It was 10:47 PM. Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago. It was zooming past city streets, then slowing down, making turns and then speeding up again. Except for the orange tint of the street lights scattered in arrays, there wasn’t much light which shone upon the objects inside the comfortable domain of the vehicle. Like a filter, the windows separated the cozy, air-conditioned interiors of the bus with the outside world, the scorching city heat, the dust scraping off the skin and the air not-so-breathable from the day’s happenings, only allowing parts of the sound and light to affect the people inside the vehicle. The bus was headed towards Bhuntar, making its way through the night.

Except we weren’t inside the bus.

Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago and we were still at home, Googling ‘natural tourist destinations around Delhi’ which are doable in a short time. We were late, our bus had left us behind and after almost a week’s thorough planning of visiting Kasol, we were finally settling down on Kasauli or Ranikhet or Lansdowne or something like that. The reality wasn’t very satisfying, because once you’ve made your mind about something, you can only compromise with something else.

We all have our own reasons to escape from our daily lives and every once in awhile, we end up doing so. Only the places differ. Some find their safe haven in music, some find it in literature, some find it in nature. For me, it’s subjective. I have lived far too long with my own contradictions to be unable to accept them, now. I might not appear to you as a sorted-out person, because sometimes, I have varying views for the same thing or event hanging between the relative and the absolute, even if the basic intent remains the same. So I wanted a trip to Kasol. My brother-in-law (and apparently a great friend, that I only recently found in him) wanted it, too, to escape from the hectic work load at his office.

We had decided on the trip to start from 1st October, 2016 and end on 5th October, 2016. Because the first week started with a weekend and he could obtain a few days’ leave from his office, so we decided we will do it. I borrowed a Nikon D5100 (and an 18-115 mm lens) from a friend and we were packed and all set to leave at 10:30 PM on 1st October.

But we didn’t.

So with heavy hearts, we settled on Kasauli.

We took a cab early morning the next day and reached Kashmiri Gate ISBT. After inquiring a bit, we boarded a Himsuta Volvo of HPRTC, headed towards Chandigarh. 2×2 air-conditioned, semi-sleeper. Nice bus, I must say, all shiny green. Our bus left for Chandigarh at 7 AM. After an hour, we were whizzing past eucalyptus trees and paddy fields on the Delhi-Karnal by-pass. That indescribable view of the northern rural plains that most of us are familiar with, was in sight. Evenly green till the horizon, spotted by a few small buildings every now and then. I observed a lot of things in the 3 hours that it took to reach that dhaba and I can go on describing it in microscopic details, but that wasn’t the whole trip. It had only just begun.

dsc_0574The bus stopped at a dhaba named ‘Haveli’ outside Karnal, sometime before 11. The dhaba was beautifully built, very scenic, but the food was overpriced. We took two veg sandwiches and two cups of tea and it costed around three hundred rupees. We got back on the bus and it started back again. I was carrying with me a notepad, few pens, few Social Science books and Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. I took it out and its flow took me with it. Next thing I remember, we were closing in on Chandigarh bus stand.
While in the bus, I had noticed three guys sitting nearby. One of them was looking for buses to Bhuntar from Chandigarh on his phone. Here, I would like to mention a few things for people who haven’t been to Kasol, or those who don’t have much idea about it. There is no direct bus from Delhi to Kasol. The best way to reach there is to take a bus to either Bhuntar or Kullu and then take a different bus or taxi to Kasol. Railways and airways are scarce.

So the guy, who was checking buses to Bhuntar on his phone, was sitting right in front of me and I got to sneak at his phone screen and what I saw startled me. These guys were also headed towards Kasol. Funnily enough, I told it to my brother-in-law (I will mention him as ‘Jimmy’ from now, on) and suddenly we were there discussing it all over again, reconsidering our decision of visiting Kasauli instead of Kasol. This led to the first great and good decision of our trip.

We got down at Chandigarh and instead of Kasauli, diverted our trip back to Kasol. Earlier that morning, when we were in the cab headed towards the ISBT, it had occurred to me that this trip is going in vain. Neither of us was happy because we both knew that we had made our minds for Kasol, so even if any other place has a great many things to offer, we won’t be able to cherish or enjoy them. So the first decision in a series of good decisions on this trip was, to visit Kasol instead of any other place.

The bus from Chandigarh to Bhuntar wasn’t as shiny and nice as the previous one. A variety of people got onboard, old couples, beautiful women, young solo travelers, few with trekking equipment and cameras clearly suggesting they were headed for the mountains. It started around 12 o’clock and the journey was going to be long. The bus began grunting and hissing when the driver changed gears, zooming past buildings scattered evenly around the city. All this time while we were in this city, I couldn’t help but ponder over its beauty, the enormity of its planning and the order and organization of the people. For once, I even ended up comparing it to Greater Noida. There was not even a bit of trash that I saw either on or around the main roads. Not even the bus depot, one of the most common public places generally considered the filthiest throughout the country. There was a strange unnoticeable thing about the people there. They were all ordinary people like us, getting ready for their daily drills, catching buses to work, opening shops and buying groceries. But unlike Delhi, no one seemed to be in any sort of hurry. It appeared to me that this was a secluded town, hidden from the rest of the world, unaffected by the malicious stings of urbanization and thriving along its own set of rules which helped its inhabitants to get rid of the ordinary evolutionary human dysfunctions.dsc_0579

In simple words, these people still cared about their city. They strive to keep it clean, all of them operating together as a community, working to let the city grow, so they could grow along with it. It was like, they had these little virtues deeply instilled inside them, those primitive values that most of us humans have forgotten a long time ago. The straight roads, the squares, the pavements and dividers, the offices and schools, the greenery and the air – everything about Chandigarh was mesmerizing.

