Friday, December 2, 2011

Lessons I learnt in November 2011

Ahem ahem. For those of you who haven’t noticed, the image to the right has magically changed from participant to…*drum roll*… WINNER!!! … I’m a NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner! Yippey! I wrote 50,000 words of my first ever novel in a month. Can you believe that?
I’ve been partying (in my head, at least) for the last two days and being extra extra nice to everyone at home. That’s to make up for the crazy mood I’ve been all month.

This was my first experience with NaNoWriMo and I so wanted to win. I told myself that I owe it to myself to write that novel. And I realized that all I needed was to push myself a wee bit.. and things just fell into place.

I’d like to tell you all about the experience...

1. NaNo taught me that I could be a novelist. Sure there were plenty of times when I felt what I’m writing is trash, no one but no one would like to read it… and I even thought of giving up. But that was the insecure writer in me talking. I got her to shut up by putting duct tape across her mouth, locked her in the cupboard and ignored her while blissfully typing away, dreaming of one day holding my published novel in my hands.

2. The thing most people will hear me say is, “I have no time!’ Which is probably true depending on how you look at it. But NaNo taught me what a fool I’ve been. I’ve got to make time! Kapeesh? If you want something enough, it is ALWAYS possible to make time for it.

3. People who just dream about doing something, then sob about not being able to make that dream come true and don’t make any effort towards their goal, such people should have the word WIMP stamped across their foreheads. Actually, I should have had the word WIMP stamped across my forehead. But not anymore. I have seen the light. And I believe in me. I CAN!

4. When you are doing something you love, you are at peace. November was a crazy month that flew past me in the blink of an eye. Every day was just about obsessively writing my novel and obsessively updating my word count at the NaNoWriMo website. But despite the lack of adequate sleep, I was able to enjoy myself. Because I was chasing a dream and loving the process as well.

5. I was able to really appreciate the things that I had. I enjoyed my playtime with my kids, spent quality time with the husband, and did a lot of other things, despite nano. This was possible because I scheduled time for writing. This way my mind was always focused on the task I was in, instead of thinking, ‘Damn, I need to start writing’, or ‘When am I going to get that assignment done?’ Nano taught me to organize my day better and set aside an hour or two writing every day, no matter what. I hope the habit stay throughout my life. It’s my ME time, where I let my mind soar and dream, with unlimited possibilities.

6. The most surprising and MOST IMPORTANT lesson I learnt from nano was the importance of a support system. I cannot tell you enough about how vital this is to a person chasing a dream. If it weren’t for the support and encouragement of my husband, I wouldn’t have won Nano. A few days before November began, I was wondering out loud about whether I was capable of doing this. Hubby was driving me back home from a Nano kick-off party when I voiced my thoughts. His expression was a mix of annoyance and disbelief. “I wouldn’t have driven you to and from this party, if I didn’t support you and believe in your abilities,” he said. He gave me a good half an hour monologue on how I needed to want this. He told me to stop making excuses and just do what my heart wanted. I usually hate people giving me lectures and end up slamming doors or just giving them the silent treatment for a while. But something clicked inside me when I heard him out. I only said ‘Thank you’. On that day and on 29th November at midnight when I completed my 50,000 words.

7. In continuation to the support system point, my family and friends who knew I had participated in Nano (thanks to Facebook status updates) also gave me much needed boosts and help me keep writing. My mom called everyday and checked on my word count. My husband’s brother, who is a dentist, kept asking me if there was going to be a dentist in the story. His wife gave me a huge congratulatory hug the morning of 30th November when I reached the 50K mark. My father-in-law and mother-in-law, what can I say about them? Nothing I say will be enough. Towards the end Papa asked if he should take a day off so that I could write and he would take care of the kids. He and Mummy told me how proud they are of me. I never thought they would take my writing so seriously. But they do. And I’m sorry for ever thinking otherwise.

8. Lastly, this post was a real inspiration on the night of 27th November when I was full of self-doubt, with an aching back and stiff fingers that begged for some rest. It’s wonderful, the ways in which God communicates to you.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Okay, don’t laugh but I’ve challenged myself to write a novel in a month. Yes, you read it right folks. I, mom of two little kids, believe that despite the lack of time to breathe in a normal working day, will be able to write a novel in the 30 days that are November. Ha! No, I’m serious. Really.

As the badge to the left of this page proudly states, I will be participating in the NaNoWriMo 2011 challenge. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then go click on the picture which will take you to the website. If you are too lazy to do that then read on.

I heard about NaNoWriMo last year. But I had no way to probe further and see if I could do it since I had just given birth and was still in the hospital when the event began. But then when I saw it being talked about on facebook this year, I decided Ahh, why not give it a shot. And I registered on the site.

The deal is that one needs to write a 50,000 (at least) word novel in the month of November. Those who reach the 50,000 word mark by the end of November will be winners. What a challenge, huh? I needed something like this to push me to write.

I registered over 2 weeks ago but it wasn’t till today that I actually decided to do the challenge. Since the event is open to writers from across the globe, there are various chapters within each region holding events to support participating writers. I heard that there was going to be a kick-off party in Mumbai and I decided to attend it.

And boy, am I glad I did. We were a group of 7 writers meeting at a cosy coffee shop. Most of us were first timers but we got a whole lot of tips on surviving NaNoWriMo from a seasoned participant. I realized one important thing that would take me through the month. I need to look at it as an exercise in letting my mind go free, in letting the words flow, in releasing those words that have been jumping up and down inside me for the longest time… They’ll be plenty of time later to chop, edit, rewrite, link, etc. But November will be about writing my heart out.

People who know me closely would know that I currently have almost no time to write. My kids take up all my time. It’s only when they are asleep is it possible for me to sit at my laptop, in the dark, and write. That means compromising on sleep, which is very very difficult. But thankfully I have a really great support system at home. Everyone wants me to do what I want to do (except the kids, perhaps, who want me to do whatever they want). That’s probably one reason why I really want to push myself this time and do this. For myself and the people who believe in me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to blog about this yet because it will look really lame if I chicken out of it midway. But then I thought, the more people I tell about my participation in NaNoWriMo, the more real it will become and the more motivated I will get to go through it. You know?

So what I need right now it a wealth of encouragement, guys. I know ultimately it all boils down to me. Do I want to do this? Yes, I do. Can I do it? Sure, I can. So here goes nothing. Thirty days and nights of literary abandon, here I come!

I shall keep you all posted on the progress. Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Birthday Boy


I wrote this post a few days before Zaid’s birthday but forgot to post it.



One year ago…

I had only one child. I didn’t think too much about the second one growing in my womb. Maybe because my daughter took up all my time and energy, I never got much time to ponder over what the second one would be like.

One year ago…

I was 9 months pregnant, and I knew this time was going to be different. I wasn’t scared and jittery. I knew exactly what I would be going through physically. The c-section, the pain, the recovery, the loss of control for a while, the needles… they didn’t scare me this time. I was thankful that I wouldn’t have the labour pains. But my fears were made of other stuff.. how would Zainab manage without me? How would the new baby affect her? How would I explain to her the baby’s need for Mamma’s time?

One year ago…

I wished for another daughter. I always missed having a sister and I wanted Zainab to experience it. I knew how it felt being a mom to a girl and I didn’t want unfamiliar territory. I even wondered, how does one change a boy’s diaper, with all that external plumbing?

One year ago…

I wondered how it would be possible to love another child as much as I love Zainab. I didn’t feel I was capable of it.

One year ago…

I realized the baby I was going to give birth to was going to be very different from Zainab. When I was pregnant with Zainab, my belly would do spontaneous dances. It would jump and twist and bounce in all direction, like she was having a football match in there. Even today when I see Zainab burst into song and dance or even into noisy tantrums, I think about how she was doing all this before she was born as well. But during the second time my belly didn’t jump and twist and bounce. I worried about it and spoke to my doctor. She said, “No two babies are alike.” And she was right. I guessed at that time that those gentle graceful movements, that felt like a ballet dancer in there, were hints that I was going to have a child with a temperament very different from the little rainstorm I already had.

One year ago…

I was lying in an operation theater. It was 8 in the morning (Bahrain time) and my husband was miles and miles away in India. My parents were waiting outside the door. My wonderful anesthetic (what an angel!) was talking me through the surgery and checking if I was as comfortable as a pregnant woman being operated on can get. I wasn’t jittery. I was as cool as a cucumber. Until I heard my son cry. Nothing prepared me for that moment. I’ve always felt bad that I didn’t feel very maternal and emotional the moment Zainab was born. The shock of the surgery and everything that preceded it seemed to overwhelm me so much, that I couldn’t place the maternal instinct within me.

But Zaid was a different story. Through eyes brimming with tears I saw my son, my beautiful little boy. And God whispered in my ear, “It is possible to love another child, isn’t it?”

One year ago…

I fell in love with a tiny, frail baby boy who seemed to throw up more milk than he drank.

Who slept in the day and stayed up all night (thankfully this lasted only a month, after which he slept like a baby all night).

Who had the most curious and beautiful black eyes. People having conversations enthralled him. They still do. He looks like he is absorbing every little syllable you are uttering (which is a scary thing, actually).

Who is crazy about his sister. Zainab is the only one who can have him splits by the merest sound she makes. From when Zaid was around a week old, we noticed that his expression changes when she is around, he is suddenly alert and excited. Today, he never misses opportunities to kiss and hug her or just be around her.

Who has the naughtiest little impish smile. He’s getting naughtier as he grows, but it’s so cute to see how he gets away with it all by flashing that disarming smile of his. *sigh* He is going to be a heart breaker for sure.

This Friday, my little boy turned one.

Happy Birthday, Sunshine! Thank you for lighting up my world every morning, noon and night. Thank you for the tiring workouts you make me do throughout the day, with all that crawling around and messing up you do, which is helping in keeping me slim and trim. There’s lots more I need to be thankful for, but let’s save that for another post.

Happy Birthday, my darling doll. May you always stay happy and healthy! Ameen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Freelancing and an Award

I haven’t blogged in 4 months! Yikes! I hadn’t even realized I would be away for so long. No time for excuses and feeling sorry for myself this time. I need to look myself in the mirror and give myself a good slap on the forehead for procrastinating for this long. Plain and simple. That’s what it is. Procrastination. Because if I wanted to I guess I could write every single day. But it took a freelancing project and a blog award to shake me from my reverie and ask myself, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, woman?”

First the freelancing bit. I am mighty happy (with much jumping and whooping) to report that I am back to serious freelancing. I had never really stopped freelance writing, doing bits of this and that throughout my pregnancy last year and even after that. But I had stopped working with my friend Kavita. Old readers of this blog (yes, I like to imagine that I’ve been blogging for eons and have like a gazillion readers) will probably remember my mentioning working with her. We work so well together, I wonder how I ever managed projects all by myself. Just last week she called to ask if maybe I was interested in this lucrative project, and I, who was pulling my hair out due to the frustration of domesticity, jumped at her offer.

