They stretch lazily from the tip of your toes, through the angle of the ankle, caressing your legs gently all the way up to your knees and ending somewhere beyond where the mind’s eye is loath to wander.
Their black colour is the colour of night. They lovingly wrap around the white glow of your skin, as if distilled moonlight has been enclosed by the night sky.
They were just an opaque pair of stockings in the shop where you purchased them from. To be worn by any random shopper.
However on you they take on a different form. As if alive!
They glide across your legs without a wrinkle like second skin until they stretch languidly and disappear under the edges of the short black skirt you are wearing.
At the other end, the stockings dip and end inside the pointed high heeled shoes you wear. Needless to say they too are black in colour completing the head to toe coal black look.
It is bewitching.
Silk of fabric meets silk of skin and together they create a sensuous effect. You cross your legs and sit alone on a bench striking an elegant pose.
You look gorgeous!
In my mind, I have already walked a thousand miles and stop to soak in this mesmerising sight. I sit down on the bench next to you and look into those beautiful eyes which reflect the image of the person who loves you intensely.
I end up kissing your lips to start a flame,
As if a black magic spell has been cast in my name!
An awesome attire can change the entire game,
For igniting my crazy feelings - your black stockings are to blame!
‘The Black Stockings’ Illustration by ishanixart.
(Main Insta – whozzishani) A talented NIFTian. Thank you so much Ishani 🙂
What is romance without a kiss?
Each time the word brings a smile to my lips!
You see it is a subject close to my heart,
For a kiss is not just science, but an art.
If you have ever been a lover,
You can vouch for its fervour!
A kiss is so heavenly, so divine,
When lips meet, they intoxicate more than wine!
It is the beginning of something so intimate,
To pleasures of mind and body it opens the gate.
If the windows to the soul are your eyes,
A kiss is the door to passion, say the wise!
For a woman a kiss is full of emotion,
For a guy it is like magic potion!
When both meet, sparks are bound to fly
The euphoria it gives, is hard to deny!
So kick start that dopamine in your brain,
Make it sweet like sugar in the sugarcane.
Lock your lips even if it is Lockdown,
Bring on the smile and remove the frown!
Hold your beloved's hands and soak in the bliss,
Just close your eyes and plant that kiss.
Forget time; let your lips do the talking,
I say kissing keeps you high & totally rocking!!
‘Trees of Heart’ Illustration by expert_spork. You Rock !!
(Main Insta – whozzishani) A multi talented NIFTian. Thank you so much Ishani 🙂
I was introduced to this term for the 1st time in my life when I started my Banking career with ICICI Bank in the Gulf. Prior to that I had worked in the telecom sector in India and all that I was familiar with until then was GSM/ CDMA technology, activation of SIM cards and what charges one would incur while making and receiving outgoing/ incoming calls.
(Remember that was the era in early 2000’s when you had to pay even to listen!)
So yes, I had arrived at Muscat International Airport in Oman on a bright sunny afternoon in Aug 2005 in what was a journey with many firsts attached to it.
It was my 1st step on foreign soil, my 1st overseas job stint and of course my maiden foray into Wealth Management*.
(*In layman terms you are a Relationship Manager for High Net Worth Individuals who want to park their money with you, in anticipation of returns higher than what a normal savings account or FD would yield)
As I made my way to the airport’s Immigration counter with the luggage in my hand and mixed feelings of hope and nervousness in my head, the glass doors with bold Arabic letters said, ‘Marhaba!’ (meaning Welcome)
Those doors suddenly opened up a whole new world for me. It had fascinating terms and complex instruments like Shares, Bonds, Derivatives and Private Equity. Yet I found that I managed to slip into the shoes of a Relationship Manager with consummate ease. It helped that my immediate boss Anupam and other colleagues were very supportive in this regard.
Very soon I was meeting NRI’s who had been settled in Oman for varying number of years. Some had come in a decade ago, others 30 years back and few astonishingly had even been born there! It was this diverse spectrum of their stay abroad, that astounded me.
Of course, there were some newbies too, like me who had flown in only recently (within 1-2 years). We did not spend too much time meeting them because we understood they would not have sufficient savings yet to invest with us 🙂
For me, however the real wealth lay in the narrow lanes and by-lanes of an area called Muttrah. This was the corniche area for Muscat city. Wikipedia defines the Arabic meaning of Muttrah as darkness because in the crowded stalls and lanes where the sunrays do not infiltrate during the day, the shoppers needed lamps to know their destinations.
It was more than 200 years old and it was here that I found light.
Muttrah area with its famous Souq (market) was a hub of activity. From local shoppers to expatriates, from travellers to taxi drivers, from wholesalers to retailers – everyone was here.
Cruise ships travelling halfway across the world, laden with tourists would dock at Port Sultan Qaboos nearby (named after one of Oman’s most loved and revered Kings). Then bus loads of them would visit Muttrah- for shopping and sightseeing.
The shops themselves were as varied and innumerable as the crowd visiting them. With common walls they were interlocked with each other like a chain, on both sides of a narrow lane. The sequence of shops was broken only when the lane would end abruptly at a passageway leading out to the main street.
The shop owners sold everything – from exotic frankincense (perfume extracted from a tree) and silver khanjars (the dagger is a National symbol of Oman) to ordinary dishdashas (ankle length garment) and the locally sourced nutritious dates.
