Sunday, December 2, 2012

Singapore is better - says my son


My son is eight. When he was about five we relocated back to India from Singapore. Back then I had no clue that I would have to  play tug  - of - war with my little son, every other day, in order to make him see that India is as beautiful and has as much to offer as Singapore or any other country in the world. Whenever possible, I would duly highlight all the good things about our motherland. But very rarely something impressed him about his country of birth. Moreover, he would make sure to attract my attention to the things which were unremarkable or poor in his opinion about India. The episode I'm about to briefly share is just one of the several such occasions when he tried to make his point that Singapore is better than India. This particular conversation took place in the morning a few days ago  while we were waiting for the school bus and he saw a man spitting on the other side of the road -  
LV: ‘Mumma why do people spit on the roads and every other possible place here?’

Me: ‘I guess those who do it have not been taught by their parents that spitting on the road is a bad habit and spoils their own environment.’

LV (Not wanting to end the topic so easily): 'But Mumma no one spits on the road in Singapore.'

Me (knowing well where the conversation was heading but still wanting to respond to him): ‘Yes, because they know it is wrong.’

LV: ‘…and they also know that they would be fined heavily for it, if caught.’ That is another reason I like Singapore so much. It is cleaner,' he ended giving me one of his I've - won  - this - round,  smiles.  

I didn't have much to say to that. One can't really argue with a child. Especially when the child has made his point well.  However, what I'm trying to emphasize here is that it's almost four years since we've shifted to India and yet my son relates to Singapore more. And I don't think it is so because he has any special feelings towards the Island country where he spent just a part of his childhood.

My son’s unfavourable outlook towards his own country is nothing new. As a concerned citizen I have myself often mulled over this fact. In fact, many of the youngsters I know or interact with feel the same way as my son. They relate to western ideas more easily than valuing their own country and it's ways. What is it that makes today’s youth and even children shun their Indian identities. And who is to be blamed for this state of affairs?  All of us!  I think. There are some basic but vital areas which are woefully neglected. Cleanliness is definitely one of them.

But this was not always so. India has always been a spiritual land. Our ancestors were very aware of the importance of overall hygiene and cleanliness in maintaining a healthy society. And they earnestly worked towards keeping their surrounding especially their houses clean.  In fact,  I remember as children we were never allowed to bring our shoes inside the house. Kitchen was off limits to outside guests unless they had bathed and changed to fresh set of clothes. In fact, most Indians try to keep their houses  clean even now. Many of the old traditions and rules are still followed in order to keep the house dirt and pollution free.

But what happens to our sense of cleanliness as soon as we step out of our houses? Why this utter disregard for public property? I rarely get to see a clean public toilet that is in usable state (unless they are located in big shopping malls). I have yet to come across a betel or gutka eater who uses the dustbin to spit instead of the walls, building corners or roads.  And I have yet to come across a shopkeeper or a street - side vendor who firmly tells his customers  to throw the garbage in the dustbin. In fact, I've rarely seen dustbins that have been placed at the right spots, look clean and not already overflowing with garbage. The state of even some of the so - called posh markets is the same: Dirt, filth and unbearable stench.

Why do we ignore such pathetic conditions? Why do we all become mute observers while people spit  out paan and gutka right in front of us without any regard? Why can’t we check an errant child who is littering the public park with empty packets of potato wafers et al? Why do we have a casual outlook towards such a basic and vital issue despite being aware? We really cannot expect our children to feel proud of their nation when we, the adult members of the society lack (or ignore), even the basic civic  commitments and behaviour. It's not late even now.
I'll do my bit. Will you?






Thursday, April 26, 2012

What a watch – Vicky donor!




What an awkward name ‘Vicky donor!’ I thought to myself, the first time I read the name while scanning the morning paper and enjoying my first strong cuppa. My ‘couldn’t- care- less’ eyes and already distracted mind gave the review a cursory glance and moved on to run through the rest of the paper.