The bus kept moving as the thoughts kept playing soccer with my mind, kicking it from time to-time from one thought to another. The bus stopped around 1:30 at another beautifully built ‘Haveli’ restaurant by the highway outside Ambala, and it was only then that I realized this ‘Haveli’ is actually a chain of dhabas across north India, mostly in Punjab & Haryana. We had eaten sufficient in the morning, so we only got bread cutlets packed for the way.

The bus began again. Now we had around eight more hours to travel, so I would sometimes either pick up my book and read, or I would take out the camera and click the scenes outside the window for practice. But mostly I was thinking, planning about the things I would do when we reach Kasol.

There were a lot of beautiful bachelor women around my seat travelling alone who, I know, were noticing me and every now and then, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of them stealing a glance at me. You see, this thing about youth is as innocent as childhood. We are automatically attracted towards a person we find a potential partner in (or the vice-versa of this statement would be more precise). It’s like, we approve of each other’s presence and we agree of each other’s awareness, but we are held back by a strange force which asks us not to approach the person, because if the ciphers were all wrong, you might end up in trouble. This strange force is our culture.

Picture this – a girl approaches a guy in an almost empty compartment of a public transport. They both chat for a while, get to know about each other, have amazing conversations about atoms and space, about philosophy and life, about love and desire, about books and road trips and then, by choice and consent, they exchange contact details so they could enjoy these conversations longer. Because, you see, it’s that urge in all of us, the desire to communicate our feelings and thoughts to others. And if we have a romantic attraction towards the other person, the conversations automatically come alive because then, we’re enjoying the tiniest of sounds, the chuckle, the clap, the gestures and expressions the other person is making. Interesting, isn’t it?

Now picture the same scene in our ‘cultured’ society (which apparently hates western values). In 7 out of 10 cases, the attempts will be discarded at the very first step. Because even though both might accept it subconsciously that they are attracted towards each other, the mere fact that the other person was daring enough to approach them is too rapid a change in their survival conditions. We might die if that person stays near us for a little longer, now. They feel infected and the infection spreads until OH MY GOD, QUARANTIIIIINEE!

And in all other cases, either the girl is too arrogant, or the guy is an asshole. So the point is, I liked that girl sitting a row behind me on the opposite window seat of the 2×2 bus. I saw her looking at me a lot of times. Me, a 24 year-old guy with (I think) a nice beard and handlebars. My appearance wasn’t so alarming to her maybe, so I guess she decided to notice my activities as I moved from one to another spot to click pictures. She was beautiful and she was traveling alone.

When I noticed her, we were way beyond Chandigarh and clouds had already started appearing. Soon, the bus was floating above the serpents of hills, the dangerously narrow and twisting & turning roads through the beating rain and it was getting dark, partly because of the dusk coming down on us and partly because of the shade of the hills which were constantly growing in size and then, like an invisible wave it hit me. For over an year, I had waited for this and now it was there, subtle but the reason behind the smile that had just lit my face. I had put my camera on the seat beside me and I was stretching my ears and making awkward faces to clear it off-the change in air pressure which had hit me due to increase in altitude. I saw her leaning on the window, her shape a silhouette against the dark green background of the hill slopes beyond the glass. And she was looking at me for split seconds or even several seconds at a time, sometimes through the corners of her eyes, observing my actions and smiling at all the silly things I was doing. When I saw her, I dropped everything out of embarrassment. Then I started again and she smiled again, so on and on it went.

I don’t remember when did I doze off. The bus stopped at a rather dry and bright Bilaspur bus depot for about ten minutes. I told Jimmy about a cousin brother of mine who had spent 7 years in Bilaspur working for NTPC as a civil engineer at the Koldam thermal project. Then we chatted for a while and got up when got chased by a bull and the bus began again. You see, how inescapable it is for men to not get down whenever a vehicle stops? Here, I didn’t even mention that we got down from the bus, because I know everyone would understand that we did, once the bus stopped.

So the bus started from Bilaspur and I picked up the book Jimmy was reading just to have a look at it. The book was ‘A Train To Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh. Right from the beginning, the book speaks volumes about the things we have been kept unaware of about the partition of India. The lies we’ve been told, the truth erased or kept hidden. I didn’t read it beyond a few pages, but I have asked Jimmy for it, once he’s done.

