Redefining Strength

EDITOR: Smriti Sharma

Before I begin, let me ask you a question: What is strength? How would you define it? And would you consider strength to be one of your many attributes?

Got your answer? Good.

At a recent event, I was asked to describe myself using an adjective (how utterly joyful!)“I am strong,” I blurted out with whatever residual confidence I had left from having to say my name out loud (Sigh! Introvert problems.) I was met with skepticism. “Really?” One had the audacity to ask. “You don’t look it.”

What my very observant friend failed to realize was that I didn’t have to.

Our notion of strength has been confined to warriors, knights, burly men with handlebar mustaches, martial artists, gun wielding acrobats and/or secret agents, which is why we refuse to believe that strength could very well take any other form. It is but normal to think that only those people in powerful positions, high risk jobs or high pressure situations could ever possess or display strength. After all, strong isn’t the first word you would use to describe your neighbor, teacher or bus driver. Strength is often portrayed in works of fiction as a surge of positive emotion, filling a person with indomitable purpose and propelling them forward towards glory and certain success. If only.

Truth be told, it is a bit skewed from how humans and human emotions really work. Perhaps it is time we interpret ‘strength’ in a more practical light. For the greater good, of course.

Strength does not only mean physical strength.
I learned two things from the numerous movies/TV shows/anime that I’ve watched over the years:

1) My eyes can only take so much strain, and

2) If you’re a main character¹ you must be able to wield a weapon/engage in hand to hand combat at a moment’s notice/brush off any injury as a ‘flesh wound’ (“Pain isn’t in my vocabulary!”) The protagonist almost always starts out as a weak, scrappy young character who matures into a bold, respectable individual as a result of some hardcore training (what better way to depict the inner struggles of man than through a two-minute long montage to the backdrop of an 80s rock song?) or a life-altering incident (death of a loved one, war, rejection, asteroid collision or all of the above) which persuades the protagonist to beef up and get serious. For the longest time, strength was considered to be directly proportional to one’s size (Do you even lift, bro?) although I must admit that the ideology seems to be changing, albeit at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Bottom line: strength is not an exclusive trait of the fittest or the fastest or the one exercising the right to bear arms.

Strength is gender neutral.
I’ll say it once more for the people in the back: strength is neither a masculine nor a feminine quality. Lately, many fictional works have diversified their approach but it seems to be taking a little longer for the same to be accepted in reality. I’m looking at those parents who instruct their boys not to cry because they’re expected to never show any weakness and those who tell girls that they can’t become plumbers/mechanics/firefighters/soldiers because they require physical exertion. You do you.

Strength is relative.
Here’s a lesson that took me a little longer than necessary to learn: Do not compare your battles to another’s. Your struggles are exclusively your own. Every fight requires a different degree of strength. So the next time someone says that a homemaker’s job is the toughest in the world, take it at face value. Don’t get into a debate about housework being easy and effortless. (Trust me that is not an argument you want to win.)

Strength is not the outcome of a struggle; it is a catalyst for growth.
Some believe strength to be the end result of a long struggle. “The protagonist overcame his weakness, therefore he is strong.” “He mastered Tai Jutsu, therefore he is strong.” That’s not exactly true. Strength is not the XP you get for slaying the boss monster, it’s the weapon to use to slay said monster. Or the coins you use to buy that weapon. You get my point.

Strength varies over time.
It is not constant. Every new challenge will demand a new you. It is only human to fluctuate, falter, fall and fail. It is purely circumstantial. It is perfectly normal to lose one’s bearings even in the most familiar of situations. What might have been an easy conquest once might not be so at a later stage. Strength, in such situations, is asking for help.

Strength is not always a positive action.
Anyone who has had to put up with an annoying boss or over-friendly relative would agree that sometimes it is better to not say or do anything at all. Which is why I think that Neville Longbottom was one of the (if not the) strongest characters in Harry Potter. (For those who don’t know, Neville’s greatest fear was Professor Snape but that didn’t stop him from being a dutiful student.)

If courage is not the absence of fear then strength is not the absence of weakness. Contrary to popular opinion, it is entirely possible to be strong despite having many weaknesses. Strength, like courage, is a choice. It is not a physical state or an inborn ability. It is the decision to face adversity and whatever else that may accompany it, even when your first instinct is to run and hide. It is the ability to walk through fire with your head held high. Strength is going back to school knowing that the bullies would still be there. It is waking up every morning to a world that is self-destructive. It is coming face to face with the hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny and still believing in a better future. Strength is simply the ability to stand up even when every fiber of your being is screaming at you to stay down.

Now would you answer my earlier question in the affirmative? After all, you have a very impressive 100% survival rate. What is that, but strength?


¹All rules have exceptions.


Perfect Match


The golden fingers of the sun crept through the window waking him up with a gentle caress across his face.

