The One With The Caged Phoenix

 

0/9 – The One With The End

1/9 – The One With The Lunchbox

2/9 -The One With The 14th Floor

“Gowtham … So?”

“AT . . . You are no doubt an awesome storyteller…”

Sensing the tone I had to ask, “But…?”

“The thing is… I have heard and even seen such stories in movies across many languages.”

“Gowtham my boy, Life may or may not imitate Art, but Art definitely imitates Life…”

“Well.. Still… Go on AT. . . ”

I sat on my chair with my eyes closed while Gowtham started massaging my legs

“AT… Is this one about paati…”

A wide smile reached my old crinkling eyes



Like most of my stories, this too is about a woman. Women in my life have always been an enigma. Initially, I tried a lot to decipher the intricacies amidst all the complexities, but this was a defeat I gladly accepted. The beauty of a woman or anyone for that matter lies in their individuality. I knew it was sensible to try to understand their actions but it was futile to know the rationale behind it.

I still vividly remember the day I suddenly become the brother to Parvathi, I thought it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I still managed to be proficient on the work front becoming the one who was all about work, without putting one’s heart into it.

I was engulfed by her memories and couldn’t escape nostalgia creeping in with each and every possible action. My visits to the cinema hall became very rare; I couldn’t even go to the arterial road where the city’s tallest building stood. Worst of all, I couldn’t go and meet Amma back home because I had never lied to her and my story with Parvathi was something I didn’t want to tell anyone.

This way of life gave me a promotion at work and after about three years, I finally went back to my hometown. The intention behind this visit was to bring Amma to the city. I spent close to two weeks with her and those two weeks managed to instill in me a very significant life lesson.

I had not convinced her to come with me to the city and was doing yet another poor job of it during one dinner. Coincidentally, it was a power cut and after years, the both of us had a conversation. A heartfelt one that reminded me of the trials and tribulations Amma had to go through to bring me up to this level. The economic difficulties, the working conditions, the societal pressures imposed because of her being a single mother living alone in a village. Towards the end of a leisured walk past my childhood, adolescence and Aashima, both of us were smiling and content. Just before going to sleep, she held my hands, looked into my eyes and said,

“Be it happiness or sadness, there’s always something around the corner that will be happier than your happiest moment and sadder than your saddest moment.”

I went to sleep with a huge smile on my face and tears running down my cheeks.

Amma went to a different realm the following week.

I’d never thought that the remedy to my broken heart would be the feeling of getting orphaned.

In a week, I left my hometown for good. There was nothing else left there to bring me back. I knew I had to let go.

I thought Parvathi leaving me was the worst thing to have happened. Somewhere deep inside my heart, I never had considered Amma not being there.

Amma was right…

As always

The harder I have a setback, the better I work and the realisation that I was now all alone in this world made me buckle up and work harder than ever. The only difference being that this time around I put my heart and soul into it. This being a time when talent and hard-work genuinely helped in gaining a foothold in my field, the speed of my rise up the ladder was pretty fast. The circle of people who knew me was exponentially increasing.

Arjun… Arjun T Kurushingal was getting famous.

From hushed whispers to blatant criticism to open accolades, the following couple of years was one enterprising and tumultuous ride that made my name echo in the right places in the city. Being a well respected journalist at such a very young age was a thing of pride for the self and envy of many.

It was around that time that I encountered a firebrand. In those times, I’d met quite a number of people owing to my line of work, but none of them had more than a fleeting impact on me. None of them made me laugh my heart out. None of them made my heart skip a beat. None of them made me stop in my tracks to relish the fragrance of the earth during rains. None of them made me unearth that romantic that I’d buried deep inside.

None of them were her…

Sahana Parthasarathy was unlike anyone I’d known.

She was the newest entrant to the office. A person who’d left her hometown to pursue her dreams and ambition. She was the only woman in my team of seven.

Sahana was welcoming yet distant. She was new to the city and had built up an aura around her. She was impeccable with her work and being one of the very few women in the office, had her fair share of admirers. Most of our colleagues felt that she was fast, too fast for her own good. But many failed to realise that Sahana had to play catch up with the other people of the world who were leaps and bounds ahead of what she was in this particular age. She never considered anyone to be a competition or a hindrance. Everyone was a ladder and anyone could be of help sometime or the other. She always maintained a sense of geniality to everyone around her that made her the darling of the office.

So it was with this persona around her that we finally got around being part of the micro team that was supposed to go in and around the city covering the elections.

I didn’t like her being part of the team instead of Kesavan who was originally assigned. I had to now take the bus around instead of my idea to move around the city in my motorbike. It was supposed to be a month long assignment that I preferred finishing without any extra burden or hassle in the form of a female colleague.

Subtlety never was my forte and my displeasure wasn’t exactly masked. Probably that is why the same evening, Sahana walked into my room.

“Arjun Sir…”

“Sahana… for the umpteenth time… It is just Arjun…”

“Well… It is still Arjun sir, but it might become a bit easier to call you Arjun, if we could do the feature on the upcoming elections on your motorbike…”

“But… Sahana…”

“Arjun Sir… You do know to ride a bike with someone in the pillion right???”