However, I was soon to learn that ‘Vicky donor’ would actually show me ‘Paani da rang,’ which  - till I watched the movie - was one of the many mysteries of life that I had been unable to solve. Anyway, coming back to the movie, I loved it for not only coming to my aid to solve the puzzle about the exact colour of water  but also for the fantastic idea/story! 


I was so happy with the movie that I decided to write about it and er, per force increase your knowledge on the subject. Now don’t smirk or shy away. Read me out. I am almost certain that even you don’t know what's the exact colour of water. Do you think I was going to talk about sperm donation? Nah! I am  going to talk movie alright!

But first things first -

The colour of water is Blue, Green and Red. At least for me!  Of course, it may be that you see entirely different colours. Confused?  I know. Well let me expand on the above. Hopefully, you will appreciate my endeavor to enlighten you on the subject.

‘The world is a sperm….’says Dr. Chaddha, (one of the principal characters) towards the end of the movie. For him the world indeed revolves around sperms. 


Shocking! Crazy! Shameful! Everybody calls him that. Even some of his own patients.  

Oh! I forgot to properly introduce you to Dr .Chaddha. In the movie, he is the fertility expert, running a fertility clinic and a sperm bank in Dariyaganj, New Delhi, which guarantees high quality and specialized sperm to couples who are unable to have babies, naturally. 


Unfortunately, he has more failed cases to his credit than successes. So he gets desperate for a healthy, high performing donor. Enters our dashing hero, Vicky, a Punjabi boy living in refugee colony of Lajpat nagar. Vicky has big dreams. His mother, a widow, runs a small beauty parour in Lajpat nagar to somehow make ends meet. 


But instead of easing out her burden by working at his Uncle’s garment shop, Vicky loves to spend money on buying expensive clothes, eating out, playing cricket and going to pubs etc. Not that he is a wrong kind of boy. He feels bad for his mother but wants to work in a proper corporate environment instead of working for a small time ‘uncool’ business house.  


The entire story revolves around the above two main characters trying to outwit each other on the (rather embarrassing), issue of Sperm donation. Strange topic! Funny story! I am sure you too are thinking the same ...as I had thought that  morning when I first read about it.

But the fact remains, the movie boldly dealt with the rather hush -hush and serious topic in the most hilarious way possible. Honestly, I found the movie a  refreshing break. 


With an apt depiction of vagaries of life in a metro, on your face Delhi type humour, (by which I mean that Delhi wala’s will relate to it very well, esp the aggressive body language and not -so -soft  style of talking), Bong – Punju fights, Gol gupps & Chat walas,  pretentious high society Delhi denizens, 42 inch LCD TV price queries, snoopy neighbours,  Lajpat ki galiyan and CR park ke lanes, Love is blind quotes….et al, the movie, through the myriad of colours and emotions refused to budge from that one serious question it provocatively chose to raise and address. 


For the answer about the colour of water, you have to watch the movie. Ha! So much for this? What a tease I am. Actually,I am not. I am just being nice by acting as a stimulant. Go watch  and enjoy the movie just as I did. Oh well, let me be kind and explain how I saw the three colours -

Green –that symbolizes Life, Freshness, Fertility, Beginning. The movie sensitively dealt with the issue of infertility. If gently nudged the viewers to think and ask themselves the question What’s the big deal? Why so much of stigma attached to a profession or a task that would bring forth life in the best possible manner and spread smiles?

Blue – Pain and sadness of not having your own child was experienced best when Aashima, Vicky’s wife, who loved kids’ but found out she could never have children due to some problem within her own body. Blue also symbolizes peace or serenity which can be experienced through Vicky's   state of mind towards the end when he realizes how his actions, changes the lives of so many people including his own.

Red – Colour of love.  Whether it is Vicky’s love for his mother, or his mom’s grumbling acceptance and love for  her mother – in - law or Chadhha’s weird love for Vicky or Vicky's love for Aashima ( the most heart touching + romantic), the movie captured the emotion so well that I kept my kerchief handy.