It had been decided. Today was the day. Calling it the biggest day of his life would be an understatement. Everything around him was going to change, it was in the air. He could feel it with every breath that he took.

The stress, the tension… It was all gone. The weight of the world seemed to have finally lifted from his shoulders. He was ecstatic yet at peace, for a match had been found.

A perfect match.

***

The sun rose beautifully across the sky marking a new day and possibly her last.

Everything had been perfect. She was perfect. Her life was perfect. There was just one problem. It was too perfect. And this was the perfect time for life to strike.

When you are on top of the world, life always has to push you down. It breaks that ‘bubble of perfect’, that ‘bubble of happiness’. And that is what happened to her.

She had been found. She had tried to make a run for it, she had tried to hide but all was in vain. You can never truly run away from your past. Now, it just stood in front of her, towering over her. She was cornered with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Life had a beautiful way of being cruel.

It had started when she was mere four months old. Defenceless, vulnerable and weak. So weak. Her family found out about the abominable thing that she was carrying inside her. She was abandoned immediately. It wasn’t her fault; it was completely out of her control.

At that time, they didn’t realise how valuable she actually was. They never considered the possibility that they might require her, that they might need her.

After few years her importance came to light… And the search began. Not because they repented their decision. But because her worth was realised.

She was a match.
A perfect match.


Stranger

EDITOR: Aditya Prakash Singh

There are certain moments in your life where you witness things happening, situations unravelling and there’s always an inexplicable feeling inside of you. A voice at the back of your head, a second person residing inside, much more rational than you, always chiming at the right time, always being so protective of you, your very own best friend. No wonder you don’t ever listen to it. Ever.

You throw caution to the wind, you want to risk it for the biscuit.

However, by the time you realise what a huge mistake that one leap of faith was, it’s already too late. You could justify it with excuses, reasons; that you were intoxicated under the stars and the moon, the timings was such, it was the planetary alignment. But, in reality, it wasn’t that at all. It was a need or rather an urge to be wanted.

Who doesn’t like that?

Who doesn’t like to be an object of affection, being told how much they are liked and valued, being put up on a pedestal, who doesn’t?

That voice warns you again, to be smart, to be careful. But, you fight with it, you argue. You tell her that she’s being silly, that you are being safe, it’s safe.

Slowly, without you realising, the impenetrable fortress of a house that you constructed with absolute and utmost care, gets breached. You wonder. Why? How?

It was that one stupid leap of faith, silly girl, of you choosing to ignore the voice in favour of giving it a shot.

Guess what’s it cost you?

* * *

That exquisite house painted blue with the twin wooden doors and the intricate design, and the plush sofa, with that reading corner, tucked behind the curtains of the first floor from where you watched the clouds cry with a book in your hand. Your safe house, the only place you could be vulnerable and insecure and have breakdowns without anyone seeing or judging the cuts and the scratches on the walls has become a prison now. Every room, every corner reminds you of the mistake you made of letting a stranger in.

And it all began under the stars, on the sand.

You both had drinks under the stars, you guys talked and connected. Then there was this dance and of course, it was a total extravaganza. But, you both knew in your hearts that it was doomed. This union was a cursed one.

Or was it? Could it have been saved?

It began all hunky dory, everyone was on cloud nine, you were kind of happy or maybe, even content, in ways you never thought were possible. Of course, the red flags were waving furiously, sirens were blaring, the inner voice was screaming. But, you couldn’t be bothered with all of that so you chose to ignore all of the signs and brushed them under the rug.

You both had demons, you invited him with his inside your house graciously, made them both comfortable and gave them coffee. Even though you didn’t give him the key, not yet, you did, however, let him in. Let him in for more than just a glimpse of your house’s living room; he saw the marks on your house’s wall and like a gentleman, he made you promise never to do that again. The days became weeks, weeks became months, this person who had seen and stayed in your house had surreptitiously made a copy of the house key. He never once invited you to his, every mention of his house had him shooting you down. He didn’t know, he said. He never did.

Months went by, the voice was still there albeit feeble, telling you there’s still time. Something came over you, you asked him about his house, his key and he said it’s too much effort to give it to you. That was when you finally snapped. Anger made you do what caution couldn’t.

You wanted him out, him, his belongings, everything. Out.

And out he went, with him, his belongings, it took months for him to completely be gone. He still visited occasionally, the time between the visits becoming longer and longer, him becoming a stranger again.

Finally, he left. Hopefully, forever. But, that house, your fortress.

* * *

That exquisite house painted blue with the twin wooden doors and the intricate design, and the plush sofa, with that reading corner, tucked behind the curtains of the first floor from where you watched the rain with a book in your hand; it doesn’t feel safe anymore. You don’t ever want to step foot in it. It feels like a weed has grown all around it, squeezing it, watered by your tears.

