The lost and found.

He was sitting in his room, cuddled under the warm blankets, a cup of coffee on the night stand, a book lay open in his hand, the pages ruffling with the incoming gust of wind through the open window. The laptop kept displaying the movie that had not been getting enough attention from the person lost in thoughts, unaware to the blurred dance of colors on the screen. He fiddled with the ribbon in his hand, gift wrappers strewn across the room, unopened boxes defined a pile on the floor as the opened ones dawned an aura of mixed expressions as their gifts were tossed aside. He cuddled the diary in his lap. The cover had faded from its original bright blue, the pages yellowed and bend stiff. The diary had been acknowledged three times. His scrawny untidy writing that marked the first three pages, the middle three pages and now, the last page. The rest as stripped bare blank as it could ever be. It had been years, his memory had already bidden farewell to it a long time ago. If it wasn’t for him to give in to his heart wanting to open the only present wrapped in a newspaper and adorned with a ribbon that held a punched note.

“To the one who was lost and found.”

He tried hard to stop his tears rolling down his cheek as he read the same old yellowed pages over and over, his heart in sync with the familiarity of the exact moment he had refrained sharing with anyone else and this diary had so lovingly withheld. He turned again to the first page and soaked in all that he had been through.

‘Hello diary. I do not know what else to call you. My mind does not register any particular name for you as yet. I am a 16-year-old boy. And I am a loser.’

He lingered around that word for a long time. He recalled those troubled times, the meek, silent, weak bodied boy who had no spark in his eyes and no glow on his face when it came to recognition. He grew up in a loved environment, a family of four. He had been a bright student during his primary school but his performance deteriorated as he grew. And his higher school performance had been poor enough for him to withdraw to himself, turning sullen and frightened. He himself had tagged him a loser. He remembered the night when he could bear it no longer and he took to confide with his diary, something he had never considered before. It was that peculiar moment that had him his heart pouring out. He cried about him not having any interest in his studies but all he wanted to do was be on the football ground. He wasn’t the best but he was good and he felt liberated. He felt a constant disappointment to his parents looking at his grades which had gifted him so many red marks. His sibling relations was turning sour because his self-pity led to have an even more impact of the childhood rivalry than it should have, while his elder brother and sister had their careers building and talents being explored, he was falling deep in the pit of darkness. He did not want any sympathy so he did not utter a word of his shadows to anyone for the fear of being mocked and looked down upon. He felt some peace in the shelter of his parents who did express their disappointment at appropriate times but never pushed him or mocked him. But their eyes, he could read them. They searched for the child who once had been amongst the smartest of his class to the boy who was defeated by his own disappointments. He cried that night so hard, that silence had been too loud. He managed to clear his boards as his family prepared for engineering admissions when he accepted the stream. The diary went back to its corner to bathe in dust particles for years till again perhaps, he came across it.

He had been in love. He managed to secure a job. He had been head-over-heels with a person who never noticed. He told her, he expressed to as far as his depth let him. She refused. But worst, she compared him to another man. She brought back all the years that came rushing at him which he had so managed to put behind him. His manager had him plummeting back to all horrors which now started drumming up against his chest, his heartbeat racing as sweat trickled down his forehead but he himself had lost all emotions, all thoughts. He felt like the blackboard which had been wiped clean of anything that may have ever been written. He felt like he was living a life of torment of his own failures reflected back as though he was surrounded by mirrors and all he saw was moments he managed to fail. That night, he returned home. He locked the door and slid aside the wooden panel that concealed the storage space in his bed and stepped in. A dim light barely managed to reach to the entire space. He had given up. He couldn’t take it anymore. He just wanted to go through his stuff, his childhood that had sparkled so bright and then just lost all the glitter to his existence. Just that one last time.

He pulled out his report cards, all so proudly beaming with A’s and his paintings which scored the highest. His football team jersey, shoes, his handwritten compositions that had been gloried with three stars, the highest that was given. And among the pile of his homework notebooks, he found a blue diary. The one that he had been gifted by his family. The special thing about it was that he wasn’t gifted it on his birthday or any achievement. He was gifted that diary on his first failure. The day his results had for the first time in his life, deprived him of his smile, his belief, his confidence before spiralling him down the long run of time he never wanted to live through. He had kept it aside not wanting to be reminded of that day and forgotten about it. He had randomly pulled it out to smear across the first three pages and then toss it back. But now that he wanted bid farewell, he decided to have a look through it. Stuck to the inner cover was a white envelope. He pulled out a note, its fold cracked as he opened it, wondering how he never knew about it but still understanding. It had a few lines, signed by his entire family.

“Hi little munchkin. We know you are upset, we all saw the smile that was wiped away from your face. You may wonder why a present for a failure, right? Well kiddo, we all want you to be the person who cherishes life, not just his success. Who appreciates failures so he can learn. We do not expect you to be the star all day long. We want that person, who at the end of the day, no matter what, just doesn’t give up. It’s your first time, you’ll understand as you grow. We have all been there. You don’t know because you were too small, too bright and too cute to understand. Just know champ, you will always be loved no matter what. Just be there for yourself too. It’s okay love.”

His hands shook towards the end of the note. His vision blurred, tears streaming down his face, finally understanding where he had lost himself. He had belittled himself every single time, at every opportunity he got. He just never embraced the other side of life in his pursuit to find what he wanted. He had been so downtrodden by the person he kept comparing himself to, he forgot to forgive himself, he forgot to give himself a chance. He shuddered at what he had decided already. It was towards dawn when he pulled all his scattered pieces together to try one more time. Just that once, he decided to work on his doubts, his failures, his disappointments. Just that once. For the very first time.

Today he sat beside the window, relaxed but still splurged with the havoc of emotions that had now been on an open display for him to admire. And he wrote towards the end of the diary. Its because his missed accepting himself. He lost himself to the guy who kept running away. To the guy whose head was so deep buried in turmoil he never spared anytime to sort his peace. If he had, maybe, somewhere, he could have found a tiny ounce.  And he did. So much of it.

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Deep within..

