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Monday, February 19, 2018

The Colour Red-A Short Story

There was a time when we were the best of friends. 

In fact the word that comes to mind was 'inseparable'. 

Rudra and I did everything together. We were born  just five days apart - 
on the 2nd and 7th of September 1985 with me being the older cousin.

Oh I forgot to mention that our fathers Uday and Pratap Singh were twins 
and our mothers Ruhina and Anandi were best friends  too.

We grew up in the lap of luxury in a large and beautiful Haveli  called 'Umang' 
(Hope) in Rajasthan as our fathers were Princes- nobody actually called them 
Rajas or Maharajas any more after the titles were abolished by the government 
in the 60's but to the common people of the state, royalty was as blue blooded 
as ever and it would certainly take at least one more generation before that 
feeling of loyalty, some actually called it " reverence' , departed forever.

Image Courtesy-Getty Images
Growing up in the eighties had a very special charm, enhanced further by the 
fact that we lacked for nothing.The best of cars, bikes, dogs and horses 
and of course clothes and travel were things we took in our stride and now that 
I think of it , it clearly occurs to me that we were so well protected from 
the harsh reality of the real world by our doting parents that we no clue 
whatsoever of what lay ahead.

So do I blame anyone for that? No one except myself- I really should have seen 
it coming- that huge financial crash when our fathers died at the young age 
of 45, in a short span of just over two months. Yes, I remember reading 
somewhere that twins when separated by death or disaster tend to pine for 
their lost sibling and in many documented cases, follow them to the grave 
as well. So while the death of my Uncle Pratap who had pancreatic cancer 
was expected sooner rather than later, that of my father Uday Singh, of a 
massive cardiac arrest two months later, was entirely unexpected. 

And soon after that came the series of events that shaped the rest of our 
lives in so many different ways.

Before I continue with the story, I must tell you a little bit about myself. 
I'm Jai Singh and just like you might have seen in the movies, I look a lot like 
everyone's idea of the quintessential Indian Prince- tall, dark and handsome -
add to which a Mensa verified IQ of 148 and that is probably the reason that I 
even thought of undertaking what I did.But to know more about that you will 
have to wait just a little bit longer.

After my father died, I learnt that the Haveli  I thought would be our home 
forever had been put up as collateral to the bank and if I didn't arrange to 
pay back huge  loans  which my father and his brother had taken from the 
bank in order to keep up the foolishly affluent lifestyle that we had  grown so 
accustomed to over the years,  our home would be taken away in a matter of 
months. If we were really lucky, the bank might decide to extend the 
grace period to a  year. 

It took me some time to understand the exact implications of what would 
happen if we lost the Haveli.While we wouldn't exactly be homeless since 
there was one house in Delhi as well as another country home near London, 
this grand house was virtually our ' Pehchan' or if you will, our identity. 
It truly defined who we were and even more, what exactly we stood for, our 
ancestral lineage, in front of the world. As my mother Ruhina told me in the 
deep depths of her despair- the first over the very real loss of her dearly
beloved husband followed by the very likely loss of her home, "Without  Umang,
I too might as well be dead!" 

And if I thought her statement on that particular day just a wee bit exaggerated
,I really didn't think so a couple of weeks later as both she and my Aunt  Anandi
 seemed to be pining away at an equally rapid pace. From vibrant, beautifully 
maintained middle aged ladies before the passing of their husbands, they seemed to be slowly, but surely,  aging, and very rapidly at that, right in front of our eyes.

But what of Rudra in all this? It came to me as a stark and very uneasy 
realization one day that he really couldn't care less. It was all hunky dory as 
long as he had the unlimited funds that his rich father had provided him with 
and he could  squander  away much as he pleased - wining, dining and leading 
the good life all over the world for as long as he could. But on the day that I 
decided that  something had  to be done to raise the huge amount of money 
we needed to have to pay back the loans  our fathers had taken from the bank and started a discussion with him,   hoping that he would come up with something that would help me out, he just laughed
.Laughed out aloud - then looking at my sombre expression decided to change tactics.  " Or one of us could marry a billionaire."