We were passing through Mandi and Sundernagar when it was almost dark. These two major cities and centers of commerce, located on a large flat ground in the hills, have streams and lakes and dams and schools and surprisingly enough, a lot of four-wheeler showrooms. Volkswagen, Nissan, Nexa, Renault, you name it and it was there. The bus stopped for a while outside Sundernagar and a lot of people got down. Jimmy and I got in the front rows because our stop, Bhuntar, was about a couple hours away.

My crush for the journey had got down at Mandi, so my little love story was only upto that place. Later in the front rows, I met Nisarg, one of the equipped solo travelers who got on the bus at Chandigarh. He was coming from Bangalore and was headed towards Spiti.
Spiti! I can’t tell you how much I love that place and I badly I want to visit it.

We chatted for about an hour and he turned out to be a nice person. He was going there for a week. He told me various things and we talked about traveling and the Himalayas, politics and modern education system and our cultural differences which influence our everyday actions. He told me about the Buddhists of Myanmar and I told him about the twin Buddhas of Bamiyan.

We reached the dark, stranded-looking town of Bhuntar around 9:30 PM. Apart from a few security guard manning properties or ATMs, and a few men probably waiting for transportation to neighboring towns, there were only stray dogs and dimly-lit alleys. We checked-in to one of the nearest decent-looking hotel ‘Amit’. We ate a nice dinner in the empty restaurant ‘Havemore’ downstairs and came back to our room on the first floor. I went to sleep watching an episode of The Kapil Sharma Show featuring Anna Hazare.


Now before you start hating me by the very title, I request you to read the entire post till the end. This is a critique essay, consider it constructive or destructive – it’s upto you. Also, I will not name anything in specific, here, so generalization immediately becomes a necessity.

Now again, criticism is one thing which a lot of people avoid both giving and receiving, because even though it’s like a medicine, it’s bitter. I know I am going to receive a lot of uninvited hatred for this one, too, but you should know that it takes a lot of courage to stand out of the bigger lot of nodding heads and present your utmost sincere & honest views about something which is liked greatly by the masses, without worrying about the hatred you might receive in return. I have been called ‘brutally honest’ by a lot of people, a lot of times. But I think it’s in the way we present our thoughts which makes our stance clear, subconsciously. Afterall, what would you call better – a sweet poison or a bitter medicine?

I am no representative to the world of literature and certainly no one to show my concerns on where contemporary literature is headed, but for the past few months, something has been bugging my mind – Flash Fiction. Now, I understand most of you who are reading this already know what Flash Fiction is, but if you don’t, then let me roughly sum it up for you. Flash Fiction is, as the name suggests, a piece of fictional writing contained within a sentence limited to 100-200 characters, the standard format being 140 characters, more or less like a tweet. It began only recently on social media platforms like Facebook and gathered a lot of attention and fan-following in the last couple of years. My analysis of the birth of flash fiction tells me that it was originally meant to present the strength of literature hidden in those hard-hitting quotes by world-famous writers and philosophers. Hard-hitting because, well, what can you possibly say in just 140 characters? Not an entire story, I suppose. So you go on writing a quote, a snippet or poetry, something abstract to have enough depth without having to provide specific details.

A lot of Flash Fiction pages on Facebook having millions of followers, initially used to have great content and absolutely brilliant ways of presenting it – with a digital image quoting the piece – because the best reach on content on internet is through images, more than words poured simply. So words accompanied by images began flooding our newsfeeds and quickly received a lot of viral popularity. The way of presentation still remains the same, but over time, simple observation tells that quantity has clearly taken over quality. To maintain ‘reach’ (because that’s how social media websites work, too) a lot of pages opened doors for fan posts because the handful of writers on the admin panel of those pages were wearing themselves out. Now let me take a pause, here and describe something else, first.

“A lot of Flash Fiction pages on Facebook having millions of followers, initially used to have great content and absolutely brilliant ways of presenting it.”

Human beings are very intelligent and interesting creatures. They have three main stages of ‘needs’. The first stage is of the basic physical/physiological needs – food, water, shelter, sex, friendship, love, sense of security and other related things. The secondary stage of needs is where the majority of the world population remains stuck – esteem and validation. Huge house, expensive cars, branded clothes, bank balance and the likes (including popularity and fame). These things come for greater prices and are termed ‘desires’ because unlike the first stage, you don’t need them to survive, but you spend the bigger part of your life craving them and running to acquire them. The third and the last stage, however – the one of the philosophical needs and of self-actualization – is what makes you great or ‘authentic’ as a person. It helps you evolve manifold as a human being, helps you stimulate your mind, increases your understanding of life and helps you to understand what the world truly is. It is the hidden chest where the real treasure of the most wonderful literature lies. But because the majority of people remain caught in the glittering webs of the secondary needs, they fail to reach the third stage in their entire lifetime. Thus philosophy only remains ‘great talks’ or ‘big words’ for them.

