Perspective

I put this up on my posterous.

An old woman lived inside a temple. She did not move or speak. She stayed in the same spot, doing nothing.

Every day, the man watched her sit quietly – saying nothing; doing nothing. He watched her do nothing and say nothing for days and weeks and months until one day he could take it no longer. Her inactivity roused him to action. He would prod her into action, he promised. He would take away whatever it was that stopped the poor soul from acting, from talking, from living.

He walked up to her.

“Why do you do nothing?” he asked. “I watch you everyday, I have done so for three years now. Each day, I ask myself how it is you can do nothing. Are you unable to move? Has someone forced you to do nothing? Whatever it is, I am here to help you! Be free, woman! Move, sing, dance, do what you want to do! Let no one and nothing stop you. Do you want money? What can I do for you?”

He paused, flushed with the sense of one effecting a great change.

The old woman looked at him coolly for a long minute.

Then she said –

“Have you ever considered that this is what I want to do?”

 

 

The Writer

For days he punched the keys, swearing in frustration when a paragraph did not hit the perfect note, when his words scorned to weave magic at his bidding. Each time he aimed for the flourish of a full, laden, ripe sentence, the words ground themselves against each other, jarring, proud and unsociable. Sighing, he tried again, and again, and yet again.

Then one day without warning, sentences suddenly synchronized: romance kindled itself gently, words linked arms with other words, suspense breathed sharply down his pages, uncertainty kissed his writing goodbye and lo! a plot emerged.

Fazed, he stared down at the old typewriter, an odd contraption: the corners of some keys cracked, rust embracing its sides. It winked back solemnly at him.

And then on, there was no looking back. Story after story sped out with the haste of a maid sweeping dust under the carpet.

Sometimes though, strangely enough, he thought he missed the struggle: the uncertain, agonizing wait for perfection as each phrase coined itself from the ashes of a dozen failed turns; the sleepless nights of discarding old drafts and nourishing new ones; the deep-felt satisfaction as at long last, one perfect, hard-won sentence revealed itself like a debutante at the ball.

A Sort of Letter to Writers of Novels Set in Foreign Lands

Today, I want to write a short post about writing and maybe about the reader – in this case, me. A stray thought (and I have too many of those) inspired some tweets :- starting with this one, then this tweet. Realizing that I was quite obviously building up to a post, I decided to write at length here.

This is more like a letter.

Dear writer (of also novels set in foreign countries),

I have a confession to make. When you put your pen to paper about a foreign country, rather than extol its almost predictable exotica, I wish you would write passionately of its ordinariness.  I want to know what its people eat and what they think, what superstitions hold together the stitches of the fabric of their lives. Nuggets of wisdom hidden inside tales of daily life, hardships that people undergo, if not cheerfully, then uncomplainingly.

Writing must resonate with realism.

Special moments stand out only when the mind is accustomed to the ordinary, to the rhythm of life in that faraway country, in that mayhap imaginary land. Tell me about the box of lunch packed each morning by a hassled mother with an eye perennially on the clock. About the cyclist who takes the same detour each day to stop and watch the afternoon train in the distance throw up clouds of smoke to a passive sky. In the middle of your lovingly detailed  routine that my mind has become one with, throw that surprise that you have been waiting to spring on me so badly that your heart is bursting – shock me with an unexpected death, scandalise me with an affair, shatter my calm with a fateful announcement. But before all that –  familiarize me. Take my hand and show me. I must sit pillion with that cyclist each day for those precious five minutes, as he chews on an apple and lazily contemplates who might sit by the window on the third compartment of the train. I need to mutter in exasperation as the mother juggles twenty things that demand her equal attention on a workday morning.

I need to live the ordinary before I can recognize the special.

But here is the real deal.

As a writer, sometimes you may write the ordinary long enough and lovingly enough and well enough that the ordinary becomes special. I will so lovingly slip into the everyday ebb and flow of life in that foreign land that I no longer want something that unsettles me. I will sit by the shade of the trees along with you, content to watch boys draw a crude pitch and bat to their hearts’ content or a fisherman cast his net and wait for hours, humming.

This, then, was part of the magic of RK Narayan. He did not tell me how spectacular Malgudi was, he simply showed me the intimate secrets of its ordinary people. He tapped at their hearts and out! tumbled small worries, petty squabbles, disquieting thoughts, moments of quiet generosity. He wrote of real people leading predictable, but genuine lives.

In Malgudi, I did not need to wait for something spectacular. The ordinary was enough. It fulfilled me.