And of course, I sang ‘Pani da rang’ all the way home…the first few lines in Punjabi, the rest in well…some odd language that only my heart understood.  



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mishti

MISHTI
 

 

Mishti was used to

having men come and go

from her life

A dark beauty

she attracted them

intensely

But sooner or later

they all left her side


Mishti knew
t'was her fate.
And she liked to keep it that way.

 

Early on in life
she had been
betrayed.
Since then she swore
never to fall in love again.
She avenged herself
by making the unsuspecting men
who fell for her
sign their property and wealth
in her name

The men intoxicated
by her beauty and fine wine she served

had her wishes gladly fulfilled

 

Once the bond was signed,

she kept the piece of scroll

stashed away

for when she would be of old age
Next, she packed,

the men off
saying she was
no longer in love

 

Heartbroken and penniless,
the poor men left hiding their
helpless state from the world

Then one day
stood a man
on the entrance of
her small roadside inn
He looked rough and shoddy
with sharp penetrating eyes;
his clothes were muddy
as if he had been in a street fight
Exactly the kinds that fuelled

her long - supressed emotions

Instantly to him she took a dislike

Turning her thoughts away she got
busy serving muffins and tea

to another guest


Briefly she darted a glance at the stranger
found he  too was measuring her up

with a frozen intensity.
Mishti looked away from
the pair of eyes that
looked at her

with a strange nameless feeling

rejected by her mind


The man found himself a table,
took out his cigar
and waited patiently for his turn

 

His gaze followed her busy figure
as she moved from table to table
with an insolent smile,
she could not help but notice.
‘Coffee please’ he said,
when Mishti finally came to him
‘Make it strong and extra sweet,’
his seductive voice commanded
‘Would you be staying the night, sir?’

she asked him politely, as it was late

 

‘Would you like me to?’
he enquired with

his twinkling suggestive eyes

 

 

‘Well sir ‘tis not up to me to answer for you,’ she responded.
‘Well madam, I want to stay,’
he mimicked her stern voice
‘Book me a room that is closer to your own,’
he added minus a blink
Turning beetroot red
she gave him a dirty look threw him a few half - baked words and walked away.

His mocking laughter followed her gait

 

Mishti knew
t'was her fate.
But she didn’t want it that way.

 

That night tired to the core
she went to bed early;

locking her doors well


Somewhere during middle of night
she felt an arm around her.
The touch was warm,
another followed the first.
Too drowsy to move,
Mishti let them stay,
somehow their warmth lessened her old heartache
‘I am going to love you,’
the strange voice whispered
near her ears

'Love is a bluff.
I play bluff master,'
dreamily she retorted


‘Love is faith,
you will love again, she was countered.

That night the whisperer

was made to pack his bags

Just like her previous lovers

Mishti wanted

him gone

from her dreams…

 

 

In the morning when she awoke

 found a scroll by her pillow that read:

"Love is faith, I'll come back again."

 

Mishti knew
t'was her fate.
And she wanted to keep it that way.

 

 
 

‘Love is faith,
you will love again, she was countered.
That night the whisperer
was made to pack his bags
Just like her previous lovers
Mishti wanted
him gone
from her dreams…
 
In the morning when she awoke
she found a scroll by her pillow that read:
"Love is faith, I'll come back again."
 
 
 

Friday, April 20, 2012

LOVE



When I sat down to write my own thoughts on ‘Love’ many different yet related terms came to mind - lust, infatuation, passion, care, commitment, compassion, deep understanding, friendship, selflessness or even selfishness.

Not surprisingly, I found the oft used simple human sentiment was quite difficult to define as it encompasses all the above words describing it and maybe more.