She walked up the stairs, relieved that she had managed to find the building. Now the only concern was to find the apartment. The fifth floor of the skyscraper and there it was, merry sounds floating out through the open door. She always preferred stairs over the elevator. Well, most of the times. A familiar face smiled at her as she was welcomed and lead by her hand into the apartment. Adi, one of her close friends was now the proud owner of this new apartment and he had gathered his close friends to celebrate. Amidst all the warm smiles she did not notice the face that stared at her from the moment she walked in. His face registered a pleasant surprise and a many year’s old familiar gleam floated back in his eyes. He stood frozen, all forgotten, in and about the room, except her. She still hadn’t noticed. He did not mind. Usual of her to not immediately start searching people in her vicinity, he got more time to watch her cheerful face and expressions and gestures as she chattered as usual. When the gathering around her thinned did she turn her gaze towards the balcony and noticed him standing. It was her turn to hang midway, every sense of hers. He still smiled in the same crooked way and the sparkle in his eyes was still the same. The beard was the only difference from the last time she had seen him but it only added to his handsome features. Her face suddenly broke into a shy smile as he waved at her. She was about to walk over to him when her friends called her. She looked at him again and turned on her heel, dazed at his sudden presence. Adi was showing her around but suddenly every view seemed to have her reverting back to the balcony.

The entire day was lost between gossips, food, laughter and noticing that he still stared at her the same way. Flitting in and out of conversations, the warm glow that bubbled inside struck up another conversation in a language that only they knew. A little time off and they wandered slowly towards sanctity of the balcony.  The sun was in to give a last glimpse before it vanished. They continued to look at the view, trying to attempt conversation.

“Barbeque, campfire and tents on the lawn people. Every inch is booked for us today. You can stroll around till you all are damn hungry” Everyone laughed as Adi called out to the small crowd.

“Let’s go” His eyes never left her face.

“Sure” Sara couldn’t get herself to meet his gaze.

They walked together, out of the apartment. Something slid down her stomach as the elevator made for the ground floor. Their classmates called out for them to join but she excused herself as he walked away, unable to refuse. Sara wanted to savour every ounce of luck that she had been bestowed with. Singing and dancing everyone was engrossed in enjoyment as they drifted away from each other, towards their friend circles. As most settled themselves cosily, she preferred to walk herself towards the other silent portion of the greenery. It sloped down from here, towards the basketball court.

The grass was warm. She sat down, half hoping that he would return. She slept on the lawn, staring at the stars for a long time. It had been one of her favourite past time hobbies. She did not notice him walk towards her until he spoke.

“Mind if I join?”

“Surely not” He slept beside her, not too close, not too far away. An arm tucked below his head, another resting on his stomach.

Ned remembered her from when she was an avid reader. And he never liked reading books. She loved narrating stories from the books she had read and that became their daily routine. The boy who wasn’t much into literature took interest in asking her to narrate new stories while he noted and loved the way she told them.

Her expressions.

Her gestures.

Her.

She recommended a few books for him to read, loving his keen interest only to know he returned them to the library without reading them. Somewhere she stopped asking him to read, wondering why did he even bother asking her to narrate books if he did not like reading. Somewhere, she understood why. Friendship shook hands with love as they pampered the new bond between two best friends.

“Who do you think came up with the idea of constellations, do you think?” Sara quipped.

“Definitely not me”

“That was a very lame joke.” She titled her head to watch him smile.

“Fine.”

“Do you know any or maybe can find one?”

“I can try.”

He fell silent as he literally searched for one.

She was looking towards the opposite side when he suddenly slide his hand in hers quickly and pointed with the other in a certain cluster of stars.

“That one, right there. See?”

“Where exactly?” She found it difficult to follow where he was pointing while feeling the warmth of his hand in hers. He tried a couple more times and when she could still not understand she asked him to draw the shape it resembled. He paused, his mind whirling.

“Ned?”

“Yes Sara”

“Did you really find something or was it just an excuse to hold my hand?”

She laughed as he fumbled to think for words knowing he was caught. She felt him decide whether to withdraw his hand or let it be. She laughed and held his hand in hers and lay it over her stomach. They continued chattering for a long time. A cold wind blew as they moved closer to each other.

“Now I think you are finding an excuse to move closer.” He teased.

“Oh, it’s not an excuse. I am moving closer” With that she filled even the remaining gap between them. He was awed at how brave she had gotten. Back in high-school, the bravest girl in all antics found it difficult to even stand close when it came to being in love. They lay there, without uttering a single word for a long time. Ned couldn’t bear being this close to the woman he couldn’t be together with.

“I think we should go”

He got up.

“Could you stay for a little bit more?” He never really had the heart to leave.

As he lay back down, she snuggled close to him as he held her and moved to keep her head on his chest. Ned couldn’t help but know himself blush too. He was happy she was here. He was sad she had been away.

“Are you falling asleep Sara? Should we go back?”

“No, its okay. I am fine. It feels nice here.”

“Ned, do you remember be sometimes.”

He propped himself up, turned on his side, his head resting on his palm. He looked at her face and was silent for a long time.

“I could never forget you.” She caressed his cheek and pulled him closer. Her lips touched his. Slowly, they kissed. She pulled away and looked at the man she had loved during her college. They had then never said how much they loved each other although they had no need to. The day they parted was when they had visited college to collect their marksheets. When she left the building, he stood on the stairs in front as she turned behind following her instinct. That was the way they parted, in silence, just the way they had fallen in love. It hurt because they had to stay apart. The years that followed during graduation, he avoided contact and she avoided trying, knowing it was good for both the way they were. Religion would have been a barrier to disappoint their parents, but deep down, they couldn’t be torn apart, no matter the time, no matter the distance. And here they were together again.

She was telling him about the times when she had fallen asleep under the open sky at her native place and how her grandpa would lovingly pick her up and carry her back to her room. And in the morning, would complain and pretend of having a back ache because she was too heavy to carry. She was describing to him some full moon story when she slowly drifted off to sleep.