For the love of Raaja

Here are four reasons I should not be writing a post about the music of Ilayaraaja.

1)      It is utterly stupid to try and write something about the music of a man, most of whose music I am yet to discover. I am slowly going album by album, spurred on by two friends, both of whom have obviously listened to and internalized waaay more of Raaja than I have. I have a looooong way to go.

2)      Better and more worthy listeners and writers than I, have paid handsome tributes to Raaja. Readers have hung on to every word of theirs, and nodded here and Ah!ed there. I am most definitely not a worthy successor.

3)      I am not a long time connoisseur of Tamizh film music. This means that I cannot compare Raaja’s songs with anyone else’s and draw clever, insightful parallels. I cannot with a flourish say, “And in 1982, XYZ composed ABC which one may indeed say is comparable to Raaja’s PQR!” Readers love such things, especially the erudite variety. They can vociferously agree or disagree, in turn quoting six other songs as a support framework.
(Besides, I wasn’t born yet in 1982. Just saying. Not that the year of birth should have much influence on someone’s knowledge of anything.  Unless it happens after their lifetime. But I digress.)

4)      I am technically unsound. For the longest time, for instance, I did not realize that interludes were called as such. Everything sans the actual vocals falls under the broad umbrella of ‘BGM’ for me. BGMs 1, 2 and 3 describe: the intro to the song, the interlude preceding Charanam 1 and the interlude preceding Charanam 2, respectively. I don’t know my ‘parts of a Tamizh film song’ at ALL. Purists look at me pitying and with scorn. Muttered insults abound.

Okay, so now you know what not to expect from this piece. For those of you who are lawyers and like your disclaimers in black and white: Don’t Expect Any kind of Intelligent Analysis, Deep Insights Of Any Nature, or Any Value Add To Your Knowledge Of Raaja.

And yet, none of these factors though true is sufficient to dissuade me from writing about the pleasure his music gives me.

For those of us lucky enough to experience it once in a lifetime, true love takes us by surprise, shaking the foundations of our orderly existence and splashing our hitherto dull lives with hues to match the rainbow: the glorious red of passion, the dark green of jealousy, the sea blue of contentment.

Imagine falling in love afresh every day… plunging to the depths of bottomless sorrow, rising to the heights of ecstatic joy, and experiencing everything in between: querulousness, pleasant surprise, gentle flirtation, overpowering anger, dismay, bitter betrayal, light mischief.

No day is like another, and yet every last one glorious.

Welcome to the music of Ilayaraaja.

I have seldom taken to anything as freely as I did to Raaja’s music. I am normally as anti-newness as it is possible for a person to be. Very few songs catch my fancy at first listen. And then there is the ready censure. Somewhere, in a song that the whole universe adores, I must spot a small part where the shruti does not align. Or where the voice wavers. The concept of looking at a song as a whole and not dissecting it, was simply not introduced to me. I am slowly picking it up, and not sure if even should.

One of the first Raaja songs I heard was Ninnukori Varnam. For a long time as a child, I was confused about whether this was an alternate Carnatic take on the popular varnam. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and the ‘interludes’ were fabulous! I remember trying to master it on the Casio keyboard while in primary school.

Raaja’s intelligence at composition blew my mind. As a small child, I was absorbed with what little I heard of his music from time to time.

When I first heard Aagaya Vennilave (Arangetra Velai) at seven or eight years of age, I was puzzled. The song seemed to follow the meter of ‘rupaka taalam’ which I was somewhat familiar with. This is why. I have tried in my novice way to draw the meter of the pallavi of the song.

1     2     3   4   5   6    1      2       3       4     5      6

aahaaya veNilaave  tharai meedhu vantha thEnO?

1     2     3   4   5   6    1      2       3       4     5      6

azhahaana aadai soodi arangerum veLai thAnO?

So far, so good. But then!

1          2      3      4      5      1           2   3   4    5   6    7
malar soodum koonthale   mazhai kaala mEgamai kooda
uravAdum vizhihale iru veLLi meengaLai aada

The lines “malar soodum koonthale mazhai kaala mEgamai kooda  /uravAdum vizhihale iru veLLi meengaLai aada” followed a 5-7 split metre.  This could not be rupakam because it did not come in cycles of 6 and 6! The world had ended. I grimly looped the song and told myself my taalam was bad. What was the point of music classes! My mother did not seem to care one way or the other. She was happy to just listen. This further irritated me.