That house seems like a trap, every room, every corner, you find an imprint rather an opening, opening to all of those times. You can’t run away, this is your home. YOURS.

But, now, you feel like a prisoner.
You repaint it, you renovate but nothing changes.
What do you do? Where do you go?

* * *

What should I do? Where should I go?


About Last Winter

The Editing Startup

This story is neither about the erratic Indian weather, nor am I here for the usual banter that I pass off as poetry. Instead, I’m going to narrate a true incident that happens to associate itself with last winter, hence the title. I’m here to talk about my first adopted pup, and of the bittersweet period of ten days that brushed past my life and taught me what twenty years of institutional education could not. Note that I will be referring to my pup as ‘he’ and ‘him’ for I am yet to decide a name for him, and you’ll soon discover why. So, here goes.

By the time I brought them home from the street, he and his siblings had become orphaned and the latter had become terribly weak. Unfortunately, the siblings did not survive the biting cold that this year’s winter was, and the fact that they had had no access to mother’s milk at their tender and vulnerable age of one month did not help. He was the only one who I believed would survive. And why wouldn’t I? He had always been the strongest of the lot. The morning following the day I brought them home, the same morning when his two brothers and the last of his family passed away, he had been lying on top of his dying brothers, covering their heads with his paws, trying to keep them as warm as his own little body could manage. He was too mature for his age in other ways as well. For instance, he would never urinate or defecate in or near his sleeping spot and never soil his blanket. Amusingly enough, he liked slow, soulful music- there had been times when his stomach ache would keep him up at night, whining and whimpering, but the moment I turned on Passenger’s Let Her Go, he would close his eyes and rest his head on my lap, and soon drift off to sleep. He liked human company, and solitude depressed him, especially after the death of what was left of his own family. He would wag his tail and jump up and down on his tiny feet if you brought him his favorite meal, but before he would finish it off with about a few vigorous slurps, he would lick your hands in order to show gratitude.

Although the rest of his family were Indian Pariahs, he didn’t look like them or any stray dog that you’ll ever see on Indian roads. His coat was a curious grey, the shade gradually lightening towards his feet; a white, diamond-shaped scar ran down the length of his nape, and his eyes were this breathtaking, starry night of blue and grey. No, he’s not a pup that you’d easily forget.

Even though he had seemed like a healthy pup, biologically, he was anything but. He had become weak due to worms in his stomach, which had started to attack his respiratory tract and even his nervous system. Due to this, he soon began to breathe with heavy jerks in his body and, later on, developed hysterical fits. There was one night when he cried relentlessly and no amount of coaxing and petting calmed him- he stopped gradually as his throat became too prostrated to produce a sound. Towards the end, his hind legs had been paralyzed, and the doctor, who was so far trying to treat the worms, diagnosed his case as distemper. My pup, he could not walk anymore, and worse, his eyeballs hardly moved. Even then, when he had to pee, he would whimper persistently until someone lifted him out of his bed, refusing to dirty his sleeping spot even when he could hardly raise his head. Only a pet parent would know the gut-wrenching pain of having to witness their once-healthy cats and dogs, who would usually purr and bark all day asking for more food and even more love, in that wretched and agonizing state that my pup was in, his little body battered down by the diseases that had consumed him. He would lie on his side all day with zero movement in his limbs, only the jerk of his breathing suggested that he was still holding on to his life.  He was suffering in front of my eyes and there was nothing I could do, for the doctor had already given his verdict- there was nothing more to be done, only Death would end his suffering.

My family was not up for euthanasia, and hence I found myself pleading for Death to arrive and take him away, release him from his pain and take him away to his family. And this is also when I stopped fearing Death, for Death, I realized, is a kind gentleman, just as Emily Dickinson had once written. Worldly, bodily pain, that is ruthless, not Death. Death is a peaceful absolution, subservient even, putting an end to every bit of torment and agony that befalls us. It is the one inevitability that you should be thankful for, for it ends all pain. And my pup taught me that. I feel like a stronger person now, we all do, when we believe that we have come to terms with Death. I have never really gotten deep into the theory of an afterlife but I like to think that there is a much better world out there on the other side of Death, especially for innocent beings like animals. I hope, I pray there is.

One night, we found him sleeping peacefully, without the jerks and whimpers. I was so glad to think that he was finally improving that I asked my mom and dad to not make a single noise as it might wake him up. After checking on him, his eyes closed with a serene expression on his face and his body heaving lightly with steady breaths, I tucked myself into bed with a smile on my face, knowing that he would be so much better the next morning. Next morning, the 24th of January, I woke up to find out from my dad that my pup has died in his sleep.

