Binary of Love

Ayush & Riya

“Hey, a new coffee shop has opened just behind my apartment. Looks so inviting and not so crowded as of now. Shall we meet there?” Riya was excited.

“Ok! I will see you outside the coffee shop at 7:30. What’s the name of this place again?”, Ayush was as excited but for a different reason.

“Coffee World, you can never miss it. Its so beautiful. Its just before the cross where you turn left for my apartment. I will see you there”, Riya chirped like a bird who had just learnt flying.

“See you soon babe!”, Ayush said and hung up.

He had returned from his business trip after two weeks and couldn’t wait to tell about the big news to Riya.  She will be so excited. He stared into his laptop with a smile.

Riya smiled too. This new coffee shop, looked so beautiful. It had a surreal look. Unlike usual red & brown coffee shops, it was all done in pastels. A sober lavender name board shone with twinkling lights on the glass door. It was this unusual blend of colors and twinkling lights that had attracted Riya’s attention on her way back to office. A perfect place for a quite, romantic coffee date!

“Let me wait for a few days until Ayush is back. I will go there with him”, she convinced herself. The wait would be worth it.

Riya was ready by 7:30 PM, it was a minute walk for her so she decided to wait until Ayush messaged her, “I am here”. She gave herself a final approving look in the mirror, picked up her clutch and walked off. Riya looked stunning in a peach colored chiffon chudidaar. Her curls that she was growing for a perfect wedding look, almost touched her waist now. They were going to be married in three months! From being college sweethearts to being a married couple soon, their’s had been a typical Bollywood style story. Finding out about each other’s cast or family background was not at the top of their priority list when they fell for each other. Sadly, for their families it was the topmost in the list! A lot of tears, howling and blackmailing went into convincing both families. Riya’s parents had dreamed of getting their daughter married to an IIT graduate and were not willing to settle for anyone less. Ayush wanted to do MBA but under so much of pressure, he could hardly concentrate on his preparation. He couldn’t bear the thought of loosing Riya just because he could not go to an IIT.

Amidst all the drama, Ayush still managed to get himself a place in IIM Ahmadabad. That was the end to it. Both families gave in. Riya & Ayush got engaged among-st close family members before Ayush moved to Ahmadabad for two years. Riya continued with her job in Bangalore. They met a couple of times and also technology helped them to remain in love.

“Hey you look beautiful! I have to tell you something, can’t wait!”, Ayush gave her a warm hug. Holding hands, they walked in the coffee shop. “Isn’t it beautiful? I was dying to come here with you. Now tell me fast, what is it that you have been so eager to tell me?” Riya giggled.

“We are going to have a European honeymoon!” Ayush revealed with a broad smile and widened eyes.

“What? Really? But it was going beyond our budget. Then how?” Riya could not believe her ears.

“We do not have to worry about the money anymore. My trip went very well and our clients want me to work on this project from Eindhoven, Everything has been discussed, and I have to be there as soon as we are married. I have already discussed about your travel and its all finalized babe. Imagine, we will be living in Netherlands for next two years, we could travel to any place we want!” Ayush gave out all the details in a single breath.

“Wow! That’s great Ayush! I am so so happy. But my job? I can’t leave it, its just been 2 years”, Riya was happy at the prospect of living in Europe but the thought of leaving her job suddenly and making such a big move was making her nervous.

“Yes, I thought about it too. And then I realized that you could do your Masters there. You always wanted go for higher studies and then you will easily get a job there. We could start applying now!” Ayush had everything figured out.

“Looks like you have not slept in the flight and were just making plans about our European honeymoon”, Riya winked at him. What a twist in their life, but a beautiful one!

“Sir, maam, your coffee and cookies” their happy banter was interrupted by the coffee boy.

Snow white coffee mugs were arranged so beautifully and the hearts on top of the foaming coffee intertwined with each other. Ayush & Rhia gave each other a huge smile and picked up their mugs!

Srini & Vidya

“Did they like it? It looked very cheesy to me. I hope they are really in love otherwise we would end up like fools and they will never come back here”, Vidya complained to Srini who had just served coffee with hearts to their new customers.