It was here in the shady confines of the souq, sitting on soft mattresses on the ground with their hands on a wooden desk in front of them, were my most beloved clients’ – the NRI trading community from Gujarat.
For some of them, their families had been based in The Sultanate of Oman for almost one hundred years! It was their grandfathers/ great grandfathers who started their journey in a boat from the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. They crossed Karachi and before landing in Muscat, had a stopover in Gwadar. In fact, Gwadar was part of the Sultanate of Oman until 1958 when the Pakistan Govt. purchased it for a sum of USD 3 million.
Throughout this adventure the boats would keep getting heavier as they added spices, silk and their dreams onto them.
These gentlemen formed a significant chunk of my client base. From them I learnt how wealth is made – baiza by baiza, rial by rial and the effort that goes into creating it. (1 Omani Rial =100 baizas) For, before one can do Wealth Management one must create wealth first.
Day in and day out they would sit in their shops, their eyes radiating humility and greeting every customer with a smile. I was amazed at the way they had ingrained adaptability to foreign conditions as a personality trait.
For the country they operated in, is starkly different from India in so many ways – in culture, climate and the community. Yet they had learnt with ease a foreign language as difficult and alien as Arabic, and switched it effortlessly with Gujarati when needed!
One of the top grossing items was confectionery. Never before in my life I had seen such a fantastic array of candies and toffees as I saw in these shops. They were placed in glass jars and in boxes by the thousands. They were imported from countries as far and varied as Turkey and Malaysia.
I would patiently sit on one of the chairs provided for customers. Retailers from the interior regions of Oman would flock to these shops and purchase stock in bulk. Accounts were still being maintained in hard bound paper registers though the computerised era had already set in. Yet our Gujarati brothers kept the digital age at abeyance – they believed in their ability and trusted their brains more than MS Excel!
One of my most beloved clients would always greet me with a cheery, “Jai Shree Krishna, Wasim bhai!” and wave me into his shop. He could rapidly calculate a page long of prices in a jiffy even at the ripe age of 65 and took immense pride in it. I once challenged him with my mobile calculator but he came out trumps, smiling like a school boy who had topped his Math class!
Keeping things simple and clinging onto age old traditions was the unwritten mantra here.
On the other end in the spectrum of my NRI client base was of course, the more in-the-eye and visible executive segment. They were the senior management of the various firms that made up corporate Oman. These gentlemen had started from the middle ranks to rise over the years to occupy the posts of GM’s and CXO’s. They held significant clout over the running of their respective businesses and their Omani partners/owners accorded them immense respect.
I worked and stayed for about a dozen years in the Gulf. During this time, my personal wealth started accumulating too. Money gave me a lot of freedom and the choices to fulfil most of my aspirations. Gulf countries do not tax individual income; so, whatever amount was on your offer letter, the same was credited into your bank account each month.
Hence, I could travel, buy my dream SUV and go on exotic holidays once a year. I could shop for expensive suits, wear a TAG on my wrist and even could afford to plant the odd Mont Blanc pen in my shirt pocket. Such were the riches offered by God!
I started thinking of investments in property, gold and stocks. In the strictest sense possible I was doing my own personal wealth management, in addition to my professional side too.
But all along I always remembered what the guys in Muttrah Souq had taught me – to stay humble, to stay grounded even if wealth had propelled you from economy to business class.
However, like all good stories mine too had to unravel at some point. I do not know what triggered it, but in time I started feeling stagnated. Both in life and at work. Suddenly my posh office with its’ high ceilings and low-slung executive chairs began to bore me. They lost their sheen. Work became a chore and the monthly targets a drag. I found myself unable to cope with both.
After giving it much thought I decided to resign and come back to India. I was no longer doing justice to my employer. Not just to India but I came back to my hometown Bhubaneswar- to my parents’ house. A place where my innocent childhood days had metamorphosed into the exuberance of youth.
A place I had always called home.
Then life dealt me a shock which was totally unexpected and an eye-opener. I entered into a prolonged period of illness which literally was a gut wrenching experience. (Refer my post –Tropic of Cancer)
Somehow the illness altered my view on wealth and its importance. Yes, I could pay my hospital bills because I had money. But it’s use was up to a certain extent only. I realized the hard way that not only with a snap of its fingers, life could make you disappear but also the money you made could ground to dust.
The adage “Health is Wealth” that I had learnt and forgotten all those years ago in school, now came back as a large sized poster in my hospital room (and life) from which I could no longer keep my eyes away from.
Along with this realization I started seeing other things too in the sea of life. When I was sinking in my boat, objects which had submerged with the passage of time were gradually coming to my notice.
As I started collecting them one by one, they started surfacing in the sea pulling me up along with them.
Catching up with those long forgotten friends from my Botany Honours days in college and refreshing those wonderful memories; Meeting some of my school friends I didn’t even know existed!
The joy of having breakfast with my ageing parents who were relieved I was back after almost 20 years;
Spending evenings with that uncle and aunt of mine who took me for holidays to places like Srinagar and Sikkim while I was a teenager; and who now suffered from the ‘empty nest syndrome’. (both their kids reside outside Odisha)
Going for cycling early in the morning and again visiting all those back alleys, I frequented in my youth.
Reading story books and newspapers with my feet propped up on my balcony and simply soaking in the roadside views.
Suddenly all these small things started giving me immense joy. They started propping me up and boosting my immune system which had started flagging in my later years abroad.
