Faith: All About Love and Oneness

 

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Faith is an essential part of our lives that keeps us (or at least commands us to) on the right path. Faith in One Supreme Power which governs all is the one thing that is common across all religions even though there are varying approaches. Many Hindus that I have talked to say that they believe in one God too, but have their own approach to reach the Divine, as said in Bhagvat Gita. Be it through the idols, which some say are not of different gods, but of different attributes and forms of the One. They say they don’t actually worship the idol itself, but it’s just so that they can concentrate on a specific entity. I have never met a Hindu who doesn’t believe that God is in fact, One.

Similarly, Christians too believe in one God, and so do Jews. Their approach is different, of course, but the Bible has many verses clearly stating the Oneness of the Divine. All the sages across all faiths have contemplated and found the One Absolute Truth, and not many. While the beauty of faiths lies in their diverse yet united nature, one can’t ignore the extremism that resides in the heart of some self-proclaimed best believers who are harmful to our societies.

But is it actually because of faith, or the lack of its understanding?

The problem of misunderstanding faith doesn’t only lead to terrorism, but there are other things that lead to disturbances in the society.

The core idea of faith is to connect us with one another, and many a times, religious hypocrisy of some leads us to generalize everyone from a particular faith. The biggest victim of it is Islam, and as I dive more into my faith, more I find the acts of some Muslims appalling, given that they claim to follow beautiful teachings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Take it from the man who was for a very brief period of time, and then an agnostic before he discovered Islam.

I have been inclined towards Sufism for a long time, and even though I loved its teachings and quotes of great Sufi poets and mystics like Rumi, Hafiz, Shams Tabrizi and Attar, I wasn’t into my faith as of yet. It was a gradual process where even though I had started praying, I wasn’t even keen to know the history of Islam. Long story short, all of this happened at the decreed time and I am happy with the way it happened.

No religion preaches hate. As clichéd as it may sound, this is actually true. Arjun was told by Sri Krishna that fighting is his dharma, whilst also saying that the bravest warrior is the one who fights his own soul. Does this mean Gita talks about killing others? Definitely not. This address of Sri Krishna has a particular context. It’s the same with Islam. Jihad isn’t about killing, it’s about self-defence, and if Jihad asks to kill, it’s one’s ego and desires. It is, in fact, Jihad-e-Akbar, the greater Jihad.

Jihad applies in all walks of life. This striving against one’s own nafs or ego/self, is what it’s all about. It is a universal phenomenon in all religions. It also applies on your level of respect for the other. We tend to look down upon the people who belong to different faiths, simply because we think our way is right, and so we are closest to God and not others. Such a mentality itself takes one away from the core teachings of religions that are based on brotherhood, peace and above all, love.

God has created everyone with a unique purpose, and with the unique mind everybody has, they are bound to take their own approach to Him, but when people don’t get this, they believe they are in danger, or that the other doesn’t believe in God. I can’t say a lot about other faiths because I haven’t studied them yet. But some of my friends from other faiths have been studying about Islam and they say they have found it very similar to their faiths. We all know Abrahamic faiths are bound to be similar, but a few Hindus too mentioned the same. Essentially, no matter how we worship, all our prayers are going to the same God, because there isn’t anybody else at all. And so the arguments that consist of of ‘your bhagwan’ and ‘your Allah’ are ridiculous to say the least.

People don’t ponder. They don’t contemplate and introspect, and therein lies all the confusion and ignorant. If a Muslim is saying things like, ‘don’t say God, say Allah’, or if a Hindu is saying ‘your Allah is a tyrant’, he is insulting the very God he is worshipping. It’s not an idealistic talk, but an obvious one. One of the core purposes of faiths is to make us realize who we are. We stop after acknowledging our God, but do we ponder upon Him? No. That’s where the problem lies.

The more we ponder upon the Lord, more we realize ourselves. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) emphasized introspection, for that leads us to realize our oneness. Merely saying we are one is one thing, but to feel that in your heart and to live it, that’s what religions wanted you to realize. That oneness is what Islam preached through many forms. Its idea of monotheism is purely to make one realize that we are one big family. Islam never rejects other faiths, rather it comprises the teachings of the previous faiths and the Holy Quran doesn’t shy from telling that. The Holy Books are the first step to a big journey towards love that a man can undertake if he ponders.

No religion preaches hate, neither disrespect for other faiths. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) let the Najran Christians pray in his mosque. He didn’t stop them despite knowing their beliefs. Hazrat Umar (RA), the second rightful Caliph, once asked a Christian woman why she didn’t convert to Islam if she respects Muslims so much, and the next moment he felt guilty for saying that and kept asking God’s forgiveness. He didn’t want to make her feel that she must follow Islam, as there is no compulsion in religion. Such examples are all over the lives of Prophet’s companions, but sadly not even the Muslim scholars tell such things. Hazrat Ali (RA) was once walking with his friends and as they passed by a church, he halted. One of his friends remarked, ‘Don’t stop here, O Commander of the Faithful (a title given to the Caliph since Hazrat Umar), these are idol-worshippers.’ Hazrat Ali, being the man of wisdom and intellect and someone who was so learned in Islamic teachings, said, ‘Don’t look at how different other faiths are. Always look at how similar they are to your faith.’ Now, everybody in the Muslim community will agree and know for a fact that Hazrat Umar and Ali were one of the closest companions of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), who followed his teachings and set an example for the Muslims under them. And as for the Prophet himself, he followed the teachings of Allah. There are many more examples regarding tolerance and respect towards other faiths, but I think these will do for now.

Sages, mystics across the world have found this truth that what truly matters is how your connection with God is changing you from within, and making you a better person who also treats other humans better. It all comes to our oneness and love in the end. We are rushing with everything in our lives, and so we don’t have time to ponder over our experiences in the world and our experience with our religious texts. We don’t sit back to wonder and combine both these experiences and question ourselves. Many are of the belief that questioning their own faith is the act of blasphemy. That sort of thinking comes from the fear, not from intellect. Intellect will tell you to introspect, to reflect upon every happening of your life. When one realizes that, he will soon start to see that no matter how different we all may seem, we are the same, as we all come from the same place. That’s the purpose of faith, to cause in you an internal revolution, something which Sri Krishna said and which Islam described as the greater Jihad. It all begins with introspection. Introspection finally leads one to feeling love in the heart. That love is what the goal should be. When such kind of love is felt within you, you can hardly hate anyone. It’s all about love, the love for mankind. Not tolerance, not respect, but love.

The irony is the kind of people who should read what I have written here are the same people who won’t read it. But that’s okay. The best part about change is that it doesn’t happen overnight, just as the flower takes its time to bloom.

We shall overcome.

– Shahrukh Jamal

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Boundless

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It was as if the walls, the pillars, the sky, the water, all were praising the Almighty. There was a constant peaceful murmur around. The sound of the slippers dragging on the floor was a bit annoying, but yes, the atmosphere was completely spiritual. All were one, sitting in a line as the langar was being served. The meal consisted of curd, vegetables, chapatis, rice, dal and pickles. The tall, stocky young men with turbans served the meal with great zeal and were ever-alert for every call or need.

The Golden Temple was packed with the pilgrims, and after Rehaan enjoyed the langar, he proceeded towards the exit. The mesmerizing sight of the Temple shining under the pitch black sky, surrounded by lights all around, was a sight he would savour all his life. Minutes later, after adding a dozen more pictures to his Nikon, he was walking past the main gate. The rickshaws swarmed in front of the gate had the rickshaw-pullers shouting at the top of their voices to lure him to their rickshaw. He smiled at the commotion engineered by them and walked ahead.

He removed the saffron handkerchief from his head that he had bought outside the Temple premises and kept it in his pocket. His friends were waiting nearby and he didn’t want them to see him with the handkerchief and question his faith in Islam. He disliked that. He never wanted any human to question him on his faith. He knew God knows that his heart wants him to go to all the places of worship and feel inner peace, so there wasn’t any question of someone questioning his faith.

Aslam and Wahid had spent their time strolling around the market. Aslam didn’t spend a penny, but Wahid bought a key-ring for himself. He had this hobby of collecting different key-rings from all the places he’d visit. There were wonderful key-rings with khanda (the military Emblem of Sikhs) that caught Rehaan’s eyes when he reached the market. He knew Wahid had purposefully ignored those key-rings, even when he liked them too. Instead, he chose a mediocre key-ring with the Manchester United logo. It’s his favourite club, but he already had three such key-rings. All the way from Amritsar, he’d take back home a mediocre key-ring, simply because he chose to hear his mind and not his heart.

‘Hey, Messi’, Wahid looked at a content Rehaan and called out. He would sometimes call him Messi, and Rehaan loved it. He liked Messi. His short height had a few advantages. Being called Messi was one of them. He smiled and joined them. Aslam contorted his face to tell he didn’t like anything in the market. Rehaan shook his head sarcastically.

‘How was your visit?’, Aslam asked plainly.

‘It was…divine. I believe you…’

‘Okay, okay great! Next destination?’

Rehaan chuckled at Aslam’s interference. He then looked at Wahid, who was whirling the key-ring on his finger, and who happened to know the answer to their next destination:

‘Wagah Border!’

The world around Rehaan faded all of a sudden. He could hear silence as clearly as he was hearing his friends talking moments ago. The air wafting past his ears sang an emotional tune to him. It echoed like some nostalgic cry that hit his heart and soul out. This air spoke one name to him: Maira.