While I love taking care of my kids, and cooking for them, and feeding them and putting them to sleep and playing with them and doing every other lil thing that goes into bringing up a child, I started to crack under the stress of it all. I wanted ME time. And I wasn’t getting it. I wanted to work, for no one but myself. I wanted to spend money that I had worked for myself. Yes, we women are a weird lot. But you know what I’m talking about, right?

So you can see how much I welcomed the freelancing projects. But it was going to be tough. I still had the kids and regular chores to take care of, which pretty much is a full day. To top that, we have a wedding in the family this month and LOTS of tasks pending there. But I JUST.HAD.TO.DO.IT. So I started with fretting and cribbing and biting the heads off everyone around me. Then I found the 2 to 3 hours of almost uninterrupted work time every afternoon. And then, when the need arose, I arose… at 3:30 am to get the damn assignment delivered on time.

And I made it! The first assignment went off today and I got such a high sending it a day early that my fingers are dancing just typing about it.

Okay, the second thing I mentioned was the blog award. My second award. See it proudly displayed on the right there? I know anyone can give anyone an award in the blogosphere. Blogs don’t have to go through a rigorous round of scrutiny by a panel of expert judges to get an award. I mean, it is perfectly possible for me to write nonsense, which I believe I sometimes do, and maybe, just maybe someone might decide to give me an award. But still… it’s an award. This wonderful girl who I don’t know at all has been reading my posts and liking them. In fact, she likes my posts so much that she decided to bestow me an award that reads ‘The Versatile Blogger’. Thank you. For spreading some joy. Because that’s what compliments are, aren’t they? Little snippets of joy passed from one human being to the other.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

K is for Kids...

"Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit."
— Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)

Yes, having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. Your life, your identity, your outlook, the person you are, everything changes from that point. You are not you anymore. You are a mother. And the children consume your life, eating into your time, energy, money, health, sanity and even the calcium in your bones.

But, strange as it sounds, these children become the light of your life. Because even though they are depleting you of your reserves, they give back much much more than they take away. Here are some reasons why I think having kids is a good idea:

• Their laugh. Have you ever heard the sound of a baby laughing? It is the most beautiful sound in the world. When my baby laughs, it’s a piece of celestial music right here in my home. My son, Zaid, is so adorably ticklish that he giggles and gurgles when I bathe him, change his clothes and sometimes when I pick him up. He also bursts into gleeful laughter when he sees his impish sister dancing and jumping in front of him. I wish I could hold on to those moments and capture them within me. They seem to slip away too soon.



• Their innocence. It is humbling to see how we all started out as a clean slate. Unaware of the wickedness or cruelty lying just beyond our layer of perception. Oblivious to the hurdles life is going to soon throw across our pathways. Ignorant of the losses and failures we are going to face. Babies are pure, unadulterated goodness. A fragment of heaven. Revel in their innocence while it lasts.



• Their wide-eyed wonder. Zainab loves stories. And I love telling her stories. Because when I’m telling her a story, which could be just an event that happened at the dining table or the mall, or anything, I have her complete attention. And she opens her eyes and mouth wide with surprise at all the right places. She giggles at the funny parts and makes a sad face at all the sad parts. This eggs me on and I earnestly plunge into more animated story telling, with a lot of hand gesturing, facial expressions and voice modulations. After a while we are ‘in’ the story and she pipes in with her variations to it. We do this every day. Try it with your child. Trust me- it is a very enriching experience.



• Sometimes when I tell Zainab, “Sweetheart, you look so lovely,” she does the movie star act and says, “Oh thank you, my little mamma.” She then pats my check, twirls around to look in the mirror, smiles at her reflection and cat-walks out of the room, stopping at the door to flash me a smile from over her shoulder. While I gape with my mouth open like a 3-year-old.



• Sometimes when Zaid is busy playing with someone else at home and he hear my voice, he immediately sticks his lower lip out, ready to cry, his eyes scanning the room to locate me. Once he spots me, he extends his arms and whimpers. He has even started saying mam-mam-ma. I think his sister is giving him acting lessons. Because he does the sad-lil-boy act perfectly. And it melts my heart. I rush towards him and scoop him into my arms, cooing and rocking my beautiful little boy. Only your babies can make you feel like a super hero, super star, rock star, angel, saint and the most beautiful woman alive, all rolled into one.



This is Zainab drawing of her and her brother. Don't ask me why Zaid is sitting on top of her head. It was such a funny drawing that I just had to take a picture and put it up. :D

Friday, April 15, 2011

J is for Joke of the Day...

Two nights ago I dreamt of dressing up as a clown. As most dreams go, it was a strange dream. I knew I was dressed up as a clown but I did not put on the red nose, painted smile and big red wig. Only the outfit was of a clown. I hadn’t even worn the big floppy shoes. In the dream, I thought to myself, I must find a big red nose and paint my face. But I didn’t get to it because of some happenings that I can’t recall right now. I asked my husband what the dream could mean. He told me it meant I have been spending too much time on my blog. :/

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

Yesterday, I was at peace. After eons of looking and asking every person I met, we finally FINALLY (I love repeating words at least twice. Have you noticed?) found a fulltime housemaid. I was so so happy (There. I did it again.) I sat back and rested. Playing leisurely with my kids, entertaining and feeding them, without worrying about cleaning up and kitchen duties. Aaahh.. the bliss. I started to dream about hours and hours of passionate writing (what else?) undisturbed. I could get my life back on track. I could work. I could write. I could visit the beauty salon. I could get a new haircut. I could join a gym. I could go for walks. I could take taekwondo classes if I felt like it someday.

This morning arrived and fate decided to show me what my clown dream was about. Apparently the joke was on me. When I walked into the kitchen the new maid told me that she had had a bad dream in the night and she wanted to go back to her family in Kolkata. She apologised lightly saying that she liked living here but the dream had shaken her up and she just had to meet her little daughter. I looked at her blankly and walked out of the kitchen.

Yes, the joke was on me.

I couldn’t stop laughing when I realised what my J post was going to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I is for Ink...

Zainab’s new toy is a MS Word document. Whenever she sees me typing away, she asks me to open a new page for her.

“Mamma, I want to write my name.”

She then gets comfy and locates Z on the keyboard and presses it. Her forehead creases when she sees the tiny z.

“Mamma, make it big.” So I increase the font size from 11 to 36.

She tries again... “z.. a...”

The creased forehead returns. “Big A please, Mamma.”

I turn caps lock on.

She then proceeds to type the rest of her name. Then she types randomly, hitting some Ls and Xs and Gs, and tells me she is writing a story.

Yesterday, as I watched her perform this daily ritual, I felt depressed. I should be teaching her to hold a pencil and write the alphabet. And here she is aping her parent’s version of writing. Whatever happened to good old ink and paper?

My trusty journals, the ones I kept under lock and key, and lovingly wrote on every night had magically transformed into a web log. A blog. This blog. My thoughts and hopes and dreams spilled, for the whole world to read (I wish). Yikes.

When I started this blog in 2009, I just wanted a platform where my work could be viewed easily. Read my first few posts and you will see how painfully journalistic I thought my posts were going to be. Slowly, I learnt to be a blogger and just went with the flow, pouring my heart into my posts.

Do I miss the actual writing process, with ink and paper? Hell no! I have no idea how to spell check, hyperlink and google for information with a pen and paper.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

H is for Happiness...

My dear friend Kavita had once put up a story on her blog that was very well received and also made it to the top 10 finalists in a blog contest. It is a sad, yet inspirational true story of what led a woman to divorce. The woman (named Kyra in the story) has picked up the pieces of her life, remarried and made the choice to put the past behind her. The best part of the post is its title - Happiness is a choice, not circumstance.

I have met many Kyras, many strong women who have it in them to break free from painful experiences and memories. These women have truly believed that they deserve to live a better and happier life and have worked towards that goal, rather than wallow in self pity. I am proud to have several of these women as my close friends. You know who you are. *BEAR HUGS* to all you beautiful, amazing women. Your strength, courage, determination and the choice you made have made ME a better person.

Happiness is a choice. Every single day, life gives us this choice. What have YOU chosen today?

G is for God...

Dear God,

Today, when I went to pick Zainab from school, her teacher asked me how her speech therapy session was. I told her about it and how, miraculously, Zainab had reverted back to almost perfect speech. Almost as if the stammer was a figment of our imagination. Though the problem still needs to be worked on, I never imagined that the results would be seen so soon. She said, “I guess it was just God’s way of teaching you some parenting.”

It is true. I always knew that when my second child would be born that we would continue showering Zainab with love and attention, the way she has always received it. Nothing would change. She would never feel neglected. And I believed that that was what I was doing. Until she started stammering.

Suddenly, we stopped telling her off when she was being naughty, began patiently explaining things to her, bending over backwards to keep her happy and humouring her demands. My husband started coming home early from work to spend time with her. Sundays and holidays are now mostly about her- story telling time, playing games and taking her out.

And we’ve seen the change. The crankiness has reduced. The trantrums are fewer. We had never noticed before how delightfully polite and well mannered she can be – thanking me when I say she looks pretty today, apologising for whacking her brother while playing with him...

But she’s a nifty little child. She’s caught on that we have been behaving extra nice recently and she is milking the situation for all its worth. Yesterday, she was back to her tricks, naughtiness and hourly demands for chocolate. Thankfully, we now know how to deal with it better.

So we are tenderly trudging the middle path, learning everyday how best to treat our kids. How to display our all-consuming love for them and how to stop short of over pampering them. How to teach them and how to learn from them. It’s an exhausting and pain-staking process. But it is the only way forward.

So thank you, Allah, for this lesson. We have only gained from the experience. I know we crib and cry and blame and complain whenever our supposedly well laid out plans go hay wire and we encounter a hurdle in life. We don’t realise that there is a reason for everything. We refuse to believe that there is a grand scheme being playing out in the background. We might not recognise the lesson or the reason, at that moment, or ever maybe. Thank you again, for this speck of realisation from your infinite wisdom.

Sincere apologies for the cribbing,

A Humbled Mother

Sunday, April 10, 2011

F is for Fluency...

I thought long and hard about whether I want to write this post. I decided it was not something I wanted to shut out or hide from others. I believe such experiences must be shared. You never know who will benefit from the knowledge. If this post helps even one disfluent child, writing it will be completely worth it.

Wikipedia tells me that Fluency is a speech language pathology term that means the smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are joined together when speaking quickly. Fluency disorders is used as a collective term for cluttering and stuttering. Both disorders have breaks in the fluidity of speech, and both have the fluency breakdown of repetition of parts of speech.

Over three weeks ago I didn’t think much about the word fluency. But over these past three weeks I have been living, eating, sleeping and sweating the word fluency. Or rather disfluency.

Three weeks ago I noticed that my perfectly fluent daughter had occasionally begun saying ma-ma-mamma. “Why are you saying ma-ma-mamma?” I asked her. She would then repeat her sentence without the stutter. And my frown would disappear. But then after a while she’d do it again. She started saying da-da-dadi a few days later. Was I the only one noticing it? Why wasn’t anyone else at home saying anything about it? Maybe I was just being paranoid. But it stayed at the back of my mind. I mentioned it to hubby and he brushed it aside saying she was doing it on purpose.

