Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fatherhood for the Uninitiated

Disclaimer: This is not a blog aimed at giving advice, gyan or to act as self-help medium to guide you through fatherhood. My own tryst with fatherhood is short enough to be statistically irrelevant. This is more of a general observation, thoughts and “feelings” which needs an outlet much like the dark poop from my baby’s bum.

I am part of Xennial and Millennial confusion. Born in ’84, I am technically a Millennial but I relate to the confusion of Xennials. Having seen the whole spectrum from trunk calls to Skype calls, my existence has been about striking a balance – between the optimism around the things yet to come, and pessimism that well things never really change, while making that full circle of no social media – yahoo messenger – Orkut- Facebook – no social media (well almost). However, when it comes to Men and emotions, I feel the journey has been rather different and perhaps I have missed my train somewhere – let me explain.

“Men learn to express their emotions not from their parents or brothers but from the movies”

Movies have had a deep impact of what is considered “manly” among the masses. Not to say that there weren’t enough variety of what was V-EQ (Visible Emotional Quotient) at all times, but it is fair to say that men during the era of Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and Uttam Kumar (Bengali actor) on an average is less likely to fit the song – Main Laila Laila chillaunga Kurta Phaad ke, in comparison to Govinda, Akshay Kumar and Varun Dhawan. There was a higher appreciation for poignant pauses than loud monologues, and longing stares than pointed questions like – “aati kya khandala?”. In short, adding to the overall confusion created by hard choices around status messages and profile pics, I often found my V-EQ rather inappropriate given the contemporary levels of the same. Hence in all such situations where the man is expected to give an emotional response, I have largely resorted to humor, often at my own peril. For example – when the radiologist showed us the scan and said that the baby looks like the father, I sent out an audible prayer “Oh no! I hope that’s not a girl”, and ended up getting a stern look in return. Needless to say, that questions around feelings have been my life’s in-swinging Yorkers.

How do you feel?

Last Wednesday, I got my life’s most important promotion – fatherhood. It has been a great ride so far, but nothing in my ride prepared me to succinctly answer the question that followed – how do you feel as a father?

In my attempt to fill in the conversation and to respond specially since the tick had turned blue on WhatsApp I would answer in one, more or combination of lame responses – relieved, feeling more responsible, great or the one which was probably closest to the truth – still sinking in. It’s been 5 days and I don’t have an answer. It’s often said that a man’s life changes when he holds his baby for the first time in his arms – I am quite sure now that there is no such epiphany which follows that experience. My lack of V-EQ didn’t help the cause, - I had no ready poems to share or no pre-saved FB status message to herald the arrival of the new born to far and beyond. I am afraid that my son will judge me in my future as a father and criticize me for my apparent lack of emotions. But in this moment of yet another confusion, I decided to at least answer to myself- how do I really feel?

Mothers form a deep biological bond with their babies during pregnancy. Babies can recognize their mother’s heartbeat, her smell and her voice. For fathers, it’s the proverbial “Day 1” of a start-up. I think the first feelings of a father are fear and apprehension. That little thing smeared in amniotic fluid – is he alright? Is this how he is supposed to look? Apprehension is when the nurse asked me to hold the baby in my arm right outside the labor room – there was no fiber in my body which was not tense. Before the baby is born all the things that we purchased seemed like an elaborate shopping list, and like many times before, we were sure 80% of these would go un-utilized. It’s been just 3 days and I already know that what we bought isn’t half the things that we are going to end up needing and new things are arriving on a daily basis – each with a unique user manual. A feeling of awe follows soon after. I have always been a strong believer of – if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, especially when it comes to things pertaining to immunity. Except this time, I was secretly losing it whenever anybody touched my baby’s cheeks or was within 5 feet radius without using industrial grade hand-rub. A feeling of overwhelming protectiveness (read paranoia) slowly gripped me. And the moment when our baby passed motion for the first time, I almost conducted a footballer style victory dive celebrating that great achievement. My feeling of pride and sense of achievement was soon shared with all the doctors and friends with much enthusiasm, while the response received varied from a confused look to a matter of fact – OK.  In the last couple of days my primary source of entertainment has been the ever-changing expressions of this new born, beating all the OTT subscriptions hands down- just a sense of wonder in everything he does.

So, what do I really feel? All of the above and more. It’s all of the cliched and the non-cliched put together in one whole ball of emotions. Its everything and yet it’s nothing in comparison to what a mother would feel about her baby. It’s just the beginning – the beginning of an evolution of me.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Looking back

Life as we live it is quite funny and sad in ways. Work- travel- sleep- chat-repeat. On a daily basis we spend more time thinking about our career and that of others in contrast, than what we would have wanted to be, say about 15 to 20 years back or say what we want to leave behind 15 to 20 years from now. In the process we take a lot of things for granted- friends, health, time and sometimes life itself. Kapil passing away, for me, was a shocking reminder of the eventuality and the fact that 'eventual' needn't be too distant in future. Standing there in the burning ghat, I saw so many familiar faces. So many people who have been and are part of my life for the last 10 years. Many of who don't know how much he or she has impacted my life and changed me over the course of time (hopefully improved me). Most of who also looked more aged than I last remember.

