Love Jihad ????

download (1)
Syed and GayatrI didn’t mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least expect It. It creeps up suddenly. When someone needs attention, care, conversation, laughter and maybe even Intimacy. Love doesn’t look at logic, or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.

Gayatri was from a very conservative South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every EId. That saId it all. Their paths would never have crossed If It hadn’t been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. GayatrI wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all?

She looked at her watch. Syed was late. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes at the cafe, sometimes in his car, sometimes in places that she could never tell her friends about. They would never understand. And yet Syed made her happy.

Suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. “On my way. Have somethIng Important to tell you.”

GayatrI stared at It and realIsed she had knots In her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mInd. What dId he want to tell her?

Syed the geek whose company no one wanted to have in school for he was just goofy messed up and weird. And here she was having these crazy rendezvous with the same person the one she most looked forward to more than meeting Anshuman – her steady date and more than her girl gang. He was her little dirty secret one that she wasn’t willing to share with any one not as yet.

So a few months back on a chilly January morning nursing her latest break up and seeking solace in an empty CCD at NarIman Point a young man came and stood next to her.
“GayatrI It Is, right?? I am Syed well wouldn’t be surprised If you don’t recollect, we were in school together till the 8th Standard.”

GayatrI had a proper look at him and she still wasn’t sure, The Syed she knew was no where remotely close to this well groomed boy standing In front of her. Well that is what age does to people either It turns them into a better versions or the versions that had seen better times. He definitely belonged to the former category.

“Oh yes Syed, I do remember you, but definitely not the way you look like now, and please take that as a compliment!! Have a seat, I was just here for a coffee and whiling away my time, didn’t want to go to college today, so where have you been all these years??”

“Thank you, I had to move out of Mumbai then as my father made our family move In with him to Jeddah where he had taken up a job, so finished my schooling there and now In college In Mumbai and working. That is the long and short of my life story.”

So over a cup of coffee they exchanged the latest notes on each other’s lives and on their long lost acquaintances and bid each other good bye. Till GayatrI received a Friend Request from Syed that was promptly accepted and the journey started from liking and commenting on each other’s post to general conversation on FB Messenger. He was witty, polite and polished and she enjoyed what they had on FB!!

“GayatrI, lets meet up for coffee, I will get free after 5 pm from office and Friday Is my weekly off ,that Is of you don’t have any plans.”

“Sure lets meet up, after all we haven’t interacted other than thru our phones. So let’s meet at the same place where we met the first time” said Gayatri.

So the CCD became a witness to their friendship, oblivious to the people around them they continued to meet once a week. The acquaintance grew to friendship and then to something more. They both didn’t want to give their relationship a name but it was something that was palpable and could ignore for long. With the growing friendship with Syed her affair with Anshuman had receded to the background and the sparks had fizzled out. They were close physically but the emotional connect was missing.

imagesThe monsoons hit Mumbai like crazy and besides the other things she shared with Syed; it was their love for rains. After one of their weekly coffee dates they walked up to Marine Drive and started walking towards the Churchgate station. The drizzle, the weather, the company and their conversations was such a heady a mix that had intoxicated them both, so before they realised they had crossed the turn for the station and were way beyond the gymkhanas lost in each other.

They reached Charni Road station and here GayatrI boarded her train for her home, but she couldn’t let go of Syed and kept looking till the he was no longer visible. She knew she was in love with this man and wasn’t sure what he thought of her. She knew there was something but was she misreading a genuine friendship as love??

Ironically the very next day Syed had to go for leave town for medical emergency to his native place of Raigad. The distance and lack of communication was taking its toll on her. Every beep and ring on her phone was looked forward to in the hope it was him, he did keep in touch but not as much as she had hoped for.

So here she was waiting for him and filled with anxiety about was that he wanted to tell her.

As he walked In the Cafe she was weak kneed, he came forward and enveloped her in his warmth, “God, I missed you, missed seeing your face, missed our conversations, missed us” saId Syed. Gayatri, I had to go as my Granny suffered an attack and had to be there for her. While I was there waiting and attending to her, I couldn’t help but think about us. Look I may be Imagining things and know about you and Anshuman but I feel too strongly for you and It Is beyond friendship for me it’s nothing but absolute, crazy love. I didn’t expect you to love me In return or to even continue to meet me after this. We are religiously, culturally and socially poles apart, but I had to get this out of my system, I can’t live in denial and not accept that I Love You Gayatri!!”