A lot of renowned historical figures have categorized the post-industrialization world population in very simple ways, and I will try to further simplify it, here – 90% as sheep, 4% as black sheep, 4% as the shepherd dogs and the remaining 2% as a void which is, from time to time, filled by what we can call as the deadliest predators. The sheep are basically those who are intellectually lazy; they believe anything they see on TV, pursue the most ‘practical’ and easiest professional lines, buy products to constantly match the social status of their peers, help form and dissolve governments, make up the popular culture, keep slaughtering each other over their differences and follow the herd as they cease to think for themselves the moment they are born. The black sheep are no different from the original sheep and although they refuse to follow societal trends and norms, their non-conformity doesn’t bring about any change because they spend their entire lives thinking they are different, while what they are actually doing is just following another herd, only smaller and moving in another direction. Both kind of sheep follow the shepherd dogs, the influential people – artists, actors, sportspeople, businessmen, politicians etc. The fourth category, the 2 percent, the deadliest predators are those who incite wars or events which violate human rights and cause violence and suffering in the world.

“These things come for greater prices and are termed ‘desires’ because unlike the first stage, you don’t need them to survive, but you spend the bigger part of your life craving them and running to acquire them.”

The 90% of the sheep and the 4% of the black sheep spend their lives thinking they could become the shepherd dogs, someday, and get to enjoy the perks the shepherd dogs do, which is the secondary stage of human needs mixed with greed in greater degrees. While the shepherd dogs are the people who have achieved success in terms of the world, either by simply making the sheep follow them by selling their products and services, or by getting over the second stage of needs and pursuing the third stage properly to become authentic enough (or mastering their mind) for the sheep to follow them without even asking. All this may sound a little harsh, but it is the truth and nobody can change it, not even me because maybe even I am just another black sheep.

Now, coming back to where I left off, as the Flash Fiction pages on Facebook opened their doors to fan posts (which was actually a great opportunity for budding writers to showcase their talent to a bigger audience) we got to see a lot of amazing new material and a lot of favorite new names. It also helped to lift up the creative block the original group of official writers for those pages were witnessing quite frequently because of the constantly increasing need to serve content. The Flash Fiction market was booming and new pages were emerging everyday, endorsing and sponsoring game was going strong and the young teenagers and college graduates who were managing the pages were appearing on newspapers. Flash Fiction was no more just a virtual reality; it was as real as you and me. 

“The black sheep are no different from the original sheep and although they refuse to follow societal trends and norms, their non-conformity doesn’t bring about any change because they spend their entire lives thinking they are different, while what they are actually doing is just following another herd, only smaller and moving in another direction.”

So much popularity in one go, like hitting a jackpot. But jackpots are pure luck, while this was the result of hard work and developed skills over time. Then came a time when the quality of content began degrading and the quantity multiplied. The original board of writers were changed, new writers were brought in, fan posts began appearing more often. Let’s take a pause again, here, and try to connect everything, shall we?

As the demand increased, the supply increased further. The market, whose returns were more in terms of validation and fame, the secondary need (rather than actual capital), kept on growing. The fan posts flooded our feeds and the waters reached our necks. And as it happened, Flash Fiction wasn’t about literature, poetry or art anymore – it was only about knowing a writer from the admin panel, asking them to publish one’s content and receiving external validation in truckloads, because, as you might have noticed, there are seldom any ‘negative’ comments on any such posts, despite internet being the most volatile of places. All that we saw were hundreds, probably thousands of likes and several comments, all stating how well the people are able to connect with what the writer has written. It was very similar to moulding art and serving it according to the fan’s demands rather than letting it flow involuntarily, which is one of the ugly faces of commercialization.

    Flash Fiction wasn’t about literature, poetry or art, anymore. It was like singing only one stanza and hearing the loud cheer & applause for the entire song.

    “It was very similar to moulding art and serving it according to the fan’s demands rather than letting it flow involuntarily, which is one of the ugly faces of commercialization.”

    This rush for quantity over quality to maintain presence kept on degrading the level of choice and intellect of the average upcoming literature enthusiast. Now most of them, a greater lot of them didn’t want to write a book or a play or a full-fledged poem, anymore, because they were getting more than enough validation writing about their last night WhatsApp chat with their crush in 140 characters or less. And as far as the effort is concerned, I don’t even need to bet that it takes far less effort to write a flash story, than it takes to write a novel, the effort it takes to build a character, a set of characters, getting into their skin and imagining a life from their perspective, to develop the story bit by bit, word by word. There is no longer any race to be meritorious, while we all believe that literature is something we pick up voluntarily, unlike school. The upcoming generation of writers and literature lovers is lazy and shallow, all thanks to the ease of access they have to millions of readers, all thanks to the ever-increasing hunger of Flash Fiction pages.

    “Flash Fiction wasn’t about literature, poetry or art, anymore. It was like singing only one stanza and hearing the loud cheer & applause for the entire song.”

    A lot of people, some like me, others much more arrogant and stern, have expressed their thoughts in their own ways on the degrading quality of content on these pages. The talk ultimately boils down to the issue of not ‘robbing a budding writer of their dreams’ and so, the criticism is either forcefully shut down or met with greater counter-criticism. Now, it is one thing to point out a flaw or lack of ‘element’ in someone’s writing and another thing to be a narcissistic asshole and considering everyone else as a mere pawn. I condemn the latter, myself, because it takes you to the same down-graded level of intellect as the one I am talking about (just as both the extreme ends of the political spectrum mean slavery. Hah!) .