Then out of nowhere came COVID. Ironically in all the chaos caused by the pandemic, I further settled into this cocoon of comfort. Happiness started sprouting for me in small measures.
A teaching assignment that I had lost out at a prestigious Institute (If you follow my blog closely you will guess its name) came back to me. This was because the staff from New Delhi could not travel in the lockdown.
I dived into my online assignment with full gusto. At the end of the semester, when I received messages from some of the students that how much they had enjoyed my classes, it gave me a new high!
At the same time I started focussing on this blog which hitherto was lying unattended, like a neglected child. Soon, compliments started pouring in from people that how much they were enjoying reading my posts.
So, yes life seems to have come a full circle for me. I now realise it comes with its finite moments carrying infinite possibilities with them. It is up to us how best we utilise and ‘live’ them.
The 2 sides of Wealth Management
It makes me look forward to each day with a bit of greed as to how much returns I can extract from time- the most valued asset class in Wealth Management.
I have also realised the more I express my gratitude to God for giving this ‘other wealth’ in my life, the more I receive it. Unlike my financial assets this intangible wealth does not have any NAV*. It cannot be measured for there are no units to measure it. Yet I realize it enriches me, enlivens me!
(*NAV = Net Asset Value. An unit to measure various financial instruments like Mutual Funds)
This realisation also brings forth the responsibility of managing it well, just as one would manage financial assets. It adds a different dimension to my concept of Wealth Management.
I have stumbled a few times in the effort, but I now understand that I have to handle them with care right up to the finishing line.
For when I will finally switch off the light at the end of the day and go to sleep, it will be this wealth in my inner savings account that I will carry along with me and not the Cash and FD’s in my bank account.
Both Illustrations by phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity always impresses! Thank you so much Ritwicka 🙂
Dear Reader, would you agree that the intangible wealth is equally important as the tangible wealth in our lives? At this particular moment in your life, where would you place both of them on a scale of 1 to 10.
(1 being least important and 10 most important)
Do share your thoughts below on the subject. I would love to hear from you!
It had been an unusually long day, thought Jubilee as she took the elevator to the 3rd floor of her apartment. It was located in Bur Dubai- historically one of the oldest parts of dazzling Dubai.
The area was on the western side of Dubai Creek. It always seemed bustling with life as residential buildings jostled for space with 24×7 stores, hotels and street side joints serving anything and everything – from dosas and samosas, to biryani and kebabs, to the more local Middle Eastern cuisines including falafel* and the delectable shawarma** coupled with hummus.
Most of the country’s expat crowd lived in box life apartments stacked next to each other. If there was ever an example to be given for a cosmopolitan cocoon, this would be it.
Your neighbours in the adjoining flats could be as diverse as the colours on an artist’s palette. They could be a Pakistani family, a Lebanese businessman or even a group of Russian girls peddling their services as escorts in the innumerable night clubs across the city.
Jubilee who had celebrated her 38th birthday a few weeks ago, was an attractive looking lady. Marriage and motherhood had only enhanced her beauty over the years. She was tall, dusky with an impish smile! Right now she was wearing a beige coloured skirt with a slightly darker shaded brown top, the sleeves of which extended up to her elbows. All this was matched with fawn coloured sandals, giving her a sleek fashionable look.
Jubilee’s family had moved here only 2 weeks ago as this locality was much closer to her kids’ school than the previous one. The school bus stop was just 100 meters away from this building. Moreover, the metro station was simply a 10 minute walk, ferrying her husband daily and depositing him almost in front of his office. Oh, to have such convenience in a city like Dubai was indeed a blessing!
The elevator door finally opened on her floor and she took quick strides to her apartment and unlocked it. The cool waft of the AC welcomed her arrival into the empty flat. She dropped her handbag and plonked herself on the sofa.
It felt good to be back in the pleasant confines of her house. Temperatures above 40 °C scorched the desert kingdom outside. She had been outdoors most of the time today.
The school bus of both her kids was off the road. The school authorities had simply texted a terse message in the morning to all parents informing them of a breakdown in the bus engine. So, could they ferry their wards today, both ways? It simply ended with an apology for the inconvenience caused.
(Middle East follows a Fri-Sat weekend schedule)
If that was not enough, it coincided with her weekly shopping excursion to the supermarket. Later both kids, post lunch had wanted to spend some time at a common friends’ house. So, she had dropped them there and as agreed would pick them up a couple of hours’ later.
Jubilee was a proud Mom to 2 daughters – the elder Luvena and younger Solaina. While the younger was the sober one, Luvena was a live-wire and handling her sometimes left Jubilee exhausted! Yet there was no other happiness on Earth just to spend time with them and hug them to sleep with a bedtime story.
So yes, here she was finally with some moments for herself. That was also essential; to have some me-time, when she could just chill and relax on her own. Her hubby would return from work only around 8 pm. That made her check the time on her mobile phone screen. It was closing in on 6 pm.
So, she had a good 2 hours to unwind before she needed to start cooking dinner, pick up the kids and invest in some family affairs.
It would also be almost 7.30 pm in India now. (India is 90 minutes ahead of U.A.E) This made her think about her ageing parents in Bhubaneswar and she wondered what they would be doing. Most likely her mother would be having her evening snack- a bowl filled to the brim with ripe succulent slices of papaya, to take care of her constipation and her father would be tuned into the evening news.