In fact, different cultures of the world have different set of meaning for it. In Persian culture ‘all is for love’, In Chinese ‘Wo ai ni’ (I love you), carries with it certain specific sense of responsibility, commitment and loyalty, In ancient Greek ‘Agapo’ refers to a pure ‘ideal type’ of love and ‘Eros’ is passionate love. In our own country ‘love’ comes up with several meanings. A person can love his parents, children, God, car, clothes, food et al. But a man loving a woman is something that is special and is expressed and understood as being ‘in love’.

Now, if I delve too much into its meaning, I will end up being more entangled than ever. So, I leave it to the readers to pick up their own meaning with the few important references provided by me as above. As far as I'm concerned, I believe love is that stubborn emotion that bravely faces the harsh winters and yet refuses to give up .With unshakable faith it waits for the Spring to arrive.

But honestly (& practically), speaking how many of us have known and experienced that kind of love? And with the current mind - set of instant gratification and fast forward lifestyles, who has the time & patience to wait for the ‘right kind of love?’

Generally, this is what happens-- You find yourself strongly attracted to a girl next door or your colleague  at office or maybe even a good friend who studied with you. You two spend a lot of time together. Sparks fly. Terming it as special, you mostly confuse the physical reaction of your body with the term ‘love.’ The girl on the other hand is more cautious (mostly owing to her conservative bringing up and a deep - seated fear of the consequences), and does not immediately reciprocate your feelings. Consequently, your heart aches for her more and you give your best to win her over. Finally, she concedes defeat enamored by your focused attention to her. And like you she too believes herself to be ‘in love.’ (And maybe it is so. Maybe you both are truly in love. But can you be completely sure? It’s a gamble until proved otherwise).

Anyway, during the courtship period both the parties refuse to see, listen or hear anything against each other. This is the so called ‘Love is blind’ phase.

Then comes a time when you both decide to get married. And maybe again another round of struggle ensues. Yet both face this phase boldly and overcome all hurdles to tie the knot. So far so good. Your status changes from being “Single” to "Married”. But if you think this is it... and now both of you can live ‘happily ever after.' Take a cold shower!  The real test of true love starts after marriage.  

 Post the honeymoon period realities of life come knocking at your door. Modern day lifestyles throw multiple challenges to the marriage. And both partners want to shirk away from facing such problems. Neither has the time. Moreover, the modern educated married woman has higher expectations from her better- half. She considers herself equal to her partner in almost every sense and totally believes that she can  well manage   her affairs without depending on her husband. The husband on the other hand, has his own aspirations/goals and feels the wife will understand. But none of them are able to understand the other; despite claiming to be deeply in love. And so they end up either hurting each other or being hurt themselves. Love then is ‘no more blind.’ It becomes a game of 'give and take' which has no clear cut winners.


In my opinion, for both to be winners it is important to keep in mind that, ‘Love expects respect, it expects understanding and most of all it expects love in return. A sensitive, caring and an honest attitude towards your partner is then the only way to nurture love. And understanding develops through communication, dialogues, spending time together, (even if both have to steal it) and preferably away from the regular environment. Couples who respect each other, share a compassionate understanding and are willing to work for the relationship have a good chance of saying ‘Honey, I love you,’ and mean it.



The Rose - by Bette Midler -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR6okRuOLc8

Thursday, April 5, 2012

To have or not to have a CSR policy?


The above question is raised almost every time there is a mention or reference to the very popular term– CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, amongst corporate honchos. Now before we make an attempt to analyze and discuss the relevant issue, it’s important to preempt and get some valid responses on a couple of other questions -

  • What do we exactly mean by CSR?
  • And why has it suddenly become important for a corporate to have a CSR policy?


CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility – is nothing but being a good citizen of a community albeit a corporate citizen. There is no denying the fact that a healthy business requires a strong and happy society. And similarly for a society to grow and develop we need healthy businesses. Both are interdependent. And both have responsibilities towards each other. So if a company has been provided with a good environment and necessary tools to function in and make profits, it becomes important for the company as well to formulate laws, regulations, policies that would have a healthy impact on its immediate environment and the community in which it operates. Any lax approach towards its overall environment will directly or indirectly affect the business in the longer term and the Society at large might suffer.