    It depends on individual choices, abilities and hardwork that one remains a sheep, becomes a black sheep or the shepherd dog, however, but you can’t really ‘rob’ someone off their dreams, unless you are affecting them physically. As far as the psychological effects are concerned, and I won’t talk about anyone else here but myself, I will never, NEVER give up on my dream of becoming a writer just because a bunch of people didn’t like my previous write-up and they used harsh words to register their opinions about it and made me sad and depressed. So unless you are emotionally weak or your dreams aren’t strong enough, you can never give up on them. Doesn’t literature already tell us how the world works? How people get up from dirt and become successful? You have to face hatred, criticism, rejection, denial, strong opposing winds, thunderstorms and a lot of ugly and frightening things to reach the goal you’ve set for yourself. Your fight must be stronger than the idiot who tells you in the comment section that you are no good, and your will to become better should be stronger than your fear of failure. One can’t simply get away by blaming criticism as the reason they gave up on their dreams. 

    “Now most of them, a greater lot of them didn’t want to write a book or a play or a full-fledged poem, anymore, because they were getting more than enough validation writing about their last night WhatsApp chat with their crush in 140 characters or less.”

    So, as my observations suggested, the original official writers (the Shepherd dogs) of a lot of Flash Fiction pages suffered through a creative block, and a lot of budding writers (or fans; the sheep and the black sheep) tried to imitate their ideal writers from the admin panel in order to ‘become like them someday to enjoy the perks of the secondary stage of material needs’, suffocating originality to near-death. This, combined with the total absence of criticism, resulted in the degradation of the overall quality of Flash Fiction to a great extent, and a very innovative amalgamation of technology and literature, which could have been otherwise very fruitful to readers and writers, became a fish market, giving birth to big mouths but small hands.

    This is my personal opinion based on the observation and assessment of a lot of pages which got me into Flash Fiction and short stories, because it hurts me to see them becoming monotonous, repetitive, repugnant, clichéd and hypocritical by the day. I am one of those people who want to restore the quality of content on these pages, so I am making an effort by writing this post, but I am not sure if it will make any difference. It can, however, if enough people get to read it, take it on a positive note and decide to raise the merit bar a bit higher, so that in order to get published, a writer must really have the ‘depth’ and ‘element’ in their writings, and not simply because the followers of the page can relate to the write-ups. Let’s not distribute chocolates to anyone who simply asks for it, because it will only make them lazier and they will begin to take us for granted. Let them compete and strive for betterment, if not perfection. And just like a very controversial recent statement goes, ‘let us make Flash Fiction great, again’. 

    “This, combined with the total absence of criticism, resulted in the degradation of the overall quality of Flash Fiction to a great extent, and a very innovative amalgamation of technology and literature, which could have been otherwise very fruitful to readers and writers, became a fish market, giving birth to big mouths but small hands.”

    As for me, a lot of people might call me an elitist, a conversative and several other things, because I am being naive and not accepting change which is going to happen, anyway. But yes, things aren’t ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in this world, they just are, and there is perspective. So whatever the future may hold, we should try to accept all kinds of change or get up and take a stand for what we believe in.

    Trains are fascinating things, just as Steven Wilson tells in his song of the same name. I thought it was about time I compiled another list, so I decided this time it was going to be about the trains I have chased so far, and the things I found around them. The following list contains my top ten picks from the photos I clicked using my phone camera for #windowseatproject on Instagram.

    The order of the pictures doesn’t decide their rank. As earlier, simple screenshots from my Instagram account, so the image quality isn’t very good. The camera used is my phone camera, Karbonn Sparkle V (5 MP) and the locations and dates of production are mentioned with the pictures, respectively.

    1. Allahabad Junction Railway Station | December, 2016

    2. Bardadeeh, Satna (M.P.) | October, 2016

    3. (Somewhere near) Manikpur Railway Station | December, 2016

    4. Anand Vihar Railway Station | October, 2016

    5. (Somewhere near) Satna Railway Station | October, 2016

    6. (Somewhere near) Shankargarh Railway Station | August, 2016

    7. Allahabad Junction Railway Station | December, 2016

    8. Allahabad Junction Railway Station | July, 2016

    9. Maihar Railway Station | January, 2017

    10. Satna Railway Station | November, 2016
    Thank you.

    (Things that are meant to stay unfinished, incomplete)