I remember being confused for a few full hours  before I realized that it was indeed rupakam and that the sum of 12 can be split both ways: 6 + 6 and 5+7! Simple maths can sometimes seem way more confusing in musical form and add to this the fact that I am no genius. To add further to all this confusion, the interludes were in an entirely different taalam all together: Aadi talam! Once I had the song ‘figured out’ to a reasonable extent, I strutted about, chest puffed out with pride. It seemed then, the ultimate achievement.

But what the mind cannot fully analyze to perfection, the heart can still enjoy. Aagaya Vennilave was and continues to be one of my favourite songs, rendered to easy perfection by a vibrant Jesudass and the splendid Uma Ramanan.

Another song that fascinated me when I first watched it / listened to it, was ‘Oru Poongavanam’ (Agni Natchatiram) – as much for the music as for the cinematography. The beginning of the song was so inventive; if a person who had never heard the song overheard the first two lines, they would be inclined to think they had caught the ending of the song, because of the way it tapers off.

Oru poongaavanam pudhumanam…

Adhil roamaanjanam dhinamdhinam…

Think about it, wouldn’t they make fitting ending lines, the way the tune has been composed? And they form a natural ending for the song too.

And in line with the soft, sensuous nature of the video, the music swathes Nirosha, undressing and dressing her in the imagination of thousands; caressing her every movement, capturing her every mood. Small wonder Karthik is captivated! With music like that in the air, I could fall in love with pretty much any man. There is a dreamy quality to the song that I loved at first listen and still continue to lose myself in, every now and then, as if Raaja had composed it especially for me to listen and revel in.

A favourite that I had heard before, but paid attention to (and therefore truly discovered) only recently is ‘Aaathadi Paavada Kaathada’ (Poo Vilangu). Raaja’s earthy rendition coupled with the terrific catchy tune makes it a must-listen. This song is to me a shining example of Raaja’s intuitiveness while making music. The song is apt for the accompanying video, that of a young lad who catches his love bathing and mercilessly teases the shy girl, alternately flirting and pleading – and yet, it is so much more than a light hearted number; every time I listen to it, I can hear also the woman’s heartfelt, if shy, response – perhaps why each charanam ends slightly more seriously than the rest of the song.

(Bear with my imagination – after all, half the beauty of music lies in what mood and meaning the listener invests it with, at that listen.)

I am now compelled to describe my love of the most enchanting BGM in Punnagai Mannan, a brilliant Raaja musical. We know it only too well, that slightly-over-two-minutes portion of the movie where an overwrought Kamal, tormented by conflicting emotions of love and frustration, commands Revathi to “Clap!” and the proceeds to dance his heart out, initially by himself and then as if drawn inevitably to her, clasping hands with her in tandem. As the couple moves on the dance floor: hands clasped,  eyes locking, bodies swaying, Raaja’s criminally beautiful background score takes the celebrated scene to a whole new level. It is breezy enough for the couple to dance, but heavily invested with a meaning that sends shivers down my spine. Closing my eyes, I can feel my pulse dancing in answer.

This is Raaja adding a layer that did not exist before the music.

Above all the maestro’s perfection takes my breath away. Not one note is out of place. On the fifteenth, and thirtieth listens, each song of his gives me the same sheer, perfect listening pleasure that it gave me the first time I pressed the play button.

Take ‘Unna Nenachen’ (Aboorva Sagothargal). Or ‘Vaana Mazhai Pole’ (Idhu Namma Boomi), recently introduced to me by a friend. Perfection is Raaja is perfection.

To remedy my deficient knowledge of Raaja, I am dedicating a week this year to him. This week, I propose to do a Raaja marathon, only it will be a learning marathon for me. Seven days of sheer Raaja, starting today. I started with the apt Puttham Pudhu Kaalai (Alaigal Oivadhillai). Macchana Paatheegala (Annakili), Raaja’s first number followed, succeeded by Andhi Mazhai Pozhigirathu (Raajaparvai) and Enna Satham Indha Neram (Punnagai Mannan).

I am welcoming the new year with Raaja’s music ringing in my ears. If there is a better way to usher the new year in, I genuinely don’t want to know yet.

Thank you for coming past the disclaimers to read so far. Please do tell me which Raaja songs or albums I should not miss over the coming week. And share your unique love of the Master of Music in the comments section.

Happy New Year in advance.

Conversations

We lie in bed quietly.

Not long ago we were making passionate love. A little later, we lay back, cracking languorous jokes that despite their entire lack of humour, left us weak with laughter. Passionate argument followed, matching wits, sharpening our verbal knives against each other’s.