When I joined as a management trainee, which seems like yesterday, I had a lot of expectations and apprehension as to what would be the next phase of my life - corporate life. And I was pleasantly surprised, because it seemed so much like the college life I had been leading. On one end of the spectrum were seniors (like Ajit, Palit, Gandham, Murari) who much like sophomores, first would start by giving you a bit of grief, and soon enough turn into your close friend and confidante. On the other end, were the then crop of MMs and RSMs (Kapil, Bangy, Manoj, Harsh, Lingo, Nafisa, Ajay), who were the "been there done that" seniors from college- who stand out as role models for you to emulate and were part of the J&J "hall of fame"- often quoted as examples to the bright eyed new joiners from campus. And then everyone in between playing their roles from being supportive senior to hard task master. Among campus joiners batch of '99 always held a special place, and all of us wanted to be the next '99 batch, though I doubt if any other batch will ever come close. Back then, even the smallest of the interactions with the likes of Kapil left a lasting impression and taught us so much. Yes, whenever we could we would join in on the chorus shouting -"Journal Trade" behind some of our more courageous seniors, and in other times have a smart-ass pun on the name put in conference videos, but  behind all of it there was an innate desire to connect with the 'stars' of J&J at a different level. As the days went by, it happened. Sometimes during work hours and sometimes post work hours over a drink- we would trade valuable information about places to eat, liquor to drink, batch gossips, old J&J folklores, and sometimes will be welcoming the younger blood to the hallowed portals of J&J.

"Under-stated" was probably the style statement of erstwhile J&J, where Kapil would always stand out as one boisterous persona- be with his choice of car, fashion or just his looks and laughs at times. He believed in making his presence felt however in the most pleasant and endearing sort of a way. He might be cheering the loudest for the North Dabangs before an award would be announced but he would also be the first to congratulate the other team, if it didn't go to his team. He would be up for a good fight any day, no matter the results. It's probably far easier for me to write it than for anyone to practice it, but Kapil did it effortlessly. It's easy for us to lose the other dimensions of life to the corporate life, but fortunately in J&J I found several examples of people who lead a wholesome life outside work as well and are as inspiring outside office as they are inside. Kapil was definitely one of them- with his stories of bike rides, his travels , his literary interests he inspired a lot of us to have a life beyond the work life. One of my last conversations with Kapil was when he had called me after I had moved out of J&J to enquire as to how I was settling in my new role and shared how Karishma was starting her line of designer wear, and in the end wished me all the best for my next phase of career. I remember boasting to someone from my team, that I just spoke to the Sales head of J&J. He needn't have called, but I am glad he did, because it made a world of difference to me knowing that there is someone I can reach out in case something goes wrong in my "all important" corporate career.

Kapil is no more, and while I might blog about it and spend time thinking and reminiscing about it, I can't fathom the loss for his family and close friends. I can only wish them strength and hope that in Kapil's memories they find the inspiration to build a future they deserve. For me, I am about as old as Kapil was when I would have met him for the first time in J&J. I doubt that I am in someone's hall of fame list, or if I am impacting someone's life as he and others did. But I am hoping that I would someday and that I would be a better person than I was yesterday.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

We need a Super Villain now, like right now!

The other day right after watching - Rogue One, I was wondering how meaningless our lives are. We have no “Galactic Empire” to fight, no “Rebel Alliance” to join. Our lives are uni dimensional pursuit of numbers on a balance sheet. What would it be like to have a higher goal and larger purpose to serve. But wait, before that lets just step back and see if we need a higher purpose to begin with. Being a MBA graduate and working in a corporate world, I have developed several character flaws over time, however one thing which MBA really teaches you well is to put a framework around absolutely vague topics, much like the title of this blog, and sound intelligent. So, let’s fire away.

My favorite framework used to be PEST. It had always come handy in several group discussions handling equally moronic (if not more) topics of discussion. Lets use this framework to assess our lives and the world today.

Political: Post the november election results, I am not sure if this piece needs to be covered at all. One of the largest democracies of this world made Brexit, Voters for AAP (2nd election), and even Suraj Barjatya look smart and sane. World Politics today seems like some high school movie. There is this passive aggression of adolescence, nonsensical coalitions and groupie behaviors, and a strange optimism as if we are going to live forever.

Economic: Well economic state of being is no better. Today America’s top 1% averages at 38 times more income than the bottom 90%. Economic disparity has peaked and gone beyond 1920s (right before great depression) and today the world is only a lot more connected than it ever used to be. Lines of Selina in Bruce’s ears, from Dark Knight Rises, often comes to mind - “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”.

Social: Little said about Social is better. We consider ourselves an  advanced race, however so many years of evolution seems like an utter waste when our lives continue to be divided by religion, castes and other biases based on sexual orientations, marital status and skin color. Apparently nearly 130 million books have been published in the modern history. I wonder what were those about, since we continue to be as primitive in our thoughts and social outlook as we were a millennium back.

Technology: Technology is probably the only segment where there is even a figment of hope. While we have created nuclear weapons and Facebook, we have also improved real lives with technological advancements.

The short version of this is - we are pretty royally screwed. There are a whole bunch of predictions as to how we will run out of natural resources in next 100 years. On the scale of human existence of around 200,000 years, we are down to the last points in decimal, and we behave as if we have another 100,000 years left. What will it take to mobilise 7 billion lives on this earth to take things seriously and get past our daily squabbles and look at the bigger picture? Well the lazy answer is either - 1. Super Hero, or 2. Super Villain. However for reasons I will list down next, a Super Hero will soon realise that the true option is only a Super Villain.