Followed by a wink.

For some reason that I really cant define, I found that statement and that wink
very offensive.

And yet, I tried to be reasonable- or as reasonable as I could be under those 
very trying circumstances.But for all that I tried, I might well have been talking 
to a brick wall. In fact, in a surreal moment, I actually saw myself from up above-trying to plead with someone I just didn't seem to know at all. Could that really be my best friend, my cousin and someone who I had looked upon almost like a twin?

Until another agonizing thought overtook that one.

Maybe I had just never known him... at all?


Time passed - it must have been just over a week after that day and I was 
upto my ears in trying to sort out the family finances. Running from pillar to 
post is not how I would normally like to refer to anyone's condition, least of all
 my own, but that would probably be the most accurate phrase to describe what
I was going through. It was exhausting and it was also very disappointing. 
But even worse was the realization that of the many friends that I thought I 
had, it was a really bitter pill to swallow when I saw how little support we had 
among the other Rajput elite- it was as if all that warmth and affection that 
had been the hallmark of all those people who we met and partied with on a 
regular basis, seemed to have evaporated.

Just like that...Poof! 

My mobile rang and  I looked at it impatiently- I really didn't want to talk to 
anyone just then as it had been a particularly exhausting day with everyone I had spoken to coming up with  one excuse or the other in order to avoid helping us out and the term ' fair weather friends'  had never been so meaningful as it was that day.

Then my mood changed almost instantaneously - on the screen I could see the 
image of the stunningly beautiful and even better natured Seerat. Seerat, the 
love of my life and someone who had shared a great deal of it  till three years 
ago when she had gone to London to study Law. But not before sealing our
 relationship with a secret engagement- so secret that no one, not even Rudra 
knew of it. And the only reason I chose to keep it that way was because she 
was convinced thar her parents would never let her marry me . 
You see,  our fathers had been rivals. Rivals not only in life but also in love- 
both vying for my mother's  hand and it had been a bitter pill for Jamsher Uncle 
( which is what I called Seerat's father ) to swallow when she had chosen to 
marry my father. Even though he had gone on to pursue Seerat's mother, 
the very beautiful and talented British  artist Ruth Walker, he had clearly never 
been able to put that episode out of his mind. And it may sound odd if I spell it
 out, but the fact of the matter is that self respect and pride ( Izzat) is very 
important to a Rajput. Be it man or woman, we are acutely conscious of who 
and what we are and any slight- real or imaginary, has to be dealt with and 
handled- sometimes discretely and sometimes...

 "Hello ' I said with a smile in my voice and Seerat responded likewise. 

" Hello my love. How are you managing? " I had communicated with her soon after my father's  death and she was aware of the financial crisis that I was in the midst of.

" Swimming against the tide," I replied as honestly as I could and she 
understood exactly what I was saying- we had this perfect equation where we could pick up exactly from where the other had left off and sometimes even the thoughts inside each other's heads.

" Which is exactly why I'm coming back to India- I will be in Delhi tomorrow and with you the day after. And we will deal with all of it together. As you always said, two heads are better than one".

I felt a huge surge of relief wash over me- it was just so good to be able to 
share. All I told her was" I'll  be waiting."

Two days later my dreams turned to reality and Seerat was with me in my arms
where she belonged and it was almost as if she had never gone away. It felt so
good just to be able to touch and feel her- the bottled up anger , hurt and pain 
that I had been grappling with after my father's passing seemed much less 
acute and I knew-It was all because of Seerat.

" Its high time we got married " she announced and I gaped .

Laughing at my expression she continued- " And do I need to propose as well? "

That was all that I needed to hear before reaching out and holding her close  to  my chest -so close that I heard her say, with a half smothered laugh, 

" If I'm still alive by then."

I laughed out aloud at that- and it felt so good- i just couldn't remember the last time aid laughed so much that the tears ran down my eyes.

And was convinced-Things were going to get better .

But as it happens that wasn't quite  how it turned out.

Because Rudra came in the way.