He gently stroked her back, lying wide awake. Ned did not want to be unaware of the entire she was with him. After a while, he lifted her, not having the heart to wake her up. The stories she told were true, she was heavy to lift, he smiled to himself. He carried her to the camp tents as his friends watched. He lay Sara on her bed and covered her with a blanket. She stirred awake to find him looking at her and she mumbled.

“Ned don’t leave me this time, unsaid and unknown. Just stay for some time atleast.” She drifted off to sleep.

He looked at her sleepy face, her mouth slightly open. He bent forward to kiss her forehead for a long time. Morning was still a long way. He went back to engraving every little detail of her face, not knowing if luck would favour them again. His storyteller was being woven again into him, into his story.

He sat unaware of the world outside the camp tent they were in, his eyes moist.

 

Deep down somewhere…

She walked up the stairs, relieved that she had managed to find the building. Now the only concern was to find the apartment. The fifth floor of the skyscraper and there it was, merry sounds floating out through the open door. She always preferred stairs over the elevator. Well, most of the times. A familiar face smiled at her as she was welcomed and lead by her hand into the apartment. Adi, one of her close friends was now the proud owner of this new apartment and he had gathered his close friends to celebrate. Amidst all the warm smiles she did not notice the face that stared at her from the moment she walked in. His face registered a pleasant surprise and a many year’s old familiar gleam floated back in his eyes. He stood frozen, all forgotten, in and about the room, except her. She still had not noticed him. He did not mind. Usual of her to not immediately start searching people in her vicinity, he got more time to watch her cheerful face and expressions and gestures as she chattered as usual. When the gathering around her thinned did she turn her gaze towards the balcony and noticed him standing. It was her turn to hang midway, every sense of hers. He still smiled in the same crooked way and the sparkle in his eyes was still the same. The beard was the only difference from the last time she had seen him but it only added to his handsome features. Her face suddenly broke into a shy smile as he waved at her. She was about to walk over to him when her friends called her. She looked at him again and turned on her heel, dazed at his sudden presence. Adi was showing her around but suddenly every view seemed to have her reverting back to the balcony.

The entire day was lost between gossips, food, laughter and noticing that he still stared at her the same way. Flitting in and out of conversations, the warm glow that bubbled inside struck up another conversation in a language that only they knew. A little time off and they wandered slowly towards sanctity of the balcony.  The sun was in to give a last glimpse before it vanished. They continued to look at the view, trying to attempt conversation.

“Barbeque, campfire and tents on the lawn people. Every inch is booked for us today. You can stroll around till you all are damn hungry” Everyone laughed as Adi called out to the small crowd.

“Let’s go” His eyes never left her face.

“Sure” Sara couldn’t get herself to meet his gaze.

They walked together, out of the apartment. Something slid down her stomach as the elevator made for the ground floor. Their classmates called out for them to join but she excused herself as he walked away, unable to refuse. Sara wanted to savour every ounce of luck that she had been bestowed with. Singing and dancing everyone was engrossed in enjoyment as they drifted away from each other, towards their friend circles. As most settled themselves cosily, she preferred to walk herself towards the other silent portion of the greenery. It sloped down from here, towards the basketball court.

The grass was warm. She sat down, half hoping that he would return. She slept on the lawn, staring at the stars for a long time. It had been one of her favourite past time hobbies. She did not notice him walk towards her until he spoke.

“Mind if I join?”

“Surely not” He slept beside her, not too close, not too far away. An arm tucked below his head, another resting on his stomach.

Ned remembered her from when she was an avid reader. And he never liked reading books. She loved narrating stories from the books she had read and that became their daily routine. The boy who wasn’t much into literature took interest in asking her to narrate new stories while he noted and loved the way she told them.

Her expressions.

Her gestures.

Her.

She recommended a few books for him to read, loving his keen interest only to know he returned them to the library without reading them. Somewhere she stopped asking him to read, wondering why did he even bother asking her to narrate books if he did not like reading. Somewhere, she understood why. Friendship shook hands with love as they pampered the new bond between two best friends.

“Who do you think came up with the idea of constellations, do you think?” Sara quipped.

“Definitely not me”

“That was a very lame joke.” She titled her head to watch him smile.

“Fine.”

“Do you know any or maybe can find one?”

“I can try.”

He fell silent as he literally searched for one.

She was looking towards the opposite side when he suddenly slide his hand in hers quickly and pointed with the other in a certain cluster of stars.

“That one, right there. See?”

“Where exactly?” She found it difficult to follow where he was pointing while feeling the warmth of his hand in hers. He tried a couple more times and when she could still not understand she asked him to draw the shape it resembled. He paused, his mind whirling.

“Ned?”

“Yes Sara”

“Did you really find something or was it just an excuse to hold my hand?”

She laughed as he fumbled to think for words knowing he was caught. She felt him decide whether to withdraw his hand or let it be. She laughed and held his hand in hers and lay it over her stomach. They continued chattering for a long time. A cold wind blew as they moved closer to each other.

“Now I think you are finding an excuse to move closer.” He teased.

“Oh, it’s not an excuse. I am moving closer” With that she filled even the remaining gap between them. He was awed at how brave she had gotten. Back in high-school, the bravest girl in all antics found it difficult to even stand close when it came to being in love. They lay there, without uttering a single word for a long time. Ned couldn’t bear being this close to the woman he couldn’t be together with.

“I think we should go”

He got up.

“Could you stay for a little bit more?” He never really had the heart to leave.

As he lay back down, she snuggled close to him as he held her and moved to keep her head on his chest. Ned couldn’t help but know himself blush too. He was happy she was here. He was sad she had been away.

“Are you falling asleep Sara? Should we go back?”

“No, its okay. I am fine. It feels nice here.”

“Ned, do you remember be sometimes.”

He propped himself up, turned on his side, his head resting on his palm. He looked at her face and was silent for a long time.

“I could never forget you.” She caressed his cheek and pulled him closer. Her lips touched his. Slowly, they kissed. She pulled away and looked at the man she had loved during her college. They had then never said how much they loved each other although they had no need to. The day they parted was when they had visited college to collect their marksheets. When she left the building, he stood on the stairs in front as she turned behind following her instinct. That was the way they parted, in silence, just the way they had fallen in love. It hurt because they had to stay apart. The years that followed during graduation, he avoided contact and she avoided trying, knowing it was good for both the way they were. Religion would have been a barrier to disappoint their parents, but deep down, they couldn’t be torn apart, no matter the time, no matter the distance. And here they were together again.