A super hero will never survive this generation which knows entitlement but not responsibility. However for the sake of argument let us imagine that Superman (arguably the greatest of all heroes) did exist. And also lets assume he dedicates every waking hour fighting crime and catching bad guys and not trying to impress Lois Lane, there are just too many of criminals and bad guys. But if Superman (being faster than speeding bullet) makes himself literally omnipresent and stops oil spillages, catches criminal and stops all sorts of crimes from happening, he will still need a system willing to follow through on his hard work- process the criminal, fine companies for mal practices, or stop supplying arms to terrorists. Superman can only impact the gap between action and reaction. However he can’t change the way people think which necessarily should be a follow through of all the good work he does. In fact there will be people who will take Superman for granted and raise social media hue and cry if and when he fails to solve a crime, save an idiot on phone crossing road, or just respond to fan tweets. The world will adjust to the new norm of having a super human at your beck and call. Nothing changes! And one such day after years of service to the mankind, Superman will realise the world has just become a little worse than where it was because now they have a super nanny to clean up after. And at that point he will have two options - 1. To fly off to a different galaxy, 2. Become a Super Villain. Assuming Superman is super smart, I think he will arrive at this conclusion much sooner.

So how is that a Super Villain is going to save the world. First let me set down what I mean by super villain. So for starters Lex Luthor doesn’t count. He is lacking on both scale of terror or being fearsome. I am looking at someone like Joker with the power of Thanos. Come to think of it Ultron from Ultron Returns is pretty good. We need super villain whose reign of terror crosses all boundaries. It can’t be in Syria alone, it needs to penetrate the hearts of people staying in Ratlam and New York alike. Second it can’t be a slow reign of terror. Telling someone you might die after 100 years doesn’t evoke the same kind of reaction if you say- you are going to die the next moment you don’t follow my orders. Last it needs to be omnipresent and it needs to be ruthless. There can’t be second chances as well as no scope for gaming the system. Hope like the one- “I will escape the repercussions of my action” is the single biggest character flaws of us humans. Once you have a super villain fitting that description, you have got everyone’s attention. And by everyone I mean every last one of them. Once we have a threat so large and imminent, that is when we will leave aside our petty differences and find a common purpose in life - to defeat that super villain. If defeating him means, stop using private vehicles and switch to public transport, or if it means zero corruption in public or private sector, or if it means forgetting our religion and political affiliations, so be it. I am sure everyone will let those go and join forces and build that alliance to fight this evil. But first we need that evil and we will need that higher purpose. Hence we need that super villain now, like right now!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vine : Chapter 7: Is this the end?

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meets a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India for selling his parental home. Getting a sudden call from Raj Gupta claiming he knows the truth about his parent’s death, Raghav meets him in Pune. Raj Gupta, Sriram Iyer (Rohit’s friend) and Dr Madhukar Bhonsle talk of their versions of what happened on that fateful day and why. Tanya Iyer (Sriram’s daughter) has been Raghav’s voice of reason in the last couple of days. Under his uncle’s pressure, Raghav decides to return to US prematurely]
He got out of the car to stand for one last time in front of his childhood memories, the building where Raghav used to live in Chembur. This trip turned out to be much more than what he expected. In all the commotion, he was happy to have found a friend in Tanya.
“You know what, you are probably the first person who hasn't said that Tanya is an unlikely name for a Tam-Brahm”
“And what is a Tam- Brahm?”
“Tamil Brahmin”, said Tanya rolling her eyes.
“Clearly I missed this acronym when I was reading about 10 things you must know before you land in India”. Tanya’s sarcasm was becoming contagious.
As they entered the main gate, a middle aged guard walked up to them, asking for their purpose of visit.
“We used to stay here on the 5th floor, long back. I have just come to take a final look at the flat”, Raghav explained. Guard let them in and took them to their flat.
It was a mid sized two bedroom flat. Definition of space has always been very different in Mumbai from other cities. After having lived in suburban New Jersey for years, these flats looked like small match boxes, but he distinctly remembered that back in the day, this flat was big enough for all his dreams. May be as we grow up, imagination needs the crutch of ambience to build anything significant. The flat was completely bare bones. No one had lived there since Raghav had left for US. Tanya noticed that even the verandah door latch, which looked half broken, had not changed in so many years.
“It is you Raghav, isn’t it?”, the watchman asked.  
“Yes”, Raghav was amazed that he remembered. He clearly didn’t.
“My name is Nathuram. I had come in as the replacement for your old guard that week when your mother passed away. And I almost got fired in the first week itself!”
Tanya was intrigued, “Why?”
“Madam. I was new here. The old guard suddenly went back to his village, and I was brought in to fill in for him. I must have made some mistake or maybe it was just my luck that on the same day two major incident happened in this building and that too on the same floor.”
“Two major incident?”
“One was the unfortunate incident with Raghav’s mother, and second the same day their neighbor's flat was broken into. Fortunately for me, the thieves didn’t get enough time to steal anything from them, or I would have surely lost my job.
Tanya, went out on the balcony and pointed to the adjoining flat, and asked, “this one?”
Nathuram nodded.
Tanya went back in the room, started inspecting the door. Raghav, who was all this while lost in his old memories, noticed that Tanya was onto something.
Tanya came closer to Raghav and spoke in a hushed voice, “this door, looks like it has been forced into. Neighbours were broken into but nothing was stolen. Police of course didn’t bother looking for anything else as it was an open and shut case for them. Do you remember Dr Madhukar’s theories. It does look odd when you think about it.”
Raghav didn’t offer much of a reply and started to leave. Tanya was a bit surprised, but she followed him out. Once they were back in the car, on route to the airport, she couldn’t hold back, “That was weird, wasn’t it? Why are you ignoring Dr. Madhukar’s theories? Isn’t this your duty, to find out the truth!”
Raghav was unusually quiet and kept looking outside the window, as if trying to make up his mind. “Yes. It is odd”, He finally said. “It is odd and so is everyone else and everyone else’s theory about what happened fifteen years back. For the last few days, my brain has been churning out scenarios after scenarios. What if Raj’s story is the truth? What if he was lying completely? May be he killed them or gotten them killed. Anyone could see his jealousy and gauge the madness underneath. Or may be nothing was related. May be Neha (Raj’s wife) was having an affair with someone else as your dad said. Dad was probably just trying to help her out when she found out that she was pregnant. May be he had called to tell my mother that. What it still doesn’t explain is why my mother committed suicide or if she did that at all. May be there is a grand conspiracy theory after all. May be both my parents were killed and Neha was just a collateral loss. But here is the clincher - there is no absolute proof of anything. All of this happened fifteen years back and all of these scenarios are built on circumstantial evidences at best and wild imagination at worst. There is no easy way of finding out the truth”
“Yes, but there is just one truth and not many. Don’t you want to find out?”
“Yes and no. Yes, because if someone killed my parent, then I would want nothing more than to avenge them. But, if it was the other way around, then I would be putting at stake whatever little bit of sanity that is left in my life. The choice is between sacrificing my future life in search of the truth, or sacrificing the truth for a normal life. Right now, I am undecided. I don’t think I am ready to take a step in either direction.”
Both of them sat in silence for the rest of the journey. Over the last few days, Tanya had been a source of strength to Raghav. She had in ways eased out the blow of over information and speculation. He knew what Tanya was thinking, it was plain to see. Selfish! Selfish of Raghav to go back and not dig deeper to find the truth. But Raghav was certain that his time here was done, and was hopeful that he still had some more time left with Tanya- more than the remaining few minutes of their journey.
Tanya was never very good at handling goodbyes. Bidding someone goodbye with so many mixed emotions, was a first even for her. May be time will help decay this wild oscillations in her mind. She went back in her car, once Raghav had entered the airport departure gates.
As the plane touched down in New York, Raghav’s phone began buzzing with everything that he had missed in last few days. One caught attention more than the other. It was from a friend who worked in NSA, with a harmless suggestion for a catch up next friday. Was this a sign!? He will have to wait to find out.