I still haven’t thanked Baba for not allowing me to look at his lifeless body, because now that I think of it, I am glad that that’s not the last image that I have of him-I remember him as this happy and frolicking dog who was sleeping the last time I saw him, tired from all his strenuous games. His death has left an abysmal hole inside of me, and I think it’s because I couldn’t save him; heck, I don’t even know if his legs had been paralyzed due to distemper or for the dozens of vaccines that had been injected in his baby thighs as part of medication. I have been telling myself that he is in a much better place now and he has been reunited with his family, but I don’t think the hole that he has left would ever be filled, because I still believe that I could have done more for him.

It has been three weeks that I’ve seen him, and I dare say, I haven’t missed a human being as much as I miss him- every little puppy I see remind me of him, and I have no idea how long it would be before I can fully accept the finality of his departure. This has been really hard to write, for until today I have been putting off writing about him because I could hardly complete two lines without my eyes welling up and spending the rest of the day crying. But I decided to rake up and traverse through the memories, if that way I can permanently record this phase of my life. In any way, I thought, it couldn’t be harder than what my pup had to go through. You will also notice that I haven’t named him yet, which is for the simple reason that I couldn’t find a name which would describe accurately the magnificently good boy that he was, and I hope that some day, I would be able to present a dog with a long, healthy and happy life. And it is my belief that only that day would the void in my heart start to shrink in its unattainable quest to disappear.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON ‘THOUGHTS DRUNK IN PETRICHOR’


Voyage through Vardah


THE EDITING STARTUP

“You first.” Shubham said, rolling up his pants. Rahul turned and stared at him. “I have the maximum luggage.” He turned to Aayush. “You are tall. You go first.” Aayush shook his head. “Can’t you see I have the biggest bag? I am not going out there first.” There was another tremor in the train as a gust of the wind threatened to turn it over. All of them looked ouside at the track. Nothing was visible except the frothing brown water gushing over the rails. “Beat it. I’m going first.” All of them turned to me with looks of obvious relief on their faces. I started rolling my jeans upto my knees, knowing the fact that it wasn’t going to do me any good in the mammoth downpour. “Will you please stop staring and hold my bag? It’s a six foot drop after all!”

This happened on 12th December, 2016. The four of us; Shubham, Rahul, Aayush and I had to board our trains from Chennai Central in the evening. The cyclone forecast was well known, so we decided to depart early in the morning to stay out of the tempest. Little did we know that our underestimation was a little bit too much for our own good.

It started as winds and rain. We woke up and suited up for the rainy weather. Our trains were all after 4:00 PM so we didn’t have to worry. We planned on leaving by 9:00 AM to escape the effects of Vardah, which was going to hit at mid noon. We waited for a respite in the incessant rain and when it came, we ran from our hostel to catch the local at 9:15 AM. Fortunately, the train at 9:00 AM was running late and we boarded it with ease.

We thought ourselves lucky and settled awaiting our destination, Park Town’s. All went well till Chennai Egmore, with little bursts of wind and rain. Chennai Egmore was second to last halt in our journey, and we were relieved that we had reached our destination. I didn’t know how wrong we were.

As soon as we crossed the outer signal, the wind started to increase. The rain started to pour in sheets and frowns settled upon the faces of all the local passengers. They were quite familiar with the effects of a cylone, unlike us newbie northerners. The event that put a major dent in our journey and in our pockets was perhaps the halt of our train at Egmore for an hour. We didn’t know why they had stopped it, but we could have reached Park Town in 15 minutes if the train had kept going on. Perhaps they were waiting for the cyclone to calm down, or perhaps they weren’t. We waited and waited as gradually the passengers started to leave. 

The weather forecast wasn’t in our favour, because it showed a definite increase in the bad mood of the wild wind. Our only hope of reaching the destination was the train, or so we thought. Finally, after a tense pause of an hour, the train started to crawl out from the safety of the station. We were relieved, and felt at ease after a long time. The elation was however, very short.

As soon as we reached the outer signal, the train started to slow down. After crawling just 1/2 km from the station, it gave up and stopped moving. We still sat in the train, hoping against hope that it would move, somehow. But it didn’t. The passengers started to climb down and go back to the station. But we didn’t. We still had hopes for the train to work, and after all; our trains were 5 hours later. We decided to wait out the cyclone.

Now that I think about it, we could have deboarded at Egmore and could have caught an auto. But we decided to stick to the train instead due to our luggage, and the obvious cheapness of the train. Had we known that we’d be caught so bad, we’d have taken refuge in the most stout fortress we could have found. But we didn’t, and we didn’t.

We had boarded the train at 9:15 AM. It was 11:30 AM and we were still waiting at the outer with only a Gujju couple for company. It was around then when the Gujju uncle told us that the cyclone hadn’t even hit Chennai. It was about to. He planned on trekking back the 1/2 stretch on foot. Just about then we noticed something which made us scared for the first time. A tree fell on us

It fell on our coach, but it was an event that established a fact we all were trying to run from. The train was going nowhere, and we were trapped. The rain was turning into a downpour the likes of which we had never witnessed, and the wind started rattling the train itself. None of us had the guts to do anything at all, and so we sat, and waited.