“Off course they loved it. Look at their smiles. I heard honeymoon, I think they are getting married. I am the best Ms. Vidya. You just need to trust me”, Srini declared with pride. He was the associate manager & coffee boy of the shop and Vidya worked at the shop’s bakery. The newly wed couple were dreaming big in this small coffee shop. Srini had made plans. After gaining enough experience in the coffee shop, he wanted to start off with his own coffee house. Vidya was an expert baker but they needed to save before starting off on their own.

Coming from a below average background, Srini & Vidya had seen hardships of life and were determined to follow their dreams together. They spent their entire day at the coffee house returning home tired and just crashing into the bed, in their modest one room apartment.

Srini possessed and innate sense of reading his customers and that’s why all their customers had come back in last two weeks. He was sure the honeymoon couple would also return. Manager was extremely happy with both Srini & Vidya and was already speculating a raise for them.

Srini was right. Honeymoon couple did return, every evening for the next three months. They were served with exotic coffee with personalized designs every time, most of the times by Srini and sometimes by Vidya. Srini made sure that honeymoon couple’s favorite window seat, overlooking the street, was always reserved for them. He felt connected with them. It appeared that they were also trying to make big like him & Vidya!

Ayush & Riya, met every evening. A lot had to be planned & discussed. Coffee shop became their “go to” place. It felt as if this coffee shop was playing a huge role in making their lives together. And the coffee boy & his girlfriend made their evenings so beautiful. Before leaving for their wedding, Ayush & Riya, decided to give a small token of appreciation to the coffee boy and his girlfriend. They were oblivious to the fact that Srini & Vidya were married.

“Thanks Srini ! Where is Vidya?”, Riya asked when Srini served them.

“Ah, she must be inside the bakery. Let me call her”, Srini rushed towards the bakery and returned with Vidya following him.

“Hi Vidya! We wanted to give you both something. We are leaving for our wedding and will be moving to Europe after that. Last three months have been so good for us, thanks to you both for all the special things you did for us”, Ayush thanked Srini & Vidya and handed them two mugs of coffee. Snow white coffee mugs with a heart on both and a sweet message, “We will miss you – Your Honeymoon Couple”

They all laughed out loud.

Ayush & Riya gave a last look at the Lavender board, twinkling lights and to their servers! They were leaving a part behind to start something new. Srini & Vidya, wished them all the luck and asked them come back whenever they were in Bangalore.

Two Years Later – Riya & Ayush

They stood in-front of the faded lavender board of “The Coffee World”. Glass windows were not sparkling anymore, dust seemed to have settled outside and inside. Place looked abandoned.

Riya couldn’t control her tears. Her favorite memories from last two years were of their dates in the coffee shop. European dream had ruined their marriage. Riya left her job and happily moved to Eindhoven with Ayush. After a two weeks long honeymoon, travelling and seeing places together, they returned to their beautiful country house. Riya was just going to join her master’s course when they found out about her pregnancy! She cried the entire night, Ayush wasn’t very excited either. He had planned two years only for Riya & himself. After struggle with families, he felt they deserved to have sometime for themselves. Having a child so early was not in their plan.

They talked about it and decide to have the baby! Their parents were ecstatic and Riya’s mother moved in with them for a few months after Riya delivered their beautiful baby girl. Pregnancy, delivery and now baby care was happening like a whirlwind. Newly wed couple was living in a state of trance, doing what was required, not talking to each other or enjoying parenthood. Travelling took a back seat. With a new born in pram, it wasn’t easy for either of them to enjoy Europe. Riya was getting depressed, she would get irritated about the slightest issues and held Ayush responsible for her state. Ayush on the other hand, could not even fathom what Riya was going through and tried to keep himself busy at work but he also wanted to make it work between them. His tenure was coming to an end and even though his clients wanted him to stay back, he decided to move back to India.

“Lets go back Riya, lets start all over again. I know things didn’t turn out as we had planned, but I want you to be happy. You remember the coffee shop? We will go back there and plan again. It was such a wonderful time that we had there and I am sure we can get back together if we start with a cup of coffee”, Ayush was holding Riya’s hand. He was desperate to get back his ever smiling and chirping Riya.

