Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paru and I

This story is about me. I have been sitting in my posh upscale office in New York City and watching the mad rush of the Manhattan downtown. Rejoicing the beauty of the new d├ęcor I got for my office, I looked satisfied in the mirror on my desk. I smiled at my face beaming with pride of leading a Multi-National Bank as a Vice President. Having travelled all over the world, I developed a fancy for anything that is of a ‘brand’.
Suddenly I remembered Paru, my old friend back in India. Paru and I started life together and we were very hardworking young girls always aspiring for new things and new horizons. I think having the right opportunities at the right time made the difference and I soon started to climb the corporate ladder.

Unknowingly amidst the entire quest, the touch of luck started to embrace me towards success that is now a reflection in my life. But unfortunately for Paru, things did not materialize as she dreamt. She took up a small time accountant job in a firm and got married and raised a family.

I looked at the clock, that’s imported from Germany. It is 5 pm in New York, and it must be 8 am in India. Paru would have completed her cooking, packed her lunch box, and would get her kids ready to school, finished her cleaning and washing and would be getting ready in her salwar kameez, un-ironed most of the time, and running to catch the crowded bus at 8.30.

My new sedan smiled at me telling that I have none of those hassles. Paru may be standing all the way to office going by bus, tolerating the preying men’s hands on her shoulders and hips., sometimes someone stamping on her feet and making her feel like falling down in the jam packed bus.

I grabbed my new iPhone and dialed her number. She responded with the first ring and I could hear her smile….and in her usual poetic way started to talk to me.,

’Rejoice this morning going old, as the setting sun on the other world,

Loved to grace my morning fine., how I wish to tell this friendship being mine…..’ .

I could hear the bus conductor whistling away for the next stop. I am right Paru is on her way to office, a typical 9-6 job which pays her Rs.4000, probably my 100$ bill … yet the irony that she sounded happy.

We spoke for few minutes and she told me that she picked up a part time job of taking tuitions to a disabled child of a Merchant Navy Sailor at their home for Rs. 600 and how much that is helping her to fulfill her children’s extra expenses of making them learn swimming. She was so excited that the child’s mother serves her hot chai every evening and she is so refreshed with it when going back home at 8 pm and start cooking dinner for her family.

She was still singing Jibanananda Das’s verses

I have journeyed, alone, in the enduring night,
And down the dark corridor of time I have walked

I was perplexed. Here is a woman who runs from pillar to post to make her living. All she has are bare minimum necessities to survive in a polluted and corrupted city where she has to bribe everyone for everything. But I could find a great sense of happiness, contentment and joy in her of what she is doing. Paru surely sounded happy and her words echoed in my ears for long

"As the footfall of dew comes evening;
The raven wipes the smell of warm sun
From its wings; the world's noises die."

Banalatha Sen…..I thought. Her enthusiasm in poetry has not slipped a bit and her spontaneity of words and using them with wisdom rightfully made me smile again. Paru has been using poetry as her solace ever since I knew her. Her every emotion is packed with the words that have poetic brilliance. I decided to forget her, for Paru reminds me of ordinary Indian woman whose struggles never end. Abused by the entire system that have no outlet and in a conservative and religiously tight communities, the society haven’t changed over decades after Independence.
Paru lives in a sense of emotional freedom in mind, which as a Liberal Free Modern Woman, I am not able to appreciate or least accept. I know I thought of writing my story and thinking too much about Paru. I am going to erase her now.
After couple of weeks, I decided to go to Las Vegas to enjoy a good vacation. The Arizona and Nevada borders always fascinated me with the deserts and night winds and dunes amidst which I love to drive. The Colorado river with its beauty flowing amidst the Grand Canyons always made my camera busy. Vegas also hit by the recent recessions and there aren’t the usual crowds in the Casinos.

I sat in the Cesar Palace and looked at the girls dancing on the poles. They looked like the Russian Circus girls who used to jump from one corner to the other in the Raj Kamal Circus that I watched decades ago in my home town. Yes, I went to circus every year with my family and friends, which included Paru, my best friend.

Is life not a circus for Paru even today? Is she really happy with her life? I can hear her boss yelling at her for not keeping the files ready for Audit. She knows he would anyway pay Rs.500 to the auditor for a good report. Her son is pulling her to play with him. She just switched on the Sun TV for her usual mega serial. Amidst all this, she is humming the words of Tagore from Geetanjali on the phone when I dialed her

“Time is endless in thy hands, my lord.
There is none to count thy minutes.
Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers.
Thou knowest how to wait.”