It was aout 1:00 PM when Aayush broke the news to us. “Guys, the track. It’s… gone.” He told us while peeking out of the window. “What are you talking about?” I asked and leaned to take a look myself. We had shut all the windows and doors to keep dry, and weren’t aware of the view outside. The scene I saw chilled me to my bones. Where there used to be rails, now there was water. Atleast a foot of water covered the tracks, and it gushed with a ferocity that made me yearn for my safe, cosy hostel room. The water level wasn’t going down, and the train wasn’t moving. We decided then, to take our chances and trek back to Egmore instead of getting stranded here for who knew how long.

Local trains don’t have stairs for climbing down to ground level, and the total height of wheels, rails, sleepers and the ballast made the drop to a daunting 6 feet. To make matters worse, the water was atleast 3 feet deep at the ground level, and we knew nothing of what was down there. It might have been rocks, wires, pits, or simply a trench. We risked our feet if we jumped and if  anything went wrong, we didn’t have a second chance. It was a leap of faith, so naturally everyone was hesitant to go first. 

I am not ashamed to say that I was scared. I was afraid that they’d all jump down and I’d be left behind due to my cowardice. That made me decide to go first. Another factor that decided my jump was my conscience. I was a senior to them, in age and in maturity. I should have been responsible for them and I should have been the one to lead them. But as stated before, I was scared out of my wits. That guilt forced me to act and I jumped off the train.

My feet slapped water and continued to go down. I clung to the floor of the train with my fingers as I let myself fall, with at least a shred of control. When my feet finally found the bottom, I was barely able to touch the floor of the train with my fingers stretched. I am 6 feet tall, and that should give you the idea of depth of the jump we had to make. Just as I found my footing, I discovered the fact that water isn’t the worst thing in a cyclone. It’s wind.

A sharp gust of wind slapped me in the face with a barrage of stinging water droplets. If I’d not had been clutching the train with my fingers, I’d have blown off into the water. I immediately bowed down against the wind, with the water rushing against my thighs. At least there was a silver lining, the flow of water wasn’t that strong. The frothing was caused by water bouncing over the sleepers.

I moved my feet around and checked out the rocks beneath my feet. When I finally located the sleepers of the adjacent track, I waded back and asked Shubham for my bag. When I had it, I told them all about the footing and to be cautious against the wind. Shubham was the second to jump off. I saw him grab his bag and walked on to the sleepers to lead him. When he finally reached me, he grabbed my arm to support himself. The strength of his clutch made me wince. Poor guy was scared witless.

There was no way I could keep standing in the howling wind and the water bullets, so I started walking towards the station, walking on the sleepers. Shubham just held on to my arm and waded along somehow. He had a heavy bag but I couldn’t help him with neither of my arms free. After a few meters, the track became a little visible, and our footing became much sure. Slowly, desperately fighting against the wind, we made our way to the safety of station. About halfway, the track came out of the water and we doubled our speed. 

When we finally reached the station, my face was stinging red due to the hail of water bullets I had received, and my arm seemed on the verge of cutting off due to the weight of the 30 kg bag. I hadn’t noticed the weight during the adrenaline rush, but my arm and back were numb now. I looked back and found Shubham panting. Aayush was still halfway behind and Rahul… I couldn’t seem to find Rahul.

He had two bags instead of one as ours, and was the shortest of our bunch. I was worried. I told Shubham to roll my bag along with him to the shed since we were on the platform and doubled back to look for Rahul. Going back was easy, almost fun as the wind propelled me forward. Very much like running down a mountain. I crossed Aayush halfway, who thanks to his heavy bulk, was still steadily making progress. It was then when I spotted Rahul.

He was still near the train, struggling with his luggage and the wind. He took a step ahead and usually was forced back twice the distance due to the wind. I reached him and took one of his heavier bags. He was on the verge of giving up. Fortunately, he had the lighter of his luggage for himself and we forged on together. After guiding him through the unforgiving onslaught of the wind, we somehow reached the platform.

I still remember our condition quite clearly. We looked like castaways with clothes full of water. Only Aayush had his rain-jacket on, which gave him a bit of a protection against the raging tempest. The hard part of journey was over. We still had to go through quite a bit of struggle that night, but it isn’t worth mentioning here. We lost a lot of money that day. But we could have lost more than that to Vardah.

We might tell the story as an adventure now. But the Voyage through Vardah made us acknowledge the power of nature.