Coffee was no more there. Their grip on each other hands tightened as tears rolled down Riya’s cheeks. It was 7:30 in the evening, their date time and no where to go.

Two Years Later – Srini & Vidya

Life could not have been better. Business was growing. Coffee shop was soon the most famous joint in the locality. Management opened up new joints across Bangalore. Srini was promoted to Shop manager and Vidya was single-handedly responsible for bakery. She was using her baking expertise to experiment new items which were savored by all their customers.

An year later, Vidya conceived and their happiness had no bounds. Their dreams & love grew along with their baby in Vidya’s womb. Life however had some other plans for them. Vidya was in her last trimester when pandemic hit the world. Vidya developed some symptoms and was quarantined after a positive test. Being pregnant complicated the case. A month later, Vidya came out of the quarantine ward with an empty womb. Their baby had not survived. That night Srini & Vidya cried together. Srini had taken off from work to be with Vidya. More than a month later, when they returned to their small world of coffee shop, they could not believe what they saw. Their second home, was in an unrecognizable state, faded, pale, just like their lives.

Vidya almost collapsed in Srini’s arms. He made her sit on the stairs while they saw the furniture being removed from the shop.  They sat for hours until it was dark, holding onto each other, not speaking a word. Vidya finally stood up on her feet and let her hand out for Srini.

“Let’s go home Srini, its 7:30”, Vidya gave a slight jerk on Srini’s shoulder and he took her hand.

 

I am taking the liberty of leaving the two stories midway. Being an ever optimistic and positive person, I will always have a happy ending or rather beginning for Riya-Ayush & Srini-Vidya. However I leave it to my readers to decide how they want these two stories to unfold. Though its a work of fiction, “The Coffee Shop” was for real and I saw that lively place coming down in front of my eyes.  When I drove past my favorite coffee shop a few days ago, it made my heart ache at the sight of it. I wonder what happened to its employees. This pandemic has shattered many dreams and lives. Many plans were probably chalked out over a cup of coffee in that shop. Some might have materialized and some not. Makes me realize that, love is binary. It either gives you a high or a low. How high we fly in happiness and how low we stoop in grief is our choice.

 

Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/250935010457364852/

Let us go back to School!

One more week to go, and hopefully we will have our normal lives back. Isolation and social distancing is being called the “new normal” by most of us. Drastic changes happened in our lives in last few weeks, no household help, no eating out at restaurants, realization that there is nothing better than home cooked food, benefits of personal hygiene, an increased respect for natural resources and off-course digital socializing.

First few days of social distancing were extremely difficult for everyone, because we had to go back to school. Or shall I say that lock-down reminded us that, how our life was, just a few years back. Back when, there was no metropolitan culture. I believe that Indians have coped up well in this period and will continue to do so.

Ever thought that why we (Indians) adapted to isolated lifestyle without much jitters?

Because our culture, irrespective of religion, is very scientific and close to nature. It has always propagated “social distancing” as the normal way of living. However, in past few years, we have been influenced so much by others that we are slightly detached from “our way of living”.

Many of us have come far from home and our roots, but our up-bringing still made it easy for us to go back to basics without much fuss. I can relate this “new normal” so much to my childhood, which as a matter of fact was quite normal for me. So what exactly has been “Indian way of living”?

I grew up in a small town, and do not remember eating out at restaurants at all, because there were none. Home cooked was the norm. Home cooking was looked upon with pride and it was usual affair in all households. Current situation for most of us is no different, we still survive on home cooked food, just that some of us have employed cooks and on their off days, we eat out or order food. However, since home cooked food was regarded so much, it wasn’t so difficult to let go off casual dinner at restaurants during lock-down. It also gave many of us a chance to experiment in kitchen and find out our hidden talents. Some our so called “Indian habits” like packing our food to work, carrying water bottles with us during travel, are so scientific. It not only keeps us away from infections but also saves natural resources.

Since cooking has been in our “blood”, so is maintaining hygiene while preparing food. As a kid, I used to sometimes help my mom in the kitchen and first thing she used to tell me was to was my hands, even before touching anything in the kitchen. I believe this is the case in most Indian households. The habit of washing hands is now ingrained in my mind and getting passed to my son as well. Since Indian food tastes best only when eaten by hands, so washing hands before and after food has also been a practice. When lock-down happened, it wasn’t a new thing for Indians to wash hands. Neither was washing vegetables thoroughly a challenge, its what we have always been doing. Indians are not much into frozen food and cooking from raw materials always involved cleansing the veggies as first step.