Jubilee did not want to be disturbed for the next one hour at least. First, she decided she would take a nice relaxing shower. Then maybe she would watch some Tv. The thought of the cold water hitting her body reinvigorated her as she quickly got up from the sofa and proceeded to her bedroom.
Same Evening -Sunday 7.30 pm, Mumbai
The bedroom was in complete darkness. Sarita woke up with a start. Oh God! I have overslept, she thought to herself. She had planned on taking a short nap but at some point the exertion of daily life had taken its toll.
Thunder rolled in the distance warning of impending rain. It must be that sound which woke me up, thought Sarita.
She got up quickly from her bed, feeling around for her mobile in the darkness. She found it and turned on the torch app. She stepped out into the narrow corridor which led to the spacious living room cum dining hall.
Why was the entire house in darkness? She flicked on a couple of switches and realised there was no power at all.
Sarita who was in her early 40’s was an effervescent personality. Whoever came in contact with her, could not help but fall in love with her cheerful, bubbly self. She was a typical Aries – passionate, energetic and confident at almost everything! She was a bit chubby and that only added to her overall cuteness factor.
Her family had moved in only a couple of months ago into this building. It was a very old one- dating back to almost 2 decades; but her reason for moving in were almost the same as that of her friend Jubilee’s- proximity to her hubby’s office as well as to their kids’ school.
With the ever increasing traffic in the Maximum City, daily commuting had become a burden. This move meant sacrificing their previous modern furnished apartment but on the flip side this gave them more time to pursue activities other than just their work.
Being the home maker she knew there were no candles left in the house. She had intended to purchase some since the past week but each time it had slipped her mind or she had simply procrastinated leaving the errand unfinished.
Sarita changed her slippers into her walking shoes and stepped out into the foyer. There was a small convenience store just across the street.
She let out a sigh of dismay as she realized she needed to walk down and then back again over 6 flights of stairs.
A sudden roll of thunder brought a sense of urgency in her and quickly closing the main door, she stepped out.
She glared at the closed steel doors of the elevator in mock anger; which in turn stared back at her, standing like a cold, silent spectator to her obvious discomfort.
By now, Jubilee had collected her towel and change of clothes for the evening from her bedroom closet and headed for the bathroom.
She pushed open the bathroom door, but it would not budge. Surprised she looked at the bolt securing it from the outside. It was locked. She smiled and pulled it back.
She tried to push it open again. It refused to yield. This time with her palm open and her body weight on the door she pushed against it with force but the result still remained the same.
It was then that she realised that the door had been locked both from the inside as well as outside.
Sarita huffed and puffed her way up the stairs and back to her flat. The exercise yet again underscored the fact that covering any distance on flat ground was starkly different to covering the same over a flight of stairs.
Her husband, Shirish with both their kids – an elder son Shlok and daughter Ira, were at her in-laws’ place. He had gone to catch up with his parents’ well-being and the three of them would be back only post dinner.
Her reasons for not going were dual – Not only was she feeling a bit under the weather today but also in no mood to meet her in-laws and especially face her mom-in-law’s acrid tongue. So, she had decided to stay back and catch up on some sleep.
She lit up a couple of candles in the hall and got hold of the emergency lantern from the wooden cabinet. The lantern was a delicate hand-made glass piece crafted with intricate artwork and purchased during one of their exotic holidays to Turkey a couple of years ago.
Clutching it in one hand she started walking back to her bedroom.
Even as she approached it, she could feel something was not right. She slowed down her steps and realised the bedroom door was shut. Did she close the door when she had left her flat a few minutes ago? She was unsure. She never did that normally.
Gingerly she shifted the lantern onto her left hand and placed her right hand on the door knob and turned. It stayed put. She tried once more, a bit harder this time. It did not yield.
With her uneasiness growing she realised that someone had locked the door from inside.
Jubilee stood perplexed. How was this possible? The door had been alright when she had left the apartment a few hours earlier. She again tried pushing it open, this time with more force thinking that maybe she was missing something.
Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a sound coming from within the bathroom. As if someone was moving a chair around. It was a scraping sound; wood against floor.
A chair was being dragged on the floor! But why? And by whom? But for herself, there was no one else present in the house.
With a growing sense of alarm she stood in front of the door watching it, unsure of what to do next.
Sarita felt sure that she had left the bedroom door open when she had stepped out a few minutes earlier.
Yet the door was now closed. Not only that, it was locked too. Had there been a strong gust of wind which had shut the door? Yes, that was possible. She had seen the weather turn for the worse when she was outside.
A storm was building up. Not unusual at this time of the year in Mumbai. The monsoon was in full force!
Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a distinct sound from behind the door. She quickly put her ears against it.
Someone was moving around in her bedroom! The sound was unmistakable-shuffling of feet on the floor. But who? But for herself, there was no one else present in the house.
Suddenly she heard a slow sobbing sound from the room. A girl’s voice! Whoever it was, she seemed to be in pain- heart wrenching sobs cloaked in deep anguish came from within.
Sarita felt herself going cold.
At that instant, a sudden stroke of lightning and thunder surprised her. She stepped back hurriedly and thudded against the wall behind her dropping the exquisite lantern onto the floor.
The crash made a deafening noise in the empty flat with the glass breaking into a hundred pieces.
She stood trembling as darkness engulfed her once again.
To be continued…
Falafel* A deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Falafel is commonly served wrapped in a pita like a sandwich.