    Early morning while digging a deep well

    To water my mouth, I tripped and fell

    A dying wish unfulfilled

    Where the light green tendrils giggle and dwell

    Drenched in the desire to decipher all dreams

    I ended up talking myself into madness

    The windows that burnt, pictures hanging on the wall

    I look at them and all I find is sadness

    Those times of wanting to be just left alone

    With my pieces scattered, or my own little blackness

    Bloodied fingers, hammer slipped carving stones

    The skeletons of everything I held for too long

    The faces, conclusions, prophecies, decaying bones

    My porous veins, my ailments, nothing ever understood

    At the rope hanging by the ceiling, my gladness

    I waited for the fog to clear the endless

    Episodes of despair, trails by the embankments

    Early morning while digging that well

    I wanted my heart to bleed and swell

    What collapsed long ago as the birds flew away

    Empty cages with the curtains drawn, corrode yet they sell

    They who felt necessary to chain my mind

    Picked up their rosary beads and left me behind

    I still search for them, circles is all I find

    Float through this place like ghosts, were of my kin and kind

    May not present themselves, like the flowers they shy

    Although not so ugly, layers of skin deformed

    Come with me, I’ll show you their footsteps in time

    I don’t know why they hide, I don’t know where they’re from

    While a thirsty man carrying a shovel and dirt

    Cries to his last few lingering wishes absurd

    Do you see the blood, can you see his hurt?

    Oh, the view is plenty, the windows were burnt

    Early morning while going to dig the deep well

    A fresh heap beside it, I tripped on and fell

    My favorite spot for keeping wood and carved stones

    The talking tendrils laugh at my comic arrival

    I clench my fists, show my broken teeth

    Like a chant, a hocus, a dark spell

    Bursts open, their laughter echoes through this gloom

    Sweet winter breezes tighten my knots and compel

    Early morning while digging that deep well

    What I dug was my own grave, on it I tripped and fell

    One of the stones I carved now there rests in peace

    The tendrils, soft and moist, in this bayou they dwell

    ‘बरही 32’ read the milestone. The solitary car whizzed past the tall trees in the darkness, moonlight shining bright above, illuminating the thicket beyond the edge of its headlights. The forests of Tala looked ghostly in the dark, the tyndall hopping playfully on the bed of fallen crisp-dry spring leaves. Not a single gust of wind stirred the jungle except for the passing of the lonely vehicle. The car on the straight asphalt road sliced through the forest like a saw slicing through a thick log of wood, or a bullet pricking through the flesh.

    Another milestone. A lonely hut in the distance. Few signboards. A couple of deers crossing the road. Wait, what? WHAT?! WHAT THE FURS ARE THOSE REAL DEERS? YES YES, THEY ARE! WOAH MAN!

    And that is how my first sighting of deers roaming free in the wild was. A couple of young deers with tiny horns, one on each end of the road were trying to cross when we approached and they fled into the darkness of the jungle. The view lasted only a few seconds but it is still registered in my visual memory with such clear and vivid details, I can draw a picture of the whole scene. And I know it will stay there for as long as possible.

    The Baraat had left Garhi around 4:45 pm for Umariya district situated 130 kilometers from Satna and ours was one of the first few vehicles to leave. The marriage bands were playing, youngsters were dancing, women were singing and performing arti-pujan while men waited for signals for the departure of the Baraat. As the cars began leaving one-by-one, there was an hour of daylight left and still more than a couple of hours for us to reach the jungles around the Bandhavgarh national park, through which we were supposed to reach Umariya. Everyone was excited at the thought of it, to watch wild animals while crossing through the park. I was a little sad, though, because I knew that when we reach the park, the available light won’t allow my phone camera to click any good pictures, if in case we get lucky. But when I finally got to see them, I was glad I didn’t bother taking out my camera.

    We reached the cute little town of Umariya, took our refreshments and the Baraat began getting ready. Heavy suits, chunri-print Saafas, the grandeur of Rajputana attire – all packed in a procession accompanied by road lights, loud baraati-dance music and fireworks headed towards the place of the  greatest significance of all the hustle. Now I would like to mention one thing, here, that all the Rajput marriages that I have been to (most of them in my family) the record for the Baraat to reach the ‘Dwarchaar’ is still around 12:00 AM. And the record was maintained here, as well. Haha!

    So, we all danced our way from the ‘Janwaas’ to the marriage garden and reached around 12:30, which was followed by the ‘Dwarchaar’, dinner and ‘Jaymaala’. Only a few hundred people were left, including the family on both sides, because it was already quite late and the invitees had had their dinner and went back home. My left knee had been troubling me again for the past few days because of all the exertion all of us had subjected ourselves to in the excitement of the wedding, this night to be precise. And when it was finally here, I was limping in front of the band party with the elderly men instead of dancing with the young ones of my generation. Ugh!

    Everything was over by 2:30 AM and we went back to our hotels to get some rest and prepare for the main wedding rituals which are performed at night. I fell down on the bed exhausted around 3:30 and experienced a fragmented sleep until 4:30, when we got up again, got ready and began for Bhabhi sahab’s house for the main occasion. When we reached the house, the function area on the first floor terrace, Atul dada was already there, his shoes already looted by his ‘Saalis’. The time between 5:00 AM and 9:30 AM flew away in several cups of tea, wedding rituals, women of Bhabhi sahab’s family singing wedding songs, hundreds of photos and numerous jokes.