Another habit that lock-down best practices highlighted was to remove our footwear outside, wash our hands, face, legs before touching anything at home. This has also been in practice in Indian households. Even in Indian villages, its mandatory to remove footwear outside, and do a basic sanitization of self before entering the house. So this wasn’t new either.

Now comes the toughest part, social distancing. Yes, this has been difficult, specially for generation X, Y Z and beyond. Because here we have come a long way from our roots. Gesture of “Namaste” or “Aadab” doesn’t exist any more, may be only when we are visiting some elders. Otherwise, its all about a firm handshake at work, and hugs with friends. If we introspect, how logical and respectful these gestures were, it not only kept us away from “man-to-man” infections, but also brought in a feeling of respect to the greeted one, since both gestures require us to slightly bow our head. Which means “respect”. And handshake, is about being bold, confident, and obviously passing on the infections. So shall we get back to basics? There is no harm in that, when entire world is accepting the Indian way of greeting, all Indians have to do is to take a few steps back.

Shopping mall and multiplex movies culture was never an Indian culture and is probably just 10 years old. And with Netflix, Amazon Prime, digital media and online shopping, it was easy to let go off. And believe me, most of the metropolitan population is already tired of window shopping and spending a bomb for eating popcorn during a movie. We are a homely race, and staying at home close to our family and loved once is not new for us. Most of us, felt that we lacked quality time with our family and this lock-down came as a much needed break.

And last but not the least, Indians are extremely adaptable. We adapt for our parents, friends, spouse, children and everyone around us, to have a peaceful life. And that quality in us, made us adapt to the restricted environment during Covid crisis. When lock-down was imposed on us, we didn’t worry about haircut, or lost freedom, we didn’t protest, because we knew it was important, for our survival. We did crib and cry about the increased workload at home, but managed eventually. We know that right to freedom can be exercised only if we live. Isn’t is true?

So do you think it really is a lock-down? Or we have just been sent back to school? Retrospect and introspect, find your own answer, find your own way of living, find your own classroom, color your board white, black or green, just keep India alive in it.

It is yet to be seen that how slow or fast life will return to “normal” from “new normal”, but I am convinced that if we Indians continue to respect and follow even 1% of our culture and traditions, irrespective of our religion, we will be successful in defeating Corona or any virus for that matter.

 

Piggy Bank

I was hesitantly looking at him. Our eyes met for a fleeting moment and he hurriedly turned to the other side. It was not easy for him. I could not muster the courage to open the door and go out. I felt frozen on my car seat.

It was not the first time that I was seeing him. Only a month back, I had bought tender coconuts from him, he was happily selling his stock to his dedicated customers. Today was different, a person, who used to earn his living with pride, was forced to sit on pedestrian path and eat from a packet, given to him by someone. And there I was, stealing his privacy, and making him feel small and awkward of his own desperate condition.

I gathered all my strength and opened the car door, after all, grocery had to be bought. So I stood in the queue and waited for my turn, to enter the store. My mind was still focused on the frail, old man, eating idli with chutney from that foil packet. I wanted to help him, I thought for a while if I could cook for him and bring him food everyday, it wasn’t far from home. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit, will I be able to do it everyday? Queue moved on and so did my thoughts. Once I entered the store, I put everything on my list in my cart. Once, mandatory items were safely placed in the cart, I moved on to scan the shelves in case I found something interesting. I had sometime to hone my culinary skills during the lock-down period, so I picked some baking items, butter, biscuits etc. Suddenly I saw a packet of Burger Buns and remembered that my little champ had recently wanted to eat burger. Happy to have found something to surprise my little one, I picked up a packet and moved towards the billing counter.

How surprising human nature is, we tend to forget the moments of sadness and awkwardness so soon, if it does not affect our life directly. Only a few minutes back, I was so worried about the old coconut vendor and at this moment, I had totally forgotten about him and made plans of making burger.