It was on the very next evening that he ran into Seerat at the Club and 
decided in a split second that she would be his meal ticket. I must add here 
that Seerat had come into a very large sum of money when she turned 21- 
money which she had inherited from her maternal grandfather, Lord Andrew 
Walker and was a very rich young woman by any standards. Not surprisingly, 
word had filtered down even in Rajput circles and with her reappearance after 
three years, tongues had started wagging more than ever. 

Which was exactly how Rudra had got wind of it and his Machiavellian brain( or so I began to think of it) had started ticking.

And so he walked into my study the morning after Seerat had sat at exactly that same spot and told me with a smile, " Ive got my meal ticket who will get us out of this mess."
Then looking at my very obvious surprise, he continued, 

" Her name  is Seerat and I dont mind saying that shes as beautiful as she's  
rich..And one of these days I will make her my wife and use some of those billions she's  reputed to have inherited to get this house of the bank's clutches."

All I saw in the aftermath of his words was the colour red.

And my mind was made up - Rudra must die.

Leads me to think as I sit down to write this story- Are we all murderers in  
waiting or are some of us more wired to commit the ultimate sin- that of 
taking away another human being's life? I also know that there are no real 
answers to that question at the moment,  nor are they likely to be so at any 
point in the near future.And that is something that I would like to leave to the 
philosophers to debate about.Or then maybe you, the reader , to think about it seriously and come up with your own theories on it.

Its really difficult to recall my exact response to Rudra's bombshell. I do 
however remember thinking that I should wait for Seerat to be able to break 
the news about us to her parents before I could tell him anything about my secret engagement with that very same Seerat. All the while, a horrible little voice whispered in my ear, " Do you really think  it 
will be a cake walk? Particularly after the history that Seerat's and your father 

" You really cant be serious", I responded 

" Oh but I am", Rudra replied. " Absolutely and totally. Watch me get into 
the act, starting tomorrow. I'm fairly certain that I've managed to create a 
good impression about myself last evening so just  give me a week and you 
will probably see my ring on her engagement finger."

Without waiting for anything further from my side, he turned and headed back 
towards the door but not before I heard him say, " I guess, I'll drop in at our 
family jewelers today and start checking out a few options. You know, I really wouldn't want Seerat to tell our kids later that their father didn't even let her choose her engagement ring."

The sound of his cheery whistling was the only thing that echoed around my study room and I could hear the sound of my heart pounding. And behind my eyes, all I could see was the colour red.


Something good happened later that day. When I was feeling a little calmer-
 of course after a long phone conversation with Seerat, I decided to call 
Mr Mehra, our local branch  GM and have a general chat. In the course of that conversation I was able to convince him to call his CEO in Mumbai and see if we could get a loan extension.
And to my very pleasant  surprise, the tele conversation concluded 
satisfactorily with him agreeing to do the needful.No promises were made 
and none were asked for but I certainly felt a little more hopeful than a 
week ago.

My mother came in just then and asked if I would accompany her to her friend 
Suhasini's home for lunch if I didn't have any fixed plans and I agreed. The fact 
was that I hadn't  been very social lately and today was as good as any to 
start getting out and meeting a few people. And I doubt if anyone could have been  more pleased than my mother when I said." Sure, I'd love to. When would you like to go"?

" How nice, " she replied. " We will leave at sharp 1 pm" With that she was off 
and I couldn't help but see the look of happiness that I clearly had been the 
cause of.  

Must confess that the lunch hosted by Suhasini Aunty who was one of my 
mother's oldest and best friends, was a very pleasant change. Wine and 
laughter flowed  in  abundance and their home looked absolutely beautiful. 
I found myself enjoying the afternoon and just as I reached out for a bowl of 
nuts to have some, I saw my mother talking to an attractive young lady in 
chiffon and pearls. Before long she brought her over to introduce me and it was 
then that I realised that this was Shalini, Suhasini Aunt's daughter now all 
grown up.

I also realised one other thing- my mother and Suhasini Aunty were clearly 
hoping for something more to come out of this meeting but  what they hadn't 
factored in was the fact that Shalini and myself had never really looked at 
each other that way. In fact, when we were much younger she had been a bit 
of a tomboy and happiest when climbing up a tree, running around in shorts 
and swimming in the pond close to her house. Given that background, her 
transformation to this svelte young lady attired in chiffon and pearls was a 
very major one but xxxI guess that is what growing up is all about.

