Two Red Balloons

…. And sometimes, rains can be so mystic.

One more year passed by.

As usual, she sat staring out of the window, her gaze fixed at the sky. Her eyes impatiently oscillated from one point to another. To her disappointment, it wasn’t blue but grey this time. She moved her attention to those tiny raindrops that reminded her of something; of someone. The droplets that made her blush and turned her blue at the same time.

“Nature has its own way to express joy and grief” she realized.

It was that time of the year when she dressed herself in the best of clothes, rather the ones she believed he would have loved. She drenched herself in his favorite perfume; the orange bottle for which had not escaped her dresser even after 13 years. She left her long hair open, with a skinny hair strand falling on her right cheek. She wore his favorite lip gloss and her well groomed nails drizzled in bright red nail paint.

Out of habit, she touched the rain drops periodically and scribbled something

“GENIUS”

She wrote and wiped it; rewrote and smudged again, this time with the trickle that fell from her eyes. She cleared the haze to look outside more clearly. She noticed how pristine the leaves looked with new sprouts ornamenting them. The petrichor that emanated from the grass was nothing less than the evidence that nature’s fragrance is far superior to the scent held in deodorant or cologne bottles; yet she loved the perfume that she was wearing. She heard the rhythmic pitter patter of the droplets and placed her hand outside to feel the tender touch of water on her palm. It was unusual to see rain that day, something that had not happened in 13 years and she wondered if this was some sign that was to be decoded; was something going to change that day?

As more and more raindrops gravitated on the ground sliding through her window, she continued to write and wipe “Genius”… that’s what she used to call him.

One, two, three….. Seven! Empty coffee mugs piled up on the table, one after the other. Soon, despair took over her hopeful intuition that developed some time ago. As typical, she got up from the swing chair to withdraw the curtains from their hook, to turn her back from the window and to say aloud that nothing had changed. Rain, the petrichor, the chirping birds, the rhythmic sound of rain drops were not the omens. Once again, she looked up at the barren sky, which had turned a shade darker by now and repeated her standard words

Against all hopes, I am still waiting for you

Once again, tears of disgust, frustration, anger, hurt, love and betrayal flew down her eyes, one after the other. Several hundreds or thousands maybe! She had lost the count of sleepless nights by then. She pulled out a rubber band from her pocket and tied her hair into a bun; but immediately, she let them lose again.

A small curve of happiness planted on her lips just like a ray of sunshine on a dark rainy day. Was she to believe what she saw in the sky at a distance? She rubbed her eyes once again and her heart pounded faster.

Red Balloons” she said

He is here.. “ she exclaimed and ran inside to grab the keys of the car.

Hurriedly, she wore her black sandals, her mind enthusiastic enough to pick the ones she knew he would appreciate. A quick, final glance in the mirror and she was out on the road, following the two red balloons up there.

“Has he really come? Hug or hand shake? Am I looking nice? Should I tell him how much I waited for this day?” Millions of questions rattled in her head. Periodically, she bent herself forward and looked up so as not to lose the sight of the red balloons. In desperation to reach quickly, she honked a couple of times as the rains had left the streets cluttered and crowded. The pedestrians, who struggled to stride on the wet road, made it more difficult for her to drive.

She remembered how they had parted their ways 13 years ago. Her tears were unstoppable then as they were now. She reminisced the last day when she saw him; the memory was still afresh. He was dressed in a black shirt and blue denims, a classic combination she always admired on him.

Thirteen years ago, that misty evening had crippled everything including their archaic love.

So, this is it..  Is it? Really?” She felt the nip of millions of needles being nailed into her body, all at the same time. The suffering was immense, unbreathable.  He stood quiet; still. He didn’t motion, neither nodded, nor spoke. His consent beckoned with a silence. His verdict was final.

“Ok then. We will never see each other again” she reached out to his cheeks and planted a brief good-bye kiss and stepped out of the car, still in tears. She didn’t know whether it was the smooth gush of cries from her eyes or water from the heaves above that made her face wet. She waved a bye and her sight followed his black sedan as far as it could.

A sudden brake brought her back from the memory of that fateful evening.  However, his last words still rattled in her ears “I have obligations that needs to be fulfilled and so we cannot be together Meethi. I feel shackled today, but one day, I will set lose all these chains for you

That day, for the last time, he handed Meethi her favorite red helium balloons tied together and said “the day you see two red balloons near you, tangled, floating in the sky, know that we are searching for you”. For the last time, they released the balloons in the sky. And ever since then, it had been a long wait for her. She dreaded the rains, but today she wanted to harmonize her relation with the shower once again.