To be continued? May be… :)

Vine: Chapter 6: The old man

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meets a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India for selling his parental home. Getting a sudden call from Raj Gupta claiming he knows the truth about his parent’s death, Raghav meets him in Pune. Raj Gupta and Rohit’s old friend Sriram Iyer, tells Raghav conflicting stories. Raghav is unable to make up his mind. Sriram’s daughter Tanya decides to accompany Raghav in quest to find answers]
As Raghav sat opposite to Dr Madhukar Bhonsle, sipping a cup of tea and hearing about how his mother was a brilliant scientist and one of the best he had ever tutored. Tanya sat next to him. Her generous dose of sarcastic humor and love for coffee helped him find a center in this turmoil of emotions. Having her alongside gave him some sense of relief and sanity. He had booked himself on a return flight for the day after. His uncle heard all about the Raj episode from Sriram and was adamant that he doesn't spend a day more in India.
“You know Raghav, you look a lot like her. She was my best student ever and the day she passed away was one of the saddest days of my life. I knew your father as well. Rohit was a nice man. It is so unfortunate when so many cruel things happen at the same time. It makes you wonder if it is just fate or is it someone pulling some strings from behind the curtains.”
Tanya was first to catch on to old man’s hint, and quickly asked him - “do you think someone was pulling strings? what do you mean, really?”
Dr Bhonsle looked at them one by one, and was carefully measuring every word he said next. In the last 10 years he had been ridiculed in his family and in his office for his outrageous conspiracy theories. While he had learnt his lesson about not sharing them as vocally or in public, he never wavered away from his belief or the lack of it. He was trying to assess which category these two kids will fall into.
“Do you know how many scientists in BARC have lost their lives in accidents or have committed suicide in last 15 years ?”
Both stared at him blankly, and shook their heads to express their ignorance on the subject.
“10 in total. 5 of which were in my department. Either my department is a particularly accident prone department or something is wrong here. Your mother was the first to go.”
“What were you working on?”, asked Raghav.
“Do you remember your basic undergraduate physics class? Uranium is used for generation of nuclear electricity, however it is available in limited quantity and not even found across the globe. Electricity or power has long been the backbone of scientific and economic progress. Whoever has access to the cheapest power, has the potential to become the biggest power in the globe and naturally during cold war, both US and Russia had been relentless in harnessing nuclear energy. However the competition has always remained in Russia’s favour as they have one of the richest Uranium reserves. India on the other hand have had access to one of the biggest Thorium reserve. Now while this is a seemingly useless sibling of the radioactive brotherhood, our research for over two decades have been around how to harness Thorium to generate electricity. We have been working closely with some of the research teams in US and our progress in this field was very encouraging to say the least. Your mother was in fact part of a joint research team of US and India to work on this very project. And then one fine day, just a month before your family was supposed to move to US, she commits suicide. Now I have known her for sometime. She could be many things, but she wasn't a weak person and she loved you a lot. There was nothing which could make her take her own life. She was not a person who backs out of a fight. She wasn't a coward.”
“So what are you saying?”, Raghav asked.
“I am saying that your mother was killed by KGB or ISI or some such forces.”
Raghav’s first reaction was that the old man had lost it. He was clearly in his late 60s and might be beginning to imagine things. But surprisingly Tanya seemed fairly interested.
“What about the remaining four from your team?”, she asked.
“Good question. Two died in a road accident, one was electrocuted while doing repair work at home, and one person fell down stairs and died. All of them were critical to the research that we were doing. As soon as we neared some breakthrough, one of the key personnel associated would die”
“Why haven't the police investigated this?”, Tanya asked
“For one, they all looked like accidents. Two, they were scientists and not some silly celebrities. Three, all of this has happened because of internal leaks. I am sure they would have found ways to pocket the police as well.”
It was like a page out of a fiction novel. Raghav found himself laughing at what the old man was saying. “Raj is confident that my father cheated on my mother and that is why she took her life. Tanya’s father is confident that my father was a good man. Now you are saying that my mother was killed by agents of secret service or worse by her own government. You know what, I officially don't know what to believe. Thank you for your time doctor, but I don't know what to believe anymore.” Raghav got up and left the apartment, before Madhukar could say anything. Tanya got up to follow him as well.
“Sorry Dr Madhukar. He has been through a lot in the last couple of days.”
“That's alright. I don't blame him. At least he heard me out. This was the first time that I spoke about this to anyone. Ask him to look for signs. There would be signs of some random incident which happened along with these accidents. Something which doesn't add up. Most people just ignore it. We are so ready to put our heads in the sand and pretend there is no sandstorm brewing over our heads. We are so willing to take an easy answer that we give up on truth for convenience. Hope he has better sense than that.”