He hadn’t talked to her today, but she knew he would be at Amritsar at the moment. The weak signal at Amritsar, about which he had already told her as a possibility, had kept them apart. He was a bit worried for her though. The messaging apps and social media websites had been banned in Pakistan following an outrage by the Islamic clerics. A filmmaker had said in an interview that he was writing a script based on the later years of Prophet Mohammad, and that had the clerics go berserk across the nation. They threatened the filmmaker. Some said he is not a true Muslim. The army intervened and prevented the ruckus to some extent. It didn’t want court martial. The news channels went off air. The press was still free to work, and through newspapers the filmmaker tried to explain himself, but nothing reduced the tension.

Maira, though, lived in one of the peaceful and not-so-happening city of Multan, which, unfortunately, was not among the few small cities and towns at the outskirts that didn’t suffer a curfew. The schools, colleges and offices were closed. She’d been online through VPN and was always in touch with Rehaan. When he would go offline, she would spent her time reading books, which her family was fond of. As she turned the pages of the Urdu novels, she thought of him. She’d tell him about some great novelists of Pakistan, and would share her excitement on reading Jane Austen, Elif Shafak, Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway. She wondered what he might be doing, where he’d be, questions she’d ponder upon even on other days when they both would know of each other’s moment-by-moment activities. The unrest in her nation didn’t hurt her more than the separation from her lover did.

What she might be doing? Where would she be? Is she safe? Rehaan pondered over such questions as Aslam and Wahid accompanied him on the journey to Wagah Border, thirty kilometres from the Golden Temple. A Wagon-R was booked and off they went to catch the traditional ceremony at the border, performed by the soldiers of India and Pakistan together. The driver, Harmanjot Singh, drove silently. He was a young Sikh who probably focused only on his work. Rehaan and Aslam sat on the back seat, while Wahid joined the driver ahead. Rehaan always thought of Wahid as the frankest of the three. Aslam was usually quiet and serious, with a smile on his face to project the various emotions, and he was somewhere in between. He leaned by the window and recalled Maira’s last messages before the apps suffered the ban.

If the tension arises, the apps will be banned for a week or two. Maybe more. Just don’t worry. We are in Multan. Nothing much happens here. The fire is in the major cities like Karachi and Islamabad. Take care. I love you!

I love you too’, he recalled his reply, and took a deep breath.

The car drove past the beautiful green fields where the locals could be seen working. The vehicles driving past theirs only had the tourists going to the same straight route to the Border. Nobody had spoken a word yet. Then, Rehaan sensed the awkwardness in the atmosphere and broke the silence:

‘Are you a local, Harmanjot?’

Harmanjot took a moment to register that the silence has been broken and he was asked a question. He replied with a simple, ‘Yes, sir.’

‘So you keep making this trip to Wagah?’

‘Definitely, sir! A lot of times.’

‘Wow’, he smiled.

‘Sir, it is ‘wow’ for you people. We do this everyday. Now this doesn’t seem like I am going to the Wagah Border. It’s just another place for us. When you will reach there, you will see, there is nothing that would make you feel that beyond the border is another nation. The road, the land, the sky is the same. There are just two big gates and the guards that tell you this is the border.’

‘You are poetic’, Aslam remarked, and Harmanjot chuckled.

‘I want to see if there’s a tree right at the border, belonging to both sides’, Harmanjot said smilingly.

‘So, what are your views on the ‘enemy’?’, Rehaan asked.

Harmanjot laughed heartily. ‘Enemy, yes. I believe we all are the same, made by that one God. Regions and religions don’t matter, sir. They talk like us, they live like us. They are desi too. They watch our movies, they sing our songs. Their nation has Hindus too. It’s just the damn politics, corrupting people’s minds. They will keep polluting people’s minds so that they can feed off this Indo-Pak issue for as long as possible. And I’m talking about both sides.’

‘Alright, but what about when the militants from their side infiltrate our border?’, Aslam spoke in a rude tone.

‘You can’t judge the people on the basis of politics. What happens on the borders is not good, but saying that people are bad would be wrong. Even they are sick of terrorism. And common people on both sides are affected by the tension between the two nations.’

Aslam gave a frustrated look to Rehaan, who returned a calm one.

Maira, meanwhile, was struggling with her desperation to contact Rehaan. The inner conflicts never let her rest. She’d read a word, then stare at the wall thinking about him. For her, every page, every thought, every particle had him. She’d think of the days they’d live together. Thoughts know no borders. They are unaware of the restrictions that the world imposes on people. ‘How’, ‘when’, ‘what if’, rarely come into consideration. Soulmates only know love, and that meeting each other is always written in their fates. She had talked to him the previous day, and was waiting for him to ping her. She missed his ‘good morning’ and ‘I love you’ messages. Today morning had been dull because of the lack of them. He might suffer weak or no signal in such areas, as he had told, and that was the only thing that kept her going optimistic. She was amazed at herself. Months ago, she’d laugh at such lovers who said their world revolved around one person. Now as she went through the same, she was smiling in embarrassment.

She immediately opened Instagram and messaged him, ‘I love you and I miss you.’

‘I’ve seen the ‘common people’ on the other side talk some really disgusting things about us on social media. So yes, I can say the common people there are not that peaceful’, Aslam said after a bit of thinking.

‘And so is the case here, sir’, Harmanjot replied. ‘There are many such people here as well. And all this because of the way we’ve been told stories.’

‘And what have you been told about Muslims?’, Wahid interrupted.

‘Sorry?’, a puzzled Harmanjot had his eyebrows up.

‘I’m just wondering how a Sikh can favour an Islamic nation.’

‘I’m favouring humanity, sir. Religions were never in my mind. We all have the right to live peacefully. After all, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).’

‘Ah, yes…a Hindu thing.’

‘Isn’t that the truth?’, Rehaan jumped in the conversation.

‘Rehaan, no need to come in with your liberal thoughts. I know you favour Hindus and other religions but you should know that’s shirk (crime) in Islam, which you commit everyday.’

‘Respecting other religions isn’t shirk, Wahid. Even our Prophet (PBUH) was in the favour of non-Muslims who practised other religions when he governed Medina, to such extent that there was zero tolerance for anyone who interfered in the matter of faith of these non-Muslims. Even the Prophet (PBUH) said that whoever will be cruel towards the non-Muslims or snatches their rights or imposes anything against their own will, the Prophet would himself testify against that person on the Day of Judgement’, Rehaan was a bit loud now, ‘Islam preaches absolute tolerance and respect towards other religions.’

Maira wanted to learn and know Islam better. She couldn’t buy that the Islamic clerics could go crazy over a filmmaker trying to tell about Islam and The Messenger. She had been seeing such instances in her country since childhood, but now she was more observant. She had planned to take Islamic Studies and would read about other religions too. She recalled a Hadith which said seeking knowledge must be a duty of every Muslim. She smiled at the thought of Rehaan saying that it’s God who has made the humans take birth in different religions, and so we are no one to interfere in their matters.

She unlocked her phone and checked Instagram to see if he had seen her message, but it wasn’t so. She had messaged him barely fifteen minutes ago. Her eyes went over a post. Someone had shared the news on Instagram that the clerics had decided to calm down after the repeated statements from the filmmaker that the movie, though fiction, would never play with the facts. The apps and the news channels were still down, but the hopes of the restoration of a normal life were high, and so was her desire to learn her religion in its truest form.

Wahid and Aslam had been quite since the time Rehaan spoke of the Hadith. Harmanjot too hadn’t continued the conversation. He chose to stay silent on the matter of Islam, but presented a nod as he agreed with Rehaan. After more than half of the journey, the lips were exhausted, the breaths were heavy, and the minds dazed. What was the only surety was the fact that they would reach Wagah Border in fifteen minutes, and while every face in the vehicle was expressionless, Rehaan’s face couldn’t contain the excitement. He had already started sniffing to get the aroma of the air that would be pretty much or entirely the same as that of Pakistan. Maira was all over his mind, and he felt that it was his love for her that had brought him so, so close to her. Pakistan wasn’t just a nation for him. It was the land of the love of his life.

All along the way, there were just a few people seen walking on the road. But as the car approached the destination, more and more people could be seen strolling. Some were shouting patriotic slogans, some were standing by the road, simply looking at the amount of vehicles that had increased at this point. Rehaan’s heart had been racing the moment the journey began, and now it was dancing with the soul.

Maira was excited at the thought of Rehaan in Punjab, which was her state as well. She had gone to take a bath and on her way, she saw her mom cursing the fanatics for creating a ruckus in the nation. Like an average Pakistani, she too was fed up of the unrest in the nation that affected people’s lives every now and then. As she went past her mother, Maira stopped all of a sudden. Seeing her mother’s frustration with the political scenario in the nation, something built up inside her. She went ahead, held her mother’s shoulders, to tell ‘I love someone, mom.’

‘Okay’, her mother sighed.

Maira realised what she had just said. Now, there was no coming back. To her surprise, she wasn’t afraid, but happy that she finally told this to someone in her home. Her mother, who was roaming around the room, collecting clothes and cursing, was standing still at the centre of the room with the pile of clothes still in her hand.

‘Who is he? What does he do?’

‘He’s Rehaan. He is a writer.’

‘And where did you meet him? Is he someone from your college?’

‘No. Neither he is someone from my college, nor have I met him, ever. I talk to him online everyday.’

‘This is rubbish! How can you love someone whom you haven’t met?’

‘Mom! He is Indian, and we haven’t met but we actually love each other, and want to be together.’