She was telling me about the years that we missed to meet. And she is happy to wait for few more years to give me her big hug. She loved being called aunty by her children’s friends and tells that she is now not asking her husband to color his hair. I guess he is looking wise and matured and handsome with the nature’s salt and pepper strokes.

My divorce after 7 years of marriage, an extra marital affair with a colleague and now settling down with a boyfriend who is equally successful, I had the fun and spice in life that I needed. Probably, what is the need to tolerate a relationship that is meaningless? Should we not move on? For people like Paru, divorce is a sin. Going by your heart and doing what you want is out of place. Abiding by the society and its set protocols is the way to live. I now know that I started to hate her more than ever.

Again, did I not tell you that this my story? This Paru seems to be disturbing me from continuing my story in its truthfulness.
Back to New York, I started to concentrate on my work. After finishing a rather busy day, I was walking toward the car park, when I noticed Paru sitting in my lobby. I was excited to see her. I went and hugged her. She looked old than our age. Wrapped in a traditional Indian saree, she looked like an old aunty with greying hair, and wrinkles down her eyes. She looked tired.

I took her to my office and offered her tea and snacks and caught up a lot on where we left after our last phone call. She was telling me about Anna Hazare and how he is fighting to end corruption and how people in the name of Scam are ruining the progress of my motherland. I smiled. I have been following the world news closely and am aware of all that she is telling at the touch of a browser in my iPad. I didn’t have to wait for the 7.30 Sun News.

After that day, Paru came to office many times. I purposefully avoided her and walked away from the other door whenever I saw her waiting for me in the lobby. What does she need? Money, donation, job or a house? I didn’t know and never felt like stopping by and caring to ask.

But in all this process, I noticed that she is a happy woman. She is still the happiest person I could see in my entire office. Her eyes were tired but they still had sparkle. Her face looked aged but same time very wise. There is some kind of mixed goodness in her, warmth, a truthful care and a genuine friendship. How the hell can she have all the happiness in this world amidst struggles of an ordinary woman? I found her having her interests in tact for arts, poetry, friendship, travel, learning and nothing changed in her over the years. Rabindranath’s translation of his own Bengali poem, as the song offering says
"Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill."

Yes, Paru is still fresh in her mind and thoughts. Her physical appearance has changed. Her circumstances remained close the same from where it all started from. I found myself envious of her suddenly despite all the things I achieved in life. Do I hate myself and not Paru anymore? That thought it-self is so disturbing.

I desperately needed a break and I booked my next flight to Hawaii…..the beautiful islands filled with live volcanoes, colorful sands and vibrant beaches. President Obama was born and loved vacations in this beautiful state. I started to run to the waters and play like a child….sat on beach and pulled the sands all over me and looked at the sky.

I could hear laughter of children and turned around to see. I saw a boat….What am I seeing….The coconut trees are swaying on the banks of Kerala backwaters and a family is rejoicing their holiday on a wooden boat house. Children are still jumping and playing around when their mother Paru was running behind them with the dinner plate trying to feed them. I got bewildered. STOP IT! I cried at them. I took my shoes and ran inside the hotel.

I could not hold this anymore. I need to end this now or never. I saw my agitated self in the mirror and didn’t like what I am seeing. Wrinkles, red eyes, fake smiles. I hate it. I took the flower vase and hardly hit at the mirror breaking it at one stroke. The pieces fell off to the ground relaxing my nerves. I looked at MY reflection in the multiple broken glass pieces on the ground. Paru smiled at me, her way, naturally……and I started to cry to my heart’s content. I know this is my story.

"Into the cyclone rainfall of tears, I now know I am far away from fears….fears of myself and my reflections!”

Author’s Note:
“Paru Tales” is a collection of short stories I started to write few months back and the protagonist Paru goes through various phases and experiences that relate to most of the women around. This story of “Paru and I” is an extract from that collection titled ‘The Naked Parade’. Why I named Paru Tales as ‘Naked Parade’ is for the genuine reason that it is reflection of tales of truth, thought provoking and closer to me as a writer!

- This story is dedicated to all people, who would willfully lead their lives as per their dreams and follow their hearts, naturally. This story is a reflection of millions of people who have to hide their natural selves and live life the way the circumstances demand and get got in the materialistic quest and forget what is truthfully closer to their hearts. For many of us, it takes many long years, to fearfully look back and think what we wanted and what we were made out of the life. Paru is just a sample of that reality, naturally

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