And now we parry silence for silence. It is a gentle parrying, nonetheless. The silence is warm with acceptance. It is as if, at this very moment, we accept each other in full measure and wordlessly affirm our choice of the other’s company. It is comforting in a way that words will never be.

Unusually, he breaks the silence. Sing for me, he asks, eyes looking deep into mine. What? I ask, distractedly, studying the colour of his eyes, a rich coffee brown.  Anything. Just sing for me. Not again, you know I cannot sing, I protest weakly.

In truth I love singing for him. To his ears alone, I seem to make perfect music. I can sing without fear of either the errant note – lying in wait to entrap me – or the rusty patch marring my voice; his ear recognizes neither flaw, it reaches past it all to the core of my song, the very core of my being.

And so I begin to sing, a song of love, longing and loss.

I am unsure at first, taking my time, choosing to cajole each note rather than conquer it, placating those elusive notes now with whispered dips and then with murmured rises. He savours it all, eyes closed, following my journey, his brow smooth, his manner unhurried. Emboldened, my voice rises. I begin to tentatively reach out for notes flying at higher planes.

The music, waiting patiently for me to discover it, smiles and gives of itself. What each proud note refuses, music as a collective gives freely, soothing my angst and feeding my confidence. I remember telling him this a day ago – or was it two days? – that music may be composed of notes, but it is not the same as merely a sum of perfectly placed, well-timed notes, sometimes it is not even about notes; music is passion, soul, feeling, emotion, the harsh cry of a bird and the rhythmic thwack! of a woodcutter’s axe, the raw hunger of the first droplet of fresh rain slapping against the eager earth. Music as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts… And part of its magic, its universal appeal, lies in that it can give of itself to anyone, seasoned performer or nervous novice, with the same passion.

There is a rustle of feet in the living room outside, but I am lost to everything but the moment. With each note I sing, his hands respond, hands that seem like an extension of my voice, living the music with me, his grip on my fist tightening as he devours the soaring highs, caressing my palm as I explore the hesitant troughs, our fingers entwining as I touch that glorious highest point in the song, the cry of an exultant woman to the man she loves, my own cry carrying in the sultry afternoon air…

Long after I am done, he continues to hold my hand as if unable to let go, as if letting go would somehow put an end to the music, for he knows – the song has ended, but not the music. The silence is pregnant with the longing that the song bequeathed even as it died away…

To his loving ears my music is perfect in a way that only my music can be. In bed, ridiculously naked, inelegant hair all over the place, lying in the most awkward of positions, I can make perfect music in a way that the most orchestrated of symphonies cannot and somehow capture his heart. He sighs deeply.

We lie quietly. I study his fingers: larger than mine, but neat. I place my own palm against his and he captures my hand neatly, a slow smile dawning.

What are you to me? I ask.

I don’t know, he evades. Why?

Are we friends?

Yes.

And?…

The word lingers in the air.

He pauses, weighs his words.

Then, he starts to speak.

Somehow, I have the feeling I have unleashed a patient storm.

Some relationships have no name, he says. They are best left that way. Words complicate, creating something which is not true. Feelings are the only real entities in a relationship. Every second, we weave in and out of them, gossamer thin strands of relationships. A sudden smile, an angry word, the light, burning brush of your fingers against mine… Small frissons that leave us with the blissful, necessary illusion of a web of exciting, complicated relationships.

I take in a sudden breath as his fingers brush mine to prove a point. Then he squeezes my fingers and I am caught up in the flow of his words.

So much of it is imagination. Who knows what the other person was thinking at that exact moment, I muse aloud. Maybe my smile reminded him of his lover’s and that is all there was to that moment, at least to him… while my imagination leapt sky-high!

Exactly! – he says – and yet we conjure up entire self-deceiving illusions, desperately needing the ties that we use to bind ourselves to the perceived identity of another. And everything needs a name now.  A mere ‘relationship’ will not suffice. Are you seeing each other, they ask. Is he your date for the evening? Are you lovers? Or friends?

As if – he says, a little angrily now –  as if they must be mutually exclusive. Or as if a lover somehow outweighs a mere friend – ‘we are not just friends, we’re lovers’ – fools! he says, savagely.

I stroke his hand. He continues, almost unaware of my touch.

Lover s or friends, they will ask. And if you say Both, a smug smile. Lovers, then, their eyes say. Definitely lovers. So many questions – he pauses for breath – so many questions, some asked aloud and some poorly concealed behind curious, snapping eyes that follow you around, trying to strip you down to your last, naked thought.