A long silence followed. The eyes of the mother and the daughter looked at each other. One had rage, confusion, agony, the other had conviction, passion, and hope. Her mom somehow managed to gather herself.

‘This can’t happen. This isn’t a movie. You know a lot comes with it.’

‘Why can’t this happen, mom?’

‘You kids don’t think logically. Grow up, Maira. All these things look good only in fairytales. That’s India. You can’t live in another country, that too when our country is constantly at war with it.’

‘What has that got to do with our love, mom? Why should we suffer because of the damn politics?’

‘I don’t know. I just know this won’t happen. Moreover, you haven’t met him. How can you say he actually loves you and wants to marry you?’

‘Mom, sometimes you can’t explain what you feel. It just is. Allah has put this love in us. Even you can’t judge him without meeting him.’

Her mother looked at her with disbelief. It was a strange feeling. Her daughter had never talked about such things. She even made fun of couples and all the talks of romance. She was confused. Her daughter had grown up, and she was deeply in love, and the latter part worried her.

The zeal and excitement at the Wagah Border was indescribable. Everybody was drenched in the colours of patriotism. Many families had arrived and they were taking selfies and group photos. The photo session was on. Harmanjot parked his Wagon-R right outside the entrance and the trio came out. He too later joined them. Rehaan’s eyes were fixed straight at the gate which would lead to the ceremony. The crowd was such that people had climbed up the walls and sat over. It was like the India-Pakistan matches. The overcrowded Indian side of the Wagah Border would see a lot of disappointed hearts when they would realise they wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony. Rehaan too had realised that, yet he stretched his neck up to see at least something or someone from the other side. Maybe the guard, or maybe a citizen, maybe hear some patriotic song from there, or maybe even a brick. He jogged ahead, leaving behind the puzzled Aslam and Wahid. The crowd had already gathered, trying to push each other and get in somehow. It was late afternoon, and the sun threw its light directly at the face, pinching the eyes. Rehaan did get a glimpse of the guards on the other side. He heard a roar from the ceremony. The crowd had gathered and was pretty much enjoying seeing each other on both sides. Perhaps the happiness was more of seeing the people from the other side than the ceremony itself. The people living at the outskirts had gathered from Pakistan. Rehaan was overwhelmed at the roar and somehow contained his tears. He assumed people do want to cross the line and visit each other and their cities and praise the culture and heritage they have in common. But the overdose of nationalism and the politics has been so engraved in the minds of people that what comes first in the mind after hearing each other’s names is war.

Rehaan’s phone beeped and he immediately fished it out from his pocket to see the signals have come and the messages and notifications were flooding in. He immediately looked for Maira’s message and opened it.

I love you.

Another roar and he looked towards the border. He stepped back from the crowd, messaged Maira that he is almost at the border and could see the guards of her nation, and finally replied ‘I love you too.’

Wahid and Aslam waited for Rehaan as he made his way back to them. Meanwhile, a little girl walked and stood beside Wahid, looking at him and smiling. She had a big locket around her neck with a picture of Hindu Goddess Durga. Wahid looked at the locket and then the beautiful eyes of the girls and couldn’t help but caress her head. That’s when her mother came and picked her up and passed a smile at Wahid and went to her husband.

‘Our hearts are not aware of Hindus, Muslims, India, Pakistan. All these things are etched in our brains as we grow up, by elders or by the society we live in. Hearts only know to love people. Hatred is in the mind, love is in the heart’, Harmanjot smiled and told Wahid and Aslam, who nodded in agreement and sighed for their ignorance so far. That’s when Rehaan joined them. With a content smile, he told them, ‘I love a girl from Pakistan. Her name is Maira. We’ve been talking for six months.’

To his surprise, his friends were delighted. They hugged him and he finally released his tears and cried in happiness. Harmanjot too smiled, standing beside them. Rehaan’s phone beeped again and he immediately took the phone out. They were leaving the Border and decided to catch the ceremony some other time. As they headed towards the Wagon-R, Rehaan read Maira’s message:

Rehaan, when will this war between Pakistan and India end? Why can’t we talk about peace and come together and fight the common enemy that is terrorism? Why can’t people shout for peace, so that all the disturbing elements in our countries know that we are together now, and we would tolerate no act of hatred on each other, whether it is verbal, physical, or some terrorist attack? Why can’t people think about love and peace for once and not dwell on the feeling of revenge and ego that both governments are feeding on? Why can’t we leave behind the facts, history, wars, and look beyond all that? Because that’s where peace lies. That’s where lies an atmosphere where it wouldn’t be wrong at all if I praise India and you praise Pakistan. We won’t be anti-nationals. That’s where lies an atmosphere where there is brotherhood, there is a shared culture, there is a feeling of nostalgia that dates back to the times when we all were together. That’s where lies a place for us, who can live together without being judged by the rest of the world. I am glad God has made this world so beautiful that soulmates eventually meet, no matter what the circumstances.

I am glad I will meet you eventually. 

– © Shahrukh Jamal 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Key To A Happy Life!

698747-326925-34‘Never be good to others’, ‘Expectations hurt’, ‘Love hurts’, ‘I hate people’, ‘It’s better to be bad/villain.’ These are some of the most common ‘negativity’ that floats around Internet. And we feel proud to be one of those who are strong and have ‘no feelings and expectations.’ I wonder why.

Firstly, I have this strong belief that whoever shares such stuff the most expects the most, and that’s because, well, everyone expects. That’s human nature. Everyone wants to be treated good, no matter how much the world has done bad to them. Even a serial killer would love to be treated good. The reason that people are dwelling over such negative thoughts proudly and share these stuff boldly only proves that negativity floats around quickly.

I have met a few precious people who, despite being hurt by friends and partners, treat everyone with love and respect. And that’s the kind of life one should have. You can’t change this harsh fact of life that at some point in your life, even your best friends can hurt you terribly. What’s the thing to note that you can always, always goal back and mend things, unless they’ve disrespected you. Most of the times, they don’t do it intentionally, but yes, sometimes you have to observe and know, that if you’re being treated in a way you don’t deserve to be treated, tell them, and if things don’t change even after that, walk away. Usually, you know who are the people worth keeping and who aren’t. Even after you lose best of friends, that doesn’t mean all people are shit. That only means that person, or people, were (supposed to be) shit for you.

I have always been good to people, always. And good has come to back to me, yes. I can’t remember having someone in my life at any point who was jealous of me or hated me. I seriously can’t. I believe that’s because I have always been good in my treatment. Of course, I do have people troubling me, but that doesn’t make me think that people are shit and are to be hated. Why degrade your good quality to bad just because of a few people? Why do you expect to be loved or respected by others if you think people suck? I have a strong belief in Karma, and even after some problems in my life, I believe my life is amazing. The friends, more than friends, all the people around me, people who support me, people who like me, all of these make my life amazing, and make me feel special. I was hurt by my friends, badly, but that never made me think they are bad. Always, I keep the good things they did in my mind, and that’s how I think of them on an overall basis. And that’s how it should be. All the time, it has happened that we have sorted out the differences. If you’re telling the world is shit and love is shit because of one or a few people you’ve met or got to know, someone might be saying the same because of you, and that doesn’t feel good, does it?

The world is already so full of negativity and hatred, and if we want our life to be peaceful and happy, we must give the same to the world, that’s the simple logic. The one who always complain and dwell on these negative statements may show themselves as the strongest people on the planet, but inside they are unable to stay happy with anything. I’ve seen that. So why not go out and love people who make your life amazing and have never disrespected you? Why not say, okay, so and so person did hurt me terribly, but the world still is a beautiful place because my friends are amazing? It isn’t a hard thing to do. People always see those with respect who despite all the negativity keep a smile on their lips and see the good in everything. Aren’t those the ones we love seeing posts about on social media?

Trust me, people who think (and there are a hell lot of them) that those who always do good to others are always crushed by the world, or are spineless, or remain in pain forever, THAT’S NOT TRUE. I love everyone, I try to be good to be everyone, but I’ll always fight when I’m not treated right I’ll leave that person and part my ways when they’d disrespect me. No one can crush you in this world except you. You have to love, and love yourself too, because self-love (don’t confuse it with self-obsession) is the most powerful tool any human can have.

Let’s be in love with people, cherish them, cherish life, because it’s too short to hate people and create a negative atmosphere (which will ONLY attract more negativity). You’ll see in spite of all the obstacles and hardships and pain, your life will be the happiest, and amazing, forever.

© Shahrukh Jamal.

 

The Shore and the Waves

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The sea waves hit the shore like never before. They reminded of shattering glass, of broken hearts and of the storms of life. The miracles were often too less in this part of the country, but they did happen, time and again. Last year, this place was among the top tourists spots around the world, and that made everyone proud. There was a festival held to celebrate the place’s 89th spot in the list. This happens a lot here, we do find ways to make ourselves happy. This time, it was the 89th place in a list produced by the US, enough to tell you that called for a celebration.

But how? This place was one of the most noisy, disturbed, dark places ever, Matthew thought, as he took a sip of coconut water he longed to throw away, but couldn’t bring himself up to it. The clouds didn’t seem white anymore, the sky wasn’t blue. The sun came and tanned the skins but never felt pleasant. The winds blew by his ear and went past mocking him of his loneliness. The beaches were always empty, though you could see a crowd swarming at or around it. The boats, the dolphins, the adventure sports as some might say, all just outer appearances to save what was left of Goa. Nothing made sense anymore. Tourists came and went, and they seemed as if they enjoyed a lot, but who could tell about a heart that had sat at one corner of almost every Goan beach and yearned for someone he could never get back, perhaps? The world seemed so joyous from outside, people were so happy, he too smiled at them, only his inner world had been destroyed.