She looked up at him and got up from her seat and hugged and kissed him, “Syed, I have been dying to hear those magical words and I do love you too, don’t care how different we are but I want to shout out to the world and tell them about US. I want to update my relationship status” She was jumping with joy for she was happy to be with her man.

She broke up with Anshuman soon after and was glad to be seen with Syed at her college socials, hangouts irrespective of the snares warnings from her close friends. Syed was still a pariah as far they were concerned, they had given up on her, and she would not hear anything against her man. Syed on his apart remained aloof, he could not fit in and the cold vibes from her friends didn’t make matter any easier for him. They continued their emotional and physical relationships in getaways, hotels: places that Mumbai offered in abundance with the advantage of anonymity.

“GayatrI, I have to go to Dubai for some office work and may take a week, will try being in touch but ply don’t get worked up if I am not able to, and network is going to be an Issue In that area. I will call on my own and do take care of you and miss me” saying this Syed hugged her and planted a kiss on her forehead.

Since he left the calls had been sporadic and that too with too much background noise, she missed him and made It a point to visit their favourite coffee shop just to soak with whatever remissness of him were there at the place.

GayatrI got up from her slumber by the Incessant ringing of her phone, she was hoping it was him but it was Anshuman she checked her watch and it was 5 AM. She was all set to blast him off “what Is It?? Anshuman It Is 5 AM and that also Sunday!!”

“I know all that and I had no Intention of calling you up after the way you left me, but you need to switch on the TV as your latest fling Is all over the news” and he slammed down the phone.

images (1)She was blank and didn’t know what to except, she checked her phone for any unread messages / notification or missed calls, there were none. Switching on the TV and flipped through the News Channels and then she saw him, her man, the love of her life SYED!! He was killed while trying to enter Syria to join In the ISIS and his Identity was established from his passport.

Things became clear in some days when the police came knocking on her door. The police Informed her that she wasn’t the only one who he was Involved with. They had verifiable Information that he had been radicalised when he was living In Jeddah and was sent to India to recruit members and also explore opportunity recruit women not belonging to his faith. He had no family and none whatsoever In Raigad; they had abandoned him for his radical views.

Police made a little headway as far as GayatrI was concerned for whatever she knew about him has now proving to be blatant lies and stories that were nowhere close to the truth. On hindsight she now realised she had never visited his office, now had ever been to his college. She couldn’t find out on her own either for she was grounded at home by her conservative family that had now got the whiff of her affair and its aftermath.

She was left without friends who had forewarned her, family who until now were in the dark and Syed: the man she was kind to her, who made her laugh, who listened to her and the one who was in love with her or she thought was in love with her.

Only time will tell the real story and till that time she will continue to feel for him for he was her SYED!!

Monsoon ……

download (3)“What is his ailment??” an innocent question from another harried parent and I was at a loss of words. We both were waiting in the hospital taking care of our children, he of his daughter and me of my son.

On a Rainy monsoon evening which if not for the medical condition of my son would have been something that i would have looked forward to. But sitting in a hospital waiting made me desolate and gloomy. The question bought back memories of marriage, parenthood and the lack of control of my destiny.

Coming from a privileged old money background, I had my life all sorted out by my parents. The comforts and the luxuries were provided for, education in the best boarding schools with a Post Graduation from a prestigious foreign university taken care of. A well paying job in a MNC albeit procured by pulling the strings by my well networked family.  I was ready to face the mundane realities of everyday world. Well so the world and I thought.

The chink in the armour was the lack of relationship stability and the choices I made as far as my love life was concerned. Falling from one relationship to another that was not only emotionally taxing and toxic that always took away part of me and the part that always walked away was the one I was proud of. Ms. Perfect took away my thick skin; Ms. Manager took away emotions that left me a bit cold and a loner. Well between these two there were few others that too dented and scratched away some of my personality away.

“Beta you are turning 30, it is time you settle down” announced my mother for the first time one evening over dinner. She was my emotional anchor who knew me inside out. She who had faced the ordeal of a physical abusive husband, she who took it all in her stride for walking out on an abusive marriage wasn’t an option ever available to her. She wasn’t financially independent where could she go, who would provide for??  She belonged to the day and age where the upholding the family honour was her domain and responsibility. I was the bearer of her secrets, her inner demons.

The marriage question was definitely a mother’s instinct to strike at the right time I said “Go find yourself a suitable daughter-in-law and i shall marry anyone of your choice.” Well she was ready with a probable list and after the initial meeting and brief courtship; Priya and me were tied in nuptials knots in what was a simple wedding. Priya was the kind of girl who was an ideal Bahu, wife and a mother belonging to an upper middle class family from a relative small town.