Shawarma** is a dish consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical fire spit.
Hummus*** is a dip or a spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic.
Jubilee was trying her best to quell the rising sense of panic. Everything inside the bathroom seemed to be still now. She held the door handle again and furiously tried to yank it open. To no avail. It stayed locked.
“Who’s in there?!” she shouted, banging on the door a few times but all her calls were met only with a stony silence from the other side.
She strained her ears to the door again. All was quiet. She breathed a bit normally. Maybe she was just imagining things.
Just then she heard someone hum. A female voice! Jubilee stepped back abruptly as if an unseen hand had slapped her.
It was a sad melancholy tune and the person humming it seemed to be in some untold grief.
The voice drifted out slowly, wrapped in mystery and Jubilee could feel the hair on her arms bristle and stand erect.
“Ira, is that you?”, cried Sarita in alarm. No sound came from behind the door. Teenagers sometimes behaved in a weird manner. Did her daughter have a fight with someone at her in-law’s place? Or had she been bored and come back early? If that was so, then where were the others?
“Ira, open the door for God’s sake!” she almost yelled in the empty flat. She thumped the door a few times, with an unknown fear increasing its grip on her with every passing moment. “What happened sweetheart, why are you crying?!”
For a moment everything went absolutely silent. The rain seemed to be falling at a distance and even the thunder had gone quiet.
Then just when she thought the crying had stopped, it started again. This time it was louder, more painful and heart wrenching. Who was it inside in so much agony?
An involuntary chill passed through her body, making Sarita shudder and go absolutely still.
Jubilee stood in the hall now where she was relaxing only a few minutes ago. She had run away from the bathroom door, no longer able to withstand the fear.
A dozen questions were slamming her head from all directions. Who was inside the bathroom? From where had a chair come inside it? She cast a quick glance across the hall and then the bedrooms. No piece of furniture seemed missing.
The drifting voice had instilled a sense of fear in her which she had never experienced before. There was so much sadness in it, yet it was chilling. She quickly remembered to dial her hubby’s mobile. A beep and then an engaged tone greeted her. He must be busy at work. Damn!
She gingerly started to step back towards the bathroom again. Her hand trembled as she got hold of the wall for support.
Just then she heard a loud thud come from behind the door. It was as if a chair had been toppled onto the floor with a crash! In the empty flat the sound reverberated like a bullet shot.
A sea of blackness swept over Jubilee as she fell unconscious to the floor.
The rain was pelting now. It had reached a crescendo and was being punctuated in between with shards of lightning and thunder.
Sarita could not hear a thing. She nervously put her head against the door again trying to catch any sound. By now she realized it was not Ira. Her daughter would not behave nor sound like this. Moreover, she could not have come back alone without her father and brother.
So if not Ira then who was it? Just as she moved to collect her mobile from the hall to call her hubby, a blood curdling scream pierced the night trailing off into the wet darkness.
Involuntarily Sarita put both her hands onto her ears and even as she stood in shock disbelief, the enormity of the fact hit her squarely on her senses.
(tap to play)
The girl had jumped off from one of the bedroom windows to her death below.
One Year Earlier; Bur Dubai, 6 pm
Surubhi was humming her favourite tune as she dragged the chair slowly across the bathroom floor.
This tune was a song which both the sisters had learnt from their father. They had grown up hearing it countless number of times until it had been imprinted on their minds.
When they were kids, Surubhi piggy backed on her beloved father’s shoulders and younger sibling Suruchi clasping her hand in his, walked alongside.
He would take them to the nearby park and along the way he would be humming this tune. The only difference was Surubhi always had happy memories associated with this melody.
Now as she hummed it, the strains had a ring of deep sadness around them.
This was because her best friend and her soulmate – her dear father Mohan had passed away under the most shocking circumstances. He used to run a shelter home for destitute women and their children back home in India. It was named Sewa Ashram. This year the local MLA had been invited for flag hoisting on Independence Day.
It was then that trouble started for her father and his sacred Institution.
The resident women of Sewa Ashram had recited the National Anthem and presented a short skit on the Independence struggle. Some of the children had presented a colourful song and dance routine. Overall, it had been a satisfactory affair. This was followed by a short speech from the MLA in which he praised Mohan Babu’s shelter home and the noble work he was pursuing.
What he did not mention was that he had already noticed a couple of women who had caught his fancy. His roving eyes had quickly taken note of their physical attractiveness and their mental vulnerability.
When her father had been away for a few weeks- he had spent a fabulous holiday with Surubhi and her children in Dubai- the shelter was left in charge of a Manager.
The Manager had been easily bribed by the henchmen of the politician. Initially it started with a couple of the women being forcibly taken away to a nearby guest house and dropped back the next morning. However, the carnal temptations of the politician and his coterie were too deep and their desires limitless.
Soon this started happening every night, leading to a chain of physical abuse and mental agony for the women until one of them gathered enough courage and called up their guardian Mohan Babu in Dubai. He had immediately taken the next available flight and landed at Sewa Ashram.
Police cases were filed and soon the shameful events were all over the media. Despite knowing he was up against powerful forces, Mohan knew he had to stand up for his inmates and bring them justice.
However he watched in dismay as not only the MLA managed to pull strings and get away unscathed but also the Manager pleaded not guilty shifting the entire blame onto Mohan. Some of the women inmates, threatened of dire consequences to them and their children by the MLA’s henchmen, became hostile witnesses turning against their beloved Mohan Babu.