Holding filled bags of food items in both my hands, I moved towards my car, to find the old man, sitting exactly where I had left him. Just that, he was now holding his hands like a beggar asking for something to eat. That sight broke me.

He wasn’t a beggar. He was a hard working man, who earnestly did his job, everyday, in sun and in rain. Now forced to beg for food, for each meal of his day. I couldn’t handle the situation well and frantically searched in my shopping bag. Taking out the burger buns packet and butter, I handed them over to the old man. His eyes shone, he had managed to arrange for his dinner, for one more day.

I drove off.

Its been a week of this encounter of mine. I knew I would write about it, but I did not want to put it on paper as a story with lose ends. So I kept thinking, about the coconut vendor and “daily wagers” like him. How has this lock-down affected them?

And while explaining about the situation to my son, I realized what message I wanted to give with this blog.

So I was telling my son, who “daily wagers” are? I started with a funny story about how my dad used to call himself a daily wager. Yes, he is. He is a doctor who has to be in his clinic, day in and day out to earn his living every day. He has no fixed salary or corporate benefits. However, his skill and education taught him to save for unforeseen circumstances. So we can say that he is a well prepared, future secured daily wager. Then I moved on to tell my son about the old coconut vendor and how due to his meager income and lack of savings, he was forced to beg for food.

During this insight session to my son, I figured, three aspects of a “daily wager’s” life are most impacted due to this pandemic situation:

  1. No work, No earning – whether a daily wager is earning by selling, or by working for others, his/her source of income stopped COMPLETELY. Household helps are willing to risk their lives and come to work, to ensure they get their monthly salary. Because no income means sleeping with a empty stomach.
  2. Shattered self esteem – being able to earn and feed for oneself is the biggest satisfaction for a human being. Government and people have ensured to feed the needy, but what about their pride? Its shattered. They probably haven’t gone form riches to rags but Corona has managed to kill their self esteem!
  3. Dangling future – even if the lock-down ends soon, future of daily wagers will remain at risk. Why? Their income depends on the businesses like construction in real estate, spending power of people like us and resuming of other businesses. Even though Corona dies down, it will leave an impact on how businesses are run and directly impact the future of daily wagers. Will they still get the same jobs back or make the same amount of money? This is yet to be seen.

So how can we help?Kudos to those who are already providing meals to people like the old coconut vendor. But is that going to be enough?

My maid called me two days back, requesting me to allow her to come back to work. I was shocked and strictly told her to not come come until the lock-down period. Then she said, “Didi, kaam nahi karenge to khayenge kya?” (what will we eat if we do not work?) I told that she does not have to worry about that as I am going to pay her for the entire lock-down period. She was relieved for sure but question remains, will every household where she works, pay her? I think, the least we can do is to ensure that salary of household helps are paid. So apart from food, let us also give them the security of their income.

Being educated class, working in air-conditioned, calling luxuries of life as necessities, we will have a much bigger responsibility after this pandemic ends. And its not giving work, money or food to 90% population of our country as a CSR activity, but to save for them. Yes, we are ones, who have to save for a secure future of daily wagers. Importance of saving, how much ever, small it is, need to be taught and enforced to them. Such a humongous task cannot be accomplished by the governing authorities unless people like us support and volunteer. These could be simple ways, like depositing some money of your household help’s salary in a separate account, helping them open/maintain their bank accounts, giving them advice on how they could do more with their skills and finding opportunities for them, etc. In short, we need to give daily wagers a piggy bank and ensure that they fill it.

I remember, my mom, used to keep a part of her maid’s salary every month, saying that she will give it only at year end. This simple act of saving for her maid, contributed to a corpus amount for her maid’s daughter’s marriage. The other day, I met a lady at post-office, who had forced her driver to open a post-office saving’s account. When we got talking, she said, “Its our responsibility to educate lesser privileged section of our society. It might need some effort from our side, but its a great service for our nation.”

I am re-collecting all such incidents, that I have come across and I am 100% convinced that if we collectively pledge and work to make lives better, ours and others, then lives will become better. All it needs, is a little empathy, generosity, right use of our education and sense of responsibility!

A responsible, self aware and “I got your back” population is what a nation & civilization needs to stand strong in case of testing times like these future!