One example is UK business Gallaher, the world's fifth-largest cigarette-maker -
Its CSR policy means it will not buy tobacco from any developing world producers that use child labour and has firm policies on the prevention of sales to minors.
"It's about doing the right thing, it's not complicated," says Gallaher's group corporate manager, Michelle McKeown.

Importance of CSR Policy – For all those who think that CSR is just a philanthropic activity…that has nothing to do with their business…think again. There are multi faceted benefits of having a CSR policy that is directly integrated into the company’s overall strategy. It takes care of several vital issues that have direct impact on the overall growth of the company.

Increases Credibility – Any product or idea has a perceived value. Companies spend millions in developing trust of the customer for their product or idea. Having a strong CSR goal that is communicated to the stakeholders at every touch point goes a long way in enhancing the company’s image as being a good company to do business with. For example – Maruti Suzuki stresses on Safety. And so under its CSR policy it runs a driving School that not only helps train the marginalized men and women become good drivers and improves their chances of livelihood but also ensures compliance to the basic Road safety rules.

Ensures Sustainability – CSR is all about how do companies treat their employees? How do they do their daily work? How do they produce their goods and sell them? It’s not so much about how much profit they make but how they make their profit? For example – For any enterprise, the first thing that is important is to attract, motivate and retain good employees. And in this highly competitive world if companies can retain talent and have lower employee turnover, it greatly helps in sustaining a business.

Brand building- Brand is the perceived image of a product or an idea. And branding exercises ensures that the product/idea is imprinted in the customers mind. CSR is a great tool to achieve that objective. Let me illustrate this again with the help of an example. As per a study carried out by CRY (Child relief and you), for an insurance company that was making inroads into the Indian market, the research revealed clearly that when its customers were informed about the company’s policy of giving back a percentage of its earnings for the welfare of disadvantaged children it increased their brand image. And in fact the company’s profit showed remarkable growth in a relatively shorter span then they expected.

Improves skills – Here again let’s take the example of Maruti Suzuki. It’s a car manufacturing company. But it values safety. Also, it understands the fact that the Indian roads are unsafe simply because people who drive cars don’t know/understand the basic driving rules properly. By providing them the necessary knowledge and skill they are ensuring three things. 1) They improve the skills thus ensuring greater safety on the road, 2) Their image as a ‘car company that cares’ improves their brand value, 3) with more and more people learning to drive directly from them, the possibility of their own sales figures going up, increases.

Builds relationships – companies are made by the people, for the people and do business with the people. An enterprise that cares for its environment, follows fair trade practices, generates an integrated report that takes into account its social, environmental, economic and financial performance which it then openly shares with its stakeholders ensures not only the continuance of a strong relationship with its past customers but also increases the chance of attracting newer clients and building lasting relationships.

Having a well integrated CSR policy that is in alignment with the company’s overall goal ensures a sustainable business that positively impacts its environment through its responsible actions.  

I leave you all now to discuss and decide for yourself whether ‘to have or not to have a CSR policy’ for your company.







Monday, March 26, 2012

Swallow This – “The Asocial Network!”


  
*A word of Caution –

 People who start their day with face booking, spend half of their office time in posting, liking and commenting on social networks and end their evenings by using their status updates to write ‘Good night friends’ or other such predictable lines, hope you have a strong digestive system, ‘cause, Dheeraj Kumar, the Jamshedpur born IITian and debut author takes a bow and claps for himself as we gape open mouthed while he rips us apart with his musings on our behavior in the real and online world.