The married life was normal but boring. The initial flux of emotions gave way to reality. We realised we were different and destined never to find a common ground. How could love survive such an onslaught of differences? Gradually we started drifting apart; there was nothing left to bind us together. Each flaw was highlighted and stored. There were showdowns and a silent undercurrents. We both were perfect to the world; we knew each other inside out but lacked emotional empathy. We spoke only out of necessity and never addressed the elephant in the room i.e. the parenthood: initial years of marriage flew away before Priya realised that her body clock was ticking away.

With this came the urgency and the visits to the fertility clinics , quacks and finally after two  years of timing ovulation, moon and sex she conceived and amid the din of incessant rainfall supposedly the highest in that decade we were blessed with a boy. When we both held him for the first time he was crying and so were we. This outpour of emotions in the room and the rains outside washed away the angst, unspoken words, regrets. Life was back and sprouting all around us. The shades of green, the smell of rains and the joy of Shantanu, yes that was his name. Our Shantanu. My Shantanu…..

From the day he was born, he lit up our home. The love showered not only from us but also the Grand Parents. Every whims and fancies were taken care of. Our life revolved around his schedule. We slept when he did, laughed with him and cried with him. And he too didn’t disappoint us. He was a perfect child!! He could spend hours playing by himself would take care of his everyday things. No fussing or fretting over. The way he smiled lit up everything around him, those dimpled cheeks that twinkle in his eyes what more we could ask for. Life was perfect and back on track, or so we thought!!

“Baiji where is Shantanu, haven’t seen him since in a while now?? Please go and look for him.” Shantanu was 5 now, studying in the new and upcoming High end school in our city.

images“Yes Maa, what is it?? U called for me?? “He entered the house all wet and shivering. He was playing out in the garden with his pet dog a lovable Brown Irish Setter. The rains had arrived a bit early and there he was drenched to the core. The canine’s hair on his clothes, the paw marks on his white school shirt, the black school shoes and white socks lost in the mud and dirt. The innocence of the child and the protective feeling of the mother all came at the same instance. It was sight that made Priya both angry and loving.

After a quick warm bath and change of clothes, he was again at his playful self.  I entered home late that evening, and Priya updated me of his antics and the slight fever that Shantanu was down with now. The family doctor was sent for, he assured us that there was not much to worry about and it was just a seasonal flu that was to go away in a couple of days. The fever refused to go away for another four days but what definitely went away was his cheerfulness, his laughter. He was an ideal patient; no complaints, no crying just lying in the quilt watching his favourite cartoon channels with the pet dog by his side.

The doctor on his next visit asked us to get some tests done to rule out everything. The seasonal flu couldn’t go on for so long. What were to know that it was just the beginning of the visits to doctors? The tests proved inconclusive and so with it the diagnosis. Shantanu was fighting fit one day and meek and weak the other. There was no specialist left whose opinion wasn’t sought.

With the use of latest medical treatment, the services of all other alternate therapists were involved. Visits to the temples increased so did the treads around his tiny writs. Dietary habits were changed so as not to harm any living being. Godmen and Pandits were approached; prayers conducted all done to have a soothing effect on Shantanu.

images (1)After an excruciating time gap, he was admitted in the hospital, holding me, confused, and looking for a reassurance from my side. What could I tell him? I too was looking for one and yet to find answers to my questions. The needles seized to hurt him anymore, the pills weren’t bitter anymore. The birth of Shantanu that brought Priya and me together, his illness further bonded us. For who else could understand our pain and sorrow. We could cry only in from of each other. We had to be strong outside and inside we were emotional wreck.

Then came the ‘C’ word that we all had dreaded for so long. One evening the doctor called us to his room and suggested us another round of tests and MRI’s to test for CANCER!! The word shattered us; the doctors assured us that it was just a diagnostic test. But to a parent there is nothing scarier then to have a child test for Cancer.

He was prepared the next day and in walked the nurse to take him with her. “Chalo Shantanu Baba, time for some final tests and we will be back in a jiffy!!” said the nurse in her trendy hospital uniform and a smile that hung between genuine and forced.

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”

Outside the room from a window the rains could be seen that was in its final retreating phase. The final shower before they seize for the year for they had completed their task and replenished the water bodies and life along its way…..

PS : All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.