Joined: 17 January 2010
He cursed as the stubborn, monsoon mud stained his polished boots... cursed again as the careless chai wala rammed into his unsuspecting frame, and the straps of his enormous luggage pulled tightly at the skin of his shoulder. Lucknow train station. A human sea infamous for sweat, overpriced water and the smell of burning marijuana. Underhand drug dealers and crop farmers, standing side by side luring the shuffling passerby with incredibly low prices. Nawabs in business suits and ties, walking alongside men clad in their morning baniyaans and lungis.
Arnav Singh Raizada was another, insignificant individual in this human sea, one lone proton in an exponentially larger molecule. Yet, today, he turned heads. He was different. For today, Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada was smiling within himself. The chai wala, the sticky mud, and the numbing pressure of the weight on his shoulders were temporary disappointments, earning small, insignificant frowns... replaced by enthralled smiles almost instantly. For today, Arnav Singh Raizada would discover freedom.
Freedom, at last.
He would mend and soothe the wings that were snipped by the past, and soar beyond the confinements of even the farthest stars.
And as he sat on the small, wooden bench near the bustling Lucknow railway, he re-read the letter for the umpteenth time, as if to reconfirm that his dreams were indeed becoming a reality. His hands gently skimmed the dark ink on the slightly worn paper, the word "Congratulations" smeared by the tears he had shed upon receiving it. After his eyes were satisfied and his heart convinced, the sheet was once again folded neatly into fours, the corners aligned and the creases stretched precisely, before being placed again into the small, distinguished manila envelope. He clutched the camera around his neck, embracing it against his heart as his excitement escalated and his spirits rejoiced.
Arnav lived to capture moments and store them as printed memories, boxes filled with the photographs of his mother as she adorned gajra in her hair and his brother as he sat glued in front of the television set. Each picture would be dated and signed, a small sharpied - in description to keep the recollection in tact. "First rainfall 1999, May 17th" and "Anjali's wedding mehendi, April 23rd 2003" were perhaps the closest to his heart. The boxes would overflow--- some pictures more beautiful than others, some pictures more significant than others. But each held a meaning. Even the blurred close up he had managed to take of his father's flaring nose, scurrying away before the hand would rise and redden his sensitive cheek.
Arnav's father had, however, slapped him squarely across the face when he had shared his greatest enthusiasm, and dismantled his first, inexpensive camera... the gift he had received from his mother on his thirteenth birthday. Nirmal Malik had pointed his trembling finger at his mother that day, blaming her for the abnormality she had instilled in the son born to be raised a businessman. Ratna had fallen at the feet of her son, begging him to find a more suitable career to pacify his father's realistic and practical expectations. Arnav had agreed to this for solely his mother, but it did not stop him from slyly collecting money to begin a career and assemble a portfolio to apply for a photography program abroad.
Arnav Singh Raizada's greatest affair was with his Cannon EOS 60dA. How he had slaved those horrific years as a measly accountant to afford that camera, he could never forget. Tracking numbers and transactions, when beyond the four walls of the white tiled room was a world craving to be explored and captured. And soon after, the acceptance came in. UCLA. Full scholarship. Learning amongst the greatest professors of the world. His icons and his inspirations.
Within a few more months, he had earned enough money to buy a cheap plane ticket, and a hastily scribbled resignation letter was found on the old accountant's desk the next day. Lying to his parents about attending a business program abroad, he had set out to achieve his dreams at last. Los Angeles. A photographer's fantasy. The clutch around his camera grew tighter as the roaring blaze of the chugging train wheels was heard in the distance. Here we go, Arnav. Action.
32A. 32A. 32A.
At last he found the dingy seat, the leather wearing and torn, a couple of bugs sprawled across the dirty, greased windows. But what surprised him the most was the woman who sat there, as if she owned the entire bus, let alone his purchased seat. His mother's voice rang faintly somewhere in the distance "Anjali. Achchi ladkiya aise nahiin karti, beta".
The woman sitting in 32A was the epitome of Ratna Raizada's word nightmare. Her hair was wild and shockingly enormous, tight ringlets flying haphazardly till the curve of her hips. It was its own beast. Untamed, as it whipped across her ruddy face as the strong breeze rolled through the half open window. Her feet were clad in masculine combat boots, falling apart with constant wear, resting against the nasty, browned glass. She comfortably lay her back across three mutilated seats instead of one, her legs shaking comfortably up and down out of what he guessed was a habit.