Here is a book that I tried my best to disagree with. However, in the end I could not help but nod my head, albeit slowly, secretly and silently. Based on his keen sense of observation of human frailties, the author explores, discusses and candidly expresses his thoughts on how online social networks especially Facebook, cleverly took advantage of our basic and inherent need to be appreciated, admired, thanked and portray a ‘larger than life’ image and  got all of us hook, line and sinker into brushing our teeth while checking our notifications for the number of ‘likes’ we received for our ‘just – 5- minutes- back’, posted clever one liner.

In the process, however, Zukerberg also joined the top 20 richest on Forbes 400.   But who cares about him. We care about us. Our image. Our popularity. Our number of friends…all in the virtual world. Err…in reality we could be…someone whose social network is limited to his wife and her side of the family.
  
Of course, there are areas in the book (to my delight), that can be hotly debated,   Please feel free to take advantage of the situation and give him your mouthful. Dheeraj, that is for being so nastily right in most of your observations/deductions.

Just to give you a fair idea let me give you some sample lines from the book. And mind you such provocative statements/questions are evenly sprinkled throughout the book -

"Perhaps we are all unsatisfied with the one real life we are all blessed with?"

“We are all deprived of an audience; we are unsatisfied with the normal course of events that fill our days.”

“Why do I need to know what moods my friends are in and what small wonders they are performing in their daily lives?”  -  “…’feeling awesome’, ‘taking off home’, ‘feeling bored,’ proud father of six babies’”   

“Why this urgency to come up with something new when your old post is still in the public place, although it may require some scrolling down. It is like trying to outsmart all your friends by coming up with something new”

“The human mind is not capable of maintaining friendship with more than 50 friends at a time. We are simply not designed to communicate with so many people all at once.”
I think I will spare us the pain. This is too much. I agree.

However, Google, Twitter, Orkut and others have not been spared too. But since FB is the biggest fish of them all, he has focused most of his energies in deep frying the people on it first.

On the brighter side though, Dheeraj has also discussed very important issues like future of the online and social networking world, its benefits, impacts and the mega transformation it would bring in our communities online and offline.   

 He has highlighted the above by discussing questions like -

Who would own it?

How will it impact our daily lives? (Buying vegetables online or automated messaging service that can be activated when the customer wants to send say an apology to his wife).

How Employer – employee relationship will undergo a huge change. Where the employees, would  actually render their services on an hourly basis and would also be in huge demand. (I quite like this idea, actually. We will finally learn to value each other’s time).

What would be its benefits and  usage in doing business in an open, friendly environment? 
 
And here is the best deduction of all…as per the author, in the 22nd century ‘the lure of gizmo gazettes would finally give way to the aesthetic desires of people.’ People will finally get bored of the virtual world and prefer connecting with each other face to face. Wow!. Am surely waiting for that to happen…simply 'cause I am not too comfortable around these new gadgets/ machines or even the web. It’s a small wonder that I was able to create my own blog without any help. Not that it looks great or anything. But at least, I did it on my own. So Dheeraj, thank you for this insightful and futuristic thoughts. Hope it comes true. And sooner the better.

 Towards the end he has left us wondering again with his simple question-
Is networking good or bad?’

No wait!  Before you answer that, read the book and then draw your conclusions.

As for me…I am still mighty confused. For me FB is a great tool to reach out to my readers, connect with other writers, publishers et al  yet I can't deny the fact that it is addictive. But one thing’s for sure, next time I will be cautious not to write updates like – ‘I had a bad day.’ ‘On cloud nine.’ You get the drift…!

But Dheeraj am still not going to stop writing my catchphrase - Keep smiling. J HA!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The essentials of writing a good book






Many aspiring writers keep asking me about the things they should keep in mind while writing a good story. In this blog I would like to share a few key points a good writer must focus on –

As a novelist I feel what keeps the reader glued to a story is how one sets the mood and the tone of the book. It is good to ensure that -

  1. the beginning of a story catches the attention
  2. the middle keeps the readers hooked to the story and turning pages
  3. the end leaves the readers thinking about the idea/story

In short, get them hooked to your story from the word go. Gradually reveal your cards and when you finally end it, always leave them wanting more.  