He never lost hope, though there were times when he realized he was just being stubborn. He was never anyone’s favourite, especially after his parents kicked him out of his house when he decided he won’t go in the family business, and then one day his girlfriend dumped him. These were old stories though. Now he was 40, and as he saw it, he was more wrecked, wretched, and hurt. But he felt this was the last time he would ever be hurt. People don’t get hurt after reaching a certain age. They get used to it one day. He would sit under a tree, drinking his wine and looking at people and trying to guess if they were actually happy, or just came here to wipe off their pain they had back in their cities. His accessories included a loose shirt, shorts, a bottle of wine, and a notebook and a pen. He never loved writing, never even liked it, but he did write letters. Because, he never lost hope.

Dear Alan,

Time is such a bully. I never thought I would one day sit like this and write something to you. I thought you would come to see me. It’s been five years since you left the city you said would never leave. It’s been five years since we promised we would open our business here, and you would write a book on your life here. How’s the US? I know you’re busy there. Your job, journalism and all that. But I always sensed life in you, that you would leave your job and stay here, where your heart actually was. 

I am alone now. I hardly had any friends who never stabbed me in the back. You were my only friend, and two years on the wild beaches of Goa where we would spend our time bird-watching and talking about life and fulfillment of our souls had made me sort of a writer. I had decided I would write the letter only when I would feel the urge to. Now that I am writing, expect more from me. The storm of emotions isn’t one to calm easily, for it would actually be emotionless then if it did. 

I had thought of asking a lot of things. I forgot all of them. But I don’t mind. I think this letter was meant to be like this. This has its own essence, and hopefully it isn’t cliched. How’s your work going on by the way? Just now the thought struck that you actually might be working on our book there, in your beautiful apartment at peace, the only thing you missed when you were here. 

Do reply soon. I’ll be waiting.

Matthew.

Sand covered his feet and hid them. The sun was ready to set and he looked at some children running towards the sea, yelling. It was that time of the day again, when he had to go back to his home, to his wife whose very first question would pierce right through his heart. ‘Did he write back?’, she would ask. He wouldn’t say anything. An empty look at his wife would tell her everything, and she would regret asking the question. But in vain. She would repeat it the next day, for she loved him, and her husband’s happiness was the only thing that mattered to her, ever.

Matthew always wondered why she married him, when she could have married a handsomer guy, with riches to give her what she deserved. She ended up being with a loner, and a part of himself always felt guilty. He wasn’t rich, he was unemployed, his days would spend on the beaches and after Alan left, his world torn apart. He wasn’t someone girls would swoon over. He was lean, short, and usually kept beard. But Nicole, his wife, told him everyday she loved him because he loved her more. And she was always okay with his life, and wanted to heal him. She worked as a teacher in a school for poor kids, and was also interested in handicraft, which garnered lots of tourist attractions. She believed in Jesus, and thanked everyday for every day, and the beautiful place they got to live in.

Her husband went to the washroom and she kept his notebook on her bed, then turned to look at the waves that crashed in to the shore and screamed in joy. The sun peeped from the horizon and many came by the shore to capture the last glimpse of the burning star on their cameras. Light wind blew and Goan songs were being played somewhere. A smile came on her lips and she hummed the song, while watching the birds flying above the sea, and the joyous murmurs from the people at the beach made her feel alive, like always.

It was midnight, fortunately the time when Matthew felt better, for the coolness of the atmosphere reminded him of his mother’s hands that stroke his hair once. Nicole was happier to see her husband better. He would smile, talk to her, kiss her, sometimes make love to her, and eventually would sit in one corner and would watch the darkness at the sea. He would get a bottle of whiskey and would try to guzzle it down in one go. This was a moment when he really liked that he was married, without any feeling of guilt, as Nicole would always be there to hold him before he drank more than he should. She wouldn’t say anything. She would simply take the bottle gently from his hands, and he wouldn’t protest, realizing the next drop would cause havoc within him. She knew him more than he knew himself, but the weight of the pain his heart carried was something only he understood.

Just as it happens everywhere, there were people who mocked him of his condition, and said he missed a guy like a lover, even when he was married. A few infuriated him by reaching him and telling him he should take a divorce because he was a gay. He would start telling her that she did arouse him every night, and he loved her, but would stop before he could even start telling, knowing there was no need, and eventually they would start commenting on his wife. He once pondered over this, and talked to Nicole and asked her to tell him if she thought the same too about his sexual orientation. Though he was glad she didn’t think of him like that, he often wondered why he was so fixated at Alan. When the thought would start to bother him like a fly in a closed room, he would conclude that he would never know. Only God knew this and it didn’t really matter as well.

The waves made for the background score of his life – unsettled, angry, crying in vain. As the minutes went by, silence consolidated itself in the atmosphere. That was the moment when Nicole saw something twinkling in her spouse’s left eye. A moment later, she successfully identified it as a tear drop, and her hand went to cover her mouth as she sobbed in pain. Matthew heard her and wiped his tears. He wondered if she understood what this friendship meant to him. He gestured her to bring his notebook. The only way he expressed his love was silence. Once a talkative guy and an intelligent one too had made silence a medium to convey his emotions. Strangely, her wife found that more romantic.

She handed him his notebook, and he gently took it without looking at him. Waves were still his favourite thing to watch. He stared and stared, and then looked down at the notebook to open it and started writing.

Dear Alan,

I am sitting by the same tree at my home where you used to sit and talk about your goals and ambitions. As I see the waves taking out their grudge at the shore, a thought crosses my mind. We all are the same. All the people, things, animals, the nature, rejoice and sing in joy and mourn and wail when sad. We all have emotions, and it’s God’s way to show us that we are not alone. I talk to them. I hear them. Perhaps the waves too are waiting for the sands of the shore to immerse with them. 

I see you have changed. Now the winds hail the loneliness of my soul, the tides dance when they see they are not the only ones gloomy, and I see people talking to their colleagues, friends, and I have started to envy them. Seems my safety days are over, really. I see myself getting into brawls for no reason. I have started talking to Jesus, thinking He might help me. Do you remember you brought a DVD of Winter Light? We watched that Bergman movie and what the priest felt in the movie, I’m feeling that now – God’s silence. 

Nothing could help me now, my friend. I was lonely, I am lonely, and even though my wife tries her best to pull me out of that situation, I end up hurting her, which I regret everyday. I can’t go on like this. I’ve been writing to you since a long time. But I don’t think you have enough time to even hold a single envelope with my name on it. I still understand that you are busy and progressing. That’s what friends do, sacrifice their feelings, want to see their friend grow. I feel sick these days, a lot. Nicole says I am thinking too much, and that has taken a toll on me. I think it’s just the weather. You might remember how you had to spend a week on bed due to fever when you were here. I think this one will last a week too. 

The only thing I wish now is peace, and not a single thing more, not a single thing less.

Matthew. 

………………………………………………

The outside of his apartment displayed a beautiful view of the morning where he could see the cars lined up on the road and the footpaths crowded by walkers and joggers. The factories honked their sirens and satisfaction prevailed in the atmosphere. Everything was calm and happening, and a drive to go out and live the day always danced inside. There was nothing much to worry about, but though life seemed flowing like a pleasant river on its way, how can life be life without hardships?

He stood 6 ft tall, and had perfect, thick, black hair and a stocky build, but with complications inside. His stomach always caused problems, and he never admitted it but he always kept the glass of whiskey in his hand back when the stomach-ache would appear. That was the first thing he would do. He wanted to go to a doctor but he took that on his ego. His colleagues would often praise him for his looks and girls would look at him, and if they knew he had some problems which could be related to liver, that would be a disastrous turn off.

He looked himself in the mirror and smiled. He wouldn’t age anytime soon, he thought. 39 isn’t old. He walked back to his bed and lay down, contemplating about the day to come. Newspapers lay beside him on the bedside. He looked at them and that reminded him to go outside and have a look of the beautiful New York City. He put on a t shirt and dragged himself to stand up. Morning air was something he would never compromise on. He went ahead to unlock the door and inhaled deeply as he stepped out. The sharp rays of the sun fell right at his face, bringing him another smile. The atmosphere carried a minty fragrance. The delightful aroma of nature filled his nose.

His eyes fell on his mail box, which had two or three envelopes peeping out. He walked towards the box, took those envelope out, and regretted doing so the very next moment. His pupils dilated, a sigh escaped his lips, and he looked up at the sky in disbelief. Something watery came up at the corners of his eyes, and he couldn’t believe it were his tears, the tears that had been inside for years. The letter had the alphabets that formed up a name he had been seeing for a long time, almost everyday – Matthew Cordo.

He had always known the fact that Matthew was constantly trying to talk to him, but the life in New York was so lively, complete and ecstatic that he wanted to live in the present. He had decided not to reply to any of Matthew’s messages because that would weaken him, and somehow bring forth his hidden desire to go back to Goa and live all those moments again. He thought that ignoring the letters would send Matthew a message, but the letters kept coming still, and made him wonder why even after that he wasn’t annoyed with Matthew. He wanted to tear the letter away, but somehow that couldn’t happen, and he found himself taking the envelope inside, tearing it instead, and reading the letter.