To be continued…

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vine: Chapter 5: To believe or not to believe

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meet a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their Mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India to sell his parental home. Getting a sudden call from Raj Gupta claiming he knows the truth about his parent’s death, Raghav meets him in Pune. Disturbed from what he gets to know, Raghav is left in a state of disbelief. He is put up at his father’s friend and colleague, Sriram Iyer’s residence in Mumbai]
Sriram Iyer was Rohit’s colleague in Tata Motors and one of the few people who had been in touch with Raghav’s uncle over the years. When he heard Raghav was coming to India, he insisted that Raghav stays with him. So when Raghav called to tell him that he was in Pune for some work and will be reaching a day late, he was a little disturbed. He knew that Rohit had a complicated past, and wasn't sure if his son was ready to know about it.
As Raghav walked into his apartment, Sriram noticed Raghav’s resemblance with Rohit. While he had inherited his father’s built and bodily features, his face was his mother’s. Raghav seemed unusually quiet which he attributed to long travel hours over the last three days. He greeted him and asked his daughter to show him his room while advising him to get some rest.
“So feel free to use this cupboard for your stuff. There is also a bell which you can ring for room service or just call out loudly, and someone will take the order”, Tanya said with a hint of sarcasm. Usually her semi sarcastic charm works on guys her age. Raghav seemed a little too lost in his own world. She wasn’t used to guys not giving her 200% of their attention. He definitely piqued her interest.
“You know usually, guys are nicer, specially when they have such nice host” she quipped.
“I am sorry for being rude, but it hasn't been a very usual day for me, not in the last couple of days”
“Well is it the long travel, the pollution and the dirt in India? or just the poor Indians on the road?”. She was on a roll, Tanya thought to herself, feeling pleased with her sharp remarks.
Raghav considered his answer for a moment. The weight he was carrying was becoming heavier with every passing second. Sometimes opening up to a complete stranger is easier. Comforting.
“What if you were told that everything I had known about my father, as a person, was a lie. And that he wasn't the hero I thought he was. He had serious character flaws and that he was the reason my mother committed suicide? How do you handle something like that? I can't even confront him and ask for an explanation.”
“Well it is like the time, someone walked up to a friend of mine whose dad is a politician and asked - how did she feel knowing that her dad was a corrupt politician and swindles public money? She answered in a matter of fact way, that he had been an excellent father and have always been there when she needed him. He could be a corrupt politician professionally but as a father he was the best. You need to ask yourself what he was to you? Was he a good father?”
“It is not that simple. He destroyed two families and drove my mother to committing suicide. How can I forgive him for that?”
“But why will you not? Sorry to break this to you, but committing suicide is not the most honorable decisions in my opinion. It is like running away from a fight. Moreover it was your mother’s decision. In fact you should be angry at your mother for deserting you and not sticking around to give you a proper childhood.”
Raghav was conflicted. Tanya spoke sense, but he was sad and angry at some level, and somehow logic is never well suited for such occasions.
Tanya sensed his conflict, and quickly said - “You know a walk and strong cup of filter coffee is what doctor recommends for such occasions”
Raghav was too tired to object, also at some level he was liking Tanya’s company. It was certainly better than the soliloquy which was going on in his head. Next day Raghav spent his time finishing all the paperwork for the sale of his parents’ flat. He decided to go have a last look the day after. He also cancelled his trip to Goa and booked himself on an earlier flight back to New York. He needed to go back to his familiar world. This short trip hadn't panned out the way he thought he would.
In the evening on their way back, Sriram asked Raghav what he had heard about his father and from where. Raghav was initially taken aback by the bluntness of the question, but he realized that Sriram could actually give him some real insight to his father’s life and so he narrated the entire chain of events to him. Sriram was clearly agitated by the end of it.
“No man ever is born without flaws and it is all easy for us to judge someone from a distance. Rohit is not here to defend or refute what Raj has said, and we don't know what the truth was. Having said that I have known your father and your mother for a long time. Rohit was an honorable man. I don't know what exactly transpired there in Pune. I had also heard of many office rumors around this, but I have known Rohit and I know he couldn't have done what Raj claimed. In fact it was rumored that Raj and Neha had been having marital troubles much before Rohit even went to Pune, and that Neha had been having an extra-marital affair much before Rohit came back in her life. But then again, I don't know these for a fact, and all of this happened fifteen years ago. It has been tough on Raj, but how do you know that all of this is not a figment of his imagination. Fifteen years is a long time to obsess about something and enough to lose objectivity in your own mind. I find this whole incident of Raj reaching out suddenly to you and coming up with all of these documents and proofs too well timed. It don't seem right. As about your mother’s death, why don't you talk to someone who was close to your mother. May be they will have an insight to what really happened. Incidentally I knew her superior in BARC. He lives in Andheri. Why don't you go visit him? He was very fond of your mother and had known your parents for a long time.”
Raghav sat there quietly in the car. Yes Raj’s story seemed a little too complete and with all the proofs, but then Sriram is obviously biased towards his friend. He kept remembering what Tanya told him - was he a bad father, if not he had no reason to complaint. But is it so simple? How can you be so objective in life? Should he reach out to his mother’s old boss? What if that confirms what he already dreads? But then what does he stand to lose at this point?
He took a deep breath and stood undecided, but he was determined to find out.
To be continued….