At times, language is a problem with debut writers who may otherwise have a fabulous story to tell. Don’t fret over it. If you have a powerful story and you write it with your heart, it will surely connect with the readers.

However, if your find that the language is hindering your creativity, try the below:  

Keep it short and simple.
Avoid being too descriptive or using long sentences.
Develop the characters well and let them do the job of ‘telling’ the story.
Keep it natural. Don’t try to be superfluous.
Take the help of a good editor who can help you with the language and structure.
Don’t be in a hurry to get your work published.
Most importantly, believe in yourself and never say never.

Happy writing! 


Monday, March 12, 2012

Lessons in love - From a mother to her son!


Lessons in Love – A letter from a mother to her son

My darling Son,

You will receive this letter only after all the nonsense ceremonies are over. And everyone has left. Shiv read the first lines feeling utterly confused.

Why did mother leave a letter for him with dad when he had been by her side all along during her final days?

I can’t have others see my handsome son crying over a letter.  I told Ashwini not to hand it to you at the right time. So that was it. He thought, as he continued reading.

Also, I know this letter would help you cope better with the facts of life once I am no longer there. And don’t grieve too much over me. Ashwini needs you. As for me, I have no regrets. I am going peacefully and happily. My life was good. I have lived it to the fullest. And I am so proud to be your mom.

 But before I leave son, I have something to tell you…

 Shiv could no longer contain himself and broke down. He did not care. The one woman he loved most in his life was no longer with him. His dad had quietly handed over the letter to him after the cremation was over and the last of the crowd that had come to bid her a final farewell, had dispersed. He was alone in the hall. Their lovely house was exceptionally quiet. He missed her boisterous laughter.

Dad must have retired or must be silently grieving over her loss.  Simone must be with him. Shiv thought to himself and felt slightly comforted by the thought.

He had come to admire the quiet Simone. He had hardly got a chance to interact with her earlier. But her mother’s ill health had given him a chance to know her closely. Shiv found her to be helpful and the only practical person around during his mother’s last few days.   


She has indeed proved to be a good friend to dad. Shiv thought to himself.

His focused back on the letter.

…Next month, I would have been sixty one. It would have been nice to go out to my favourite restaurant, just the three of us and have a quiet dinner.  Anyway, that reminds me, you must take Shona there.  Like me she also enjoys her food, which is good. A woman must eat well. I feel. And I am glad she does. Just like me! Reading the last lines brought a flicker of a wintry smile to Shiv’s otherwise somber face.

I must have made you smile, Shiv continued reading, …hope you will forgive me for what I am going to reveal now.  He suddenly became alert. His mother rarely spoke in this manner.

Son, all your life I kept a secret from you. My only secret! You see despite the fact that your father and I respect and admire each other we were never exactly in love with each other. And I don’t know about Ashwini…but I really wanted to experience it once. Don’t get me wrong… I …we always deeply cared for each other. But a decision had to be taken. We could not just go around hanging around each other waiting…for nothing.  We knew we were not doing justice to the relationship. We were more good friends pretending to be a great couple. It was taking its toll on our friendship.

So although you were still young…we decided to separate. Now don’t jump! Read me out. We separated in name.

 Shiv, re- read the lines several times. He could not make any sense out of the words he had read.

What is she talking about?? He asked himself. They have been very much together. Dad does stay in Canada…but …, perplexed he continued, hoping to get some answers.

For the world we remained one. “The happily married couple.” But we made a pact, whoever fell in love first, would declare to the other and move out. And as luck would have it…Ashwini gave his bit of happy news first.

Around that time I was struggling with my own problems. My singing career was still to take off. Also, practically I was a single mother of a young child. Your father had by then shifted to Canada for his business. This news came as a big jolt. I was extremely depressed. For months together, I looked and behaved like a mad woman. It was hell!  I even neglected you, my son. And I can’t forgive myself for doing so.