……………………………………………………………………

He didn’t sleep that afternoon. The living room was a large one, with a big portrait of him hanging on the wall on one side, that would tell people of his status and achievements. He held a certificate in that picture, and at the bottom, in big font, was printed ‘ALAN ROBINSON Senior Correspondent, For News’. Darkness prevailed in the room. All of a sudden, rain had arrived. The raindrops that crept up the glass of the windows were the only thing that seemed pleasant to him. The rest was all gloomy. Life of New York was the same. It kept running, just like time. His had become a broken clock. He looked around the room and noticed the futility of the big house he had. His limbs were jammed, and he preferred sitting where he was – by the portrait on a chair, facing the rain. He kept brooding over the situation he was in. He replayed all the moments he had lived in Goa, and regretted that he didn’t let a single picture to be taken. Somehow, back then, he did have in mind the prospect of coming to the US and never leaving. He loved his life here, but had hidden the love for the life there, where he had gone after his breakup for a vacation. He couldn’t admit that at first, but faces of Matthew and Nicole kept showing up in his mind. He actually never forgot them. He had tried his best to avoid letters, phone calls from unknown numbers, social media to an extent, all because he feared he might bump into Matthew or Nicole or somebody else who knew them, and that would compel him to go back to India.

The letter said, along with other things, that Matthew had been sick for a long time. Had it been somebody else, Alan would have easily presumed that the guy was faking. It wasn’t the same with Matthew, who never lied. He felt restless, and thirst played a part too. He had to force himself to get up from the chair and make his limbs work to make them take him to the kitchen. He staggered, and unwillingly reached the destination. He took a glass and poured himself some water, then took some water again. A long, relaxing sigh and a sip of water afterwards fulfilled him, and when he went out of the bathroom, he was a little bit different.

He didn’t go back to the living room. Instead, he changed his route and proceeded towards his room, which was darker. Immediately, the wardrobe was opened and an opened suitcase was kept on the bed. Then, the clothes were being taken out of the wardrobe, and a smile began to appear around his lips but just then, his eyes fell on a name scribbled on the right door of the wardrobe – SUSAN, it said, and he kept looking at it, until the corners of his eyes went watery all over again.

He met Susan Wilkes through one of his colleagues a year ago. They started going out, having a great time, and they had become great friends. She had always maintained though that they could never be together, despite him telling her a lot of times that he loved her. Once, they got drunk and the room where he was right now became the one where they had sex. Later, when they gained their senses back, Alan had hoped for something but Susan started feeling uncomfortable. She couldn’t face him anymore and all of a sudden, she disappeared one day. It was three months later that he learnt she was marrying someone whom her parents had seen for her. He, with all the grief he had, decided at that moment that he would never marry.

He came back from his train of thoughts and resumed packing. After he was done, a moment of realization froze him. All this while, he had been running from something, and someone he loved. He had prepared himself to be harsh to Matthew, and had hoped the pain would go away someday, and he would forget everything. But pain doesn’t just goes away. It’s like the rain, it keeps coming at you, and finds its place in a pothole in your heart. When the rain is gone, the pain stays in the hole, and comes out to haunt you, torment you, take your peace away, make you wonder things you didn’t wonder or the things you avoided before. Outside it rained heavily, and it would end sometime, but the inner rain, the inner conflict created more disasters than a lightning ever would, than any natural calamity ever would. It was a slow and painful death, coming from all sides to snatch away from you the tranquility of your life.

Alan stared at the clothes piled up in the suitcase. One of them was the shirts he had worn the most in Goa. He had taken it out after five years, and it looked as fresh as it looked back then, or perhaps his eyes had changed, his perspective too. He smiled, tears rolled down his cheeks, then closed the suitcase, then went to grab his phone to check for flights.

…………………………………………………

He had expected it, but sometimes even when you expect something to happen, you are surprised when you see it. It wasn’t the same Goa he had left five years ago. Pretty much was the same, of course, but he could notice the changes and improvements done to the area near the airport. The smell was still the same. Petrichor smelt all around. The rain had followed him here too. All the same greenery, the same markets, the boats, fishes, roads, and the rain. He had booked a cab and sat by the window. He kept changing the sides whenever a familiar place came up. Some of the churches were renovated. Some were the same. He could smell the beaches around. He could smell the sea, the tides, the waves, that had had him years ago, and these smell. the fragrances never left him at the first place. It all seemed real, it all seemed him.

He began sobbing, and his heart felt like a weight on his chest. The scenic beauty were overwhelming, and the nostalgia had taken over him. He could not help but feel the skin of the situation, the city, everything that had once held him and made it difficult for him to leave and forget. All had come back, and it was immersing him again. He was helpless, but perhaps he wanted to be helpless. He was weak, and sometimes, only sometimes, weak is good.

As the car went ahead and the distance to Baga Beach lessened, his heart started pounding more and more. It was like the headlights in the night. He thought he had forgotten the places, landmarks, signs, but as he kept looking at them, they, from the subconscious, started coming ahead, and he could tell at most of the places what would come ahead. A grin came across his lips, and he started laughing in joy. The driver looked at him through the mirror and tried to decipher the reason for the laughter, but gave up the very next moment.

The cab finally reached its destination after a not-so-long trip which amused Alan a lot more than he had expected and wanted to. He paid the driver and stepped out of the car. There  were a few small houses lined up in the vicinity. They were all similar. He looked at them and reminded himself that there used to be only one house like that, and it was Matthew’s. He remembered it was the one closest to the sea. Now, as he walked up the rocks to go towards the beach, he could see a couple of houses nearby. There wasn’t just one house nearest to the sea, but three. His mind got puzzled, but he didn’t waste a moment to walk ahead and look at the houses closely. He could hear his heart beat louder and louder as he proceeded closer to the houses. The waves roared, the weather was cloudy, and lightning happened almost every second in the sky. The winds brushed against his hair, and he had to force himself a little bit to keep up with his pace. He reached the first house with a single door, and called a name. No one answered. He hesitated for a moment, then entered.

The very first thing he saw was a table, on which a basket was kept. There were old pictures hung on the wall. The house was small. The kitchen was too. There were some clothes hung on the hooks on the wall. Cold wind blew and it reached inside effortlessly. Alan felt home. He looked around and saw some pictures on the wall. He went closer and had a look at them.

The first picture showed a man with a lady. They both sat by the shore. One picture showed the same man with a big fish in his arms. Another picture showed both of them in their wedding attires. One picture, hung a little aloof from the rest of them, showed the man sitting on a bed, smiling.

‘Matthew’, Alan sighed. Tears rolled down his cheek.

He immediately looked around the house. His heart was filled with joy, he started whistling, and singing, then he yelled names  of Matthew and Nicole. Then he realized his friend was sick, so he either must be at a clinic. He still walked further inside to the other rooms. The next room had a huge pile of clothes, and on one side was the bed. He looked at the bed and memories came back. He used to laugh and sing and the trio – Matthew, Nicole and him, used to play cards here. They would teach him Goan songs and would talk about music, movies and life. Theirs had become a small world, which they loved and didn’t regret at all. It was all peaceful, and joyous.

He went back to the previous room, and looked back at the pictures, when suddenly he heard footsteps approaching. He couldn’t tell if the footsteps were meant for the same house he was in or the other ones. But he kept on reliving his memories through the pictures. The next moment, a woman stepped in, dressed in black. He saw her, and immediately was taken aback. She was beautiful, and had long, black hair. Her eyes were puffy, and skin was dull, until a stream of tears flowed down from her left eye.

‘Nicole…how are you?’, Alan asked hesitantly.

‘How are you, Alan?’

Alan came closer to her, and he wanted to ask her about her condition, but perhaps he knew already, and he wished he was innocent enough to not know the reason of the sadness she wore at the moment. He was struggling with words and the only thing breaking the silence between them was the loud waves and the thunders in the sky. He wanted to hug her to comfort her, but that seemed awkward given that they were meeting after five years. And just then…

‘He always remembered you. He waited for you till his last breath.’

Alan began shaking his head in disbelief, then his eyes turned full of tears. He sat down on the floor, digging his head in his palms. Nicole grabbed him and hugged him. He started wailing and shouting, beating himself, slapping himself. Nicole held him tighter, but he broke free and kept on. Cursing himself, he started pulling his hair. Nicole grabbed him again, and began crying too.

‘I am not a good person. I’m a coward, the most selfish man, that’s what I am’, he said.

It wasn’t easy for him. Nicole told him he waited till the last breath. He recalled all those moments when he could have replied and gone back. He would’ve then seen him laugh, gone to fishing with him, they would have dived in the sea together. He would’ve played cards together, gone to the market together, learnt from him, would’ve inspired him, as he himself was inspired. But the thing with life is, when it chooses to displease you, it chooses the worst way possible. He tried to convince himself that he wasn’t at fault, but his instincts screamed and cursed him. He was a self-centred person who loved his comfort zone, and that cost him his inner comforts for life now.

Nicole had just come from the funeral, and she went to the bedroom, closed the room from inside, and slept. Alan remembered she used to say sleep is the best way to forget things, to kill the time. That day it meant to be a joke, and he had never imagined he would see her apply that quote of hers like this. He looked at the pictures again, and sighed deeply to acknowledge the bitter fact that he would have to live with this regret for the rest of his life. He went out of the house. It had started raining, everywhere. The waves crashed against the shore, the thunder wailed, the lightning sobbed. The gloom took over and made the clouds dark.There was emptiness, a hollowness, a life that couldn’t be a life anymore. The waves always meet the shore, somehow. They rage, they cry, they regret, but they always have the  fortune to meet the shores and get immersed in their sands. Matthew had always said nature is us, and we all are the same. We too can meet like shore and waves do. We too, can.