She was telling him about the times when she had fallen asleep under the open sky at her native place and how her grandpa would lovingly pick her up and carry her back to her room. And in the morning, would complain and pretend of having a back ache because she was too heavy to carry. She was describing to him some full moon story when she slowly drifted off to sleep.

He gently stroked her back, lying wide awake. Ned did not want to be unaware of the entire she was with him. After a while, he lifted her, not having the heart to wake her up. The stories she told were true, she was heavy to lift, he smiled to himself. He carried her to the camp tents as his friends watched. He lay Sara on her bed and covered her with a blanket. She stirred awake to find him looking at her and she mumbled.

“Ned don’t leave me this time, unsaid and unknown. Just stay for some time atleast.” She drifted off to sleep.

He looked at her sleepy face, her mouth slightly open. He bent forward to kiss her forehead for a long time. Morning was still a long way. He went back to engraving every little detail of her face, not knowing if luck would favour them again. His storyteller was being woven again into him, into his story.

He sat unaware of the world outside the camp tent they were in, his eyes moist.

 

Two wheels, a day and 370!

Not in a habit to pass even a few days without exploring, early morning I check a few last-minute details prior to embarking on my road trip to Wai. Passion makes a person go places but my passion is to go places. The atmosphere is still fogged as I step outside to see my bike parked ahead, both of us eager to get on road. My home vanished around the corner; all my thoughts about no matter how much do I travel, every new destination always gets my heart pounding with thrill.Passing the hanging bridge of Ravet,I catch a glimpse of sun rays reach out through the mist and gently rest across the ripples. With an occasional passer-by, I head along NH48. Arriving outside Pune an hour later, the scenery is now replaced more open, non-residential space spread over a wide area on either side. The first tunnel passes through hill covered half in shadow on the lower front side, its peak bathing in a golden glow. Once inside, a parallel row of dim yellow lights on the flat smoothed roof blur past me. The sound of vehicles reflects off the wall for a kilometer when I headed past the end of tunnel around a corner.
About two hours later, I stop by Sriram vadapav, a popular snack center for travelers. I slither through the crowd to reach the counter. The local breakfast menu varies from missal to potato and onion pakoras and pohe (dish made of flattened rice) to fried sago vadas. I have to wait for only a few minutes before I collect my steaming dish for breakfast. The taste speaks of a well-blended mixture of ingredients as I savor every bite with tamarind paste smeared on top. The air still very cold, I sip a hot cup of tea with the vapors fogging my glasses. Few minutes of rest and I kick my vehicle back to life. The region ahead is a hilly terrain, marking the beginning of Satara. Covered with sun-dried grass and dried trees all over the slope, the black bark scattered against the background of a clear blue sky makes a strong view. Eventually the surface rises as I enter the Ghats of Wai. I squint my eyes in effort against the glare the entire region is valleys and mountains, few villages amidst the valley and adjacent farms. The temperature in the Ghats is back to normal, the air warm. The roads in good condition and turns more elaborate, they enhance a smooth ride. After about twenty-minutes in Ghats, the road descends into the village of Wai. The first noticeable thing is the village road covered with trees all the way with most of them banyan trees; I could never resist the urge to click. I stop for a glass of sugarcane juice at a local juice center, shortly before noon. The countryside life has well defined its presence with farms, houses in view with thatched roofs and courtyards evened with cow dung, a few concrete bungalows and harvest heaps neatly arranged in piles. I was pleased to watch bullock carts had not yet faded away. The sugarcane juice quenches my thirst a sweet taste mixed with a slight tinge of lime, restoring energy levels in the heat. In the background are the Mandar Devi hills, named after the local goddess.

The Saat Ghats of Wai are situated near the entrance of the city. Built on the bank of Krishna river, the main attraction and biggest of all the temples is on the fourth Ghat. I feel fascinated by the entire structure constructed in stone, from the Ghat platform to the temple peak. Built in the river bed by Ganpat Bhikaji Raste, he was the Sardar of Mahadeorao Ballal Peshwa. In monsoon when the river floods, water flows up to the inside of Mahadeva temple, earlier the temples being flooded till four months. But since the construction of Dhom dam, the flood water is cleared in a couple of days. I first visit the Ganpati temple. The Ganpati sculpted in a siting position and painted in orange is draped in purple cloth around the waist and white shawl around his shoulders. As I view around, I converse with the current caretaker. The Ganpati statue was sculpted out of single entire stone block and was established first. The temple is built later, quite opposite the normal procedure. On its left side, inside a wall enclosure is the Mahadeva temple with the Sabha Mandal in front and the Ganakeshwar Temple on its left. Of all, the Ganpati temple architecture was completed in 1762. During its period of construction, the Sardar lost his son and in his remembrance, the Mahadeva temple was built in 1767. The Ganakeshwar temple was originally in Mauje Mugav village of Wai featuring hemadpanthi architecture that is 250 years old. Later on, 5th June 1976 it was submerged below water due to the Dhom dam construction. Sometimes when water level of the dam decreases, one can see the peak of Ganakeshwar temple. Entire cost for building the stone platform and the Ganpati temple was one lakh sixty-two thousand and seventy-five thousand for the Mahadeva temple, the amount being very huge dating back around 255 years ago. The locals state the entire time for construction was between 15-20 years. The squared stone slabs are joined together by a mixture of lime stone with glass and iron chips. The material left after building the entire Ghat is used to build the forty room Raste Wada. The Gokhle family who was awarded the place later now continues to live at the Wada after Raste dynasty ended with the demise of his son.
In front of the Mahadeva temple is a beautiful sculpture of Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Mahadeva. Made from shaligram stone, it was ordered specially from Karnataka. The surface is smooth and shiny, carved to the last detail, from its ornaments to its hoofs. Inside the temple, a young teenage boy is busy decorating the shivling with flowers. On the left side of the shivling, in the wall is the window of snake’s puzzle. It is a design with two entwined snakes. To solve it, one has to start from one snake’s mouth and end at its tail. Most people fail to solve it, ending at the second snake’s mouth. A small circular slab of stone in the right corner near the doorway is used to scrape sandalwood powder. In front of the temple, beside the Nandi is a small rough surfaced statue of a person sculpted from above his waist. This represents the attendants of Lord Shiva, known as gans. The Mahadeva temple has three peaks descending in height towards the front and other small dome like structures around them. All peaks have various figures carved on each side representing the lord, saints and devotees in different positions. Such is the quality and strength of construction that the maintenance of the temple was recently done for the first time since it was built. At the entrance, an example of the construction has been left to display relating to how the slabs are being held together. The Sabha Mandal is a huge open hall with arched stone pillars. The Swahakara Yagya, a seven-day holy program is performed in the hall where the fire once lit is kept burning for seven days. The Deepmal is a huge pillar with slots for placing lighted lamps which is lit every year on Kojagiri and Tripouri Pournima (full moon) and on Mahashivratri. In the previous days, baked mud lamps were used but now artificial lighting is preferred. Only on every Tripouri Pournima, a full moon occasion before Mahashivratri, the entire Ghat is lit with lamps. Saat Ghats celebrate the Krushnamai Utsav; a fair assembles for a whole month around February. Every Ghat has temples built by families it was allotted to. The caretaker family stays within the rooms allotted inside the temple for a year and then moves to their village back to their daily routine. A total of seven families have been caretakers known as Guravs, the tradition being passed down for generations. Every family moved back in to the temple every eight year.