But soon I realized that the real reason was not so much your father leaving me and finding his true love. In fact, deep inside I was happy for him. I wished him well. Though I was sad too…to let my friend go…you see he was the only one I was really close to. But I was sorry for myself because in my own life…I was failing where he had succeeded. The more I tried to seek love, the more it eluded me. Not that I did not have suitors. I was young and pretty. Full of life. And an independent woman.  Several men came into my life. They loved me in their own ways. But each time I felt disappointed. You know why was I disappointed?

By now Shiv was feeling a mixed set of emotions. He felt angry, hurt and cheated. I don’t know anything about my own parents! He thought. But unable to seek an explanation from anyone else, he continued reading.

I was looking for love but did not believe in it. I felt it was something transactional. You give. You get. And if you don’t give you cannot get. It came into my life in various forms. Some deeply loved me while there were a few who misused the term to their advantage and moved away or I left them. But in the process, I became more and more cynical. 

Then one day…a fine man came into my life. He was the opposite of someone I would even look once. But there he was.  I still remember that day. We met at a charity ball. He was talking loudly and making all the “high and mighty” ladies surrounding him, laugh at his silly jokes. I was a part of the group. Not that I was enjoying the loud bantering but I tried to keep face. Anyway, I don’t know how he got talking to me…soon I was laughing my heart out just like the other ladies in the room. And right from that day on, he became a constant in my life. Though you came to know of him much later.

Where was I? Shiv asked angrily roughly shaking the letter as if it was his mother.

Don’t blame me, Son for not disclosing this to you earlier! You were hardly home. You wanted to go to the boarding School just ‘coz your dearest friend was also going. Besides, even during your summer breaks you loved to go and stay with Dad more. Don’t sulk. Finish reading me. That’s my good boy.

Vikas, was my constant companion. I felt so overwhelmed by his love. Unconditional and total. I was so…so rude, short tempered and ill mannered…but he saw through my mask. Patiently, but surely he worked his charm over me…till I too fell in love with him completely. And today I am so glad to tell you that I finally found my true love, just like your dad did.  

Ashwini, was so happy for us. In fact we celebrated it. It was Ashwini’s idea!  Remember that holiday we took to Maldives? The salt and peppered man whom you met at Maldives, the one who taught you snorkeling; that was Vikas. I think that was the only time you met him. Wasn’t he fun?

Shiv immediately recollected the tall and handsome man who had made friends with him and had taught him so much about the sea. He had liked him then. But not now. Right now he felt like ….but instead of delving deeper into his topsy - turvy feelings for the man; he continued reading the letter.  

Now, don’t be jealous. You know I love you.  But he was different. He taught me so many things about life. I re - discovered the woman in me. And I felt complete. My times spent with Vikas were one of the most treasured moments of my life.

 Son, last year he passed away. I was devastated…and that was why you saw me the way you did when you came home, the last time. In fact, my first heart attack came the day he passed away…which everyone hid from you. I had asked them to. Shiv had suspected it always. Now he was sure and cursed himself for being so na├»ve. They could have taken her to Mumbai. She could have been with them even now. He didn’t know who to blame or get angry at. She was already gone.

You know…he continued with the letter, I think I want to join him. Though, I am still torn between him and you. But what the heck! You will only read this when I am no longer there. Shiv, I want you to know I love you. Always will. Forgive me for hiding this aspect of my life from you.
But Son I also want you to learn from my mistakes. Love cannot be sought. It finds you. And most of all love is enough. You don’t need to wish for anything more, if you have true love. It completes you. If you love Shona in that way…don’t let her go.
Okay enough of my lecture! Take good care of your dad and yourself.  I will be watching over you both from above.

Lovingly Yours,
 Mom 

Shiv kissed the letter gently, folded it before placing it on the dining table. Then he wiped off his tear stricken face with his already crumpled kerchief and went to his dad’s bedroom.