 


हार से प्यार

EDITOR: Aditya Prakash Singh

हम सब ज़िन्दगी में जीतना चाहते हैं। हर मोड़, हर कदम, सबसे आगे निकलना चाहते हैं। कूल बनने की कोशिश मत करिये। आप भी ऐसे ही हैं। बहस में, झगडे  में, पढाई में, खेल में, हर चीज़ में… बस आगे निकलना चाहते हैं हम। 

जब आप किसी टीवी शो में एक प्रतिभागी को गाते हुए सुनते हैं, थोड़ी देर बाद आप खुद को उसकी जगह रख कर सोचने लगते हैं। आप उसैन बोल्ट से तेज़ दौड़ना चाहते हैं। फेल्प्स से तेज़ तैरना चाहते हैं। हम लोग चाहते हैं कि हमारी वेबसाइट बहुत सारे पैसे कमाने लगे। लेकिन वो क्या है न, समय से पहले और किस्मत से ज़्यादा किसी को नहीं मिला। 

मैं भी रेस का घोडा था। चाबुक पड़ने पर बहुत तेज़ दौड़ता था। दांव लगते थे मुझ पर। फिर एक दिन, भागते भागते साँस फ़ूलने लगी। पैर जवाब दे गए। मैं वहीँ बैठ गया। रेस पूरी ही नहीं की। सब लोग जीतने वाले घोड़े की पीठ थपथपा रहे थे। और मैं हांफता हुआ, नम होती आँखों से उसे देख रहा था। नहीं, उस घोड़े को नहीं। अपनी हार को। 

जैसे जैसे वो मेरी तरफ बढ़ने लगी, मैं पीछे होने लगा। जब हिल भी नहीं पाया तो आँखे बंद कर ली। मैं हार नहीं देखना चाहता था। थोड़ी देर बाद आँख खोली तो हार वहीँ थी। ठीक सामने। आखिर मैंने हार के सामने हार मान ही ली। 

हार का सहारा लेकर धीरे धीरे चलना शुरू किया। लगा कि वो मुझसे दोस्ती करना चाहती है। पहली बार एक ऐसी “चीज़” जो स्त्रीलिंग है, मुझसे दोस्ती करना चाहती थी। मैं मना नहीं कर पाया। हार मुझे अपने साथ घुमाने ले गयी। रास्ते में बहुत सारे लोग मिले, जो उसे जानते थे। कुछ ऐसे लोग थे जो उससे दूर भागने की कोशिश कर रहे थे। वो बस उन्हें देख कर मुस्कुरा दी और एक दिन मिलने का वादा किया। 

एक लड़का था। छत पर खड़ा था। हार को पास आता देखकर कूद गया। मर गया। मैंने हार की तरफ देखा, तो उसकी आँखों में आंसू थे। मैंने सोचा, यही मौका है बेटा। मैंने उसे गले लगा लिया। वो समझ गयी थी। हँस दी! मैंने कहा, बेटा, हँसी तो फंसी। 

हार एक दम पागल थी। कुछ करने से पहले सोचती नहीं थी। उसके चक्कर में बहुत सारी गलतियां की। जिन चीज़ों से डर लगता था, वो सब किया। अकेलेपन में खुल कर हँसा। खुद पर हँसा। लोगों को माफ़ किया। सब से सच कह दिया। थोड़ा मुश्किल था, लेकिन हार को साथ खड़ा पा कर हिम्मत मिल गयी। 

लेकिन अब तो हद ही हो गयी। हार ने हाथ पकड़ा और ले जाकर फिर उसी रेस में खड़ा कर दिया। मैंने उसे देखा। फिर आँखें बंद कर ली। आँख खुली तो फिर वहीँ तालियों का शोर। फिर वही रेस, वही घोड़े। बस इस बार एक ही फर्क था। घोडा भी मैं ही था, चाबुक भी मैं और चाबुक चलाने वाला भी मैं। 

गोली चली। रेस शुरू हुई। मैंने तेज़ी से कदम ज़मीन पर मार दिए। न ही मुझे रेस में भागने वाले और घोड़े दिख रहे थे। न ही ताली बजाने और सट्टा लगाने वाले अमीर लोग। इस बार उन सब के चहरे याद आ रहे थे, जिनसे हार ने मुझे मिलाया था। 

एक औरत, पति नहीं था उसका। अपनी बेटी को पढ़ाने के लिए लोगों के घर साफ़ सफाई करती थी। हर दिन हार से मिलती थी वो। लेकिन फिर मुस्कुरा कर अपनी बेटी के लिए खाना बनाने चली जाती थी। 

एक लड़का था। एक लड़की से बहुत प्यार करता था। पर पैसे नहीं थे उसके पास। हर दिन नौकरी की तलाश में भटकता था। शाम को फिर हार से मिलता। हार उसके बालों पर हाथ फिराती। फिर वो अपने प्यार को देखने उसके घर के बाहर खड़ा हो जाता था। दोनों नज़रों नज़रों में सब बातें करते थे। 