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Vine: Chapter 4: The Meeting

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meets a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India for selling his parental home. Right before he is leaving, he gets a call from Raj Gupta, claiming he knows the truth about his parent’s death, and luring him to meet him in Pune. Raghav decides to go meet him]
Raghav didn't know what to expect as he walked out of the airport. Last 20 hours had been a non stop movie marathon to stop the other non stop marathon in his head. He thought he had grown over that day his parents died- that single day which turned his life upside down, but he realized he was wrong. He felt quite tired from the long flight, change in time zones, and everything in between. He saw a man standing with a sign carrying his name. Soon he was in an Innova heading out of the airport, as the sun set in. In the last 20 hours he had considered several possible scenarios, one of which was that all this was an elaborate attempt to kidnap him. The only thing which he had ever done in his life g as elaborate as a kidnap attempt would be his short stint in NSA during college. Apart from writing some serious amount of code, which he still doesn't know whether it is being used, he had made couple of good friends. Post passing out of college, while he had an option to join their research and analytics division, he ended up choosing the corporate life instead. While his mind kept playing up scenarios, his gut told him that it was something else all together.
The car stopped at the turn of a park. The driver turned around and said, “Hi Raghav, I am Raj. We spoke on the phone. Glad you decided to come. Follow me”
As Raghav gathered his senses, and was about to ask some questions, he saw Raj quickly get out and get inside an old 4 storey building. He eventually followed him into an apartment at the top floor and got into the flat of certain Mr and Mrs Gupta. As he entered, his recently acquainted companion turned around and said, “As you would have guessed, I am Raj Gupta and this is where I used to live with my wife. Now of course I live alone. My wife died 15 years back. I promised to tell you the truth about your parent’s death, so why don't you have a seat and we can get started.”
Raghav was keenly observing this old man. He was nearing 60 probably, but certainly looked much older than he was. His sharp features gave away once a good looking man but the deep lines told a story of weathering and pain. He didn't know what the old man was going to tell him, but he could sense the morose in his voice. He settled down in his chair on the other side of the room.
“Before we begin, Raghav, do you have any questions?”
“Just one: why such a role play about being a diver?”
“Well I wasn't sure what to expect, and what I wanted to do. I needed to keep my options open.”
Raghav considered it for a moment. He didn't fully understand, but decided to listen.
Seeing that Raghav had no follow up questions, Raj started:
“Raghav, where you are sitting now is my temple, and you can be rest assured that whatever I am saying is absolutely true. This is the first place I built as a young man madly in love with his wife, intending to spend his life with her, and while things didn't pan out as planned, this is my haven of peace and all that is sane in my life. I met Neha almost 20 years back at a friend’s party. We instantly connected like in those movies you watch and in books you read. It was not long before we decided to get married and move in here. We had some of our best years here (gesturing at the wall full of photographs). However even like the best of us Neha had a past and it was with your father Rohit Verma. They had a short courtship period in college, which didn't last long once they passed out. While Neha moved on in life, Rohit was persistent about keeping their friendship alive. The thing about people unhappy in their own lives is that seeing happiness is difficult for them. Your father kept on finding faults in our relationship and influencing Neha’s mind about our marriage.”
Raghav was becoming more and more agitated with the accusations. Sensing this Raj threw a bunch of letters at him and continued.
“You obviously don't believe me and I don't blame you for it. Read these letters at your leisure. You will see what I am talking about. You must remember how your father moved to Pune, don’t you? You were old enough. Do you think it was just because of work. Absolutely not. He lured away my wife. He meticulously ended our marriage.”
At that point, Raghav decided that he had heard enough and stood up to leave.
“Raghav, before you leave wouldn’t you want to know who killed your mother?”
“What nonsense! My mother committed suicide. She …” Raghav gritted through his teeth. He found himself to be at a loss of words.
“Give me five minutes and you shall see the whole truth with proof.”
Raghav slumped back in his chair, but now he was feeling seriously ill at ease.
“Your father moved here in the year 2000 for some work, and started seeing my wife on a regular basis. What I mistook for old friendship, grew much more. I started noticing how Neha would be unhappy with the smallest of things in our lives. Can you believe that my wife of 10 years, would one day just stop caring about me? I don’t know Raghav, if you have been in a relationship ever, but the feeling of losing your love is just unbearable. But do you know what was more unbearable - feeling of being betrayed. My wife cheated on me, and when they found out that she was pregnant, they both eloped from Pune. As irony would have it, your father died in that car accident on the highway, the very same day.”
He passed on the autopsy report. He also passed on a consultation report for his wife from a hospital in Pune, where Rohit’s name was filled in the husband’s name section. Raghav was devastated.
“Raghav, it was your dad who killed your mother. Yes, he didn't kill her literally but he drove her to it. These are the telephone records (handing over another piece of paper to Raghav) from my land line on that day. Notice the two Mumbai coded numbers- they are your mother’s office and your residence numbers. Rohit told her of his debauchery and in her grief your mother took her own life. I can't blame her, I was very close to taking my own life myself.”
Raj paused as he swallowed his grief. It was a lot for Raghav to absorb. Raghav looked at the papers in his hands then looked at Raj and the photos on the wall. He didn’t know what to believe. Once someone passes away, they cease to have any faults. They rise above human flaws and attain the status of a hero. For Raghav, his father was his hero. For him to find out anything otherwise challenged his entire life.
For the next ten minutes and what seemed like eons, Raj showed him several more proofs of how his father had destroyed two happy families. Raghav looked at Raj’s eyes and saw the years of pain and suffering pouring out in one big release. He almost seemed to be smiling to himself, like someone who has been relieved of a huge burden of secret for the first time in many years. A man who has got justice after 15 years. Raghav interrupted, mumbled an apology and left in a hurry. He called a cab and went directly to his hotel. Tomorrow he will go to Mumbai. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to probe this any further. He was afraid of what was left to be uncovered. But that was for another day, right now he needed to sleep. He gulped down his medication and forced himself to sleep, before he lost his mind.