Okay, so I was only being paranoid. A part of me told me I shouldn’t be ignoring it. But I turned a deaf ear to this voice. I blocked it out because I didn’t want to hear what it was saying. I realise now that I was in denial.

Then one Sunday he noticed it too. It was appearing in every fifth sentence or so that she spoke. And my daughter talks All.Day.Long. His confirmation of my fear was a terrible realisation. Our limited and false knowledge told us that we had done something to cause this. We had emotionally hurt or scared or neglected our daughter which had turned her into a stutterer.

I remembered a book I had read ages ago, when I was in school, about a woman whose son stuttered only around her, but never did when she wasn’t around. I think it was a Sidney Sheldon novel. I don’t remember anything else about the story except that the woman was a manipulating b*@#& who had instilled so much fear in her own child’s heart that he had begun to stutter. But I wasn’t that woman. Then why did this happen to Zainab?

I began to blame myself. My mind went over every single time that I had scolded her, told her off, snapped at her, smacked her, spoke to her angrily, told her she was being naughty, told her to apologise for being naughty... I went over it all over and over in my head, hating myself more with each memory. Was she feeling neglected after my son was born? Was she jealous or angry? Was she scared of something? I convinced myself that I was a terrible, terrible mother and my bad deeds had finally come back to haunt me. Except my innocent little baby had to pay the price.

I got over that stage too. I decided to look at things rationally. We had a problem. Now we had to fix it. If it could be fixed, that is. I spent hours and hours reading all that I could on the internet about stuttering or stammering. Searching the web for information on the subject was a highly frustrating experience. There were so many theories and contrasting views on dealing with stuttering in children. There were also numerous cases mentioned on the discussion boards of parenting sites about children aged between 2.5 and 3 years who suddenly started stuttering. But they were fine in 3 to 6 months. Apparently, it is a developmental stage, where the child’s brain is absorbing so much information that it tends to get taxed, but learns to overcome the pressure in a few months. This information was so reassuring. I breathed a sigh of relief. She was going to be okay.

But then I tried to find out how to deal with it or react to it as parents. Unfortunately, nothing was helpful. While some sites mentioned ignoring the problem, some said that we must ask the child to speak slowly. Some sites said NEVER ask the child to speak slowly. Some sites said therapy is not needed for such a young child, while some insisted that the sooner the child receives therapy, the better. All this while, Zainab’s stammer worsened. She was stammering at every sentence and every morning I realised with a growing sense of panic, it was getting much, much worse.

My chirpy talkative baby girl was struggling to speak. She couldn’t understand what was happening to her. She asked me once, “What’s happened to my voice, mamma?” And I had no answer to that. It was heart breaking. I mentally winced and cried for her everytime I heard her struggling to express herself. But I kept up the smile on my face, determined to never let her get any inkling of our worry.

We spoke to her teacher at her playgroup, to other parents, we met doctors and therapists. To a cut a long story short, we decided to go to a speech therapist because we needed an expert to tell us what to do. I’m so thankful to God that we didn’t delay any further. We learnt that there are so many theories about why disfluencies occurs in children but no concrete proof. That means science has no idea why some people stutter. The therapist said that a popular reasoning is that children in this age group are learning and absorbing so much information and their language is in the crucial developmental stage, that their brain gets overworked, manifesting itself as a stutter.

Obviously, there was no point in beating ourselves up about it and instead we had to focus on solving the problem. We were told that we were to bring Zainab for weekly sessions but mostly it was important for the parents to continue this model at home and have similar daily sessions with the child. Miraculously, after just 2 sessions, Zainab underwent a major change overnight. Today, all of the sudden, she was almost her old fluent self again. Nobody will say she has any problem with her speech. But rather than get complacent, we know we have to patiently work with her to remove the problem completely and stop it from recurring.

It is mind numbing to realise you child has a problem. Especially one that is difficult to comprehend. For a while I could feel my world shattering around me. Because of Zainab’s charm, intelligence, quick witty speech and her confidence we had dreamed big dreams for her. I had even pictured her as an active participant in the school debate team one day. These weeks have strained our nerves and I wondered where Zainab’s life would lead her.

But today was a promise of a better tomorrow. It was a reminder that nothing is constant. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Zainab is a fighter. She is not ready to let something like this get in the way of what she loves to do. TALK!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

E is for Escape...

I took up this ABC Blogging challenge to push myself to write every single day. I’ve only reached E and I can already feel myself ready to throw in the towel. How do I write when every time my little girl sees me working, she says, ‘Mamma, don’t work. I want to see Itsy Bitsy Spider on youtube.’? How does one write when my little boy needs feeding ten times a day and changing another ten times a day? Not to mention, the time that goes into preparing the meals for the aforementioned toddler and infant. And taking the toddler to and from play school. And bathing and dressing and singing to sleep and playing and dancing and laughing. And on and on and on it goes day after day after day. You get the picture.

So E is for Escape for me. The husband and the two tykes are snoring away as I type this because it is way past my bedtime. I’m imagining I have escaped to a beautiful island paradise solely to collect my thoughts, undisturbed, and to write, write, write, all day long. But sleep is slowly overtaking the senses right now. I decide to escape into the land of slumber instead. And add my own sleep induced noises to the gentle snores in the room. Good night, all.

D is for Dreams...

I’m running a day late in the ABC challenge so I’m going to try putting up two short posts today.

I googled for quotes about dreams and the search results threw up a long list of interesting quotes by famous people. Some were funny, some were preachy but mostly they were just blah. Nothing connected to my perception of dreams. That maybe because an individual’s dreams are something so personal that it would be difficult for another person to relate to them. Only one worthy quote comes to mind impromptu. In the words on Cinderella, “A dream is a wish your heart makes”.

I used to have a wonderful collection of animated movies, right from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Cinderella. The stories contributed hugely to my day dreams about my future – meeting my Prince Charming, good conquering evil, living happily ever after in a palace (I was ready to settle for a mansion though.) Some years later, when I was still in school, I read a lot about how these traditional fairy tales were so politically incorrect. Why did the hero and heroine of the story have to be fair and good looking? Why was good and evil so contrasted? Why couldn’t there be grey characters with insecurities and bad habits, who we can relate to? I pondered on this too and tended to agree. We didn’t really need these stereotypes moulding our dreams, telling us what our ultimate aims and hopes must be. No wonder I always like the Beauty and the Beast story – I found it endearing that Beauty fell in love with the Beast despite what he looked like.

I always hated it when people discussed looks and complexion. It sounded petty and superficial. I vowed that when the time came to choose a husband (yes, I actually imagined there would be several suitors, each falling over themselves asking for my hand in marriage!), appearance would be secondary in the decision making process. What mattered was what lay in his heart. I’m convinced that my thoughts on the matter pleased the Lord so much, that He decided to reward me with what I didn’t even ask for, but probably what my childhood dreams were about – a handsome husband, with a heart of gold.

So I still, kind of, root for the politically incorrect fairy tales. And, it looks like they are back in fashion too. Check this out. Apparently, it is now all good to believe in those lofty, dreamy story tales we grew on. And, here is the alternative. You decide what you want your kids to hear. And dream about. :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

C is for Cat...

When I was telling my husband that I did an A is for Ache post and B is for Blah Blah post, and asked him what C should be, my daughter looked at me perturbed. She said, ‘Mamma, B is for ball, not bleh bleh.’ :) I said ‘Okay, B is for ball. And what is C for?’ She said ‘Cat!’ I was going to do a C is for Cricket post, but now, I’m going to do a post on cats.

At various points in the first 20 years of my life, I have had a cat as a pet. I adore cats. I have pictures of me as a fat little toddler with a beautiful golden cat sprawled beside me, as a 7 year old with a tooth missing, and a tiny white and grey kitten in my lap, and as a 12 year old playing with a feisty black and white cat.

This black and white cat is the one that has stayed in my memory. Though I’ve had cats after it too, they weren’t as special to me as Tabby was. My best friend Roohi and her brother came home one day with a tiny kitten in their arms. Their cat had had kittens and they were giving them away. I remember Tabby scrambling under the cupboard with the fear of being in a new environment, away from her mother. She refused to come out for a long time and only when hunger struck did she come out to drink some milk from the bowl we had placed for her.

She soon got used to her new home and her new family. My older brother, Faheem and I cuddled and played with her, showering her with love, hugs and lots of goodies from the kitchen. My parents did not display their love for Tabby as physically as we did, but it was apparent by the way they spoke to her. She was like a new little child in the family.

Tabby’s favourite place to sit in the whole house was my mother’s lap. I always wondered why this was, especially since mom never went out her way to pet and cuddle her. How come she didn’t prefer my lap? I figured she truly saw herself as a child of the home and mom as her mother. My younger brother Akbar was around two or three years old at the time. Tabby saw him as a rival because he often sat in my mother’s lap. She went up to him and tapped him with her paw, needling him to get up from what she considered her place. It looked like she was gently spanking him. At first we were concerned that she would hurt him. But we realised that she was always careful around Akbar, never once displaying her claws anywhere near him.

We would never let her out for fear that she would pick a fight with the neighbourhood cats. But when a stray tom cat came serenading her through the grill door, one particular mating season, she slipped out a couple of times when the door was ajar.

We didn’t really notice at first when she was pregnant. We just assumed that her big appetite made her fat. It dawned on us when we realised that her belly was abnormally big compared to the rest of her. She had become moody and jumpy. She started getting exhausted easily and wouldn’t play rough and tumble about when I prodded her to. Then one day she crept under my bed and didn’t come out for a few hours. We heard tiny baby meows and rejoiced the day Tabby became a mother.

She gave birth to six kittens but one of them died a few hours after birth. She mourned her dead child but soon got her wits together to tend to her other kittens. We buried the tiny kitten outside our house. Life went on and we had kitten running amok in our home.

It was hilarious and touching at the same time. I saw that Tabby had undergone a change in her demeanour overnight. Gone was the feisty little kitten who jumped and played silly tricks with us. She was suddenly serene and majestic, guarding her brood and humouring them as they played and tumbled about her.

It was obvious that we couldn’t continue having so many cats in our home. We thought about giving them away but couldn’t muster the heart to separate the feline family while the kittens were so young. So my dad suggested that we relocate them all to his office yard, till they are a little older. I was sad to see them go but I got to visit them a few times before each of the kittens found new homes. One day dad gave us the sad news that Tabby had died in an accident. I was devastated and cried for hours into my pillow.

It’s funny I hadn’t thought about her for a long time. But as I wrote this post, the warm fuzzy feeling of hugging a cuddly cat came rushing back. I got transported to those days when I would come home from school and Tabby would jump on my bed waiting for me to cuddle her in my arms. She is one of the many ‘persons’ who have touched my life fleetingly and left lasting pleasant memories.

Thank you Zainab, for saying C is for Cat.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

B is for Blah Blah...