एक आदमी था। सड़क किनारे ठेला लगाता था। दो वक्त की रोटी का जुगाड़ करने में दिन बीत जाता था। शाम को फिर हार से मिलता था। मुस्कुराता था। फिर घर वापस लौटता, सबको खाना खिलाता था। अपनी बीवी की गोद में सिर रख कर सो जाता था।

ऐसे बहुत से लोग थे। जिन्होंने हार से दोस्ती कर ली थी। ज़िन्दगी में एक ही चीज़ का तो डर था। हार का सामना करना पड़ा तो क्या होगा। अब जब सामना हो गया, तो हार से डरना बंद कर दिया। दोस्ती हो गयी हार से। प्यारी है वो। कभी साथ नहीं छोड़ती। हमेशा चाहती है कि आपको जीत मिले। 

दौड़ते दौड़ते रुक गया। इस बार हाँफते हुए नहीं। ये रेस मेरी थी ही नहीं। चाबुक के डर से जो भागे, वो घोडा नहीं गधा है। रेस के ठीक बीचोंबीच खड़े होकर आगे देखा, लोग दौड़ते हुए आगे निकल रहे थे। धूल उड़ रही थी। पीछे देखा, दूर से हार खड़ी मुस्कुरा रही थी। प्यार हो गया था हार से। 

उसका हाथ पकड़ कर बाहर टहलते हुए मैंने पूछा,”मैं हारना नहीं चाहता।” उसने जवाब दिया,”मैं तो तुम्हारी जीत हूँ। रेस की हार, ज़िन्दगी की जीत। सब मैं ही तो हूँ।” हाथों में हाथ डाले हम दोनों चले जा रहे थे। आखिर मेरी खुशियों की चाबी, मेरी हार में ही छुपी थी। 

एक राह पर चलने के लिए, एक सफर को पूरा करने के लिए, सबसे ज़रूरी है हमसफ़र का होना। यूँ देखोगे तो मैं अकेला ही चलता दिखाई दूंगा। वो सब लोग, अकेले ही अपनी राह पर चलते दिखाई देते हैं। लेकिन हम सब के साथ हार है। एक हमसफ़र की तरह। तो सोच क्या रहे हो? ये तो मेरी हार की कहानी थी। जाकर अपनी हार को ढूंढो। तुम हार के पीछे, हार तुम्हारे पीछे… टू मछ फ़न! 

और याद रखना। हार को उल्टा पढोगे तो राह दिखाई देगी। बस देखने का नजरिया ही तो बदलना है। 


फ्यूज़ लड़ी


EDITOR: ADITYA PRAKASH

बाज़ार में दीवाली की रौनक छायी है। सड़कों पर फिर से भीड़ उमड़ आयी है। जिन दुकानों को आम दिनों में लोग देखते भी नहीं थे, आज उनमें ग्राहकों की भीड़ लगी है। घर की सफाई में लोग व्यस्त है। कबाड़ियों की भी मौज है। साफ़ सफाई में पुराने अखबार, गत्ते बहुत मिल रहे हैं आजकल। चीनी सामान का बहिष्कार हुआ या नहीं पता नहीं, पर रंग बिरंगी लाइट लगाने की उत्सुकता लोगों में कम नहीं हुई।

रमेश भी शाम होते होते इन चमकीली रोशनियों को देख कर हैरान था। उसे ये देख कर अचम्भा हो रहा था कि ऊँची इमारतों पर लगी रंग बिरंगी रोशनियां एक-एक कर के जल रही हैं। आँखों को सुकून देने वाला ये नज़ारा उसे घर वापस लौटने से रोक रहा था। फिर शामू ने आवाज़ लगायी, “जनाब, चलना नहीं है? शाम हो गयी, भूख लगी है।”

रमेश ने अपना थैला उठाया और चल पड़ा। रास्ते में उसे कई ऐसे घर मिले जहां रोशनियां जगमगा रही थी।

शहर के बाहर एक मैदान को झुग्गी झोपड़ियों वालों ने अपना घर बना लिया था। रमेश भी अपनी माँ के साथ वहीँ रहता था। शाम को खाना खाते हुए उसने माँ से पूछा, “हम भी कल घर में रौशनी करेंगे। ”

“कहाँ से करेगा रोशनी? ये बल्ब लगा है न। वो तो मेहेरबानी हो शमशेर भाईसाहब की जो बिजली का जुगाड़ कर दिया। एक तार हमें भी दे दी। तू खाना खा। और सुन, कल कुर्ता पजामा पहन लेना और कबाड़ उठाने मत जाना। यहीं रह कर, सबके साथ खेलना। रात को खील और पतासों से पूजा करके थोड़े बहुत पठाके जला लेना। शमशेर भाईसाहब लाएं हैं सब बच्चों के लिए।”
“ठीक है।” रमेश ने उँगलियों में खाने का एक कौर भरा और खाने लगा।
अगले दिन जब माँ उठी तो देखा कि कुर्ता पजामा वहीँ पड़ा था। रमेश सुबह सुबह ही कहीं निकल गया।