    Followed by ‘Joota Churaai’, ‘Dwaar Chhekaai’, ‘Kaleba Khabaai’ and a few other things. It was all so happy-happy and colorful,  I forgot I was sleepy. Until the ‘Bidaai’ ceremony began. And it went on.
    And on. And on, and on. And it kept on getting boring and hot due to the overhead sun and I didn’t realize when I fell asleep sitting in my chair. So I shifted between chairs and dozed off. And I shifted my glance and dozed off. Then comfort zones from shade to sunlight, from sitting to standing. Then finally, we started off.

    The journey back home is half a blur in episodes of black and white and half in episodes of heavy head and baggy eyes. Except for the travel through the Bandhavgarh national park, from check post to check post, the wide road of the buffer zone and the narrow one-way of the core area, the winding lines of asphalt which looked extremely different in broad daylight. 

    I was aware that all the zeal and excitement was finally coming to an end, and within few hours people will start heading back to their boring monotonous lives, away from all the celebration and festivities we felt during these few days. And in such realizations, the ache of the heart is more severe than the aching muscles. So with weeping hearts and invisible tears, we’ll say goodbyes to our loved ones and the colorful and happy atmosphere will again be just episodes of black and white weekdays.

    But it’s okay, the special things in life are to be preserved for special occasions. Like those wedding songs, the bike rides on the village roads, the chit-chats over chai, the innocence of unaware people in candid pictures and the sudden bursts of laughter. Because it’s not everyday that we get so much money just for blocking doors & stealing shoes, and not everyday that we catch deers in our headlights. 

    Until next time! 🙂

    [P.S. प्रिंसू दादा, तइयार रहब। ब्वौकरा चाही]

    A usual, comfortable-yet-chilly spring evening on the suburbs of the city of Satna, two young men in their mid-twenties are riding a customized Royal Enfield on the main-RCC village road. The driver is a well-built Rajput guy over six feet in height and having thick moustache and beard. They ride for a while before they reach a blockade where a truck is stuck diagonally on the narrow road because of a Mahindra Scorpio parked on the left side of the road and the drainage system which has been recently dug up, the debris piled on the right.

    The rider of the bike reaches closest to the truck and shouts something in the local dialect to the truck driver, and within moments, the truck straightens itself and moves forward. The Royal Enfield begins again, crosses the Scorpio parked beside the road and the two goon-like men standing in front of it, who wave at the bike rider, smile and shout in their local dialect, to which he responds as he prepares to overtake the truck from the narrow patch of road on the left of it.

    He pulls the throttle, but another bike from the opposite side comes in the way and he has to brake. Then he pulls again and a cow comes in this time. Meanwhile, the truck is slowly moving forward, oozing out dust clouds on the faces of the several bike riders who have collected behind it and are now trying to get ahead of it somehow. The rider of the Royal Enfield notices a narrow spot on the road ahead before anyone else, a very little space between a parked bike and the approaching truck. He pulls the throttle.

    The Royal Enfield roars.

    He pulls again, this time the bike roaring just beside the truck, covered in the cloud of dust. It reaches the rear tyres of the truck, crosses a parked bike and being perfectly maneuvered, narrowly escapes colliding into the massive tyres inches away, and the next second, they are zooming past all the vehicles and the clear road beyond the truck. 

    The pillion is me.

    We reach a shop a minute later and then another to find a bundle of jute rope. The second shop, whose owner says he has some rope which could work as an alternative, is situated at a spot from where a very magnificent panoramic view of the three factories – BIRLA, Satna Cement and Cable works glowing with all their colorful tiny dots in the night sky, is visible. We take a small bundle of thin nylon rope and ride back home.

    On our way back, with the wind wiping my face, I look at all the progress and development work in the village, my head filled with ideas about the renovation of our own ancestral home – the two hundred plus years old Bardadeeh Garhi. I look at the man driving the Royal Enfield. Anu Dada. Anu Dada’s elder brother is Atul Dada, who is the bridegroom-to-be.

    As we reach Garhi, I look at the huge field in front of it and all the parked vehicles – several cars and dozens of bikes. Closer to the main door under a huge tree, there’s a bonfire and all the elderly of the family, the neighbors and some other relatives, men in their thirties to those in their seventies are sitting in chairs circling the fire and chatting over chai. Someone talks loudly and a sudden burst of laughter is heard among them. I get down the bike and Anu Dada asks me to deliver the rope inside, while he begins talking to two other young men of the family who are standing away from the group of elders.

    I reach the big courtyard, climbing a couple of flights of stairs, walking past storming kids & notorious cousins and beautiful sisters & aunts who are preparing for a little ceremony from the many millions, probably billions of traditional things done before a Rajput marriage. Several ladies of the house are sitting in a group, playing Dholak-Manjeera and singing wedding songs. Another group of women is sitting on chairs, chatting and supervising the ‘mandap’ construction.

    Weddings are such nice things, aren’t they? They bring together the entire family and everyone is happy. Or maybe I feel so because I find myself a bit more closer to my family, my extended family, the reason them being my closest friends as my upbringing and my schooling done in a different city have left me with not many friends in my hometown. So I have another reason to cherish these days while I still can.