I have never been big on talking. My mother says I started talking very early and just wouldn’t stop. I would talk and talk and talk but only in the comfort of my family circle. In front of guests or outsiders, I would be one of those children who would speak only when spoken to.

The years rolled by and even though I would talk a lot among my friends and on the phone with them, I was not a confident talker. I was bad at telling stories and I usually didn’t know how to come to the point. More often than not, when I tried to debate with someone on a topic, the reasoning came out all wrong. Not the way it was in my mind.

Ironically, I loved participating in speech competitions. I used to work hard at preparing for them, practicing for hours in front of a mirror till I got every line and expression perfect. I have won a couple too, not because I’m a good speaker, but because I practiced so hard. It gave me a thrill to stand in front of a listening crowd and deliver my speech. I would be extremely nervous and feel faint even, thinking of what I’m going to do, but ultimately it was like getting a high. And I loved that.

Around this time I came across a prayer in the Holy Quran - Chapter 20 (Surah Taha), verses 25 to 28. The Almighty God commands the Prophet Moses to go the Pharoah to call him to the right path. It is believed that the Prophet had a problem with his speech, and hence before going to the Pharoah he prayed to God.

"O my Lord! Expand my breast; Ease my task for me; And remove the impediment from my speech, So they may understand what I say.”

This prayer touched a chord with me the moment I read it. Since that day I have recited this prayer every single day of my life, randomly and particularly, when I have something important to say, either to a crowd or to an individual.

I’m a listener. I love listening. I would remember my friends talking about how they get so bored in those boring dinner parties where their moms and the other aunties would just talk and talk. But I remember enjoying those times. I would happily sit at the periphery of such groups and hope that no one asks me anything. I would be content in just listening to them talk. It was fascinating to study the different people and the various personalities that society holds. I rarely took note of what they wore or how pretty they looked. I’m not a very good observer like that. But I would take note of the way they spoke and how they spoke it. I could make out honesty and the lack of it. I would notice subtle hints in their talk about what their lives were about. It was fascinating.

Today, I don’t attend such dinner parties because the social life I have after marriage is vastly different from that of my younger days. My best friends, the ones I would speak to for hours in my school days, now live far away. We’ve all gotten so busy with our lives that those long conversations have become few and far between, but thankfully are still alive. I’ve come to realise that I have no patience for chit chat anymore. I can manage a few minutes of polite conversation but mindless banter annoys me. I also have no patience for people who repeat things – again and again. It is such a huge waste of time. There are just too many people out there who painstakingly spell things out, things that are understood and don’t need to be put into words. I get so annoyed when that happens, I wish I could hurry the person up. The only people who are allowed to get away with spelling things out are kids.

When my daughter Zainab started to talk, I realised she was going to be very different from me. She also began early and started talking and talking. Her vocabulary grew in leaps and bounds and she spoke clear grammatically correct sentences in Hindi when other kids her age were still learning to say Mama. More than her vocabulary, her thought process amazed us. She was a keen observer and would use new words in her speech all the time. Even if she doesn’t know what some word means, I have found her trying to use the new word in almost every sentence, till it became a part of her speech. Sometimes she will be busy playing with her toys or watching television while her father and I will be having a conversation, and a little later she will mention something that we spoke about, even though we had no idea she was paying attention to us.

Zainab is turning 3 in May. Someone told me recently that Zainab has the vocabulary of a 10 year old. That might be an exaggeration but is it very close to the truth. Just a few weeks ago her playgroup teacher said the same thing about her though process and how bright she was. She also said that Zainab is quite a composed child because she often sees her ‘explaining’ things to the other children or helping them with their games. She is composed at home, at least not most of the time. She is like a regular boisterous little toddler who needs constant attention and entertaining. When she paints, she paints her face and hands more than she paints on the paper. When she’s making ‘towers’ with her building blocks, she is also throwing the blocks right across the room in order to make a big mess, just the way she likes it. When the ads appear on television she watches awe struck, and has now learnt to sing/speak along with almost all the ad jingles and brand tag lines. I’ve often heard her say which she is deep in play, “Dil jo chahe paas laye.” Or “I’m lovin it!”

She started speaking English a few months ago. We consciously chose for her to learn English as a second language because we wanted her to be fluent in her mother tongue first. That achieved, we began speaking to her in English. My husband and I speak to each other in English, so Zainab already understood the language. She loves speaking English. She tries to speak in English all the time. Even if she can’t find the right words she will say something to get her point across. It’s wonderful to see how she is learning the language, almost on her own.

Out of the blue, a few days ago, we found that she suddenly developed a speech problem. We are not sure if it is something to worry about or something that will solve on its own. We are going to speak to an expert about it and see how we can help her overcome it as soon as possible. It breaks my heart but I know we have to be strong about whatever it is. Until then, I find myself constantly reciting my favourite prayer.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A is for Ache...

When I became a mom for the first time, it was like opening the doors wide open for all types of aches and pain to set shop inside my body. I suddenly felt like I was in someone else’s body. It felt old, tired and abused. The C-section was traumatic because I never expected something of that sort. And apart from the surgery pain, which stayed for a loooooong time, my muscles were all weak and devoid of energy. And this blasted hip ache started that continues to plague me.

I went through the new-mom-depression phase for a while too. I wondered why people want to go through all this to have kids. Why do they want to kill their strong bodies by putting themselves though the crazy pregnancy-delivery process? Why do they want to completely change the lives they were leading and devote every moment to a screaming tiny newborn? Why do you want to forsake sleep and leisurely baths and other fun stuff to this human being that came out of your body? And to top it all, it is a thankless job. You are supposed to do it. Because you are a mom.

At the same time, I was horrified at myself for having these thoughts. Why didn’t I naturally love being a mom? Why didn’t my love just overflow from my heart and banish all these negative thoughts? Weren’t moms meant to be made of unconditional love? What was wrong with me??!!

Thankfully, that phase lasted for only a couple of weeks and I was converted when I finally fell in love with my baby. My beautiful baby girl Zainab. She slowly taught me what it meant to become a mom. She taught me unconditional love. She gave me all the answers to why people have children. And slowly everything became worth it. The sleepless nights, the constant crying, the fussy meal times, the physical exertion, the absence of a social life... it was all worth it. Because I was a mom.

Now apart from the physical aches that were present, I realised another ache. One that hurt much much more. The aches in my heart that I got when my darling little girl got hurt. Or when she struggled with something. Each time I would wish I could wish away her pain. Or physically remove the pain from her body and place it in mine. Her vaccination days made me weep long before and long after the pricks. Every tooth that sprouted through her gums made me instinctively place my hand on my own jaw wondering how bad it must be for her. When she was around 10 months she had a bad case of constipation. It broke my heart to see her body go rigid and her face all contorted as she cried out for me to do something to help her. It’s heart-wrenching to see your child suffer. And it’s amazing that parents suddenly become so vulnerable to aches when it comes to their child.

Every day is a test when you are a parent. Today I have another reason for my heart to get all knotted up with pain and fear. Another reason to have the tears spilling over my cheeks at the most inconvenient of times. I won’t get into the details in this post; I’ll save it for another time. But when Zainab is older, I want her to know that her mom is going to be there for her every step of the way. It’s all just part of the surprises life keeps throwing up. Like hurdles in a race. This too shall pass, sweetheart.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Heat, Kids and Writing

Mumbai’s heat is getting to me. This year, instead of the climate slowly changing from not-so-hot to somewhat-hot to kinda-hot to really-hot, nature decided to scream ‘SURPRISE PEOPLE’ and overnight (literally) the weather changed from not-so-hot to really-truly-hot. And I can’t handle it! Living in Bangalore for over four years spoilt me and I forgot there were places on earth where heat ruled like a fire-fisted dictator. This heat is making me wish I were an ice-cube sitting squarely in the ice tray of my freezer. It is making me crave flimsy malmal clothing that will lovingly let the air in and stop this meltdown. I want to sit all day long in a bubbly bathtub with the fresh clean smell of lemon and mint around me. Sigh. As much as I love you, oh dear city, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to deal with your blazing, overwhelming, bheja-frying heat and the sticky-itchy-sweaty feeling you give me whenever I find myself in a non-air-conditioned environment . What to do?

Apart from the heat, something else is driving me up the wall the past couple of days. No time to write. Even when there is time, there is no concentration. Too many distractions. Mostly in the form of one toddler and one infant. Even when they are asleep I have no peace. Why is she so restless? Why doesn’t his cold go away already? Why has she lost her appetite? What should I pack in her lunch box tomorrow? Should I start him on Cerelac next month or some homemade concoction? I really need to buy them some new clothes. She needs a white T-shirt to go with those shorts. Things like these are on my mind all the time and it’s not helping that my kids have been unwell for quite some time now. I’ve been taking them to the paediatrician so often now that I’ve become the main contributor to the doctor’s income.

But writing is what I need to do to stay sane. Especially since I have this story for a novel bouncing around in my head. Not just bouncing, it actually feels like its throwing itself onto the inner walls of my mind and making a huge ruckus. Like a claustrophobic lunatic trying to find his way out of a small windowless room. I better let him out before he does some serious damage to himself.

This claustrophobic lunatic is, in reality, my muse. He’s a bit like me. As in, I’m claustrophobic and I’m a self-proclaimed lunatic. Occasionally, at least. But otherwise he is very different from who I am. When he gets his genius ideas, he can’t sit still. He will hop and jump and whoop loudly and sometimes shout eureka. I have to quieten him down when he gets this way. He can be very pushy. He usually wins arguments about the writing so I have learnt to just shut up when he’s dictating. But on some days he turns into another person altogether. He gets fat and lazy and absolutely refuses to get any work done. I have to beg and plead, and then when I’ve lost my patience I threaten him. It doesn’t always work. I call those the ‘dry days’, when I haven’t written anything at all. But on our good days, when the ink from are pens are flowing forth, we are able to work amicably and churn out something decent.

Writers really are a crazy bunch of people. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on inside our heads, so we decide to live in our own self-created parallel universes instead of living in the real world. This piece supports my theory. I wish I could explain to people how important it is to give me a little time to myself so I can write. But with one hand balancing the baby on my hip and the other holding onto the toddler’s chubby little hand, I hardly think my request will be taken seriously. Even my muse finds it amusing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grim post for a depressing day

Bahrain, the country where I grew up, is in the midst of a law and order situation at the moment. Anti-government protesters have started attacking both police and civilians, blocking roads and causing mayhem in this otherwise peaceful country. Things are spiralling out of control and people have been advised to stay indoors. I am fearful for my family and friends who are living in the midst of this chaos. When I told mom that she and dad should think about coming back to India, she said, “If something has to happen it can happen anywhere.”

Bahrain is a tiny little island country that I considered very very peaceful. That was probably because I lived in an ignorant little expat bubble. But never has something to this effect happened before. It just goes to show that anything can happen anywhere.