 Back home and in my office I sat down and went over my books- it was 
becoming an arduous task to balance the accounts and though I hate to 
repeat myself, Rudra was of no  help whatsoever.With the added complication 
of what I had to do now.

Its strange that when you know someone as well as I knew Rudra, you also 
know every little habit and nuance of that person. And so when I actually began
to think of ways and means to kill Rudra, all I had to do was think about all that he liked to eat and drink. That would be the key to all of it and that would also help me pinpoint exactly how I would accomplish
my goal. In all fairness, I spent some time thinking about why I should not do 
it, or then what if Rudra failed in his attempt to woo Seerat and make her his
 wife- or as he had put it so crudely, his " meal ticket." But reality soon  
re asserted itself itself and I knew that if Rudra set his mind on anything- good, bad or ugly- he would accomplish it and damn the collateral damage if any. 

And so it was that the plan began to form in my mind- slowly but surely and I
knew that I must do it. It was difficult to imagine life without Seerat and in 
some strange way I believed that if Rudra wasn't removed from the scene,  I 
wouldn't be able to make Seerat an important,  correction, the most important 
part of my life.

Considerable research later, I zeroed into the poison that I would use. It had to
be non fussy, efficient and impossible to detect- and my choice was methyl 
alcohol. Methyl alcohol  is distilled from fermented wood, unlike ethyl alcohol 
which is distilled from fermented grain and is considerably more toxic.  
Commonly found in perfumes, antifreeze, paint removers and varnish,if 
ingested, it metabolises into formaldehyde in the body. Once the formaldehyde 
enters the body, it can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, vertigo, backpain, 
severe abdominal pain, dizziness, vomiting and blindness.All this results in 
rapid and shallow respiration, cyanosis, coma, falling blood pressure and finally 
death occurs from respiratory failure.A person can ingest methanol and not feel 
any symptoms for twelve to twenty four hours after which it is too late to save 
them. And this is exactly what I was banking on- a time lapse of such a large amount would make it impossible for anyone to pinpoint the cause of death.

I knew exactly how I would do it- next time Rudra visited me, I would ensure 
that I offered him a drink. Top that up with some cheesy bites and savouries  
and the a job would be done! Accomplished and to be forgotten after that day. 
all, Rome wasn't exactly built in a day and it was going to be job to ensure that the status quo remained that way.As for Seerat, I refused to think of her at the  time and that was probably for the best. 

She was my dream girl and nothing and no one would come  our way. Next morning I woke up with a single point agenda- procuring the methanol 
and let me tell you that for a man of my position and stature in society
( whether real or perceived) it was easy - so easy that it left me seriously 
wondering how easy it was to buy poisonous substances in India- but then you 
really wouldn't know just how easy it actually was, until you had a real need to
 procure something on those lines. 

And it was all do easy after that- Rudra walked into my office just before 7 pm.
He was dressed to the nines and was wearing his favourite cologne . I learnt 
that he was heading to the Club and knew that it was now or never.Some 
casual conversation later he gloated, I guess I'll see you tomorrow then.

And don't be  surprised if you hear that Im  engaged to be married by then."

" How about one for the road? " I asked. 

And it all went according to the plan."

Why  not? " 

"I'll just use the washroom before that- if you don't mind,"  he replied and I 
used exactly those moments to put in about 10 drops of my newly acquired 
bottle of Methanol. True to our family tradition he gulped down the drink that I 
handed over to him and with a flourish  in less than 30 seconds!

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door.

I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch.

I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath..

Ten, nine, eight seven..

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 and a new phase of my life - After Mummy

I look at my life as distinctly having two parts.

'With' Mummy and 'After' Mummy.

My mother, Satinder Serna 

I know it may be hard for some people to understand the logic behind these words but it really is so very simple.

I was a different person when my mother was alive and I feel like a completely different person after she has left us.