To be continued….

Monday, October 24, 2016

Vine: Chapter 3: Never forget or forgive

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meets a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India for selling his parental home. Right before he is about to leave, he gets a call from someone in Pune, claiming he knows how his parents died. Raghav decides to visit Pune.]
Raj Gupta was an outlier in his family. He hailed from Raebareli, a small town near Lucknow. His father owned a shop in the wholesale market, and one of the most respected traders in Raebareli. Growing up, his parents humoured his interest in science as just a passing phase – a side effect of education which they must endure, however ultimately he was expected to join the family business. When Raj said he wanted to do engineering from Roorkee Engineering College, not just his parents, but almost everyone in that small town was taken aback. Gupta ji’s son doing engineering was quite unexpected.
From Raebareli to Pune, all his life he had been driven to prove naysayer wrong- his parents, his relatives, his class mates and his colleagues. Finally when he met Neha, he thought it was the ultimate challenge thrown at him, and he intended to win that. He was introduced to Neha at a common friend’s party in 1987. She was a mechanical engineer, and was working for Tata Motors at that time. Raj had recently moved in to Pune as a manufacturing line lead for a Mahindra & Mahindra. Raj’s friends told him that she recently had a break up. Raj went for the opportunity with the single mindedness of an olympian. From flowers to stuffed toys, Raj tried every trick taught in commercial movies and cheap paperback books.Eventually Neha’s walls broke down. Raj’s decision to marry Neha was another first of its kind act in his family. Neha was a Punjabi, and Raj’s family were not extremely enthused about their union, but years of dealing with their son had taught them the futility of their objection. So in the year 1990, Mr and Mrs Gupta moved in their recently constructed 2 BHK flat in Koregaon Park.
Love is a strange thing. It’s an emotion which is often the driver and the resultant of actions in life. When he looked back Raj often wondered if he was indeed in love or was he in love with the idea of being in love. Grudgingly Raj concluded that he had mistaken the headiness of pursuit as something deeper, but then he questioned if love was indeed something as deep as the poet claim it to be, or was it a mere chemical reaction. Hating to admit that he might have made an error in judging his own self, he dedicated the next few years trying to be a good husband. But things got tougher with time. He always felt like the one pulling this relationship along and he started toying with the idea of calling it quits. His friends suggested that having a child can help make things better. But as fate would have it, Raj faced disappointment there as well. Eventually both Raj and Neha fell in this routine called marriage, which gradually shifted into becoming more of a decision borne out of convenience and better economic sense.
Raj’s parents sensed his predicament and took every opportunity to remind him of his mistake which was their ultimate come back for years of Raj’s insolence. Something Raj hated more than admitting he was wrong, was others saying he was wrong. It was towards the end of the decade of their marriage, when he decided that he would do everything in his power to prove his parents wrong. Even if it was just a sham, he would have the perfect life. He would not be proven wrong. Only deterrent to that was Rohit Verma.
Rohit and Neha were college sweethearts who landed the same job in the same city, but like most college romances, it didn’t survive the harsher realities of life outside campus. And right then mixing up professional and personal life didn’t seem like a great idea to Rohit. He eventually took a transfer and moved to Tata Motor’s corporate headquarters in Mumbai. While Neha always claimed it to be just a college thing, Raj had heard all about Neha’s very public break-down in her office. At some level he often wondered if Neha ever got over Rohit. Hence when in 2001, Neha told him in an excited tone that Rohit was coming to Pune for work, all his failures found a plausible cause. Jealousy is like the fire hidden under ashes- it consumes  undetected. And Raj soon got to the point where his ego and insecurities took over and he and Neha broke into their worst phase of marital bickering.
That evening, when he entered his empty flat, he was part happy. He knew he could blame his failures in life on Rohit and Neha and have a fresh start. That accident changed everything. Instantly everyone knew about Rohit and Neha. People who knew their history and Neha’s current predicament put two and two together. It would always start with the condolences, followed by those seemingly genuine questions, and finally those two questions – Who was Rohit? Why were they driving out of Pune? And friends who knew their history added – Was he the same Rohit?
Raj was a seething body of rage, when he entered the hospital. He wanted nothing to do with Neha anymore. He didn’t even look at Neha’s parents. He was there for identification and for finishing certain procedures, which the doctor had insisted he do in person. Doctor took him to his chamber and made him sit on a chair.
“I know Mr Gupta you must be going through hell right now. To be honest I don’t know what it is to be in your shoes right now. I just can’t imagine. However as a doctor it is my duty to inform you of all the details and that is what I have called you here for.”
Raj began listening for the first time. What details? What more now?
“Did your wife tell you anything recently?”
“About what? What would she have told me?”
“We did some basic blood test as part of autopsy, and we realized she was pregnant. Our guess is it was in early stage, probably her first trimester”
Raj was in shock. His first reaction was that of pain. He thought that after years of trying, God had finally given them what he wanted only to take it away prematurely. Soon after another thought occurred to him – Was it mine? More he thought about it more it seemed like the second option. Raj went into a shell. People thought he was a grieving husband, but he was broken inside. He was robbed off his ego, that one thing which was his most prized possession, that one thing which stopped him from drowning in the quicksand of jealousy and insecurities. This was an act which couldn’t go unpunished,but both Neha and Rohit were dead. When he inquired he found out that coincidentally Sohini (Rohit’s wife) committed suicide on the same day. She must have known as well, he thought, and their only son had left for US with his relatives.
But that was 15 years ago. Today he will be meeting Raghav Bose Verma face to face. Last few days he had been debating how to avenge his hurt pride. He just couldn’t make up his mind.
To be continued….