I’ve had two experiences that I believe can be classified as near death experienced. It’s not like I think about these incidences on a daily basis. But when I do, I remember to thank God that I am alive today. They made me realise how close death is to us all the time. Walking with us like a shadow, ready to snap us up in an instant. Like most of you, I too believed firmly that death was a distant foggy eventuality that will occur when I’m nearly a 100. These two incidences shook me out of my reverie.

On 1st October, 2002, around 10 am, I was sitting in the balcony of my parent’s house in Goa. It was the year I had graduated and instead of continuing my studies in Mumbai, I decided to come home and look at my options there. Mom and I would usually spend some time in the balcony after breakfast. On this particular day she was speaking to my dad over the phone, while I was going through the morning newspaper. She finished her conversation, switched off the cordless phone and looked up to see two navy planes in the sky. The airport is close by so the sound of planes landing and taking off is a constant. As I read the newspaper, I heard her say, “It’s falling! It’s falling!” I look up and see a plane headed towards us! That moment is frozen in my memory forever. The nose of the plane. It was right in front of me. Or at least it looked that way.

Even as we stood up and made towards the front door, I wondered why we were running when death was chasing us at such a speed. At the speed of a plane. By the time we reached the front door, the plane had already flown past the top of our house,the mosque nearby and crashed into a recently completed bungalow beyond it. A mushroom-shaped ball of fire rose into the air, just like in the movies, I thought.

The bungalow belonged to some family friends. They were due to move in to their new home shortly. We later learnt that two naval planes collided in mid-air. My mother watched the first one turn nose down and the other head towards us. All the 12 individuals aboard the two planes were instantly killed, along with 3 on the ground.

If that plane has hit the ground 3 seconds earlier, it could have been our home.

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On 9th May 2009 I was at my parent’s home again for 2 months, with my 1 year old daughter. We usually slept in the downstairs bedroom but the air conditioner wasn’t working so we slept in an upstairs bedroom. Only my grandma was sleeping in her room on the ground floor. Saturday night, I woke up a little after 1 AM when my daughter stirred in her sleep. She usually needed a bottle of milk in the night and I decided to heat the milk and be back before she woke up completely. I’m generally quite scared of moving around a big house in the middle of the night and I would have woken my mom up to do the needful, but she was sleeping so peacefully that I decided to go downstairs on my own.

I probably was downstairs only for 2 minutes. Mom always keeps a dim light on in centre room so that the house is never in complete darkness. I went to the kitchen, heated up some milk and took it upstairs. After feeding my daughter, I fell asleep soon. I woke up when the alarm clock rang at 5:30 AM and I saw mom going downstairs. After 2 minutes I could hear her shouting. I grabbed my sleeping child and ran downstairs. Mom was is the bedroom downstairs and saying something loudly which I couldn’t really grasp. My grandma who was woken up from her slumber was looking confused. I walked into the room and it sank in. Every drawer and cupboard door was open and the things within were ransacked. There were things strewn on the bed, mostly empty jewellery boxes.

The robbers got away with a lot of gold and some cash. Artificial jewellery was inspected and left behind on the bed. I guess we were dealing with expert thieves. A briefcase containing passports and important documents was missing too but discovered later behind the house.

The thieves broke open 3 doors to get into the house, entering from the kitchen. How they managed all this without waking anyone up is a mystery. Someone from the nearby mosque mentioned that they saw a car parked near the house after midnight but didn’t think anything could be fishy. The police did the whole investigating shebang - from finger printing, sniffer dog, to questioning suspects but arrived at zilch.

But what really rattles me up, every time I think about it, is – were they in the house when I went down to heat the milk? Or were they hiding just beyond the kitchen door and waiting for me to go back upstairs? What if I had come face to face with them? I guess it doesn’t matter now because it’s all in the past. Yet I can’t help but think sometimes – what if?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Short Story: Coming of Age

I wrote this last year. It is based on real events that took place in the life of someone I know.
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“Zaid? What happened to you, son?”

It was Ibrahim, the salesman at Zaid’s grandfather’s garment shop. He lived a few doors away from the store.

Holding the 15-year-old by his arm, Ibrahim ushered the quivering boy into his home.

“Put on your clothes. Didn’t you hear about the attack that occurred last night? You should have stayed home.”

Zaid answered in monosyllables. He hadn’t realised he was freezing; he was still carrying his warm clothes under his arm with his books. Soon there were several people around him. They were Ibrahim’s family, most of whom Zaid recognised vaguely. Someone sat him down on the heavy woollen carpet, placing some extra cushions behind his back. But he couldn’t sit comfortably; his rear hurt too much. He wished he could stand up again without offending the person who had so kindly placed the cushions for him. Someone put a blanket over his shoulders. Someone gave him a tiny cup of piping hot kahwa. Everyone spoke in tense and sympathetic whispers.

“Drink. You will feel better,” said an old man, shaking his head in sorrow.

Zaid did as he was told. The tiny cup was being refilled. The saffron tea warmed him, but also made him aware of the blinding pain that radiated from his bruises. He was embarrassed to be among these kind people who fussed over him. He masked his pain, displaying no discomfort and thanking people randomly.

He finished his third, maybe fourth, cup of kahwa and slowly stood up.

“I’ll go home now. Thank you,” he said again.

The people around him exchanged worried looks. Ibrahim spoke then.

“You can’t go back the way you have come. They’ll finish you off. I’ll come with you across the river. After that, take the Nawa Kadal bridge back across the river and go straight home. Do you understand?”

Zaid nodded, only dimly registering the instructions. An old lady in the room recited some prayers for his safety. She came forward and touched his cheek. He nodded to everyone and left.

They stepped outside; the cold air instantly gave some clarity to Zaid’s thoughts. Ibrahim hurried Zaid down the road and then down the steps where the bridge had once proudly stretched across. “Had it been burnt down only a week ago?” Zaid thought. Things seemed to be changing so quickly, he couldn’t believe it was the same sleepy valley of his childhood. So much of Kashmir had changed beyond recognition, right in front of his eyes.

The Aali Kadal bridge was one of the nine bridges that helped people cross the Jhelum, the river that ran through the valley and divided the city of Srinagar into two parts. Zaid had been taking the Aali Kadal bridge everyday to reach his classes, but it had been burnt down by militants recently under the cover of darkness. A three-minute boat ride in a naav, a boat that could seat at least fifteen people, for five rupees per person was the only option left to commuters whenever one of the beautiful wooden bridges was burnt to a cinder.

A thick rope now stretched across the river in place of the bridge. Once Ibrahim and Zaid clambered into the boat the boatman guided the boat across by tugging onto the rope. Zaid watched as the boatman steadied the boat and tugged at the rope with effort, keeping the boat from being carried away by the rushing icy waters. He kept his eyes on the young man’s energy, watching him single-handedly battle the hurrying tide to get the boat safely to the other bank. The man frowned and huffed, letting out a low grunt with each mighty tug. Zaid tried to get his mind to focus on the tugging. He knew he must not think about anything else now or his emotions would easily get the better of him. He forced his thoughts to go blank, swaying gently with the boat, as the water flowed hastily below him.

On the other side, Ibrahim walked Zaid up the steps and repeated his earlier instructions, telling him to take care. He then walked back down to the waiting boat and waved to Zaid as the boatman pulled away, the grunts barely audible to Zaid now.

Zaid hurried across the lanes of Rehbab Sahib and took a U-turn at the lane where his classes were held. The area was almost as deserted as Aali Kadal. He looked up at his teacher’s window; it was shut and the curtains drawn. He headed towards the Nawa Kadal bridge, which mercifully, the militants had spared. He tried to run across the bridge, irrationally imagining the militants setting the bridge on fire behind him. But he was in no state to run. He hobbled and his shoes made loud knocking sounds on the wood. He was sure the soldiers would hear the sound and chase after him, to finish him off, as Ibrahim had said.

If you stop or turn to look at us, I will kill you. The words echoed in his ears. Or did he hear them spoken behind him? He walked faster, not daring to turn back and confirm his fears.

Zaid struggled the whole distance home, fear overtaking the pain and the cold. He reached Narwara where nothing seemed amiss. People went about their daily business like nothing had happened. The Border Security Force had probably not bothered this part of town. His eyes misted over with tears when his home came into sight. He would be safe inside. He carefully covered his face with his muffler. He didn’t want to startle anyone with his bruises.

He entered the heavy metal gate and walked down the pebbled path up to his three-storey house. The original house had been built by his great-grandfather in the 1920s, the extra storeys being added by subsequent generations to accommodate the expanding family. His family shared the house with 5 other families consisting of his father’s brothers, unmarried sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, and uncles and aunts.

The door was ajar. Zaid stepped inside the threshold and took off his shoes, placing them in the shoe rack under the staircase. He noticed there was a flurry of activity happening; some of his aunts were getting ready to go out. He caught snatches of their conversation.

“The funeral is after the Asr prayer.”

“We better hurry.”

“Where is my grey dupatta?”

“May Allah give strength to his family.”

Zaid gathered that there had been a death in the family and his mother and aunts were going to the deceased’s house, ahead of the men, to pay their condolences.

Zaid decided to escape to his room. He climbed the stairs trying not limp. His mother was hurrying down the stairs while securing her head scarf with a pin. She passed him, lost in her own thoughts.

“Namra, please bring my purse with you when you come downstairs. Zaid?”

Oh! She had noticed him. Zaid turned to look at his mother, his face still hidden behind the muffler. Zarina was looking at her son in concern. She probably noticed a limp.

“Zaid? Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? I’m just going up to my room.”

“Did something happen to you?”

“What are you talking about, mamma? You’re going to get late. I’ll see you later.”

With that Zaid climbed the stairs and fled to his room. Someone pulled his mother towards the front door, telling her that they were already late. She would confront Zaid when she was back, she promised herself.

Zaid entered his room and shut the door, locking it. He took off his muffler and pheran and lay down on the beautiful red and beige carpet that was spread from wall to wall. He would have to tell his mother when she got back home later; there was no way to hide his injuries. But until then, he wanted to be alone. He stared at the white ceiling and the ceiling fan that had been unused for almost three months. He thought about what he had lived through this morning. Haphazard images flashed in front of him. He felt a scream rising from his chest. But it stuck in his throat, chocking him. Tears spilled from his eyes, wetting his hair and the carpet below him.

This is not the life I choose to lead, Zaid told himself. Just one more year, and I will free myself from this madness.


Earlier that morning...

Zaid hurried down the road shivering in the biting cold of a January morning. He didn’t want to be late for his science tuitions again today. Yesterday he had arrived just 10 minutes late and had received a stern warning from Yunus Sir. He quickened his pace but the chill hit him with even more force. His multiple layers of clothing seemed insignificant protection against the frosty chills of Kashmir.

He was dressed in the customary pheran, a loose fitting overcoat that flapped in the icy breeze. Under it he wore a heavy woollen sweater over his shirt and trousers. The maroon muffler his mother had knitted last winter was wrapped around his head and the lower part of his face and kept his teeth from chattering. His hands were drawn into the pheran, holding his books close to his chest as he ran along the route he had been taking daily for a month now.

