Why

Its odd how you think of the most life-changing things only when you are stuck in a crowded local train with no space to move or breathe – and there’s a man’s hand placed very inappropriately on your backside. No, there isn’t even enough space for you to kick him in the shins. You wonder if there is a purpose to life, to existence and to survival. Why exactly do we do what we do? Why do we put ourselves through so much trouble to study and work and earn? Why do we make ourselves labour through relationships that have the lifespan of a goldfish, and try and build up a social circle? Why do we work at, well, anything?

Then your stop comes and you get off, along with the sea of humanity that pours out of the tiny opening of that train, everybody moving away and moving on; working towards their own goals, their own dreams, their own needs. And, just like the awkward touch of the man’s hand fades away from memory, so do your thoughts. You walk ahead, planning for the rest of the day, responding to your relationships and social obligations, moving towards that unknown goal, bracing yourself for another day’s living. Or is it survival?

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Forbidden

Lajo kept nodding off during the speech. She knew she shouldn’t. It was some sort of important event, apparently. She didn’t understand it fully though. She knew it had something to do with the new Independence thing Gandhiji had begun. He was a strange man, this Gandhi. From what she understood, he had been all over the world. England, South Africa, all these places she kept hearing about. But here he came to India, wearing but a loincloth and a shawl, a scrawny bag of bones.

The baby stirred in her arms and whimpered. It was feeding time. Lajo looked around. There was no way of getting out. People were sitting for miles on either side. Besides, getting up and leaving would be disrespectful. So she shushed the baby and gently rocked her in her arms. She smiled as the tiny hands searched through her pallo and jewellery and made their way to her earlobe. Lajo gently ran her hand through the soft brown curls, so similar to her father’s. She looked up and searched him out in the crowd. There he was, standing off to one side in the distance, looking smart in his uniform and holding a big rifle. She looked at his handsome features, his shining skin, those brilliant blue eyes with their piercing gaze, her pulse racing with the secret she knew only they shared. He turned abruptly and looked directly into her eyes, as though he had sensed her looking. She blushed furiously, but held his gaze defiantly. He smiled, his eyes crinkling at the side, and her heart melted.

Suddenly, a stone flew through the air and hit him on the forehead and he crumpled to the floor. She screamed, but her screams were lost in the instant fire his comrades opened fire against the crowd. The enraged crowd ran against the and began to assault them. She ran in the direction she had seen him, the baby rudely awakened and crying in her arms. It was mayhem. She saw people, friends, relatives falling and getting trampled all around her. But she didn’t stop. She kept running, screaming gibberish, for she didn’t know his name. She felt bodies and arms and legs under her feet, as she ran without a care for their lives – without a care for her own.

She reached him finally, writhing on the ground with blood streaming down his face. The baby was shrieking now, but she couldn’t hear any of it. She yelled, tried to get him to move. She began to pull at his clothes, his limbs, his face. But he was too weak to move. All of a sudden a hand grabbed her baby roughly from her arms and pulled her away. She looked up to see her husband’s face, red with fury. She struggled to get away from him and screamed at him to let her go. He dragged her away forcefully till he couldn’t listen to her anymore and turned around and slapped her so hard that she turned and fell.

‘Do you think you are some great freedom fighter, that you can kill these firang men with your bare hands? You are a mother! Get away from them!’

But she didn’t hear a word. She was looking at the eyes. The eyes that she had grown to respect. She eyes she had learnt to not fear. She eyes she had fallen in love with. She felt herself being picked up and pulled away. But she didn’t resist. She thought of their clandestine meetings when her husband was in the fields, or away at some protest – meetings that were all the more exciting because they were forbidden. She thought of their long, one-sided conversations while neither understood the other. She thought of the first time she knew she had fallen in love. The eyes were lifeless now. Staring at her, staring through her. The eyes of the stranger, who was her lover.