His entire life’s dedication and hard work to a social cause lay in shambles. His own neighbours bayed for his blood. News reporters went after him demanding the strictest punishment possible.
On the morning of the incident a large mob had gathered outside the shelter home. A by-stander recorded the entire event on his mobile phone and it was soon viral on all leading Tv channels. Both sisters watched in shock and agony as their father was dragged out of his home by the crowd and beaten mercilessly. Who could dare to reason with a mob that had lost hold of their senses?
By the time the police had arrived and taken a bleeding Mohan to the hospital, he had suffered internal haemorrhage and was declared dead on arrival.
It had not even been 48 hours since her father’s death, that Surubhi’s husband had spoken of divorce. His family no longer wanted to be associated with a daughter-in-law of such ill repute. She had to pack her bags and leave Dubai. She had to sever ties with her only child too.
She knew life would never be the same again.
Now as Surubhi balanced herself on the chair inside the bathroom she closed her eyes for one final moment. She paused before taking the next step. Her father had gone the same place two evenings ago; she would follow him there- into the darkness, into oblivion- until she would meet him. Then there would be light.
She pulled the red dupatta around her neck and tightened it against the hook on the bathroom’s ceiling. This was her guillotine. The hang man was ready.
The humming stopped as the chair swayed once before crashing onto the floor.
One Year Earlier; Mumbai, 7.30 pm
Her elder sister had promised her it won’t hurt. It would be like entering into a dark tunnel but there would be light at the end of it and soon she would be re-united with her entire family- Surubhi, their mother and above all her beloved father!
Suruchi stood almost on the edge of the window ledge. City lights twinkled far below her and when she looked up stars sparkled gently in the night sky above. Soon, she would be there.
She had celebrated her 19th birthday with her college friends last week. There was a double reason for celebrations as in the same week she had landed an Internship at a prestigious firm where she would learn her craft. Life could not have been more perfect!
She had excitedly shared her happiness over phone with her dear father. During her birth, their mother had passed away. She no longer remembered her. For Suruchi her father was not only both parents, but also their buddy in whom she could confide all her fears and happiness.
How had their entire world come crashing down in the past 48 hours? Her father was gone; she still found it difficult to believe that. Surubhi would soon be gone too. Both sisters had agreed upon a common time to exit when they had spoken over the phone today.
Yes, she had to go now. The time had come. She was the youngest and they would all be waiting anxiously for her above.
Her mind was numb as she took a step forward balancing herself on the 6th floor window ledge of her Mumbai apartment. She had a mini statue, carved of sandalwood of her favourite deity on her study table. Suruchi whispered His name once.
She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and jumped.
Present Day; Mumbai
Sarita lay slumped against the wall in front of her bedroom. The storm had subsided. The rains were gone but they had left behind tears which now welled up in her eyes.
Even as she watched, the bedroom door slowly and silently swung open, revealing the darkness beyond.
1) Do you think Surubhi's and Suruchi's spirits would appear every year on the same day and in the same rooms where they took their lives?
2) Would the killers of Mohan would ever be punished? If yes, would both sisters get the redemption they deserve? Do leave your comments and thoughts on the story.
This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, student of NIFT, Bhubaneswar. Both her sketches done specifically for my story add heft to it. I hope you will agree.
phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂
“Once upon a time there lived…”well this story is of present times and not so long ago- however since interesting stories begin like this, I thought of starting mine too with the famous opening line!
Before I start telling you the story, it would be prudent to let me briefly describe what the term La La Land means.
Collins Dictionary describes the term to mean an imaginary place, a place that is remote from reality.
The Urban Dictionary defines it, “A mental state of being high or actually being high where one envisions happy images” while Oxford says it is “A fanciful state or dreamworld.”
What we do know is the term La La Land started being used in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as a nickname for Los Angeles, California, specifically to refer to Hollywood. It puns on the city’s common abbreviation as LA and comments on the cinematic illusions made by its film industry— mostly dreamlike sequences detached from the harsher realities of life.
However I personally heard it the first time when I saw the 2016 Hollywood blockbuster musical La La Land. Oh! the romance and those dance sequences between the lead characters – Sebastian and Mia portrayed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively, set my pulse soaring!
Since then the images have struck a chord in my heart and when this story idea developed in my head, I thought the term as its title was very apt for it 🙂
So, this story is based in a fantasy land named ଲା ଲା (La La) Land located in a remote corner of Odisha. In it dwelled a few indigenous tribes. Our story focuses on a small tribe of about 50 families who resided here too. They were named the Nature Lovers of Odisha or in short The NLOO tribe.
Our state of Odisha is home to approx 60 tribes spread across various districts. Unlike in towns and cities, where rapid advances in modern living has caused irreversible changes in some of our traditions, many of the tribal population have somehow managed to keep their ethos and entire culture intact.
They still worship nature (hills and streams), follow peculiar customs in various aspects of life ranging from agriculture to marriage and have an infinite passion for music and dance.
Some of the tribes still believe in sorcery and for some using bows and arrows to kill and defend, is still the preferred mode of weaponry.
Some of them have existed since centuries in Odisha and even find their names mentioned in The Mahabharata and Ramayana!
So dear readers with this rich backdrop forming the crux of the story of La La Land let me give you a snippet of things to come!