    Now let me begin again, this time from the beginning for anyone who isn’t well aware of the things I am telling. The Garhi Bardadeeh Parivaar is a very reputed and wealthy Rajput family in the city of Satna, a strictly endogamous community and a pure bloodline of Rajputs since generations. Almost all of the relatives are from local villages within the district where the men of the family have been married over the years. So the men sitting around the fire are Parihars, Chauhans, Gaharwars, and other Rajputs, but mostly Baghels – the title of my family.

    Little do I know about the history of my great grandfathers and there isn’t much documentation available, but before I begin investigating, I have already analyzed from what I’ve heard and observed around, that my ancestors came from Gujarat and settled here centuries ago. They had migrated during the Mughal times, came here, fought and won over the local leaders, or obtained and divided several villages among brothers and cousins because of which a lot of villages even today have a particular Rajput clan as the majority. The ‘Ilaakas’ and the ‘Ilaakedars’.

    Our family values and ethos have made us able to remain close together, several uncles, aunts, cousins and grand parents. Because of the dozens of youngsters this current mix of two generations has, so many of us that it is almost impossible to get everyone together at the same time and in the same frame, we witness a couple of marriages every year on average. This time, it’s Atul dada, first.

    The head count of the Tilak ceremony, which was organized only a day before today, reached well beyond 5000. An orchestra played on stage several old and new classics, while the Tilak ceremony was performed by the family Purohit and many other Brahmin Pundits within the traditional boundaries. Post-Tilak, while everyone was having dinner, vehicles were lined outside the function area in a dense and closely packed jam. Already hundreds of vehicles in parking and thousands of people having dinner, the family went on the dance floor as the dj began to spin (or simply play in this case). We all danced until 2:30 AM before going home in sweat drenched jackets, coats and sweaters.

    But even after so many preparations since days, the usual discrepancies occurred. But then again, that’s the essence of every function; a problem in which all the brothers and the young men of the family stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend the honor and pride of the family name, ladies work days and nights with little or almost no sleep, disrupted diet and body-breaking physical and mental work besides supervising a massive work force of labourers, decorators and cooks on several levels. Everyone is happy to have come together once again, leaving their jobs and their far-off settlements for a while to just lunch & dine together, crack jokes and make memories and be with their kin and kind.

    Don’t we need such reasons to be happy every once in a while? Because a few things will always be beyond reason. And for me, my family is one of them. I just hope everyone chooses to be happy in each other’s presence and clear all the differences.

    The Baarat leaves in a couple of days for Umariya district, and more is still to come.

    (Never give up, you!)

    Keep your eyes tight shut,

    But there’s still colors

    The chemicals in your head 

    In your body, wide awake.

    Surf by their light, a beam of shivers 

    They tried a little hard

    But your dry mouth still shows signs

    A life which resonates with

    Whatever hope’s left inside you

    Because your own died a while ago

    This one’s borrowed 

    Or no, shoved down your throat with

    A pinch of spirituality 

    No one’s sorry to bother you

    So keep that dry mouth alive

    And hold a pin, press it between your lips

    Tilt your head, prick your heart with it

    See if it’s blood which flows

    Or the colors of a rainbow 

    There’s a fever ticking like a clock

    To be held too long, it will burn

    And the waves it sends are cold, not hot

    A matter of time

    The one thing you try to outrun

    But everything’s still

    The moment, the gestures, the places

    It’s all going down the drain of colors

    Hold it too long, maybe you could burn all

    The naysayers

    And the trick-players

    And then later, if there’s still anything left

    Go out on a frozen beam of colorful shivers

    You’ll get to know what you really deserve.

    (About my favorite story from all the stories my mother used to tell me)

    A tiny spark from a dying forest fire

    Flew away in the dark towards the sky

    The youngest and the brightest, it grew a set of lungs

    And legs and hands and a heart

    Rose high with the warmth of the wave as it fell apart

    Reached the moon, only to begin feeling lonely

    All the things it could see from the height

    The small, burnt forest, its only parent crying in the night

    As if it lost a child, and all its will to fight

    But it kept on rising and went beyond the moon

    Away from all the reaches, too soon

    It thought is this what is life?

    You earn everything only to lose it all willingly

    And watch it fade away, never be able to,

    Knowingly, and that’s the beauty of it

    To share its hurt, its feels, its emotions and its grit

    With another spark, but none of the others

    Had ever been alive

    It tried to kick and punch and flew again

    And tried to calm its hunch, it never grew a brain

    So it tried to scream, but didn’t have a mouth, either

    Got tired of it all and dropped a tear

    Flew aimlessly, from the forest it could hear

    Fly far to the stars, oh dear

    That’s where you belong

    One day, you’ll be known

    From there you won’t feel so alone

    The forest blew one last push as it died

    The last glow of the night

    The spark flew the farthest to the edge

    Registered itself on the black carpet of the sky

    Still the brightest

    Even without a brain, so wise

    Now a bit less lonely, and a little more alive