Alan kept thinking about Matthew’s words, and his brisk pace led him nearer and nearer to the sea. Agony and joy are all the parts of the life, and while we don’t get to choose the pain most of the times, some of the times, we are in charge, and one mistake leads to a deep regret, and that can scar us right down to our souls. That regret is a reflection of your wrong actions, which may last for the rest of the life, which may even lessen the life.

And sometimes, it may immediately end the life.

© Shahrukh Jamal

Mother

SHARE IF YOU LOVE YOUR MOM. Saksham looked at the picture posted by someone on Facebook and muttered gibberish and turned the laptop off directly. He couldn’t see why people had to post such things. He slid the laptop in the bag and kept it on one side of the table. Then he lay on the messy bed, but he couldn’t sleep.

It was 1 am in the night when he grabbed his smartphone and switched to Facebook again. The lights of the room were off and the only thing visible in the room was his brightened face. He scrolled through his news feed for a moment, then stopped.

SHARE IF YOU LOVE YOUR MOM.

The post was there again, in front of his eyes. The pink-coloured thick, bold Albertus font with white background, and beneath it 1.4K reactions of people. He kept looking at the post for minutes, then he pressed like and shared it instantly.

A surge of relief went in his veins. Unburdened now, he could sleep. If only he could share it just like his friends did – genuinely. He did love his mom, he thought. When she accused him of having an affair with his sister, just because she was close to him and not his elder brother, he had been able to suppress his anger and kept silent as she told him gently to leave her. He listened to her like an obedient child, the sophistication of an elite-born kid who would die but won’t eat food with his hands. He was gentle to her. Yes, he loved her. Another day, she called him a moron, just because he accidentally bumped into her while she was busy playing Candy Crush on her phone as she stood by the door. He didn’t believe when she said that, but admitted that she’s a mom after all. Moms are supposed to be loved, moms can never be wrong, moms are God on earth. Yes, so what if she called him a moron? She didn’t kill him, did she? Yes, he loved her. He had a point, moms do get agitated. No issues.

He didn’t sit at the dinner table tonight. His sister was ordered to give him the food in his room and don’t close the door after entering. She was expected back in thirty seconds from his room upstairs to the dinner table. While Saksham enjoyed his aloo paranthas in his bed quietly, he could overhear how according to his mother his sister Aparna had failed to return in time because she let him feel his hands as she delivered him food, and they even kissed and sucked each other’s lips before he let her go. That detailing though, Saksham thought her mother could have been a great writer. It wasn’t always a kiss between him and his sister, as her mother told. It was either sucking the lips, or biting them. Sometimes tongue-to-tongue followed by fondling. No wonder she was having sleepless nights, Saksham sighed in disgust.

‘Appu, why do you think you’re ugly You’re pretty!’ The mother did think Aparna was pretty.

‘No, ma! I am not. You’re saying this to make me feel better.’

‘Come on, beta! Don’t you think she’s pretty, Saksham?’

Saksham was opening the can of jam to begin his breakfast soon when he turned his head towards his mother and then his sister, then he nodded and began, ‘Are you mad? You’re pretty. What do you want your skin color to be, white? You’re prettier than your school friends.’

He said that and smiled, then a look went to his mother, who should be happy with his son that he motivated her sister. Well, she raised her eyebrows and left him almost peeing in his pants. Her lips trembled with rage. Aparna saw them and startled. The next moment, mother stood and banged her hands on the table, then yelled with what could have been her full energy.

‘Don’t tell me you don’t sleep with her!’

Aparna started crying and immediately stood up to leave. Her mother turned and kicked her butt. She fell on the ground and cried more as she heard her mother say ‘disgusting’ softly. Saksham saw all this with eyes and mouth wide open.

By the night, it was usually normal. Mother would watch TV, which she watched anyway all day in the loudest volume. She would be immersed in her daily soaps, and Saksham believed that’s where she got all the crap in her mind. That was her escape, and her kids’ too. They would assemble at one room and sit and dig their faces in their phones, yet communicating through silence. Many times, the modern technology would come to their rescue. They couldn’t talk much in front of the mother, so they would ping each other on messengers, telling about their day and how their crush looked at them and gave them something to fantasize.

These were the moments when the kids, especially the boy, missed the father. His father worked in a bank, and was notorious in his mother’s eyes because he spent a lot of money on his children’s wishes, but not on hers. The kids would want to go to an amusement park? Alright, here’s the money. They want to hang out with friends? Alright, take the money. They want to join extra-curricular classes? Alright, take as much money as you want. Well, why? Mother always recalled all the moments when her husband snubbed her for the kids. She wants to buy the most expensive necklace in the city – no; she wants all the money to buy things her niece has got so that she is not the only one to show off – no money for you; she would keep all the money with her as the husband may use them on prostitutes – what? Disgusting!

Her husband surely didn’t love her, she decided. Though, surprisingly, he did have some values left, maybe that’s why he loved his children. But he didn’t love her. He was bored, and wanted another woman, then another. He could die in hell. Such thoughts would bring an inner peace to her mind. A smirk would appear on her lips, followed by its disappearance in the very next moment.

 

‘Wake up, wake up, you disgrace!’

Saksham woke up to kicks at his hip. His mother stood there with a broom in her hand and rage in her eyes. He looked at her straight in her eyes and managed to utter ‘No school for a month, ma. Exams have just ended’, a moan and he lay again.

‘Wake up, I say. Do something useful with your life. I know you’re going to fail. That’s how you hurt your mother. You were such a bright kid, but now, only internet, girls, you’ll be just like your father. I don’t remember the last time I went to your parent-teacher meeting. I feel ashamed to go with you. Wake up!’ She kicked again.

This time, Saksham yanked himself and hurtled towards the washroom, and then locked himself inside and started sobbing. Aparna saw him going like that as she lifted the fry pan to turn the omelet. Mother came to the kitchen and saw her looking towards the washroom, then slapped her on the head and gestured to do her work.

‘You don’t need to care about him much. I see you are always interested in where he is, where he is going and what he is doing. He’s your brother, okay? Treat him like a brother.’

‘Ma, I know he is my brother.’

‘Oh, right, that’s the cover you use for your ridiculous activities with him, right? You’re 17. You shouldn’t spend much time with him. You should tell him to stay away from you. Behave like you’re his grown-up sister.’

‘Ma, I’m telling you…’

‘You don’t need to tell me anything. I have seen how he hugs you, and how you hug him back. I had never imagined such shameful things would happen in my home. When I’ll die, then you can do whatever you want. Till then, give some peace to my mind. It’s my fault. I wanted a girl. Your dad said he was fine with a boy, but I didn’t listen. This is why you should sometimes listen to your husband, no matter how big jerks they are. Sometimes they are right too.’ A hiatus, ‘Don’t be with him much. I’ll have my eyes on you constantly.’

 

……………………………………………

 

The clock showed 11:30 in the night. The beds were ready. Saksham was in his room lying on his bed with his phone in hands. There was a knock and then the door opened. Aparna came in and sat beside him. He looked at her, knowing the feeling is mutual, then nodded to ask her what’s up.

‘Ma told me to stay away from you’, Aparna said in a low voice.

‘You must not listen to her.’

‘I know, but you know how it is.’

‘Damn, we’re siblings. How on earth can she think all this about us?’

Aparna sighed. ‘She doesn’t know I’m here’, she said.

‘She’s watching TV?’

‘Yeah!’

‘Alright, we both must fight against this. She can’t torture us like this.’

‘I know, but what can we do? She’s our mother after all.’

‘Yes, one who can think such rubbish about her children.’

‘Do you have anything in mind?’

‘That’s the sad part’, Saksham sighed, ‘not really.’

The door opened in a jolt. Saksham and Aparna turned their gaze towards it. To their horror, they saw their mother standing at the door. Her hair was messy. She had worn a night gown which had its colors faded. In her right hand was a knife, and her left fist was clinched tightly. She looked at her children with a rage that had made her eyes turn red and watery. She walked slowly towards the bed. Saksham and Aparna stared at her in fear. She raised the hand with the knife and suddenly she started crying.

‘I’m ashamed you both are my children. I’m ashamed I didn’t hear my husband the only time he made sense. You both kill me every day!’

She lunged towards them, and it was at the nick of time that they managed to dive and save themselves. She fell on bed and yelled and stood up again; they both had run out of the room by then. She followed them to the dining table. Saksham had crept by the wall behind the curtains, and Aparna had crouched beneath the table, only to be seen by her mother immediately.

‘You’, she yelled and Aparna screamed back in horror. She pushed her mother and managed to come out from beneath the table to run to the kitchen. Her mother lay on the floor and started weeping.

‘Why, God? Why? What had I done to deserve such children? What had I done to deserve such a husband? Why my children can’t be good to their mother and listen to them once? Why?’

‘Because you’re sick!’

Saksham revealed himself now and stood near the dining table. Her mother looked at him with teary eyes.