He turns to me, eyes afire. His hand is curved around my hip.

I love my best friends passionately – he says – I am my lover’s best friend.

I smile at him, knowing I am both, and more. So much more… that our relationship does not have a name. I am suddenly terribly proud – of myself, of him, of us.

Let them smile, I tell him. Let them assume what they will, for they complicate, they create something which is not true. They are best left that way.

The light casts shadows on our bodies, revealing and concealing, distracting us from loftier matters, and our conversation dies down to glowing embers as it has forever now, and as it will forever hence.

The Dirty Woman

(Everything here is in my opinion only. You may disagree. I hope you do.)

There are very, very few women actors in Bollywood today who can take a role, make it theirs and deliver a performance that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. The less that is said about the movie The Dirty Picture, the more space that is saved on the internet or on paper. However, the only reason I was able to sit through the movie was Vidya Balan.

I grew up in a time when Silk Smitha seduced the small screen. She was the reason parents in my neighbourhood (and in countless other neighbourhoods) switched the TV channel abruptly in the middle of a song. Given this fact, I was curious to see what justice was done to the character of Silk.

I will place it on record here that Vidya is nothing like Silk – in appearence, in mannerisms, in the sheer veil of sleaze that Silk wore so brazenly. In her most seductive, moaning moments on screen in this move, Vidya is nowhere close to recreating the unique brand of soft porn suggestiveness that belonged to Silk and Silk alone. Well before I walked into the theater, I was disappointed with the choice of actress to portray her, and still maintain that the two are as alike as chalk and cheese.

And yet – I came away with two major revelations.

One – Vidya Balan is a powerhouse. From the initial scene where she manages to outrage an irate neighbour until the closing moments where she confronts grief with a hand that excessive alcohol has rendered unsteady, she lives the role to the hilt – saucy, brash and utterly in control of each emotion. No careless moment of overaction, no one scene where she could have brought just that bit more to the moment – a seamless balance of spontaneity and measured reaction.  Each time she faces despair with yet another chain of cigarettes, you can see the dawn of yet another clever, sometimes manipulative, idea on her brow. In spite of a storyline that should have been burnt at birth, I ached for the Silk onscreen when she broke down, begging for human company, and yet a mere two scenes later, she managed to leave me with a trace of guilty shame – dare I pity THE Silk Smitha?

Two – it is possible to take a role and create something else out of it altogether, fitting it around you to take part of your persona. While I watched Vidya sway and swagger on screen, I managed to forget that this was not the quintessential Silk Smitha – well, perhaps except for a couple of moments when her innate classiness owerwhelmed her intended tawdry portrayal of the vamp. What I did take home however was a new version of Silk altogether – and I liked this one; I loved her intensity, her unabashed defence of her image, her fiery comebacks. This was a different kind of appeal. I came away with respect for an actor who moulded the role to herself, delivering the performance of a lifetime. I tried to think of one other actor of today, any peer of hers, who could have played this role with the same level of conviction. I could find no one.

Well done, Vidya Balan. If this is what you can do with a joke of a movie… For God’s sake, woman, take on more roles!

The First Kiss

(Published previously in The Youth Express magazine.)

____________________________________________

“Kingfisher Airlines announces the departure of its flight XU 764 to Mumbai. The following passengers…”

He was already seated inside, staring sightlessly through the window at the other aircraft as, inside the airport, last-minute boarding calls were being made and late passengers escorted personally and swiftly by personnel in Kingfisher uniforms. Usually a last-minute boarder himself, today he had been the first – the very first, right at the head of the line – to board the plane. Already, it seemed to him as if the plane would never leave. And then, after what seemed an eternity, the safety announcements came on, Yana Gupta demonstrated something in front of him on a screen that he paid absolutely no attention to, and the flight took off. And the blood thrummed in his veins, and his heart sang, for he was going home to see her.

He had always had strained relations with his wife. An arranged marriage, it was doomed to fail from the start. They were two headstrong individuals with past relationships which had not quite died; two passionate, argumentative souls, neither willing to concede a point, and almost always possessed of differing views on every subject under the sun. The passion was there, swift and fast, like a devouring flame – but passion can only sustain a relationship so far, and no further. Infidelity, betrayals, harsh slaps, harsher words, blood trickling down the side of his face; an atmosphere alternately so scorching the sun bowed before it, and so cold they could well have frozen to death. It had not taken them long to reach there – a shattered wineglass, loud swearing, quiet sobbing and it was over.