“We leave at 0600 tomorrow”

She smiled at me, adjusted her glasses and turned around to leave my room. I couldn’t help but notice the increase in my heartbeat and that single bead of sweat that trickled down my eyebrow.

It was the day for us to leave for the assignment and I picked Sahana from the office.

A whirlwind time followed.

Yes, we covered the elections. Yes, we interviewed scores of people to ask them their views on their prospective representative. Yes, we had our meals at the smallest of shanties. Yes, we spoke a lot to each other.

No, I didn’t understand her.

A wise man once said, “Even after trying if you don’t understand something, ignore it or embrace it.” I was too inquisitive and embracing definitely seemed to be a better option.

Though the assignment was over, our meetings were far from following a similar path.

Our meetings now became a routine. The only routine that I actually looked forward for, with a coffee now, a lunch then and a cigarette break later. We spoke, we discussed and we fought. I never realized winning a discussion would give me less of a high as compared to losing an argument.

This went on for a solid five to six months.

My understanding of her complexities reached a point where I felt I knew her but also realized that there were unexplored layers beneath the well-crafted facade she beautifully carried.

I knew she came from a nondescript town, product of an upper middle class household where they believed in freedom but with a lot of limitations. The solace came from the fact that her limitations were slightly better than the ones imposed on her peers from the same town.

There was a singular aspect of her entire narrative that struck me as unique. A reason why I found her inspiring and probably stuff that my dreams were certainly made of.

Her family believed that she was in the big bad city to study. They didn’t have the faintest of ideas about her job and career. She did a brilliant job juggling the reality and her fiction. Constantly awe-struck, once while sipping coffee at our usual spot on an extremely rainy day, I asked her why and how she did this. The conversation that followed still resonates and touched probably the tautest chords in my heart.

“Arjun sir… I know what I do might seem improbable and even unnecessary. I need to do it. I need to do something with my education. I need to do something with what I know. I need to do all I can before I get married. I can get away with what I am doing because of my parents not exactly mistrusting me. But there will come a time when they get to know and I know that the logical solution would be to getting me married to someone who might or might not be appreciative or approving of my life choices. I might not get a say then or later. I might cow down to familial pressures and I might just say yes because I love my family. They are a part of this very society, even if I try to break away and run with an uncharacteristic speed, I will stop someplace.”

“But  Sahana… you don’t have to.”

“Arjun sir, I know my limitations. I am a free bird within a larger cage. That’s all.

“It doesn’t have to be so, I will talk to your parents.”

She burst out into an extremely condescending laughter that made me overlook how insanely beautiful she looked.

“Arjun sir, I am in utopia right now. You don’t exist in my reality.  A reality that is waiting just around the corner when my utopia comes crashing down.”

“Sahana, I repeat… it doesn’t have to be that way. If marriage is the factor that is stopping you from doing what you do. I want to be of help.”

“How???”

“What if I marry you?”

There was that condescending laughter again. This time I was smart enough to notice that she was exquisitely beautiful.

“Arjun Sir, you are a sweetheart. But things don’t exactly work that way. I do understand that this is not sympathy. I definitely understand that. But…”

“But??”

“As I said earlier, I am just pushing the boundaries of my cage. The fact remains that there are boundaries. No one asked me before setting those boundaries, but they are there.”

“So…?”

“I cannot marry you Arjun. It’s not about you and is most certainly not about me. There is a certain thing called fate. It will work against your idea. It might seem to be favouring me right now, but I know it will work against me soon enough. I will learn, work, make friends and live my utopia till then. When I am forced back into reality, I will have a beautiful story to tell my kids and grandkids about the world that lies almost within their grasp, if they are willing to jump just a bit higher than the rest.”  

I looked at her. I didn’t know if it was awe or confusion. 

“But you can do a lot more. You certainly don’t have to resign to this.”

“Arjun sir, I know I don’t. But I will.  I just have to. These would be words that I will ensure my kids don’t ever have to say. But at this moment, I have to.”

“But…”

Sahana just hugged me tightly. I actually can’t remember for how long. Sometimes when I think of the hug, it seems like a couple of seconds and in other times, a really long one. I don’t even know why she pulled me down and kissed my forehead. I don’t know how she managed to live a life of duality for the next couple of months. I don’t know how she was still so full of life. I don’t know how her parents came to know about her dual life. I don’t know why I had a tear trickling down my cheek when she beamed that wide effervescent smile at me while stepping out of the office doors for the last time.  I don’t know why I didn’t stop her. I don’t know why I stayed rooted in the same spot for a long time. I don’t know why I didn’t run behind her. I don’t know why I didn’t try or push her harder.

I didn’t know anything but she made me realize that you don’t necessarily have to be a trail-blazer or a path-breaker. Sometimes just taking a small detour and keeping the roads open for someone else might be just as important.

I never met her later.

A few years down the line, I, Arjun T. Kurushingal, a Malayali Christian married and was blessed with a daughter. I named her Sahana.

Not just because I almost developed feelings for the original, not just because she was such an integral lesson, not just because she was an inspiration and not just because she was so angelic.

Sahana was the BRAVEST person I knew.

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