बस्ती में रौनक थी। बच्चे इधर उधर भागते हुए खेल रहे थे। इधर उधर से पठाकों की आवाज़ भी आ रही थी। यहां रमेश की माँ परेशान हो रही थी। बच्चे कई बार आकर पूछ चुके थे कि रमेश कहाँ गया। शमशेर भाईसाहब भी आये थे पूछने। पर रमेश का कहीं अता पता ही नहीं।

“अंकल जी, कुछ कबाड़ है?” रमेश ने एक बड़े से घर के बाहर से आवाज़ लगाईं।
“नहीं, बच्चे। जो था वो तो पहले ही निकाल दिया। सफाई तो कब की हो चुकी, अब तो सजाने में व्यस्त है।” एक आदमी ने कहा।

रमेश आगे बढ़ा। एक-एक घर का दरवाज़ा खटखटा कर पूछता कि कहीं किसी को कोई कबाड़ तो नहीं बेचना। धूप चढ़ गयी थी। दीवाली के जश्न में सिर्फ कुछ घंटे बाक़ी थे। रमेश के माथे पर पसीने की बूंदे ठीक उसी तरह बह रही थी जैसे उसके अंदर की उम्मीदें ढल रही थी।

रमेश ने हर पॉश इलाके में जाकर आवाज़ें लगाई। दरवाज़े खटखटाये। पर उसे कुछ मिला ही नहीं। रमेश हिम्मत हार कर वापस उसी इमारत के सामने फुटपाथ पर जाकर बैठ गया। शाम ढल आयी थी। पटाखों की आवाज़ें तेज़ हो चली थी। ईमारत की रोशनियां जगमगाने लगी। रमेश अपने हाथों को कमर के पीछे ज़मीन पर रख कर रोशनियों को देख रहा था। बहुत मन था उसका, कि ऐसी एक लड़ी अपनी झोपडी पर भी लगाए।

अचानक सामने वाली इमारत की एक लड़ी के कुछ बल्ब बुझ गए। कुछ लोग ईमारत से बाहर निकले, और लड़ियों की तरफ देखा। फिर एक नौकर को इशारा करते हुए कहा कि उस लड़ी को उतार दे। थोड़ी ही देर में रमेश ने देखा, कि उस फ्यूज लड़ी को हटाया जाने लगा। रमेश ने बिना इधर उधर देखे सड़क के उस पार दौड़ लगा दी। वहां खड़े एक आदमी से बोला-

“अंकल, दीवाली की शुभकामनाईयें।”
“आपको भी, बेटा!”
“अंकल ये लाइट को क्या हुआ?”
“बेटा, चीनी माल है। कोई एक तार ख़राब हो गया जिससे आधे बल्ब फ्यूज हो गए हैं। अब बाकी लड़ियों के साथ ये आधी फ्यूज़ लड़ी का क्या काम?”
“मैं कबाड़ वाला हूँ। आप ये मुझे बेच दीजिये। आप बताइये इसके कितने रुपये लेंगे?”
“बेटा, दीवाली की पूजा का वक़्त है। इस वक्त तुझसे क्या पैसे लूँ। खराब लाइट है। तू ऐसे ही ले जा।”

रमेश वापस बस्ती में आ गया। माँ ने आते ही उसको खूब डांटा। पर वो हंसे जा रहा था। उसने माँ से कहा कि आप पूजा की तैयारी शुरू करो।

रमेश ने शमशेर काका को आवाज़ दी। शमशेर और रमेश ने आपस में कुछ बात की। फिर रमेश भाग कर वापस आया और अपने थैले में से वो लड़ी निकाली। बाहर शमशेर अपने औज़ारों का बक्सा लेकर आ गया। रमेश ने लड़ी झोपडी के ऊपर टांग दी। शमशेर ने उनकी झोपडी में जाने वाली बिजली की तार में एक कट लगाया और उस लड़ी की तारों को उससे लपेट कर टेप से चिपका दिया।

जैसे ही रमेश ने बल्ब जलाने वाला खटका दबाया, लड़ी भी जगमगा उठी। सारी बस्ती के लोग उसकी झोपडी के बाहर इकट्ठे हो गए और रमेश की तारीफ करने लगे।

रमेश ने अपना कुर्ता पजामा पहना और माँ के साथ पूजा की। फिर रात भर अपनी झोपडी के बाहर बैठ कर उस लड़ी को जगमगाते हुए देखता रहा।

एक फ्यूज़ लड़ी ने रमेश की दीवाली में रोशनी भर दी थी।