Left… Left.. Right.. Left again. She was being taken into a small alley that was a couple of lanes down from the main road. The red balloons were still up, ascending higher. Deep red balloons, twisted with each other added a tinge of color to the gloomy, gravel-grey sky.  After all the chasing, she found a balloon hawker in a corner of the street. A big fluorescent umbrella was tied to his gas cylinder to protect his set up from the rain. His head was covered by a plastic bag, while body by an unkempt, torn, long raincoat. Rain, sometimes, can be so harsh to people; she wondered. Near the stall were a few kids jumping and dancing in the drizzle. Her eyes could not find what she was looking for. She gave a closer look at the street and found a child sobbing on a step in the alley. His father, who sat consoling, had parked his “not so empty” vegetable cart next to him. Rain had been unkind to him as well, she noticed.  The boy, unceasingly rubbed his hand on the eyes in a circular motion, wiped his tears, saw them flow again, sobbed and kept looking at the sky. It was clear from him gestures that he was crying over his loss; loss of two red balloons that left him but not his sight.

She approached the balloon hawker

who’s balloons are those?” she inquired, pointing towards the sky.

The vendor gestured towards the crying boy. Her hopes shattered once again; agony multiplied and disgust increased. She looked up, then down. She looked to her left, then right. She stood disconcerted.  She bent down and placed her hands on the knees. This time the tears didn’t flow down her cheeks. This time the downpour was straight on the ground. Angrily, she looked up again and asked “Why me”?

With heavy emotions she went towards the crying boy and sat next to him. They both wiped the incessant flow of tears and looked at each other. Coincidentally, they shared the same loss – the loss of 2 red balloons. Somewhere, they knew this loss was forever.

Can I buy you the balloons again”? she offered.

The boy remained silent and continued to stare at the ground.

I promised I will buy him two balloons today, and I did. He tied the balloons together so as to save them. But he lost them to the wind” explained his father. “Now I will purchase him balloons later this week. Rains often lead to lame earnings” he sighed.

Rains have been unkind to this small boy as well, she thought.

In no time, she went to the balloon seller and bought two red balloons, tied them together in a knot and gave them to the little boy to save him his tears.

Just as she turned towards the car, she looked back. The two balloons danced together in the air as the boy ran happily in the street. His father had a gleam of happiness on his face and he signaled thanks to her. For the first time in the day, she smiled. For the first time in many years, she felt happy.

Maybe this was the change the day was to bring to her. Maybe the rains, the fragrance of the wet ground, the chirping birds, and the pitter patter of droplets were all an omen. Maybe, there was some indication that she was to decode. Maybe, the heavens finally signaled something; something good!

She deciphered the message the cosmos indicated and ran to the boy and hugged him. This time tears of joy flowed through her eyes. She then hurried her steps to the balloon hawker who was at the verge of winding up the stall for the day.

Two more red balloons please” she said in haste.

Today, the balloons were not tied anymore. She held the balloons one in each hand and set them free. She saw them take the first leap together & then both flew in distinct directions that wind took them to, both independent of each other. Both towards their own fate, own destiny and own life, both towards their own future…both towards their own end. She smiled. She felt relieved.

The shower had stopped by then and so had her tears. The final droplet that rested long enough on her eyelids, finally glided down.

Good bye, Genuis” She whispered and embraced the weather and her new life. After many years, she rekindled an amiable relation with rains. After many years, she felt light. After many years, she breathed.

…. And sometimes, rains can be so mystic.

The mourning valley

… And they were declared as the National heroes everywhere.

After the 1965 Indo Pak war, which was the second conflict between the two countries over the state of Jammu and Kashmir; the already hostile relation between the two nations turned sourer.  The Daily newspapers flooded themselves with coverage of political issues and Hindu Muslim bouts in the nation. Not just the army but the civilians were equally involved in this fight against Pakistan over a piece of land. More than the joy of independence, it was the war with Pakistan that was discussed and talked about in every house, over each meal, day and night. The army, politicians, civilians and home makers who were patriotically involved in any way, were seen as the national heroes. And so was Anil.

With each day, the situation in the valley was turning denser, terrifying and alarming.

Amidst this rising stiffness, laid Anil, in a 6 by 8 feet prison cell waiting for his final trial the next morning. He was accused of his wife’s murder. He remembered the last time he was at home, 3 years ago with his wife Laxmi. He remembered every corner of his two bedroom house built on top of a valley, where he spent initial years of his marriage, happily and contently. Anil remembered how Laxmi, who was a docile home maker, would submissively give into everything that he said or demanded. Even though Laxmi was an educated girl, surrendering selflessly to her man and letting him lead in day to day life was her idea of being a loving wife. She had philosophies that she never expressed and love that she never ceased to show.

Laxmi’s father in law was a shaheed who sacrificed his life fighting for India’s independence and the same emotion of patriotism cascaded in Anil’s blood. With the growing turbulence between India and Pakistan over his nation, his own state, Anil could not think of anything, but his watan. He soaked himself so much into the situation that his neglect for house, society and Laxmi could be prominently seen. The mornings were a witness to his exasperation, afternoons to his impatience and nights to his displeasure. He would often oscillate with his slow walks between the two ends of the courtyard, restless, in middle of this night. His grunts became louder and words became silent; as if he was planning something back of the mind – all the time. Something Big.