The new school session would begin in March and Zaid’s parents wanted him to be well prepared for it. His mother always said, “You must score high marks in your exams this time.” He wanted to ask her if his previous scores had not been high enough for her, but he would just nod. She would smile and plant a kiss on his cheek and carry on with her chores.

His mother, Zarina, was a housewife who had given up the perks of a teaching career at a government school to take care of her husband’s ailing parents. She was hardworking and amiable, loved by all in the household. Everyone vied for her attention, and Zaid seemed to receive very little of it at the end of the day.

Zaid had always been a high achiever at school, but strangely in never seemed like it was enough. His father maintained that he expected more from his only son.

“You are capable of much more, Zaid. You need to put in your best efforts. If only you wouldn’t waste time in front of the television.”

If only he had not been so interested in playing cricket with his rowdy friends, if only he would concentrate, if only he had an ambition, if only.... It was always some rebuke or the other. Zaid gritted his teeth, wishing he had the nerve to stand up to his father and tell him to just leave me alone, dammit.

He knew that was something he could never do. Etiquettes, in the conservative family he belonged to, did not allow him to look his father in the eye, let alone raise his voice in rebellion. It was unheard of for children to argue with their elders. Old-school decorum and family-taught values were revered and followed to the letter. At least it was assumed that they were.

Things hadn’t changed much in their home for years. Kashmiris devotedly followed their customs, keeping them alive for generations to come. Though they competed with one another on the scale and quality of their children’s weddings, the dowries they sent with their daughters, the size and beauty of their houses, and several other material possessions like clothes and jewellery, they shielded all these frivolities carefully within the boundaries of age old traditions and the respected customs of their forefathers.

He sprinted in the freezing air, his mind jumping from one thought to the other till he realised he had reached Aali Kadal. He was about 200 metres away from the river when he noticed that the lanes were deserted except for the usual Border Security Force soldiers. Patrolling BSF personnel were a common yet intimidating sight in Srinagar.

Things hadn’t changed much in Kashmiri households, but everything had changed outside those homes. The recent insurgency had altered the lives of Kashmiris entirely. He hardly remembered how it had felt to walk these lanes without any army presence. Curfews, gun shots, and grenade attacks were common occurrences these days. But the sound of gun fire, even from a distance, was something Zaid knew he would never get used to. He waited for the day he would finish his schooling and leave this beautiful, disturbed land which he loved so dearly. He wanted to be away from everything his life represented now, dreaming of a life free from fear and control.

“Hey, hero! Come here,” called a soldier sternly, stepping forward from a strategically placed bunker in the narrow lane that led to the bridge.

Zaid had seen the soldiers but wanted to hurry past them without drawing any attention. His grand-father’s store was just down the same road, right before the river. He hoped he had enough time to stop by the store and say hello before rushing off for his classes. It had been a while since he met babajan. But it looked liked the soldiers wanted to make conversation with him. He was going to be so late!

Zaid stopped and turned to face the soldiers. Three pairs of eyes fixed their gaze on him. Only then did he notice the shattered glass windows, the debris, the partly destroyed bunker, and the blood stains on the tar road. There must have been a grenade attack here, thought Zaid, understanding why the lanes were empty. A couple of windows opened a crack from the surrounding houses, fearful eyes peering down at him.

The soldiers walked towards him. Zaid sensed anger in their eyes. Anger and grief. He wondered if someone had died in the attack.

“Take off your muffler. What’s your name?”

“Zaid.”

“Where are you going?”

“For my tuitions... across the river.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’ve seen you passing through this street every morning. What have you got under your pheran? Show us your hands.”

“I’m carrying my books,” Zaid said quietly freeing his right hand and showing it to them. As he tried to remove his other hand while holding on to his books, the soldier raised the butt of his rifle and struck Zaid’s left arm with it. The books tumbled from under the pheran onto the ground.

Stunned, Zaid bent down to pick his books up. A powerful kick to his rear sent him hurtling to the ground face first. The assault began then. Kicks, punches, slaps, and hits from their rifles rained down on him. Zaid had no time to understand or to react to the situation. It took him a minute to find his voice and he began to plead to them, telling them he was just a student, he hadn’t done anything. But the mauling intensified. They couldn’t hear him above their own fury. They shouted out profanities and yelled at him to removing his outer clothing, wanting him to feel the full force of their blows.

Zaid took off his pheran and his sweater and dropped them to the ground. In his shirt and trousers now, Zaid continued to plead, pointing to his books lying scattered at his feet. He tried to reason with them, knowing that it would make no difference. He was faintly aware of warm pee running down his legs, wetting his trousers. It brought a sense of reality to the absurdity of what was happening.

It felt like an eternity had passed. Zaid wondered if they would take his body home after they killed him. Or would they just dispose of it somewhere? Ten minutes of torture later they were done.

“Pick up your things and run,” barked a soldier cocking his gun at Zaid. “If you stop or turn to look at us, I will kill you.”

Tears streaming, Zaid picked up his books and clothes and limped away from where the soldiers stood, smouldering pain slowly rising from his injuries. He kept walking
without looking back, expecting the sound of a gunshot to slice through the cold air.

He shambled along the road, still heading towards the river. A few minutes later he was still alive. The soldiers had spared him. He shuffled on aimlessly taking the same route he had taken every day to his classes.

He heard some shouts ahead and a BSF search party of about twelve soldiers materialised from the curve of the road. They were heading towards him. They were on a rampage, shattering the glass windows of shops and houses on both sides as they trudged down the lane. Zaid trembled thinking about what they could do to him. But he kept ambling along, as fast as his swollen limbs would let him.

They saw him. A soldier among them held his gaze for a second. Zaid tore his eyes away, choosing to stare at his feet instead. The soldier laughed, noticing his bruises, and a few of his comrades joined in the laughter. Zaid held his breath and walked past them as they jeered.

Zaid began breathing again once he was out of their sight. He reached his grandfather’s shop, but it was shuttered like all the other shops in the area. He heard a door open behind him and someone call out his name. It was Ibrahim.

Zaid shut his eyes now, as he lay on the thick carpet of his room, his tears dried up but hair and ears still wet. He didn’t want to think anymore. Sleep enveloped him gradually, and he let his thoughts drift to the blissful freedom of only a few years ago.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

I wanted to write a poem for International Women’s Day. I tried a couple of times but nothing inspiring came to me. Then I came across this poem by Maya Angelou on this blog. I had read it years ago but it got lost in the corridors of time. I can’t think of anything that would be more befitting as a blog post on this day. So whether you are male or female, old or young, black or white, rich or poor – read this. And take pride in who you are. I hope it has the same effect on you as it has on me, every time I read it. Happy Women’s Day everyone!

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Super-Nanny Wanted

Disclaimer: No offence meant to anyone who has or has gone through a life-threatening disease. Nor to someone who has seen a loved one suffer. Offence is meant, however, to the loony ones like me who perpetually play tragedy queens in their boring lives.

You’ll have to get a sonography done.

That’s what my gynaecologist told me last week when I went to her about a persistent problem. I shrugged and said okay. It sounded a bit ominous, but I really wasn’t worried. In fact, I wondered what would happen if the report showed I had a life-threatening disease. Instead of the thought scaring me, it kind of... well... sounded pretty cool. Does that make me morbid? Or just a really weird person?

I caught myself day dreaming about how the doctor would study the report, frown and study it for a few minutes. Then she would look at me concerned and break the unfortunate news to me gently. I would look at her shocked, unable to think. The good doctor would press her lips together and give me her practiced sympathetic look.
Deciding to be strong about it, I would look at her and ask rationally, “What are my options?”

She would rattle off a list of tests, procedures and therapies that would have to be conducted immediately. “But you have to understand,” she would switch her tone from professional to sympathetic again, “there is no guarantee. We can only delay the inevitable.”

With this optimistic thought in my mind I would walk out in a daze and wonder what to tell my family. What would hubby say? More importantly, what would he think? Would he start making plans of marrying again once I’m out of the picture? Naturally, Wife Bina Life wouldn’t appeal to him much, considering there are two little issues (as they call them in matrimonial ads) to take care of.

But what about me? Do I want him to remarry? Hmmm... that’s a tricky one. My answer would have been an outright NO if we didn’t have kids. I mean, why should he when he can spend his free time praying that he joins me as soon as possible, in heaven or whichever place I’m enrolled for in ‘ever after land’. But the equation changes when there are kids to think about. They need parents, right? Not just a dad, who in all likelihood, will continue being at work 16 hours a day. And suddenly, just like that, I’m playing Kajol’s character in ‘We Are Family’. Or rather, Susan Sarandon’s role in ‘Stepmom’, which, by the way, is a movie that I looooooved.

I wondered who could fit the stepmom’s role in my kids’ lives. No one I know at least. What kind of person should she be? If I am going to kick the bucket soon, I would really like to recruit a person for the job well in advance.

This is the requirement:

1. Most definitely, NOT sexy and svelte. She must NOT be fat either but should have at least a slight problem maintaining her weight which tends to sit on her thighs more than other places.
2. She should be reasonably healthy otherwise and devoid of any life-threatening disease.
3. She must NOT have thick glossy hair. Her hair must be slightly rough, of medium length and she should have a bad hair day at least three times a week.
4. She should NOT be instantly endearing. My kids should dislike her slightly at first and then slowly warm up to her kind ways.
5. She has to be a super cook who insists on eating the healthiest food, made from scratch. None of that ready-made nonsense. Please refer to this post for more details on the same. She must bake.
6. She should have some experience working with little kids. Like a governess or sorts who has worked in one of these new age schools who know exactly how to deal with errant children. Just a firm and unflinching voice that reasons rather than scolds, and the kids will magically turn into angelic little cherubs.

In short, I want a not-so-attractive super nanny.

Come to think of it, my hubby needn’t remarry after all. Super-nanny can be just that – a nanny. A paid one. Brilliant. Stepmom can so kindly go take a hike. Of course, hubby will have to be convinced about there being no need to remarry, but he’ll give in eventually. One has to fulfil the wishes of a woman on her deathbed, right?

So then, point #7 will be.

7. She must be a widow in her fifties, religious, with absolutely no interest in younger men. Or any men for that matter.

On second thoughts, I would not even have to die for super-nanny to enter the household. Yay!

So when I actually went to the doctor’s office with the scan report, and she frowned when she looked at it, I got a little worried. I’m not ready to die yet, I wanted to tell her. Let me live a few more years in comfort since super-nanny will be taking care of the kids and home, while I relax with hubby on a beach in Maldives. But then I saw her smile and say, “It doesn’t look like anything is wrong. No need to worry at all.”

Okay, then. No problem. Then, why am I feeling slightly disappointed? Where’s the fun in telling everyone that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me? I guess I was kind of getting used to the idea of being the tragic heroine in the movie of my daydreams.

Oh well, at least super-nanny’s awesome made-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies will cheer me up.