Four kilometres ahead from Wai is the village of Menavli which is named after the local deity, Lord Meneshwar. I turn off the main road towards a tiny residential path that leads into the village and in a sudden opening, is the stone and brick Wada of Nana Fadnavis. The surrounding wall is huge such that only the top roof of the house can be seen from outside with huge wooden entrance doors on either side. The Wada is a 300 to 350 years old architecture, built by Nana Fadnavis. When gifted the village of Menavli in 1768, he re-established the whole village. He then built a quarter moon shaped stone Ghat with Shree Vishnu and Shree Meneshwar temples and the six yard Fadnavis residence, its construction completed around 1780. The Wada was built for his wife who is said to have been very beautiful. The house has a secret tunnel that led down to the bank of the Krishna river that flows behind the house. She used to go through the tunnel to have a bath in the river at morning four and return back the same way. The Wada is a two-floor structure, its windows and doors still intact at the hinges, coated with blackish brown varnish, looked good as new. The place has been painted recently for shootings, the famous Bajirao Mastani film has included this location in a few scenes. The Wada still has Nana’s bed, Divankhana and few other things in his room upstairs. The side staircase at each corner leads up to the top platform from the looks of which I gather was used as storage. The middle staircase leads to Nana’s room which is kept locked, not open for public display. The courtyard is in centre of the entire Wada with a Ganpati statue is near the entrance corner of the courtyard and arched wooden pillars supported on stone foundation. The windows fitted with horizontal bars depict the old method of design. On the other side of the Wada stays the 96 year old caretaker, Mr Govande who explained the lock system of the doors, quite a simple yet tricky design.
Exactly behind the Wada is the Meneshwar temple that place flaunts a huge stone bell which was won by Chimaji Appa, brother of Bajirao Peshwa from Vasai. Hung inside a dome structure, the bell is made of Panchdhatu (five metals) around 1707 with Mother Mary engraved on the surface. The five metals used for the bell are gold, silver, iron, copper and lead. The temple wall still has an old painting of an elephant on either side of the stone archway. The perfectly aligned nandi and the bell hung behind it makes a peaceful view from the inside of the Mahadeva temple. Inside, a series of deep steps lead downwards towards the shivling. Placed exactly in the centre, light entering through the doorway falls exactly on the shivling. The water surface is still, with slight ripples now and then, its other side of the bank covered in dense trees. A few buffaloes immerse themselves in the cool delight blowing off heat, the bell around their necks tinkling. The environment is more peaceful, given its location being the farthest in the village. As a few more bulls walk in to quench their thirst, I make my way ahead for the next destination.

Back through the city of Wai, Panchgani is located about 13 kilometres ahead, I make my way through the Pasarni Ghats. These Ghats have valleys more deep and sharp turns. From top to midway, blackened bare rock make the hills appear withered. Sundried grass and dried tree skeletons start midway down, weathering effects can be seen more towards the top bare rocky edges and also remarkably more than the hills of Wai Ghats. The rocks are chipped in many places, bits n pieces strewn along the road. Layered farming is prominent along the valley settlements with the difference in soil distinct even from a certain height, varying from brick red to black. Resorts with artificial fountains, waterfalls and sprinklers greet travellers way before entering the city. Panchgani hill station is the second largest plateau in Asia. The road towards the highest plateau has many horses lined up in large numbers for people to visit the caves and other points at larger distances from one another. I stop at one of the local restaurants ‘Shantai’ that has small hut-like bamboo rooms with thatched slanting roofs providing complete privacy. The food served has a countryside speciality, with the staple bhakri and chapati made on mud cooking stoves (chulhas). I indulge in paneer-chapati while few visitors savour bhakri with chicken gravy. As I check my fuel meter for the return journey, I noticed the prices have a drop by 10 to 15 bucks compared to city. While returning, sunset has the hills covered in half darkness and half sunlight. I stop at one of the side points to view the setting sun. Its colours spread lightly across the sky, the sun set behind the hill ranges. Once out of the Ghats, I take a detour around Wai city. The dark shades spread across the sky are mesmerizing with the fields in background. On the return path, I water body makes an elegant view with slight remnant of the left behind colours reflected on its surface along with the just one star. With the 370km road trip, another destination had been framed!