The legs were bare and exposed at ease, in denim shorts that would have surely induced a colorful diatribe from his mother on "those women" who thrived in being a tease. Her breasts were evidently devoid of a bra's support and covered with a loose ACDC shirt, riding up and revealing her torso as she shifted to become more comfortable in her makeshift bed. She shuffled through her extensive collection of music, and nodded her head to the beat he recognized instantly as Nirvana, her dark, kohl rimmed eyes downcast and her red painted lips mouthing the words.
He sat in the seat across from her, observing her emanate that sense of careless and unintended rebellion, his hands itching to focus his camera and capture the enigma that lay before him. But, he had to start somewhere.
"Lake of Fire. Great song."
"You know... ", she mustered, her eyes focused on the small screen of her music player "there's better lines to pick up girls. Oh lord. Cliches"
She swung her legs forward and met him face to face, leaning in to him as if questioning and mocking his noble intentions. "I thought a catch like you would be well trained", she whispered lazily, raising her eyebrows in mock surprise.
He did not hear it. Not a word. The minute he peered into those striking eyes, his grasp on his surroundings faltered. The weight of the camera sudenly strained his hands, pleading him to capture those tinted emeralds permanently within their thirsty lens.
Hazel. The most extraordinary hazel... green and brown, with flecks of gold and grey. How he wished to study their hues and capture them. To hide them permanently within his box of memories... to live with the assurance that he could dig out the print and lose a bit of his sanity at his will.
"HELLO. Please don't pull the staring trick now." She waved a hand in front of his transfixed expression, shifting his vision's focus instantly to something else. Something... equally alarming. The valleyed scars that ran across her pale wrists spoke stories of anguish, hatred and pain. They were engraved into the depths of her being... the testimony of the blade she pierced herself with as a lonesome, young teenager. Unloved. Lonely. Hesitant. Finding solace in the spillage of blood and the pain of physical damage. They were a part of her past. Perhaps her present. The story of her existence.
For the scars adorned his wrist as well.
They were permanent.
"So. You're a cutter"
She hesitated, and something akin to fear immediately filled the previously rebellious eyes. "None of your f**king business", she mustered, as she reassembled the cluster of gold bangles along her wrists.
"I know. But these are." And with that he lifted his cotton sleeve and revealed his own scars of the past... faded and lighter with time... but everlasting. "It's hard to find a niche", he muttered as he lightly traced the faded lines, "but there are so many other things you can do with your hands. You can create life. Essence. Art. Dance. Writing. You can find yourself, express yourself and bare your soul. There is no need to destroy yourself with the two very hands that can revive you. I have learned my lesson... the hard way"
And with that, Arnav picked up his camera and shifted his attention to capturing the shifting scenery outside the blurry window. Frozen by his candid confession, she shifted her gaze towards the craters along her skin, the ominous blade in her back pocket suddenly threatening to bring her trembling to her knees. She was strong. And she was proud of that strength, but she knew she could be stronger. She could live for herself. Determination, long forgotten and alien, coursed through her feeble and abused veins.
And with that, Khushi resumed her previous, horizontal position, digging a novel from the depths of her backpack and scribbling fresh notes in the margin of the aged book. Arnav smiled as he glanced her way. Ernest Hemingway.
As the train reached Delhi, they nodded goodbye in acknowledgment, subtle admittance to the moment they had privately, but undeniably shared. Still unaware of each other's pasts, and even each other's names, they parted ways having shared a rooted bond. With the thought, and perhaps, even the hope, that their paths would cross again.
And somewhere, a few hours later, a battered girl picked up a pen with a quivering hand, and tried to pen a story on paper, the guilty blade in her pocket finally disposed and forgotten. As the ballpoint met the crisp, white surface, relief released her, and the story of a smiling stranger emerged along the lined paper, dancing with the ink of her salvage.
And somewhere, a few hours later, a man printed a photograph from a local convenience store. A stolen photograph, taken without consent or knowledge. A pen between her teeth and a furrow in her brow as she thrived in the unique combination of the intellect of Mr. Hemingway and the spirit of Slipknot. He borrowed a pen and scribbled behind the latest addition to his collection:
Septemer 13th, 2012.
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