‘Just look around and see what you are doing to us. You’re always suspicious, I don’t know why. Your mind has filth, and that’s how you can think of such ridiculous accusations. Where do you learn all this from? Those silly daily soaps that you watch, right? You’re unbelievable, mother. You don’t know your children; you haven’t met any of my teachers since years. I can tell you don’t know what I study, what my favourite subject is, who my friends are. All you want to know about and hear me admit is that I go and sleep with girls, including my sister. Mother, we have always craved your love, since childhood. But all we have seen you doing is yelling at that and then us, and I hope you remember you abused me too. Why everything is so negative for you, mother? Why not for once you can trust and support your children? Why?’

The mother stared at Saksham, and then she looked at Aparna, who was standing by the kitchen door, sobbing. She stood up, the knife still in her hands, and took slow, measured steps towards Saksham.

‘How dare you talk to me like that? I have sacrificed my happiness for you, and you say I don’t support you? And yes, I don’t go to your school and I won’t, ever. You are a disgrace and you must feel that every day. You and your sister, you both are…’ she resumed weeping again.

‘You both can’t torture me. You think you will win. You will not. This is my home, and you can’t bring filth here. I loved both of you very dearly and could do anything that you’ve asked me to, but this is madness. It’s a sin. I can’t let this happen in my home. It’s my fault. It’s the biggest mistake of my life, thinking that a girl will understand and love me more. I was too naïve in motherhood. I became so weak then. If only I had known I was going to give birth to sinners like you. It’s my fault. I ruined everything.’

‘No, ma, you…’ Saksham was interrupted by a horrible sight that made him leave a gasp. Behind him, Aparna screamed and began wailing. The knife that their mother had was dug deep in her forehead, to make the biggest and a fatal wrinkle there. Blood spilled out from her forehead and soon the floor was red with the pool of her blood. She had stabbed herself with absolute vigour. Blood came out from her mouth too. By then, Saksham and Aparna had grabbed her and Saksham made her lie on her lap. It was only a few seconds later that he saw those eyes that had rage ones turn lifeless. The face turned expressionless, as if oblivion to all that occurred in her mind. The limbs were loose now, and blood was all over her face and on the neck, and the kids were soaked in that as well.

Neither of the child had the courage to take out the knife that was dug deep in the forehead. Aparna grabbed her mother and hugged her, Saksham had sat back. She yelled the cries of ‘why’ twice and began crying louder and louder. Saksham’s eyes were fixed at the body of the woman he tried to love so much but couldn’t, and the only thing he felt was fear. For a moment, the feeling of relief surged inside him, but he realized a major part of him wanted to undo this mishap. He stood up and went two steps back. Aparna was there in front of his eyes, crying and hugging her mother everytime she saw her messy face. The blood was spilled all around. He felt a sudden uneasiness within himself, which grew immediately to its highest point.

Saksham screamed in agony and started wailing.

 

A Kubrick Odyssey

Just a random story, a tribute to Stanley Kubrick. It doesn’t have a perfect or even well-thought beginning nor ending. The idea is to live Kubrick for a few moments, that’s it.

stanley_kubrick11

Even the word ‘movie buff’ was an understatement, some said about Abhay. It seemed right. Everytime he came to the neighbourhood shops or visited a friend nearby, they knew what he was going to talk about – movies. Sometimes there was Clint Eastwood with his cowboy hat, shooting in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and sometimes there would be Jake Gyllenhaal’s intense performance in Nightcrawler. Sometimes he would talk about how Roman Polanski was obsessed with ladies, and this would be followed by certain examples and ‘theories’, other times it would be Scorsese and his trademarks in his movies. Be it college, or work, or his best friends or the random people, Abhay just knew movies. For him, they were a different world altogether, and the only parallel world we could see. Many said that they lived movies; he said even movies lived him.

His room was what one would expect, full of posters. On one wall there would be Rocky, the other wall would have Jaws and Jurassic Park. The next one would have Titanic and Gangs of New York, one had Eastern Promises and Life is Beautiful. His drawers were filled with DVDs of famous movies, and for the rest, his laptop had become the movie store. He would download twenty movies together and would prepare himself for the feast that would go on for three to four weeks. It was heaven for him, but not completely.

He would receive calls from his parents only to get scolded throughout. Lame, useless, mishap, the words stung him and he fought back, for he knew he won’t be able to live up to their expectations. It was a shame, he thought, dragging his butt everyday to the engineering college, only to skip them and roam around or go to movies. He knew he would make a movie someday. He dreamt of being a visionary director, like his most favourite Stanley Kubrick.

Yes, Kubrick was the man, he always wondered, the one who could do anything with camera. He didn’t believe in magicians, because they couldn’t do a Kubrick! It’s silly, he admitted, but it was passionate. His admiration for the director rose with every movie he watched of his. There was no coming back after he watched his first Kubrick movie – 2001: A Space Odyssey.

He loved it more than anything. He loved it right from the beginning, when the black screen immersed him for minutes, and the music in the background put him in a state of anticipation, which only grew with every passing minute; when the sun, earth and moon came in one line to give a stunning visual people in ’68 would not have imagined; when the apes (they looked so real) learnt to use tools, and the space part, oh, he loved everything. That fantastic edit from bone to spaceship was the scene he saw in dreams many times.

He always thanked the day his friend made him watch that space epic at his home. Before that, he said, he had been misguided. He worshipped Kubrick. He admired other greats of the filmmaking universe, but Kubrick was someone worth beyond just admiration. One would know that when he would sit and the topic would be Stanley Kubrick. The anecdotes would be fired one after the other, and it didn’t matter whether the listener loved it or got bored or abused him and went his way.

The summer was at its peak, and a night walk could somehow ease the discomfort. Though there was no sign of wind or even a breeze, but strolls do have some psychological effects that give us calmness. It was around 10 when Abhay locked his room and hurtled out on the street. He had been studying but that didn’t do anything good. He still couldn’t believe how he managed to go six hours without doing anything related to movies. No watching, no talking, no online portal discussions, not even reviewing, which he did everytime he watched a movie, only to keep them in his ‘Movie reviews’ folder for his friends to see. He never liked writing, but movies opened his mind, and since then he started typing his words onto the blank Word document, that, of course, contained nothing else but movies.

The street by this time of the night would go deserted. The leaves were still, and there weren’t dogs around to bark and claim their territories. No vendor either, and no sight of the footpath beds too. The humidity brought to him several urges: to go naked, or to jump in a massive pool of water, or to curse the Japanese for not inventing some sort of cooler that one could attach in his dress. He would, at times, blow a little breath through his lips towards his immature moustache to feel some sensation of relief. Yes, it didn’t work, but not always one should think about logics and practicals.

Now his aimless walk found a purpose. He steadied himself to look for a trace to make sure he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t afraid. This just occurred to his mind, and he decided to play a little game to indulge himself somehow. The best thing to forget the torturous humidity. Within a mile from where he started the game, there wasn’t a trace of any being. The emptiness of the environment gave him a peculiar feeling inside. He wondered if this was a dream, or some weird occurrence that he had seen in some movies. Maybe it’s like Midnight in Paris. Maybe after 10, the city turned into some silent graveyard, or to a post-apocalypse scenery. Or perhaps it was like one of those what-if situations, and this was: what if you are the only person in the entire world, or at least the city? Or maybe, what if you think you are the only person in the entire world or city?

That made sense. That must make sense, he thought. He walked all over the clean, wet road and gave a look at every shop or house that passed by to see a trace of any human being, even the ones sleeping in their homes. Maybe somewhere a light would be on, or he would see through a window a fan running, or maybe the sound of cooler. Well, no. It was as if the entire city had been locked up since years, as if it was recently found in excavation. The best part, he grinned at the thought, was that he never thought he was making silly stories. Movies gave him imagination, and so he imagined. And he loved when he imagined.

An arch could be seen ahead. It was a tunnel, made of solid bricks and the entrances were broad. There was strict darkness within but the lights from either sides illuminated the structure from inside. He walked ahead, his pace increased, and he could see the wet road shining in the light. One or two steps further and, eureka, he saw a man sitting inside on the left side, by the wall. He looked at him at a moment, struggling inside with a decision to go there or stay. The next moment he stepped ahead, celebrating inside for he had won. He was not alone, thank God. The guy might be drunk, or homeless, or some criminal, the possibilities were many, but none that could make Abhay halt and turn back. He was getting lured nonetheless. The darkness of the tunnel didn’t scare him, the man sitting there didn’t, for some funny reason, the possibility that it wouldn’t be something to cherish scared him. Thanks to his monotonous life and the influence of movies, he believed he deserved much better. He had always believed that.

With every step that brought him closer to the man, his wide span of imagination pictured several things, one of which could be inside the tunnel. He never kept away from thinking the man could be a magician, or even God himself. Anything is possible in this world, he thought, we just have to believe. His white t-shirt embraced his lean body as he found himself all wet and sweaty. He paced himself up and reached the tunnel, which was surprisingly clean. The man was sleeping. Half of his body was covered in the pitch darkness, the other half, to be precise, the legs, were the only parts Abhay had seen from a distance. He couldn’t figure out if the man was actually sleeping, passed out or dead. He reached him and looked at him for a moment. Then he called out, ‘Hey!’

The man sat up properly and for the very first time Abhay saw his face. He was bald, with some white hair remaining around his head. He had a thick moustache and white beard, and glasses on his eyes. He had worn a coat and his tie was loose from the collar. He looked exhausted, but his eyes seemed energetic. He looked straight in the eyes of Abhay and stood up, leaving Abhay in disbelief for once, then in shock, then in a slight horror, later defeated by the delight.

Stanley Kubrick was standing right before his eyes.