A narrow mud path wound its way upwards towards the house. Clumps of shrubs bordered it on both sides. Even when it rained the roots of these shrubs would never let go of the soil, holding them together as much as possible against the water inundating the hills.
The dark hued saffron colour of the soil mixed freely with the green foliage. In nature, both the colours seemed to co-exist in harmony.
The path itself had forked to the right from the main road which curved and continued further into La La Land. This area was on a hillock and if you had a chance to visit it, you would definitely take a moment to pause here and admire the beauty of the place.
(Art by Reshmi. My dear cousin and creator of wonderful oil paintings)
From this vantage position you could see the young folds of the Elephant Mountain in the distance. At one point it seemed to touch the sky and then at another it seemed to stoop to kiss the cool waters of the river Behta Pani – the main source of water for the various tribes of this Land.
A slight mist hovered above these waters; as if an old lady was trying to pull a shawl around herself to protect her body from the winter chill.
Somewhere up in the trees, myriad birds warbled and formed a soothing lyrical background. At this morning hour the sun had yet to reach the top of the trees and thus part of the scenery was still in the shade. If you drew in a lungful of the crisp chilly hilly air it would make you feel alive!
However this morning was different than the rest. Troops of villagers were busy making their way up this path. They were in small groups and their excited chatter filled the air.
A very unusual event had happened the evening before warranting the panchayat to call for an assembly. Hence things more important than admiring nature were on their minds today!
A sole Palash tree stood on the right of this path, with its roots exposed and it seemed to be greeting the villagers like a doorman in front of a landmark house.
This was apt, for you see the path sloped slightly upwards and ended at the door of the most important person of La La Land – it’s Sarpanch.
To be continued…
(This is completely a work of fiction. It will be told through several chapters. Hence it occupies its’ own pride of place in my blog’s menu bar :))
About 30 members of Utkal Enclave – a small apartment block in Bhubaneswar, were getting ready and completing last minute packing of picnic baskets which they were carrying for the day’s trip.
About 10 families resided in this 4 storied Block in identical 2 and 3 BHK flats. The landowner Mr. Satish had partnered with a Real Estate developer some years ago and converted his ancestral bungalow into this modern residential set-up giving him a steady rental income.
Mrs. and Mr. Satish had 2 children, both of whom were settled and working outside Odisha. So it was to their pleasant surprise that they got more than what they had hoped for. Not only the monthly rents gave them financial comfort but the people residing there became their extended family providing both with a wonderful support system in their retired years.
It was winter vacations and like previous years the families had decided to go on a picnic with food and evening refreshments. Each of them had contributed to the menu and now with their hands full with the picnic baskets they made their way down to the 2 waiting TATA Wingers. These were 15-seater vehicles which would take them across to the picnic site.
While last year it was The Botanical Gardens in Nandan Kanan, this year the chosen destination was the Bamboo Huts at Deras Dam. It was located only 25 odd km from the city making it an ideal getaway for family and friends. There were quaint bamboo cottages near it which one could book and enjoy the time there.
Very soon they were set to go and being punctual was on top of every one’s agenda. It was already 3 pm and the plan was to reach before dusk so that they could catch the sun set over the forest tops while sipping their evening tea. They were all looking forward to a picnic packed with fun, laughter & some time pass idle chatter.
Of course, the gorgeous views of the Deras Dam waters and greenery all around just added to the overall anticipation.
Other than the sumptuous array of snacks, a live barbeque and a giant bonfire also awaited them. It was no wonder then that all of them, especially the children were eagerly looking forward to the trip.
What they did not know that tonight something else was also awaiting them atop that hillock.
Both the picnic vehicles arrived at the gates within few minutes of each other. The forest department vehicles would ferry them to the huts and one of them would stay back for the return trip. The strict rules banning entry of private cars inside protected green zones meant both the rented Wingers had to be parked outside the gates.
All of them clambered into the official vehicles, their excitement running high anticipating a grand affair atop the hillock at dusk!
However no one knew the colour of dusk tonight would take on a completely different hue matching the fear in their eyes…a colour none of them had seen or felt before.
Despite their best efforts the families realised they had arrived late. It was already close to 5 pm. A stop at a small roadside dhaba for fritters had taken up a little more time than they would have liked.
Being winter the day light was already beginning to fade. The sun after completing its hard day’s work in trying to keep up the mercury was all set to chill down on the western side.
They were now in groups of 4-5 making their way up the dirt path to the bamboo huts. Since the entire place had been booked for Utkal Enclave there were no other people now except them.
The climb was soon coming to an end. What was also coming to an end was the tranquillity of the evening.
A slight breeze had picked up in the green foliage above & the sun light ebbed lower…as if someone had lowered the wick of an old oil lantern.
The group was now standing at the end of the steps. The table top picnic spot lay in front of them with the bamboo huts to their left. Coloured plastic chairs had been neatly arranged by the staff for them to sit and enjoy.
However a shocking scene awaited them all. A scene so horrifyingly fascinating that even the most fearful amongst them had also not imagined it possible.
It was beyond any horror flick they had ever seen…and it was happening right now at this moment in their lives.
However a shocking scene awaited them all. A scene so horrifyingly fascinating that even the most fearful amongst them had also not imagined it possible.
It was beyond any horror flick they had ever seen…and it was happening right now at this moment in their lives.
The sight in front of them seemed unreal. Not a single chair was empty. Seated in each of the 30 chairs was a member of the group. ALREADY.