Friday, September 23, 2016

Vine: Chapter 2: Its your past calling

As Raghav’s car entered Mumbai crossing the Vashi flyover, he couldn’t help but notice that so much had changed, and also how so much still hadn’t. They used to stay in Chembur, along with his grandparents. He was very young when both his grandparents passed away. Probably a little too young to remember any of it. He had several childhood memories sprinkled all over Mumbai. Coming back here after so many years was like opening a box full of old toys, every one triggering a trip back in time.  
He kept going back to that day in his mind.
He kept crying hugging Piyana Mashi (aunt) for hours. She held him and sat in the corner of that room. As much as she tried to take him away, Raghav just wouldn’t leave the room. May be he was hoping for a miracle. May be his Ma would just open her eyes one more time, and it will be all OK. It didn’t. Police and Raghav’s Uncle reached almost at the same time. There was a considerable crowd outside the flat by the time they reached. Some who had known Raghav and his family over the years, some who were just looking for gossip, but mostly everyone was curious. Chatter in the room kept repeating itself in a loop like a broken record.
“Where is Rohit? Oh my god! How come? What are the odds of that? What will happen to this poor boy? Was Sohini having marital trouble? Why did she do this? I met her just the other day, she seemed so normal…
Raghav blocked everything out. After a while, all of the commotion, police, relatives, his dad’s friends, his mother’s colleagues; everyone ceased to exist. He had blocked all of them out. He just kept looking at his mother blankly. Too surprised to think why or for that matter too shocked to think what next. Rohit’s remains reached them the day after. By the time they reached the crematorium, Raghav had reached a state of dazed disbelief. It was all so surreal to him. When he pushed the trolley in the chimney and saw his parent’s body go over the burning oven, was the time he realised that the time for miracles was over. It was real, and they weren’t coming back. Next few days were a blur. His maternal uncle and aunt adopted him. Coincidentally they were shifting to US the very next month. Raghav moved with them.
In fact moving to US was already on cards for Rohit and Sohini and hence most of Raghav’s paper works were already ready. It was towards the end of the year 2000, when Sohini was selected by a research team in MIT to join them. Sohini was a Senior Scientist with BARC, and her field of research was around producing electricity from Thorium; a dream which Indian scientific fraternity had been dreaming for decades. It would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity for Sohini. Realising this Rohit started scouting for jobs which allowed him to move to US with her. It was then that he got a job with Infosys as a project lead for their client based in Boston. Rohit’s 10 years of experience with Tata Motors helped him get it. While he was supposed to move out in early 2001, his project got delayed, which is when he had to start handling another Infosys client – Bharat Forge, and had to shift to Pune in the interim. As much as they tried not to be a long distance couple, in the end fate had something else in store after all. Raghav hated this of course, but Rohit tried to bribe him through the weekends to earn his absence over the weekdays.
It took Raghav long hours of counselling and a very loving uncle and aunt to not get lost in abyss of negativity. Piyana and Pradip didn’t have their own kid, and that in way helped them focus their love and affection on Raghav only. Once they moved to New Jersey, they soon became part of the NRI community there, and before Raghav knew a heavy dose of Bengali culture came his way in most unexpected of places. You can take a Bengali out of Bengal, however never the Bengal out of a Bengali. And it all helped in a way. Raghav could find his feet in his mother’s side of culture, and closely knit circle helped him deal with many issues which a kid of his age would have otherwise faced in a completely new country.
Pradip had been planning to sell Raghav’s parent’s flat in chembur for a while now. But that meant that Raghav would need to travel back to Mumbai. He wasn’t sure, if Raghav was ready for it. Eventually it was Raghav who asked Pradip on his 25th birthday if he could go see India on his own. Pradip was in touch with Rohit’s old friend from college who lived in Mumbai and told him about Raghav’s trip. He was nervous about Raghav going about on his own and he kept hoping that his brief encounter with his past will be all about revisiting his childhood years and not that day!
Raghav just couldn’t stop himself from thinking about his India trip. He had been thinking about it for months. But more so after he got that call.
“Is this Raghav Verma?”
Yes, this is Raghav Bose Verma. Who is this?
“Hi Raghav, You wouldn’t know me, but I knew your parents, at least your father.”
“Oh Ok.”
“Listen, I don’t have much time. However if you want to find out the truth behind your parent’s death, come meet me in Pune. I know you are travelling to Mumbai day after. It’s a short flight from there. And yes, if you tell your Uncle about this call, he will do everything in his power to convince you otherwise. So it’s really up to you. What do you value more? Truth or peace of mind?
Raghav was too shocked to react. “How do I find you”, he finally managed to say.
“I will message you the details. Raghav it’s important we meet, so don’t disappoint me”

To be continued…