“Here… You have 30 minutes. It’s your final trial day” said an aggressive jailer to Anil, passing him a clean set of clothes from between the iron bars. Anil struggled to recollect when he dozed off the previous night, while reminiscing his last days at home, with Laxmi. He knew he had not done it, but there was hardly any evidence to prove him innocent. The case was passed between the local courts for a couple of years before it was sent to the High court. The prosecutor, who always used Anil’s dominance and Laxmi’s quietness as a weapon to prove him guilty had won the case in the lower courts. It was Anil’s brother Sushil who kept appealing in higher courts for justice for his brother. And today, it was the final hearing before Anil to be either free or sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment.

It was the summers of 1971, when there was news of another war between India and Pakistan. The valley already saw more of blood splashes, broken families and bombarded houses.

“Give me a chance today and I will die for my nation” said Anil to the jailer on his way to the court, handcuffed. He was still agitated with the current situation – fight over his motherland. His attention was soon taken away by a squad of hustling policemen on the street.

“There were some attacks in the city last night. Only God knows when will all this end” expressed the jailer.

Laxmi, who spoke very little during the last months of her life, once stated how the war will end the humanity if the humanity doesn’t end war. She always feared guns, fights and hostilities. For her, war was hell; war was a defeat to mankind; war was not an answer and war would never bring peace as the mourning the valley had witnessed will always be a battle for the families to combat daily. Anil embraced Laxmi’s words like a dew drop; calm and refreshing.

“Anil Durrani, prisoner number 231 be presented in front of the judge” announced the short, dark, stern looking man.

Anil took his place in the witness stand and looked at the judge for social salutation. His eyes met the magistrate, stayed there for a fraction of second and averted. His heart pounded faster than ever before and he was almost certain of losing his case today. He started envisioning the rest of his life, imprisoned and felt more restive to think about a wasted lifespan over a crime that he had not committed.

“You may proceed” ordered the judge in his dense voice.

The defense lawyer reiterated the whole case again. How Anil was innocent. How Laxmi’s death was an ill fate. The rifle that Anil had procured was for his family’s security in lieu of rising terrorism in the valley. How, that afternoon, when Laxmi expressed her concern over the weapon for the first time, they broke into an argument and in an attempt to snatch the rifle from Anil’s hand, Laxmi got it triggered, right in her stomach and lay on the ground, dead; immediately.

Laxmi’s family and neighbors could not believe this story as there were reports of frequent fights between the two of them. Anil’s strange behavior was a witness to many suspicious eyes all around.

“He is a murderer” moaned Laxmi’s mother when the police took Anil away three years ago. And ever since then, neither did he return to his home nor did the tension in the valley improve.

The prosecutor emphasized on the fact that Anil hardly spoke to Laxmi, was aggressive, dominant and was losing self-control during those days and one day, in a rage, he committed the evitable.  The neighbors spoke against him too.

There was a moment of brief silence in the court. There they were – the two weary eyes that looked at the judge and Anil from a distance; the eyes of a miserable mother, demanding justice for her daughter. The judge flipped across the papers, carefully examined the evidences presented by the defense lawyer and the prosecutor, took a deep breath and with painful heavy voice declared

“Upon reading and listening to all facts and evidences, the court finds Anil Durrani innocent in this case and orders him to surrender his rifle to the police immediately. The court is adjourned”.

Anil, who was almost sure to be punished, was startled in surprise. He had tears in his eyes. He tried to look at the judge, who had already left his seat by then.

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

“She really loved you”, said the voice of a father as Anil and Sushil were heading back home from the court.

“Yes, I am aware of that. She was a wonderful wife and an obedient daughter and all I have left to say is ‘sorry’ for your loss; for my loss; for our loss” responded Anil with regretful eyes and tone.

“You should’ve never spared him, he killed our only daughter.. How could you?” said Laxmi’s mother to her husband.

“Punishing him for a crime not done would have never brought our daughter back. It was a mere accident. Sentencing Anil would have meant sentencing Laxmi for a lifetime imprisonment” said a father, while comforting his wife in his arms, handing over his black coat that brought pride to his shoulders some minutes ago. Sometimes, revenge is not what you seek. They both turned around when a voice from behind stopped them

“Judge saab. You have lost your daughter but your son is still alive” said Anil with an assurance.

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

While the valley still grieves over several broken families, incomplete love stories and unfulfilled promises, Anil, the patriot, joined Indian Army as a jawan and laid his life fighting a terror attack in 1989. It was his penance to Laxmi’s death. His dead body, wrapped in the tricolor, was a gift to Laxmi’s mother who could never come in amiable terms with him… And Anil’s sacrifice for the nation was a respect to the judge who did not maliciously punish him on charges of his daughter’s murder.