P.S.: Those of you who fit the description mentioned in the post, please send in your resumes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kitchen Banter

Today I made some pizzas. Actually, you can say I ‘assembled’ the pizzas and heated them in the oven. ‘Assembling’ consisted of buying ready pizza bases from Monginis, spreading Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce, adding sliced chicken sausages that were lying in my freezer, putting in some chopped capsicum, shredded processed cheddar cheese (I had cheddar so didn’t bother buying mozzarella) and finally topping it all with sliced black olives – straight out of a jar. This master piece was then heated in the oven till it could pass off as respectable pizza.

I served it with a flourish at tea time being mighty pleased with myself, considering all the effort that when into ‘assembling’ it. My daughter immediately refused to eat it unless ALL the toppings were taken off. After much deliberation (read threatening) we reached a truce and only the sausages and capsicum came off.

The MIL, who was feeding the ungrateful little child, said “The bread is ready-made, na?” I smiled weakly and nodded. In our household ‘ready-made’ is a bad word. Ready-made. Ready-maid. Like when one talks about a person being ‘easy’. *wink, wink* And the use of these ‘easy’ items amounts to cheating in cooking. There was a time when I would make the pizza from scratch - knead the bread dough, cook up a luscious red tomato and oregano sauce and use freshly cooked chicken pieces. But those were the carefree days, when cooking was not a chore, it was an art form.

For some who grew up in Bahrain on a hugely unhealthy diet of frozen meat products, packaged munchies, school canteen sandwiches and weekly take-out dinners, I learnt that cooking needn’t be a big pain. You just need to know how to manipulate the original recipe by using the various products available in supermarkets. And voila! You can dish out scrumptious dishes with minimum time and effort expended. Though I loved cooking when I was younger, I quickly realised that I only enjoyed it when the recipes were super easy. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind spend hours in the kitchen when consuming the results only takes minutes?

So tomatoes got replaced by packaged tomato purée, real coconut got beaten down by its powdered and desiccated clones, lemon juice came out of a bottle, and everything got a dose of that wonderful magic ingredient – chicken stock that comes in a cute little packaged cube.

Well, as fate would have it, I got married into a family who doggedly believed that food must be as fresh as fresh can be. If the chicken was not walking around on its own an hour before it was served on the table, it is inedible. Frozen or packaged food were looked upon as the freaky, tattoo sporting punk distant cousins of ‘real’ food. Ready-to-cook food like instant noodles were eyed supiciously, as if they would instantly wreak havoc in unsuspecting bellies.

Right after my marriage when hubby and I were trying to settle into our new home in Bangalore and I was learning the ropes of managing a kitchen all by myself, I brought home a pack of tomato purée. I told him this would save me time in the morning before rushing to work – I don’t have to chop tomatoes or wait for them to soften before adding the other ingredients. He looked at me incredulously, like I was a mad woman talking and finally said, “You have got to be kidding me!” I tried reasoning with him and when that didn’t work, I turned the tables on him and looked at him like he was the crazy one, saying I used this all the time in Bahrain. He smiled and said as sweetly as possible, “That was in the freaking desert! This is Bangalore. You get fresh vegetables here, sweetheart.”

And that was that.

However, after five years of steady brain-washing I have succeeded in getting him to go easy on my ready-made cookery. Okay, actually we’ve met half somewhere halfway. I now try and use the ‘ready-maids’ sparingly and occasionally. Sometimes I do cheat and add them when no one’s watching, telling them to hush when they giggle and gurgle in the gravies.

After having kids I’ve realised how important it is to eat healthy and now I’ve started obsessing about them eating the freshest of the fresh. And when my daughter points to packet of munchies in the grocery store, I look at her and say, “You have got to be kidding me!”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Turning 30

One of the many reasons I love Facebook is that today it made me feel like a superstar.

I turned 30 today, which in itself is a depressing fact. It was difficult enough reconciling with the fact that I’m no longer a teenager. All of the sudden nature conspires against me by making me 30. Where did the last decade vanish? Oh yeah, I was busy graduating, getting married, learning to cook, finding a job, trying to get pregnant, having a miscarriage, finally having a baby, being terrorised by the baby, moving cities, and finally having a second baby. Whoa! No wonder my twenties whizzed by. I completely forgot to stop and smell the roses.

Coming back to Facebook, I am truly touched and humbled with the numerous wishes flooding my wall. More so because I am very very very bad at wishing people on their birthdays and anniversaries. Firstly, I’m bad at remembering dates. Other than my own birthday, that is. Secondly, I guess I am just plain lazy. I mean, the names are there staring at me every single day on Facebook and I choose to ignore them. Today, was an eye opener for me. Some of the people who wished me are on my friends list, but aren’t really my ‘friends’. You know how it is. I probably just added them because we went to the same school. Or because she is someone’s brother’s wife’s cousin who I once chatted with at a wedding. We added each to our respective friend lists, being happy in the knowledge that our number of supposed ‘friends’ is going up, but didn’t really bother to even say hi after responding to the friend request. Who can say that that’s wrong when the feeling is mutual?

But after receiving birthday wishes from almost everybody but Obama and Sanjeev Kapoor (yes, I admit it, the latter is on my list), I’m speechless. Thank you, everyone. Thank you for the wishes, love, regards, prayers, calls, messages, missed calls (sorry about that), everything that made an ordinary girl feel extraordinary. I now vow to stop being so damn selfish and take some time to bring a smile on my ‘friends’ faces when their big day comes up. I’m hoping these little gestures will help build some bridges and then we can finally stop being just another number in each other’s lists.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Still Alive and Kicking Folks

Life is crazy at the moment. 'When was it not?' I hear you all collectively say. Yes, but only a mom with 2 small kids will know what I'm talking about. Correction. Only a mom who has a child remotely like the fussy, cranky, moody, bossy, accident-prone, hurricane Z has turned out to be, will have an inkling of my whirlwind days.

For those of you who don’t know, I had a darling little baby boy on the 28th of October, 2010. Incidentally, his name starts with Z too so I have to figure out what to call each of them on this blog. Creative suggestions are welcome.

So while I scrounge around for time to collect my thoughts and put my efforts at being supermom up for display through this blog, I’ll leave you all to read a story I attempted a few months ago. Be kind with your comments... I'm a novice, for God's sake! :)Happy reading...

THE DREAM

PARADISE.... I MUST BE DEAD, THOUGHT SARAH.

Everything around was perfect and beautiful. The sky was a luminous shade of blue, expanding spotlessly as far as she could see. There was no sun in sight, yet sunlight seemed to touch everything. A gentle breeze caressed her skin, offering a hint of coolness to the pleasant warmth. She walked barefoot on a carpet of moist grass. Huge comforting trees sheltered her as she walked, urging her on with the gentle sway of their leaves. A clear stream gurgled a few feet away and delicate lavender flowers peppered her path. She could hear melodious sounds filter down through the lush foliage of the trees. She saw tiny bird-like creatures singing to her from the branches above. They chirped and sang their songs to her earnestly from every tree. The melodies reached her ears and formed clear meanings in her head. She understood them but wanted to plug her ears with her fingers and shut out the sounds. She didn’t want to hear… or to know.

The beauty around her did nothing to make her feel better. She was petrified. She wanted to stop, to turn around, to wake up. In a small corner of her conscious mind she was aware that this was just a dream. But a familiar feeling of helplessness gripped her, weakening her belief that this was unreal. As she walked she realised she was silently resisting something... what? She couldn’t see what she was fighting. There was an unmistakable force that made her keep walking. From a distance she saw a tree that appeared to be slightly illuminated. She knew she had to walk towards it, even though she didn’t want to. She could feel a scream threatening to escape her lips. An invisible fist tightened around her heart, intensifying her panic. But her legs continued to carry her forward...


Sarah woke up abruptly. She had an odd feeling of being between two places, between sleep and consciousness. She roused herself slowly, deliberately shaking off the images of her unconscious mind. She was in her bed, fully awake now, lying between her sleeping husband and their baby daughter.

The dream had recurred on and off for about a month. Persistent dreams disturbed her. But this time the dream did more than that. It terrified her. Sarah’s hands were cold with fear. She felt a tremor run through her body at the memory of what she had felt in the dream. It seemed to be revealing something to her slowly - bit by bit. Each time she felt she had walked a little further; seen the surroundings a little more clearly; felt a little more helpless.

Today, yet again, the dream had left Sarah emotionally drained, tired and numb with fear. Instinctively, she checked Nida. She was asleep and probably dreaming of angels, for she had an angelic hint of a smile on her tiny lips. There is a popular belief among Muslims that when babies smile or laugh in their sleep, they are in conversation with angels. Sarah softly kissed Nida’s forehead, reciting a quick prayer for her safety and happiness.

Nida used to wake up several times each night and Sarah struggled through those nights, rocking, singing and nursing her back to sleep. But thankfully, her 10-month-old had recently started sleeping well throughout the night.

Right around the time the dreams had begun, Sarah thought absently.

Sarah turned towards Yousif. He was fast asleep, evident by his snores. She snuggled close to her husband, trying to go back to sleep. But her thoughts kept wandering back to the dream.

Sarah was no stranger to the world of dreams. Thinking back, she believed she had spent half her life in this parallel world. She was both mesmerised and repelled by them. She was fascinated by them from a purely academic standpoint, being a student of psychology. But she hated the fact that they stole her peaceful sleep and replaced it with a cryptic maze of hidden messages that she had no choice but to psychoanalyse. She hated that, more often than not, the dreams tormented her with clear hints of the near future.

She shuddered involuntarily.

She didn’t get any sleep till well after 4 a.m.

“I had that dream again,” Sarah told Yousif over breakfast in the morning. He looked up from his parantha and cauliflower sabzi and raised an eyebrow.

Yousif was a man of few words. He didn’t really air his views unless he was compelled to. But after hearing the intensity of the dream, he was a little concerned.

“Isn’t this the fourth time? Sarah, you should speak to someone about it. At least talk to Ammi. You know how good she is at interpreting dreams.”

“Fifth. And yes, I thought about talking to her but I don’t want her to get worried. Not that there is anything to worry about...” she trailed off, suddenly remembering the feeling of helplessness. Steadying her voice, she looked at him pointedly. “I’ll go see her this afternoon.”

Sarah and Yousif owned an apartment in one of Bangalore’s most upmarket locations, and Yousif’s mother lived across the street from them with her eldest son Qasim, his wife Zeba and their 5-year-old son Ayaan.

Sarah was extremely fond of Ammi and vice versa, a fact that surprised both of them and everyone who knew them. Sarah had lost her own mother when she was five. Though her father took good care of them during their growing years, Sarah and her sister were often saddened by the absence of a mother’s love. This gaping maternal void that Sarah grew up with was easily filled by Ammi’s presence. They shared a relationship akin to that of a mother and daughter who had been close all their lives. They struck a chord from the very first day, when they met at a wedding six years ago. Sarah’s sensitivity and grace had floored Ammi, which led to her playing match maker and getting Yousif and Sarah to tie the knot soon after. Almost immediately they became inseparable friends, confiding in each other. Sarah knew at last what it felt like to have a mother.

It was only a year later that they realised that their camaraderie had more to do with things that did not meet the eye. They both shared a gift. They both saw dreams that told the future.