Naina had packed her bags and shot out of the house like a rocket, cursing viciously. His wife would have killed him given half a chance, he thought wryly, declining a glass of orange juice the air-hostess offered him. He would have gladly returned the favour! She had filed papers, he had accepted them with a delight that made her grind her teeth, their families had stopped all interaction. It didn’t require Nostradamus to predict where they were headed. Separation, an ugly word, was as welcome as a long-lost son, being the only and final solution to the pain they had both endured in the name of a marriage that was a marriage in name only.

Until everything had changed one afternoon.

An afternoon where the sun shone brighter than ever, the world seemed a myriad ocean of colour, and he had sat, unable to believe what they were discussing, what she was telling him, what was to be. Disbelief, wonderment, a thousand emotions, and most of all the question – what now?

Arguments, discussions, headaches and endless aspirin later, she had moved back in. He had respected her for the decision, knowing how hard it must have been for her to agree to live with a man she had come to hate. He had swallowed bitterness and anger and tried to be what he had never once considered being – a considerate husband – and she had not failed to realize what he must be going through. In performing an act that neither of them had wanted to in the slightest, they had unwittingly sown the seeds of a mutual respect, something that had been conspicuous by its absence in the earlier, tempestuous days… All because something had happened that would change both their lives.

As an inane Bollywood movie ran on the screen in front of him, he reclined his head against the seat and looked at the clouds which caressed the airplane’s wings, his mind running through the early days, the struggle that had been once they had decided to move in again together. Husband and wife had indeed struggled under the same roof to once more talk, dine, live, trying to mend fences, realizing that in some places the fence had cracked well beyond repair, and yet persevering to create some semblance of love in the strained atmosphere. With absolutely no love in his heart, he had gifted her roses every Monday. With no notion of wifely devotion, she had packed him lunch every single morning. They had taken walks together, bound only by a grim promise to do so, and forced themselves to endure the burden of each other’s company again and again and again.

Finally, in what must rank as the greatest irony in both their lives, it was this soulless dedication to preserve a dead marriage that kindled it back to life, blew breath into its expired frame, and pounded blood through its empty veins. Slowly, he had found himself wanting to come back to her presence, a silent but increasingly important presence. For her part, she had begun to look forward with quiet expectancy each week for his small gifts, taking pleasure in them. Over the last leg of the journey, the last three or four months, they had grown close, preferring mutual silences and simple handholding, a stark contrast to the aggressive lovemaking and violent fights that had marked the initial days. Quiet love, it seemed, was every inch as whole, as real, as mad passion. For the past month, he had missed his wife, who had gone away out of necessity, as he had seldom missed anyone in his life.

But love her as he might, it was not his wife that he was dying to see now, as the plane landed and passengers made a mad rush to exit first. It was not his wife’s name that ran through his head; it was not his wife’s face that he saw in his mind’s eye. It was her face, the face of the angel who had brought him and his wife closer than they had ever been. It was her that his trembling fingers sought to touch, she – the subject of that one conversation seven months back that had changed his life, his wife’s life, sprinkled love where there was none, brought hope to their lives, created magic. His eyes, unknown to him, clouded with tears, and he wondered how she looked, what her eyes sought, how soft her skin was, how fair her face, how black her hair. And once he was out of the damned line in the flight, he was the only passenger who did not run for his baggage, for his baggage did not matter anymore. His feet flew, stumbling, his thoughts in a whirl, his throat choked with tears, running, running…

And there his wife stood, slightly plump, radiant. He was dimly aware of relatives, loved ones standing to the background, his aunt, some nephews…  but nothing else and no one else mattered. His attention was focused on her, as he took the last few steps towards his most prized possession, his new reason for living. With infinite care, he took her into his arms and gazed reverently down at her.

She looked solemnly back at him, all of twelve inches, her soft curly wisps of hair blowing gently in the breeze from the standing-fan close by, her cheeks tender and pink, her eyes large and black and loving, the tiny rounded nose, her tiny starfish palm nestling in his own larger hand- and he felt like his heart would burst, her knees would buckle. Tears rolled down his face and landed on her cheek and she smiled a slow, wide smile, the ecstatic, toothless expression of joy unique to an infant.

Taking a deep breath, the father leaned forward and placed one gentle kiss, filled with every ounce of love that he could bear, on the cheek of his tender daughter as she gurgled contentedly. Naina smiled through her tears and he raised his head to look at her, eyes wide in wonderment, seeking what he knew not – but she understood all the same and nodded, the slightest of nods and spoke softly.

“Welcome to fatherhood.”