..

the dream…

They were friends since college. They had started as lab partners and ended up being life partners. The years seemed to pass by like a blur and yet they had savored every moment like the way a honey drop held on to its surface and  slowly ,then all of a sudden it dives onto your outspread tongue and melts slowly, the taste truly seems like heaven.  They had all kinds of memories together. They laughed , they talked. Sometimes they just held each other. Sometimes they fought , sometimes they understood without having to say. The comfort had gripped them into a tight bond. They shared their childhood memories as they made new ones.

They remembered the day before they had their wedding vows. He had visited her.They talked for about an hour , smiling at what was to come. He had promised to love her forever and she had promised to live their dreams together. He held her gaze as they felt their promises kindling with their hearts, settling for infinity.

Their home was under construction. They visited and walked around every week, deciding how pretty it was going to be. And they would end their tour of delicacy by standing together, hand in hand and watching the sun set behind their house, the paints seemed to have vanished from earth to fancy the sky.And then, he was ill. Towards the end, she had taken full responsibility and forbidden him to visit along with her. He never understood what it meant but never asked. He watched her come and go, describing the details but never allowing him to accompany. He never understood what she had in her mind.

Then that one night ,as the night had begun to fade , she woke him up and asked him to come along with her. He was confused and scared at what could have been so urgent, this early. She drove him , her face had a mixture of expressions as he watched her for a clue all along the drive. Deep in thought and a drowsy mind , he did not notice the route. And then, she hit the brakes. They were in front of their home. The dawn had begun to shower in as midnight slowly elapsed away ; the house had an elegance he had never felt before. “Close your eyes and  come with me.” She held his hand and lead him as he kept his eyes closed. She had lead him towards the backyard,a view well hidden unless walked into. When they stopped she whispered , “I love you.”

His eyes met a beautiful sight. There , perched like a dream , blessed by dawn , was a tree-house. A house that had been a memory he had shared a few years ago, something he did not have as a child but had never left his heart. All grown up, he was happy as a kid.

The leaves had spread as if eager to see the insides, the spiral staircase that led to the trapdoor, the open windows, somewhere made him feel that he was a child that had been waiting. The wait was worth. As nostalgia hit, he couldn’t suppress his smile. The warmth was overwhelming as he held her, he never realized some dreams never needed age to be happy.

She watched him , the gleam in his eyes had all the love.Well, he had something to remember. His illness had no heart.He wouldn’t live long. But he had her.

“And that is my most favorite gift ever.” he said to the little girl listening intently. He looked at his wife, smiling and crying at the same time. They had survived it all. He had lived, he had been cured but he cherished being loved above all.

 

 

 

its been a lifetime…

 

He sat on the bench, under the shade of the tree. The morning sunlight filtered through the leaves. The shadows and little sunlight let out a warm and cool glow at the same time.

The memories flooded through. It sounded like a gushing wind was released which was not meant to. The little boy besides him held his finger. The morning had its own warmth. He looked at the boy beside him. He looked cute as the sunlight kissed his cheek. The boy looked sleepy. He would come every day just because he liked to spend time with the old man. The little boy had expectantly asked him a question. A question unexpected but yet well-known.

He remembered his days when he never seemed to have the strength to move on. The first time when he had failed in an important exam that would have decided his career. The time when he was working hard but did not seem to be getting the results. The day his best friend had moved to a different city or when he had to give up his art to pursue a career. The day when his parents had to move to another house and leave behind the neighborhood where he had grown up. The day he had an accident and there were few chances of recovery, few chances that he would be able to walk again. And that day when he lost his mother all of a sudden.

The day when his the girl he had loved , left him. A certain period of days when he knew he did not have money even for food. He had seen his father cry at the kitchen table, unknown to him. The day when another job added to the list he had failed to get. The day when he had an idea but not the money. The time when the boys around him made fun and girls looked down with disgust at his clothes. The day when the roof was leaking during a heavy pour but there was nothing he could do about it and he had slept with wet blankets. The day when he had first met her but did not have the courage to confess his feelings. The day when his business was not doing well. The nights he had been awake worrying about his future. The nights he had been awake working hard to make his idea a success. A few years later, when his business had lost money and he was back at level zero, when he couldn’t look at his wife as she served dinner.The day they had lost their baby due to miscarriage.The day his father passed after a long term of suffering. The day when his life did not seem to go anywhere. He remembered the time when he wanted to suicide.

There were times when he did not know what to do, he felt lost, he felt he could go no where, he was a loser. He smiled as he came out of his memory world. The little boy had asked him,

”Grandpa, what is life?”.

He smiled because he knew the exact answer to his question. After a lifetime of wandering through shadows and sunlight , he knew the answer. Today , as he sat with his grand child, he then went back in time. He had found the courage to ask the girl he loved, they were married. He had a business that was well recognized. He had two children after they lost their first baby. He had a house with a roof that did not leak. He had money , he could eat a few delicacies now and then. He had what he wanted. Maybe not all as well as he still wished for. But definitely, a huge difference between his past and present. A good difference.

He looked at the little boy. “My little one, life is all about patience. About hope. About not giving up.It is about the ability to wait , the realization that you have to be patient for every big and little change. The sun takes time to rise and to set. You cannot be sad in the evening about wanting to see a sun rise. You have to wait for it. Patience, my dear, for every moment. And the belief, the hope, that times change. That you will , someday, find your destiny, even if at this very moment, you are lost.”

I feel glad to have waited,he thought as they walked back.

I feel good I never gave up.

Its been a lifetime , but its always worth in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost innocence.

 

 

The silence prevailed for a long time. It should not have lasted that long. Or at least it felt unfamiliar to have lasted that long. The silence had been forced upon him in an instant. It was surprising though since a minute ago it seemed that the place could never rest in peace. The regular activity had been occuring since a long time. Since the time he was under the open sky. He had not remembered the place to be this silent in a long time.

His mother lay still beside him. The wind blew her fair across her face. She lay there looking tired. Her eyes had dark circles around them. A couple of bangles were broken from her beautiful set. He remembered his father having brought them for her a few months ago. She had shown them to him with such fondness. Her dress was a bit torn. But it did not stand out since it was so dirty. A baby he did not know, just a few months old, lay beside his mother all bundled up. He was staring at him, his little arms trying to uncover himself.