‘Mr. Kubrick! Mr. Kub…’ Abhay’s voice kept fading. His feet trembled, and he couldn’t understand what this was all supposed to mean. His breath turned heavy, and the heart pounded. His pupils dilated, partially in horror, and his lips went dry. In spite of such a sight of disbelief and weirdness, he felt an adrenaline rush in his spines. The sense of joy filled his nerves and immediately everything seemed to have been coloured in his world.

‘Yes’, Kubrick’s voice was deep and husky. ‘I missed this tunnel so much.’

And then, for the very first time, Abhay realised that there wasn’t any tunnel where he stood. It must be a dream, he wondered.

‘T…tunnel..? Why?’

‘Last time I was here it was in 1970 or 71. I was directing…’

‘A Clockwork Orange!’ Abhay exclaimed.

Kubrick looked at the boy and nodded his head. ‘A Clockwork Orange.’

‘I love that movie, sir. In fact, I love all your movies.’

Stanley chuckled, and kept a hand around Abhay’s shoulders. They walked out of the tunnel. Abhay waited for Stanley to say something. He wanted to know him, now that he was with him. He wanted to know his mind, and then boast about it to everyone who mocked him. But he knew it’s like those films when no one else would believe or see Stanley.

Abhay, while walking, jumped to his feet in excitement, and Stanley startled.

‘What is it, boy?’

‘Why did you make 2001?’

‘Because I wanted to.’

‘Why you wanted to make 2001?’

Stanley turned to Abhay and studied his face. Even in this humidity, the boy’s face glowed with enthusiasm. His eyebrows had risen and his glittering eyes awaited his favourite director’s response. He wanted an answer, and Stanley tried to hide his smile and succeeded, before he responded to the boy’s query.

‘Don’t you know?’ was all he said.

‘I know, but want to hear you on this.’

‘Hmm’, he paused, then resumed, ‘Humans, us humans were the reason for it. We think we are Gods, don’t we? We may pray, we may say we believe, but when we are given power, when we are made to feel extraordinary, that’s when we believe that maybe there is no God. We are supreme. We created machines. We are developing. Are we? Mankind has progressed so much that it’s in danger now.’

‘Hmmmmmmm’, Abhay pursed his lips. The sound of their shoe-heels echoed in the seemingly empty street. Both of them were drenched in sweat now, but there wasn’t any sign of exhaustion, or boredom. Passion was in their nerves, passion to know, to describe, to explain. One hell of a night, Abhay thought.

He took in some breath, then turned to Stanley. ‘You’re right. Deforestation, modern machines, robots, we think we are doing this mankind good, but we’re luring it to destruction. War and politics, you know better.’

‘Who doesn’t?’ Stanley responded. ‘We all know what wars do to people. It looks cool from the outside, but some of them go through more than just a war, or bloodshed, or hatred. Everything, everyone is involved. You see the limit to which a human can go, and turn insane. Right and wrong is lost. The line is diminished. Everything goes to the oblivion. The devil takes over your mind.’

‘So this is why wars always fascinated you?’

‘They didn’t fascinate me. They disturbed me. This entire concept of war is natural but anti-nature. It is disheartening.’

Abhay nodded. His mind was filled with lots of questions, but he didn’t want to annoy Stanley, whose face already seemed to show a certain degree of infuriation. They walked to a park. The dogs were all over the grass. Some snuggled into the bushes, some were over the walls. There were also some kittens playing around the benches. Stanley walked up to them and picked a brown one and started caressing her fur. Abhay folded his arms across his chest and watched him getting indulged with the kittens and almost forgetting that he was not alone. All of a sudden, cool breeze blew and sighs from both the men came out as they looked at each other with a satisfactory smile.

‘Damn, this feels homely. I had cats. I loved them.’

‘Yes, I have seen on internet.’

Stanley chuckled. Modern times, he thought.

‘The world is a canvas. If you see it closely, there is geometry everywhere, there is beauty in every bit. Today, you folks have everything right before you ‘cause of internet. Great thing, but give yourself some time to be with nature, everything about nature. Observe the people, animals, trees, things, and your life will change.’

‘Yeah, that’s why you are…were…umm….whatever…so obsessed with symmetrical shapes. I’ve noticed in all your movies.’

‘Not just symmetry, all sorts of shapes. We have art all around us’, Stanley kept the kitten down, and made an O with his fingers, ‘the world itself has this shape, so you can’t ignore the shapes and objects around us, can you?’

‘No, but we do. I do.’

‘You shouldn’t! One can live without the machines and stuff, but how can you survive without nature? Machines begin to control you after you start loving them. I hope you know that.’

Yes, Abhay thought, and recalled in his mind the famous scene of 2001, where HAL tries to take revenge from the astronauts who want it destroyed.

‘You watch a lot of movies?’ Stanley asked.

‘Yes, sir. I aspire to be a director, but my parents don’t…’

‘Shut up. Just go out and make movies. Get a camera, or borrow it, or whatever, and go out and shoot. You are not a kid anymore, are you?’

‘Yeah, but things here are a bit complicated.’

‘You mistook me for a fool. You sure don’t plan to adjust yourself to these complications, do you?’

‘No.’

‘See, you’ve got only one life, and so you got to do what you wish to do. It’s your life. You aren’t someone’s lamp to fulfill their wishes. What about your wishes? Just go out, make some movies, go out. And please, make some sensible movies.’

Abhay saw Stanley’s eyes rolling. He smiled and nodded in agreement. The wind starting blowing. To their delight, the rain may come soon. The sky also roared and banging of windows could be heard. The sound of it was beautiful.

‘You are used to this humidity, I am not.’, Stanley grunted.

They kept walking ahead. Abhay’s mind was filled with visuals he would use in his movies. He imagined himself as an acclaimed director, just like Kubrick. He would make serious, debatable, even controversial cinema. Who better than Kubrick to give some advice on filmmaking? He turned to Kubrick, and found himself alone.

He looked around. He was alone. The wind blew faster and with a loud, long roar, the rain started. Abhay kept looking around. He checked the nearby stores. No trace of Kubrick, or anyone. He looked at the sky and felt the rain drops kissing his face every second. A smile of satisfaction emerged on his lips. It was a dream come true. It was a memorable experience, one that no one would believe, but it won’t matter, because it was meant for him.

He turned around, still not giving up, and headed for the bridge where he met him, unsure of the existence of the bridge itself.

A Time for Yourself

Society is a complicated thing. It was meant to eradicate the loneliness, but it ends up alienating anyone who decides to choose a so-called ‘different path’. It, most of the times, makes you feel as if you’re doing it all wrong. You start doubting yourself. This gives you dilemmas and you become pretty confused about your life.

It’s quite appalling how we find ourselves entangled in this societal web. All the time we think we are the ones choosing our lives, but somewhere it is done by the society. You go to school, you go to college, you look for a job, you marry. It’s a systematic set up we have, right? And yet, often we come across people complaining that they couldn’t do something they wanted to because they were busy in studies, or job, or kids, etc.  The thing is, they want something, they love doing something but they won’t. Why? Society. They are something else. They may be artist, painter, writer, inventor, designer, anything, but they have been told to do things in a systematic way, which may or may not let you be yourself.

I’m not saying that society only discourages people. There are many, including me, I hope, who find out time for themselves when they come back from college or job. They keep doing the things they love. But this is happening with me: I have started feeling that I can enjoy a gap after my graduation, and may do post-graduation later. It seems cool. I will be completing my debut novel, which I’ve been writing since two years. I won’t have to worry like ‘oh, I shouldn’t be writing, I should be studying for a test we have the next week. The test of a subject I didn’t even want.’ Here, I’m not at all saying that studies are nothing. Well, studies are everything. But at my age, when I realized all that I’ve been doing since childhood was study, study, without any break, I will feel like taking a break to complete or do things I have been wanting to do since a long time, but can’t because I’m provoked to believe that I’m going the wrong path, or this isn’t what I should be doing. The only reason why I think of studying further right now is because I’m wondering what my parents and relatives would say. I too am a victim of society. I can’t break this chain so easily, even though I KNOW I can do a lot even if I don’t study further.

But the framework of society is such that you are expected to do certain things. If you listen the call of your soul and follow it, without anything else to distract or discourage you, you must be ready to be recognized as crazy and worthless. As long as you have a certain talent and you have passion and patience to keep working on it and presenting it before the world, I don’t think a break from studies is going to alter your life, or let’s be direct, make you miserable.

We are humans, we are by nature. We have our soul and minds to make us want a lot of things and we are capable of achieving almost anything. I believe, to constrain an acceptable desire of a human with certain boundaries is sort of anti-nature. We want to do a lot, but we have a fear of this society. Responsibilities are great, and they make you strong and capable, but a bit of time just for your own isn’t cruelty. We live only once, and even in that life 95% we live to fulfill expectations of others. The system is such that we will always be consumed with that 95%, so if we have a chance of living those 5% to our 100%, the society must support that. It seems cool to say that we don’t care about anyone, but the fact is there is at least one person in everyone’s life whom we care about. And not everyone is as free as some who think society is a trap. A little bit of open-mindedness regarding human life and desire is needed so that people like me can easily take the steps towards living.

Our Tale

You have become a part of me,

That’s why I miss you.

I look at you and I want to love you.

I talk to you and I crave our hug.

Our paths may never cross,

But my love is pure.

We are extraordinary.

You are the cloud and I am the earth.

You are soaring high, and I am looking at your beauty and smiling,

And the space between us is our tale

That we cherish and write everyday.