a chill down his spine. He wondered how a small touch could electrify his senses like that.

She, rummaged in her bag and brought out a book, a notebook, opened it and showed him. Nearly one fifth of the fat book was filled, with cards. The rest of it was empty. Those were railway weighing machine cards, which showed weight one side and had a quote on the other side.

“I don’t know if I can call this a hobby, for it is much more to me. I collect these cards, two per journey, one at the source and one at the destination. Somehow these always seem to tell me something. They tell me secrets, sometimes they reveal the future to me or warn me against something and sometimes they advise me, they are like tiny little friends to me and yeah I know I sound stupid. Don’t laugh, you will choke on your tea,” she said and added, “Wow, what a tea. This tiny amount of liquid can kick the senses right back. If tea were to be a mom, I think it’ll make us do all the house work. It gives such sense of energy.”

Anand really did choke a little on his tea hearing her comments.

“I just hope the ticket collector will be someone I don’t know.”

Anand looked at her incredulously.

“You don’t believe me right? But yeah I know many TCs, my dad works in Railways.”


By the time nurse, arrived Aisha’s hands were shining with blood. The thick warm scarlet liquid gushed down leaving a single thin trail on her hand, almost like a mehndi cone design gone wrong. She had a half broken saline bottle in her hand. She was using it as a weapon to threaten a book at her bedside. Glass shards sticking out of her palm and by the time Anu entered Ganga, the nurse, was struggling to pacify Aisha. Together both of them overpowered the old woman and after a commotion lasting several minutes they were finally able to administer her some anesthesia, and Ganga did the first aid to Aisha’s hand, removing all those glass remains. A doctor came in and gave some stitches and went off. Aisha was on her bed, sleeping calmly, child-like as if nothing has happened. Ganga exhaling out a deep breath of relief asked Anu, “Why your grandma was glaring at that book, and if it’s bothering her so much why not just throw it away.”

Anu replied, “It’s not as easy as that, she’ll get mad if she doesn’t see that book. She sometimes cries hugging that book.”

“Yesterday night your grandma was mumbling in her sleep, that she’s a murderess, and she killed someone called Anand?”

“You are new here?” asked Anu.

“Yes,” replied Ganga.

“Well, that’s precisely the reason why she’s in a mental facility. She keeps saying she’s the reason my grandpa died. Don’t worry she is not a murderess,” replied Anu, not bothering to keep the annoyance out of her tone.

“I’m sorry,” replied Ganga in a meek and a barely audible voice, and added, “All I was told by the previous nurse who quit, was your Grandma was a weird person. And she used to look much younger when she was admitted a year ago.”

Unknowingly Anu drew out her wallet which had a photo of her in between her grandparents, taken a year and a half ago, in which Aisha looked like she was 45 when she was actually 57. “Yeah, she is a very beautiful woman,” replied Anu, still looking at her photo. Anand Grandpa, though 65 by the time that photo was taken has always had a spare amount of adrenalin. He died while he was still a boy at heart. Anand loved adventures and died before he gave into senility.

And ever since insanity gripped Aisha, she gave into paranoia, weird hallucinations and heard voices, sometimes voice of her father and sometimes that of Anand. She sometimes conversed with herself, sometimes she would take the role of Anand, and then she would reply to the statement she made while she was Anand. But all the time she would be pointing to that book. When she was first admitted in the hospital, one night she tore all those pictures on walls, which had confidence inducing and mood uplifting photos and quotes. It had been a battle, every day, ever since.

But the doctor said she was getting better. It has been almost three months she was without any hallucinations, or any incident for that matter, that is until today. But today it was more of blood than madness. Aisha looked resolute as if she knew what was bothering her. She was not having that glassy stare she usually had these days.

“Ma’am, do you mind if I take a look at that book?”

“You’ll be the regular nurse attending my grandma? You can call me Anu.”


“Go ahead.”

Ganga opened the heavy, otherworldly book, which definitely was made decades ago. No one made such books anymore. And inside were posted cards from railway weighing machine that are found ubiquitously in all Indian railway stations. They were pasted in such a way that the actual side which showed the weight was used to stick them to pages and the side with quotations was showing up. So it’s a quotations book, made out from quotes from the back of weight cards from the weighing machine. It was really a heavy book, and a large number of pages were filled with three cards per page, and nothing on the other side of the page. Hence, three cards per paper.

“Did your Grandma make this book?”

“Yes, and you mind calling her Aisha instead referring her as my grandma every time? She was very close to me, she was like a friend,” Anu said, but actually Aisha was like mother to her, in fact, Anu used to call her ‘ma’ though her mom told her not to, many times. She grew up with her grandparents, and she really thought her grandmother was her mother; Aisha looked so young, definitely not like a grandmother. Her parents were working in US. They left Anu with her grandparents, as Anu was not much suited for the cold weathers. Doctor advised them to keep Anu in India till at least till she was five.

After returning to US, aged five, Anu had a tough time understanding that Aisha was not her mother but her grandma. And she looked a lot like his dad, Aamir, who looked a lot like his mom, Aisha.

“Do you mind telling me what happened?” asked Ganga, putting a hand on Anu’s shoulders, who was not aware that small tears are clinging to her eyes.

Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, Anu replied, “I think I should, it will help you understand and thus help my grandma better. Btw I’ll come here twice daily, before going to college and after my college ends, and I’ll be here most of the Sunday. And most of the days I’ll definitely come twice, except when I’m held in college for some work, and here’s my number, you should call me whenever you think I should be here,” saying which Anu gave Ganga her number.

She dragged a chair and pointed Ganga to take the other one, “I’ll try to be brief, but to make you understand her better, I’ll have to start from the start, and I mean starting from the time of Aisha’s marriage.”

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