They were staring across at mirror images of themselves. As if someone had placed a giant canvas of live multiple selfies in front of them!
Involuntarily all of them shuddered and huddled closer. The air suddenly seemed to be charged with a sinister tinge. A stray dog’s bark from nearby seemed to indicate it was the only one with a voice at that moment. The rest of them all were shell shocked into silence.
Nagma looked at her own seated self. The other Nagma was staring right back with eyes that were unblinking, unwavering. Those eyes seemed to have an un-earthly glow in them. Her smile seemed to have been frozen in a twisted curve.
Nagma had experienced fear many times before in her life. But what she did not know was that it could exist in this form too.
Pritish who worked as an HR executive at a top tech firm was standing almost at the front of the group. He let out an unprintable expletive and stood transfixed. The first thing he noticed was his favourite cap that the other Pritish was wearing. It was exactly similar.
With a startled look he quickly realised that not only the cap but right from his maroon sweatshirt to his blue denims and to the “Just Do It” logo on his shoes- everything was eerily similar. Had the other Pritish copied his style or was it vice versa?
Hena could not fathom what was happening and why. She closed her eyes and felt her heart beats quicken. A strange fear gripped her.
Someone with a distorted sense of humour had created a weird art piece.
(Art by Subhajit. A talented youngster in NIFT, Bhubaneshwar)
Sofia the popular Odia Tv star had already done a couple of double roles in her acting career. But the same happening in real life came as a shock. She did a quick scan of the seated group and sure enough found the ‘other’ Sofia. That person seemed to be saying something to her but by the time the words reached her they seemed to be swallowed by the breeze.
Was it even in her language? Sofia simply could not comprehend their meaning.
Mrs.Premalata Mishra, a retired school teacher resided with her septuagenarian husband on the 1st floor in Flat 101. Feeling a bit under the weather her spouse had backed out of the picnic.
Immediately Mrs. Mishra regretted coming with the group and the thought crossed her mind that she should have stayed back home with him and watched her favourite TV serial instead.
Sushree’s thoughts already in alarm mode went immediately to Pratik, her only child and teenage son. She was a bit comforted to see his tall, familiar figure standing nearby shrouded in darkness. They resided in Flat 305 and suddenly the warmth of their home seemed far away!
But what did not comfort her was a feeling that an unknown pair of eyes were piercing into her. She looked in that direction & sure enough the other Sushree seemed to be beckoning her towards herself with a slight nod of the head.
Sushree touched the sweat bead forming on her forehead. It seemed strangely cold on her hot feverish skin.
All this was happening simultaneously and in a matter of seconds! The temperature of the place had dropped un-naturally.
Despite trying hard to control herself Sunanda could not stop the involuntary shudders passing through her. She was a nature lover and had been really looking forward to this trip. This was totally unexpected! It was as if she had stepped on a live voltage wire. Unable to take it any longer she hurriedly sat down on one of the steps.
13-year-old Srishti felt her 6-year-old sister Shreyasi’s little fingers wrap around hers and tighten as if seeking protection. Her own pink dress seemed to be stifling her and sticking to her back – drenched in a mix of sweat and fear.
At the far end of the picnic spot was a watch tower overlooking the rolling greens and blue waters below. A staircase made of wood with bamboo railings wound its way to the top. Many a tourist who had come here earlier had climbed them up and sat on the mini platform atop enjoying the breeze while munching away goodies.
Pooja was an NRI and resided in the UK. She was visiting her brother in this Christmas vacations. She was a devout believer in God and was now reciting a powerful mantra furiously under her breath. She was standing just opposite to this tower. Now as if guided by an unseen force her eyes fell upon it.
Immediately there was a quick intake of her breath! Standing on the platform with his hands resting on the railings was a dark hooded figure. It seemed to be looking down at them. It stood absolutely still & for a moment Pooja thought maybe she was imagining its presence. She wasn’t sure anymore to believe her eyes.
By now Monica, who was a neighbour of Mrs. Premalata Mishra had somehow collected her wits and managed to herd all the children together including hers. She made a dash down the path which all of them had ascended upon only a few minutes earlier.
However, to her it seemed that was ages ago!
Suddenly a realization hit Monica with a sharp thud and she felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was only 1 car at the bottom of the hill, and they were 30 of them. Escape for all together no longer seemed an easy possibility now.
In this children party was 15-year-old Anum. In her mundane existence until today she had always craved for some excitement in life. This thrill however was even more than what she had bargained for. She swore under her breath as she rushed downhill with a flashlight in her hand. She quickly paused to have one final look at the scene.
What she saw made her blood chill and she froze to the spot. With her heart hammering and her mouth turning dry she let out a piercing scream!
“The Road Not Taken” a poem by Robert Frost was published in 1916. It was inspired by the many walks he took in the English countryside along with fellow writer Edward Thomas.
Since my school days It’s been one of my favourite literary works in the realm of Nature. So, I thought why not reproduce the original with pictures of Odisha’s very own hill station – Daringbadi?
The place is renowned for it’s rich natural beauty. It has been named after a British officer Mr. Daring Saheb who was in charge of this quaint town (Badi means village) located in Kandhmal district of our State.
So presenting Robert Frost’s timeless work with an Odisha twist!
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
(All pictures clicked by NIFTian – Anandhu who goes by his Insta ID _skirllex. Thank You! Your pictures are so captivating and rich in emotions !!)