Yousif’s father had died three years ago. Ammi knew about it a month before that fateful day when he had a massive heart attack. Since she had been warned by her vision, she didn’t go into shock. But it changed her. Once a cheerful, witty and energetic woman, Ammi now preferred to spend most of her time on her prayer mat. After Abba’s death she tried to be happy but it was obvious that she couldn’t get over her loss. Her eyes always had a far-away look and Sarah wondered how often she thought about her own death. It pained Sarah to look into Ammi’s eyes.

That afternoon Sarah made some gajar ka halwa for Ammi, dressed Nida and carried her and the halwa to the building society across the street. Zeba greeted her at the door with strained enthusiasm.

“Sarah! What a pleasant surprise!

Zeba and Sarah never knew what to say to each other. Initially they had tried to be friends, but some things were just not meant to be. Misunderstandings had put a crack in the possibility of a friendship and the undercurrents of tension remained long after the rift was forgotten. What remained was a deliberate formality and an effort to stay out of each other’s way.

“How are you, bhabhi? How is my darling Ayaan? It’s been a week since we saw Ammi. I hope she is fine.”

“Her knees have been troubling her a lot nowadays, especially since these unexpected chilly winds began.”

Just then Ammi walked into the living room with Ayaan pulling at the end of her dupatta. Sarah let her sister-in-law take Nida from her arms, while she hurried to embrace Ammi. Their embrace was warm and lingering.

She laughed as she picked her cheeky nephew up, noticing his Spiderman T-shirt.

“How have you been, hero?”

“I’m fine, chachi. Can Nida play football with me now?” he pleaded.

“Well, she’s trying to take a few steps herself now. Why don’t you help her learn to walk? Then she will soon be set to play football with you.”

She put Ayaan back down and they all watched, carefully controlling their chuckles as Ayaan held Nida’s tiny hands in his own and urged her to walk, counting “One, two, three....” while he walked backwards.

“Ayyyaaaa. Tu tu tu,” babbled Nida, humouring her cousin.

She tottered after the third step and fell forward squealing with laughter, toppling Ayaan along with her onto the floor. The kids grinned up at the adults and everyone laughed. Ammi held Sarah’s hand then and led her to her room. Sarah glanced at Zeba and noticed a slight frown appear on her face before she turned her attention back to the children and started talking animatedly. It was obvious to everyone that Sarah was Ammi’s favourite daughter-in-law; a fact that Zeba never could come to terms with.

“Yousif told me you wanted to talk to me about something,” enquired Ammi once they were seated in her room. “He didn’t say much so I got a little worried. I hope everything is alright.”

“Oh, it’s nothing Ammi.” She was perturbed that Yousif had made Ammi anxious unnecessarily. “I’ve been having a disturbing dream, that’s all. I didn’t think much of it initially but last night was the fifth time. I can’t see anything of importance in it. But it’s frightening.”

Ammi listened intently as Sarah narrated what she saw in the dream. Sarah told her what she saw, the place that felt like it was God’s paradise, how she felt she was being urged on, and how the dream had ended before she reached her destination. She also told her how frightened the dream had left her, how she didn’t want to reach the destination, but was being forced to, and how each time the dream seemed to take her a little further, closer to the climax.

Ammi looked at Sarah with a puzzled expression on her face. She then asked her to narrate it again, this time slowly, trying to recall any minute details and bits she could have forgotten. Sarah closed her eyes and tried to visualise the dream again. Strangely, she didn’t have to try very hard. She remembered things in startling clarity as she put her vision into words. She began retelling the tale of her dream. She described the beautiful place and what she saw and felt, the sounds, the smells, all in explicit detail. And then…

She was walking on the moist grass once more, among the lush trees, with the pleasant breeze tingling her skin and the sparkling water flowing beside her. She heard the bird-like-creatures and looked up as they urged her on. She wanted to tell them that she was scared, that she didn’t want to go any further. She wanted to turn and run. But she kept walking towards the radiant tree, beckoned by an unseen force. Fear grew with each step, from the pit of her belly, till it suffocated her, clogging her senses and restricting her breathing. She knew reaching that tree would bring her face to face with a certainty she did not wish to realise; an end she was too scared to face. A flash of light blinded her eyes and a single word took its place, forming clearly in her mind. She felt a chill run down her spine.

“Chai, chai.”


Sarah’s eyes flew open and she stared at Zeba with an expression of fear and astonishment. Zeba stood there with a tray of tea, biscuits and cakes. Ayaan followed her into the room, leading Nida by her hand. She looked like she had already gotten better at walking. But Sarah didn’t notice.

She felt she had just woken up from her dream. Her eyes couldn’t see clearly for a few seconds and her limbs felt numb. Her hands were clammy from fear. She felt a little faint. Without thinking, she bent down to touch the soles of her feet. They were moist.

What just happened here? She tried to recall. She had been describing her dream to Ammi and had suddenly slipped into the dream in the middle of her narration. How was that possible? And how much had she told Ammi? She hoped she hadn’t said the word aloud, the word that had appeared in front of her. Ammi didn’t need to know about that.

She saw both Ammi and Zeba peering at her wondering what had happened to her. She blushed scarlet, realising how odd her expression would have looked to them. Ayaan saved her from any further discomfort.

“Look at her walk, chachi. I taught her.”

“Yes, you did, sweetheart.”

She gave the children quick hugs and excused herself to go to the kitchen so that she could warm a bottle of milk to feed Nida. She had to give herself a minute to get composed and stop her hands from shivering. With painstaking care she completed the task without spilling anything. When she returned, Ammi and Zeba were discussing the menu for dinner, but broke off when she entered. They looked at her, Zeba inquisitively and Ammi expectantly. She ignored their looks and told them about a delicious and recently discovered brinjal curry recipe. She did her best to ignore Ammi’s questioning eyes. She didn’t want to think about the dream. Not now at least.

After half an hour of light conversation, Ammi decided not to remain patient anymore.

“Sarah has been seeing a strange dream repeatedly,” she told Zeba. “She was just telling me about it.”

“Oh, really? Do tell me more.”

Sarah noticed the sarcasm. Zeba never took Sarah’s dreams seriously. She laughed at her behind her back, wondering how people could be so superstitious in this day and age.

She had often expressed her thoughts about Sarah’s childish beliefs to Qasim. “I can understand someone like Ammi believing this mumbo jumbo, but Sarah? I thought she had better sense,” Zeba had said incredulously to him one night, after hearing about a particular dream which seemed to hold everyone’s interest.

In the dream Sarah had seen her own sister Mizba browsing through jewellery in a store, but instead of purchasing jewellery, she bought a pair of shiny knives. Mizba was eight months pregnant at that time and Sarah understood what the dream had implied, after discussing it with Ammi of course. Mizba soon delivered a healthy baby girl... through an emergency caesarean section.

Zeba had laughed off the explanation that jewellery meant a girl and knives a C-section. “You certainly have a wild imagination,” she had remarked rudely to Sarah.

“It’s nothing important.” Sarah now brushed the sarcasm aside and got up to leave. “I really must be getting home. I haven’t worked on my thesis this whole week,” she said before Ammi could protest. A few months after Nida was born Sarah had decided to pursue her long standing desire to get a PhD in Psychology.

Once she was home and Nida napped, Sarah busied herself with dinner preparations and then sat down to work on her thesis. The topic of her study was ‘Precognitive Dreams’, something that she felt she needed to study in order to understand herself and how her mind worked.

But she couldn’t concentrate. She kept thinking about what she had experienced in Ammi’s room this afternoon. It had been a first. But what was it? I wasn’t asleep, she told herself. I was narrating the dream to Ammi. And suddenly I was in the dream, going a little bit further....

She shivered remembering the word that had materialised clearly in her mind.

DEATH

Sarah wanted to talk to Yousif about it when he got home at 8 p.m. But what would she tell him? She felt she just needed to give herself a break and not think about the dream for some time. I might soon lose my mind otherwise. Or am I already on the road to losing it? she thought wryly.

She decided not to say anything to Yousif at all. Ammi enquired about the incident the next morning over the phone but Sarah vaguely said that describing it had frightened her again, that’s all.

Two nights later, she was in the dream again.

Everything was the same as before. But Sarah sensed subtle changes. The air was thick with a peculiar scent. It hung heavily around her. It was a smell that she seemed to remember... it had hung around the house when her mother died and again when her grandmother died a few years later. It conjured up images of clean white shrouds, aromatic incense and the recitation of the Qur’an. She could hear the clear recitation now, the song of the birds fading into the background as she proceeded to the tree. It was a young man’s voice; he was barely 20. She knew this even before she saw him. His voice rang clear as crystal in the heavy air, strong and resonant as he recited the holy verses. She followed the sweetness of those verses, of that voice, in a trance. She was engulfed in its melody and wondered why she had been afraid. The heaviness seemed to lift gradually as she approached him. The fear evaporated. A peaceful calmness set in. Sarah knew she had to keep walking and see this through.

He sat on a rock below the luminous tree, the Qur’an in his hands, rocking gently to the rhythm of his own recital. He was about twenty feet away from her. She tread gently, not wanting to disturb him with her footsteps. But he seemed to be unaware of her. He sat elegantly in a white kurta-pyjama with a skull cap on his head. She noticed something else now. He recited a few lines and then turned to his right to speak to someone. He then recited the next two lines and again turned to speak to the person sitting next to him. He seemed to be explaining the verses he recited, smiling and gesturing with his hands. She approached cautiously now, noting that a young girl sat beside the boy. She couldn’t have been over 16. She was wearing a powder blue salwar-kameez with the dupatta loosely draped around her head and over her shoulders. She was listening to her companion in rapt attention, unable to take her eyes off him. Sarah inched closer, not wanting to bother the couple, but she had to know.

She was standing in front of them now, looking down at them as they sat in their cosy nook. They slowly turned their faces up to look at her; smiling, radiant, joyous faces that seemed to expect her and welcome her. Sarah did not flinch in recognition. She began to cry, silent tears falling down her cheeks.

“You’ll be alright, Sarah,” Ammi said. Abba nodded and took his wife’s hand in his.


“Sarah? Sarah, wake up. You’re having a dream again. What happened? Calm down, sweetheart.” Yousif held his wife in his arms as she sobbed softly into his shoulder.

“I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want Ammi to die.”

Yousif continued to hold Sarah as the words sank in.

Facing the next morning was difficult for Sarah. She knew it was just a matter of time. She had no control over the inevitable. How was she was going to live without Ammi? She didn’t know the answer to that question.

Ammi was strangely cheerful when Sarah met her. She went about her tasks with a sudden vigour and swiftness, like she was in a hurry. She laughed often and whole-heartedly, something she hadn’t done in a long time. It was a complete change and it startled everyone. She visited close relatives, spent time with her family and hugged Sarah at the slightest pretext. Once, during an embrace, she whispered, “You’ll be alright, Sarah.”

Ammi died peacefully in her sleep the following week. Sarah never told her the dream. She didn’t have to.