There is a hole in my heart which hasn't been filled two and a half months later. On the first day of 2018, today, while I've been involved in a wide range of other things, all I could do was think about how it would have been if I could see, touch and hear my lovely mother Satinder.

There are two parallel streams of thought running through my head at all times of the day- one, the real world where I have to participate in day to day activities and in many cases, initiate them.

The other, thoughts of my mother and everything she meant to me. 

In a word, 'indescribable'. 

Every day, I realise, more and more, how much she shaped so many different aspects of my life and along with that so many, many others, including my father and brother's.

So while my pain may take forever to go away, I'm going to try my best to turn it into my biggest strength.

I am now going to live my life more and more the way that my mother would have wanted me to. On a day to day basis, as well as on a longer term too.

I am going to be thankful for the fact that she was a part of my life till October 2017 and encouraged and enthused  me to become the person that I am today.

Just 21 years older to me, my mother, Satinder, was a pillar of strength for all of us at different stages of our life. Most importantly, her strength  and fortitude in dealing with her own ailments, particularly through 2017, will serve to remind us forever that true courage has many forms, but for for us, it was in the form of Mummy.

And so, I will strive to go through 2018 with my mother as my guiding star and my angel who watches above us from somewhere up above.

And if I fail, I will try, then try again and finally, try some more.

For that is exactly what Mummy would have wanted me to.

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Mummy - A month later

With Mummy and Pop- Nov 2014

Its the 17th of November and a month since Mummy left us.

A month in which I've tried everything possible to deal with the grief that has followed- succeeding sometimes but failing more often. The tears can and will come anytime -It could be while having a cup of 'elaichi' tea, looking at my phone at 730 pm,desperately  hoping that it will ring and the phone screen will show 'Mummy' (for thats the time she would call me) or while looking out at the flowers that are now blooming in the garden, or the chair that she would sit in whenever she came over to our place, or putting her shawl over my knees while watching TV-touching and feeling it over and over again to get a sense and feel, possibly a whiff of her...

The mind wanders and constantly asks questions



Sometimes that grief turns to anger as I question medical science, sometimes myself for not spending as much time with her as I should have in her last days - but my mind responds with-"How could you have known that she would go?"

So thats when I realise that this is going to be a long , possibly very long cycle and I must do something about it- then manage to locate  this quotation that seems to be the answer to my immediate problem.

"Grief starts to become indulgent, it doesn't serve anyone and its painful.But if you transform it into remembrance then you're magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to others so that they can experience something of that person." ( Patti Smith)

Theres no doubt that dealing with the passing  of a loved one is probably the hardest thing that a person faces in life. And the most important step to be taken to complete that journey is that of closure. The word ‘closure’ itself comes from the Latin word 'clausura' meaning a finish or conclusion and that’s where the key lies.

Of course, some of us would like to be able to camp out in shock and denial forever, but in time, the shock wears off and reality sets in. We need to figure out a way to restore meaning and purpose to our lives and to re-engage with the process of living as well as try and to open our shattered hearts.

Well reputed grief counsellors have another constructive suggestion. They suggest that a good way to deal with it might be to write down what one remembers about the person.  Noting  one’s thoughts about that person will help.

This may prove to be difficult for some people, but this will also help to let one’s feelings and thoughts out. In today’s world there are so many options available, try writing a journal, blog or if one doesn’t want to share it with anyone, nothing works better than a good old fashioned diary.

I'm certainly going to try that - add to which I have possibly the most extensive photograph collection amongst most people I know- who knows what may come out of all this- a book on Mummy perhaps? 

 Neha with Mummy on her last birthday- 11th May 2017

With Mummy Nov 2016

And for all those who are going through the same pain as we are, they should  try to begin a new chapter in life, which is probably the most difficult step. One may never be able to erase one’s memories of the departed, but that is not the intention.
However, at some stage, the people left behind need to begin to move on. Remembering the happy moments is probably one of the best ways to do that and here's one such happy pic from our life in Meerut decades ago.

Memories of another day At our home in Meerut

To close, here's a lovely quote by Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love - ‘The day is ending, it's time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful. Now let go.’

I hope I get there someday......