His father was nowhere to be seen. He had not been home since the past few days. Mother had told him that he would be away for a long time. Where exactly was he gone he had not understood but she had cried so often that he had stopped asking. He missed him too. He would wish he was with them. He always cuddled him whenever the cold breeze blew along.

He stared at his mother. He wished she would wake up. She had promised she was taking them to a new place. She had been scared to live here. He wished she would wake up. The colour had faded from her face and she looked weak.

A sudden shriek cut through the silence. The firing could be heard again. The war had not ended. His mother lay beside him in a pool of blood. A bullet had hit her hard in her chest. She lay motionless as he tried to call out to her. He now understood where his father must have been. The baby was crying. Maybe he understood the truth too. He looked down the road, all it had to show him was different pools of dried or wet, blackened or red blood  and bodies. The disfigured, misshapen figures were once people. Another explosion shook the remaining piece of land. Amid all the noise, he never understood war , but he understood he had to run for his life. He had nowhere to go, he had no one to go to. As he heard the clunk of metal boots, a new round of bullets being fired and new screams, he picked up the bundled life. He slipped on the road, it was difficult to run through the red puddle, the smell and smoke. His little legs carried him as fast as he could, leaving behind his tenderness as fast as they could. The war had served him no purpose except perhaps rendering him all to himself. He looked around one last time. Another bullet had hit its target.

the midnight dawn…

 

 

The chill of the winter was enough to last a lifetime. The platform was almost deserted except for a  few stray dogs. One man came walking around the platform at his usual time. The ragged clothes and dust bathed face was enough to repel anybody. He walked down the length  at his own pace , the stray dogs behind him. He seemed to be a regular. He found a corner and made himself as comfortable as he could which was the only option. A couple of the dogs sniffed lovingly.

“Sorry dear, nothing to spare today. We both are going to have a hungry night.” He ran his fingers through their fur as they tried to lick hi face. The moonlight was particularly intense today. They all snuggled together for warmth and for they were the only ones they had. An occasional rustle was the only sound . The night had its own silence that could be heard without even trying to . Used to the circumstances, the man fell asleep.

Somebody was walking with a quick pace and a heavy heart. Well covered from head to foot , no one could tell who the person really was. Maybe it was someone who had lost the way or was trying to find a shelter or some other reason. The moon lit the path. The person had a tiny bundle held close to its chest. As the wind blew, It pulled the bundle closer. Wishing nobody to be around , the person kept walking turning around often. It was difficult to keep going knowing what destination he was about reach. It was hard to keep going knowing the reason he had chosen this particular track for. Suddenly , he felt this had to be it. No one was around. He looked at the bundle in his arms. With one longing look, he placed it down and left. The midnight had ended.

Somewhere , a child bauled. The dogs barked.The man was wide awake. He had never woken up so scared. It took a few seconds to realize the sharp sound was a cry. The shrill was such that it might have well been heard at the next station. He calmed the dogs.He walked towards the edge of the platform. He wished the cry would at some point turn mute. It seemed to pierce everything that got in its way. He looked around and decided he would have to go down the path.A little reluctant as he was,  he did start walking. The dogs followed, thankfully quiet.He neared the spot. The moon seemed to have focused a little more of its light on what seemed to be a bundle.He picked it up. It was a baby not so well wrapped.He looked around. A new born could not have landed all by itself in the middle of a deserted place at such an odd hour. No one was to be seen around. Well, he thought , somebody seemed to have had a purpose to abandon this one. He looked back at the tiny face that screamed in effort. It seemed not to have realized that it was back in someone’s arms. Still crying for the ones that left behind , I suppose , he murmured.What do I do with you little one he thought as he walked back. As he reached back to his corner, the child had stopped crying. It looked frail. The man pulled the bundle closer towards himself. If not hunger, at least I can satisfy your comfort he thought. The child looked at him. As he rocked it to sleep, it suddenly smiled. You trust too easily, little one , I am only going to comfort you for the night, not for life. I don’t have anything to give you.He placed the child beside him. The dogs had already fallen asleep.All of a sudden, just before he could close his eyes, he felt something warm on his finger. The child had its fist closed around his finger. Maybe my dawn has arrived with you, he smiled and pulled it closer. They both did find a family.

The moon slowly faded its light. The midnight had found its dawn.

 

thankyou…

 