In the end, everything falls in place and if it doesn’t, it’s not the end.

The Outhouse

Those were the best days of my life…played Bryan Adams’s in the background soon before the car grumbled to life. It was slowing down, giving up on its existence in a deserted piece of land right when the sun was merging with the ground at a distance. Ryan could see the birds returning to their nests and he was still a couple of hours from reaching Pune… Finally with a few jolts, the car came to a halt. It was dark by now. A long stretch of empty road laid ahead and a deep valley to his left. No signs of life could be sensed around. Ryan tried to turn the key again; the car briefly chortled, but died soon after. A long backroad, barren land on the sides, dark valley and chill in the air was all Ryan was left with.

“Sweetheart, I am stuck here. I will try to walk a few miles to find some help. My phone battery, akin to the car, is about to die any minute” explained Ryan to his wife over a call.

“You always do this; I don’t know what harm it is to pro-actively charge the battery of the phone. Does it cost anything?” said Veena from the other side.

“Don’t worry honey, I will be fine. You needn’t take any stress in this condition. I shall be home soon. Now I will hang up and save some battery for the emergency. Love you”.

Ryan looked around.  Clueless about which way to go, he followed his instinct and started walking straight, then turned right and followed a trail that led inside a sparse forest.

“Damn this area. Oh God, mercy!!” he muttered to himself.

Far across the trees, he saw a dimly lit shade. Hope beckoned. He rushed his steps through the wood, and reached the house. It looked like a vacation home built amid the jungle with no other house in the vicinity. Ryan tried to peep inside through the glass window but all he could see was the satin red curtain. The house was in a deep slumber. Doubtful of his luck, he still knocked at the door.

A beam of smile flashed through Ryan’s lips when, after a couple of minutes, he saw the house come to life. Lights turned on and someone opened the door.

“Hello Mam. I am so sorry to bother you at this time (Ryan looked at his watch, it showed 10 past 21:00). Actually, my car has ditched me a few miles from here. Would you know if I can find some mechanic nearby”?

The old lady adjusted her specks.

“I am sorry son. We are very remote from main highway and city. I don’t think you will find anyone around at this time”.

“Well…. Ok… I will go back and spend the night in my car and wait for the dawn to take over. Thank you Mam” Ryan started to move.

The old lady, hesitatingly called him

“You can stay here, if you want. My son and his family have come so I cannot offer you to come inside, but you can spend the night in the outhouse. It’s not safe to sleep in the car in middle of an isolated road”

“Thank you Mam. That’s really kind of you” Ryan concurred.

“Wait here. I will get the keys and some water for you”.

“So where are you coming from?” asked the lady while slowly pacing towards the outhouse.

“I am coming from Surat, going to Pune. I had to leave early this morning but work kept me occupied. I have been away from home since a week now and I can’t wait to be with my wife and child”.

“I am sure. How old is your kid?” asked the lady adjusting her winter shawl on the shoulder.

Ryan blushed “Actually the baby is yet to come. My wife is due next month”

Both chuckled.

“Here you go” the lady unlocked the door. “It’s not in a tidy condition and has no light, as you can see. But this is all I can offer you tonight”

“It’s nice” smiled Ryan.

The lady handed Ryan a water bottle… “And one more thing, there is no latch on the gate from inside. I suggest I lock the door from outside as leaving it open would mean inviting fat rats that will do anything to feast on you tonight. I will wake you up tomorrow morning… 7 AM?”

“You are so kind. 7 should be perfect”.

“Good night son”

The door locked. Ryan tried to bring his phone to work, to make at least one call, but the battery had already drained by then. From the moonlight that found its way through a small window, Ryan noticed the disheveled appearance of the room before he dozed off.

……… The next morning …….

Good morning listeners, this is RJ Sonia with you again; to play your favorite songs and dedications… played in the car.

“Daddy, I want to sit with mummy and you in front”

“Not now. You play with Daadi in the backseat. Tell her all that you will show when we reach our house. Daadi will stay with us for a few months”

Riya adjusted herself back again.

Daadi, where did you keep my doll last night? I couldn’t find it”

“Riya” daddy looked at her from the rear view mirror “Daadi can’t recall what happened 30 minutes ago, how she will remember about your doll?”

The old lady fixed her gaze on the passing by trees, with her head rested on the window, oblivious of everything that happened 30 minutes ago… a night before…. a day ago.

This song goes from Tarun to Vaibhavi..announced the RJ .. Enjoy and stay tuned.

“Zindagi do pal ki… Intezar kab tak Hum karenge bhala… Tumhe pyaar kab tak na karenge bhala.. “

… And the car sped up on the highway… far… far… very far away!!!!