The day was a usual one. She was walking down the streets. The weather was just beautiful. The exact reason she had decided to walk and had asked the driver not to pick her up. The foreign land in the early days of her visit had seemed a little unfamiliar but now she felt like she knew every corner. Her job was great, the apartment was beautiful with a view, her friends had a job in the same city. They got together every weekend. Her parents had a visit every couple of weeks. She could not have been more happy in life. The best was that she had a loving husband. They had been married for five years now. Every moment that she could think of him, she felt as fond as it could ever be.
She stopped by a café. It was one of the regular places she visited. The owner waved at her as usual. She smiled and walked towards the counter. The yellow lights gave away a faded glow. That and the special smell made her always seem to stay. She chose her cosy seat by the window. It always seemed to be available whenever she visited the cafe which was always loved. She opened up one of the newspapers and read. The music was at the volume she liked, faded.
“Your coffee miss.”, he smiled.
“Thank you Jack. The place is not crowded as usual today.”
“Yeah. Just one of the days. It seems the snow is going to be rough this year.” He pointed to the weather report being displayed on the TV screen.
“Yes. But I am not complaining.”
“Wouldn’t expect you to. You have always loved it. I’ll leave you to your latte. Oh and before I forget, I got the album you were looking for.” She felt a sudden glow in her heart as she touched the cover. She had been hunting it for weeks now. She made for her purse, but he waved away.
“Just keep coming back. It feels good to have the regulars. People who I know personally and not as customers.” He turned to wipe a table. She went back to her latte. She did not see a man enter the café. Maybe she would have recognized him from back somewhere, maybe not. It had been a decade since they had last known each other. He walked to the counter and asked for a coffee. He paid the money and looked around for a comfortable corner. Besides a couple, an old man, a father with his child and a lady, it was only the owner and him. He was about to walk away when something made him look at her again and he recognized her. He could not believe his eyes. He almost decided to walk past her but something made him stay. She still hadn’t looked up from the paper. Well, its been a long time, he thought. He walked towards her as she looked up. An awkward silence followed as she stared at him. It took a few seconds to recognize him. He dared to sit down.
“Hey.”
“Hello. Quite an unexpected surprise.”
“How are you?”
“I am good. And you? ”
“I am fine. ”
A silence followed as she stared at him and he stared all over the table. He seemed to be working on the conversation when she decided to interrupt.
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh I am here on a visit. I am staying at the hotel just around the corner. I was just grabbing a coffee around here.”
She wanted to say “I got that since you visited the café.” But she kept that to herself. She noticed he had given her a lot of details compared to his secretive nature years ago.
“No, not that. Why are you here, all of a sudden. Sitting in front of me.”
He felt lost in his words. He knew what she was referring to. The past few years he had been hoping to run into her somewhere. He had a certain realization with him that had never let his heart get rid of some feeling that made him uneasy. He had run around years , planning the conversation in his head, the scene about how it would go, what he would say, what she would say. Now, the rehearsals left him the way he had left her years ago.
He had been the one to ask her after a long time crush and pursuance. When she had agreed , he had promised to keep her happy. The start was all about love. Then over the next few months, she noticed a change in him but her trust kept her going . Then all of a sudden, after a few months , she had a letter handed to her through a common friend. She thought it was so sweet. Only till she opened it. The long heartless paragraphs were about how he thought she did care and love him, but he could not continue with her and how she was different than him and he no more felt the same way.
She had called him but he had not answered. She tried for a couple of days but to no avail. She decided to be brave about it. The next week she had her answer. He had left her for another girl. As he sat with his arms around her, she had silently walked past the scene unknown to him.
He avoided her. She had thought of him as a brave person. He was a coward. A pathetic coward. She did not feel angry. She felt sorry for him. After all the struggle, trying to meet him and talk to him, he had not considered her, turning a deaf ear to her feelings. She did not feel angry. She felt sorry for him. Him being considerate and his patience was all she had asked for, despite all other ups and downs to his side. The pretence had hurt her, the cowardice had been unexpected. She sometimes felt during days that followed when he had left, if she should have fought for him more than she tried. The day the truth was revealed, she felt good her intuitions had prevented her. That was the day she had left him forever for she realized, he wasn’t someone worth holding on to.
After all these years, he was here , sitting in front of her.
“I am sorry. I really am. I shouldn’t have left you…..”
She interrupted “ You have the girl you wanted. I knew. I did not confront you on the spot because I did not want to spoil her life, she would never have trusted you. You did not deserve but she loved you. I left because I knew she would love you. I let go because you were naïve. All I asked was for you to understand ‘ us ’ with time, but you are a selfish man. You gave me a load of convincing about the reasons for us not being able to stay together but I knew if you wanted to stay every reason would have faded. I let go that easy because you only fight for something that is yours. You never have to force it to stay,to be yours.”She was silent for a few minutes.
“Now, I assume this expression of guilt may have a price. ”
He welled up. “I was wrong. I thought you did not have an understanding. But no one cared like you did. Her love passed by. Your’s would have stayed and I let go for momentary pleasure.”
She suddenly stood up.
“I actually thank you. I had looked for a man who knew how to take care of his woman, not her needs. You were a boy. I have my freedom, I have my husband’s comfort. He has me. I know have what I really wanted. ”
She stood up.”And if you ever happen to be in the same place as me and see me, just avoid me the way you have all these years. As a parting gift, I let you go for someone else. This would be mine.”
She walked out of the café. She felt good.
He did not have the strength to move. He felt hollow.

together forever….

 

The apartment lights were still on. She was working late into the night. She typed furiously as the clock ticked. The coffee had turned cold. A few pages ruffled as the wind blew in through the open window. The music was played at a volume that was barely audible. The screen seemed to burn her eyes. After a long hour of typing and editing, she felt she heard someone stir in her bedroom. He must just be turning over in his sleep, she thought. She removed her spectacles and rubbed her eyes. She reached for the glass of water that seemed to have been emptied hours ago. She got up. She felt stiff. She filled the glass  and removed the dish from the oven. She walked back to her laptop. Leaning back , she stretched herself. It had been a long day. All of a sudden, the bedroom door opened and he walked out. He seemed surprised she was still awake.

“Why are you still awake?”

“Oh honey don’t worry ,I am almost done. Why are you awake?”

“Can’t sleep when you are not there beside me.”

He curled up on the sofa and placed his head in her lap. She kissed him. After a few moments, he fell asleep holding her hand. She ran her fingers through his hair. She always liked the way it felt. Soft and silky. She looked at him for a long time.

They were on a visit to this orphanage when she had first met him. She took a liking for him at first sight. He was a handsome boy who had been very shy then. He had followed her around the orphanage but had run away at every attempt of conversation. During lunch break, she had made him sit beside him. They did hit the comfort zone. It was the most pleasant conversation she ever had. When they were about to leave, he had made sure no one was seeing them and then, lightly kissed her. She had kissed him back. She had promised to meet him every weekend at the orphanage.

And she did. They sometimes had an occasional visit to the park or the zoo or the ice cream parlor. They were his favorite places. They walked hand in hand and talked about everything. It felt lovely watching his expressions as he chattered. Day by day she realized she wanted him in his life. She had grown so fond of him that she couldn’t live without him. She remembered the day she told her parents about it. They were shocked to their very core. They did not want her to, but they finally gave in.About the rest, she did not care.

And then, the most beautiful day of her life arrived.

She signed the papers .

She signed the papers for adoption.

Against raised eyebrows, he was finally hers. He had run into her arms and laughed and cried at the same time when he knew she would be his mother. She had savored the moments when they had first walked into their home for the first time. It was real. They could not have been so happy ever before.

As her son slept peacefully in her lap, she kissed him. They were together. He was with her, she was with him. She felt peace herself.