Friday, August 31, 2018

दिल्ली

इस कमरे में घर नहीं
इस चादर में रंग नहीं
यहाँ खाने में स्वाद नहीं
यहाँ हवा में साँस नहीं
तुम जानती हो ना
यहाँ दिल्ली मे दिल नहीं
जिस लम्हें में तुम नहीं...

Monday, July 09, 2018

Money! - Short Story


Mumbai.
I am finally in Mumbai. I have heard a lot about the city and also seen it in the movies but it is not the same. One has to breathe the air to truly understand what the city is all about. The wind hitting my face as we drive down is telling me a lot about this incredible city. Mumbai, I feel is all about people in it. It has all kind of people: Rich, poor, movie-stars, cricketers, politicians & criminals. Well, last two can be counted as one.


Mumbai is home to people you will either hate or love. Sachin Tendulkar calls it home, so does Salman Khan. This city has everything, this city has seen everything and today we have met for the first time.


I have heard that Mumbai is a tough city and only the best succeed here. I hope I will also succeed
and become famous like singer Mukesh.

You may be wondering who am I?

I am a criminal and tonight I have committed a crime.
Am I afraid?
May be, I am not sure right now
Is it risky?
Well...yes it is, but don't worry, I am a trained professional criminal and this was not my first
crime!...However, I think this will be my last.
You may want to ask Why?
Money! Plain and simple. For me it's always about money

*************

Unluckily, I was born in a poor family. Not only poor, but a large poor family of seven members
with only one breadwinner. My father sold dahi-vada (snacks) in our village, which obviously
wasn't sufficient to support seven people. Though he tried his best but more or less he failed. He
couldn't provide for our education. I dropped out of school after fourth grade and when things
started getting difficult, my elder brother was sent to nearest city to work as a labourer. He would
save a little and send the money back home. I would help my father in preparing his cart everyday
and some days would assist him in the market. With two earning members we were able to

survive, but still it wasn't enough. Father had to take loan for my elder sister's marriage. Things got

worse from there on. My father would say no to everything I asked for, even for new clothes during

festival.
What kind of father does that?

I think a poor helpless father.


I realized it later but that night when he refused to buy new clothes, we had a bitter fight. I left my home that night and vowed never to come back. I went to the city to stay with my brother and started working with him. I was earning now, Fifty rupees a day! The first day I got my salary, I was so excited that I couldn't decide what should I do with it. I had a peaceful sleep that night, with those fifty rupees under my pillow. I was proud of myself.

'I am a hard-working labourer and I will make it big in this city' I thought as I dozed off.

Next morning, I woke up to the harsh reality of the city life when my brother announced

"From today you have to pay for your own stuff." I was half asleep and he was sitting near my legs
"What stuff?" I asked, trying to open my eyes.
"Your food, clothes, soap, rent everything"
"What rent? We don't live in a house" I was curious.
"Rent for this cot you are sleeping on!" he stoop up and kicked my cot.
"What! Cot is on rent?"
"Yes! What did you think? Some good samaritan left it for you?”

"What is the rent for this old cot?" I was appalled as never even in my wildest dream I would have thought that I have to pay rent for those dreams!
Ten Rupees per night. Now get up and get ready for work, we have to return the cot as well.” My brother walked away after seeing me wide awake.

Rashid Bhai ran the cot-rental business. It was a successful business model as the homeless persons count was always increasing in the city and Rashid Bhai enjoyed a sort of monopoly. He was a willy old man who had been in the city long enough to know how to operate in the city. Within couple of weeks we became friends and since I was regular with my payments, Rashid Bhai gave me occasional discounts.


You know what, a man who has roof over his head when he sleeps at night is a rich man. Rest all are poor.” Rashid Bhai once told me.

Quality of sleep one can afford defines how rich one really is” he continued.

I don't understand, I sleep well here. I don't need a house, this concrete floor is sufficient for me.” I said
Wait for another month! Once summer kicks-in you won't be able to sleep here. You would have to look for a cooler place. You should ask Laalu, he sleeps near canal during those days.”

Laalu was another cot-renter. He delivered newspapers by morning and sold tea near the construction site for rest of the day. I saw him everyday, during my evening tea break.

That place is expensive, you won't be able to afford it” He told me when I asked him about the canal.
I have to pay to sleep there?” I asked the rhetorical question.
Yes dear! It is as good as sleeping in an AC. I would say it is even better. There is no power cut!!”
He started laughing at his own joke.
How much?”
30 bucks, cot extra”
What the hell! That's ridiculous” I was exasperated.

That was the moment when I realized what Rashid Bhai meant. I was poor.

To die poor is stupidity!” Laalu declared while we were lying on our cots near the lake. He had partially funded my sleep on that hot summer night. “What can we do my friend?” I asked him hopelessly.


Who else will do, only you can change your destiny?” Laalu angrily responded back.

I didn't know how to answer to that barb but thought it was the right time to ask one question that had been bothering me for past few days.
Laalu Bhai , if you don't mind can I ask you a question?” He grunted a yes.
Is there good money in newspaper delivery and tea business?”
He stared at me as he understood what I really wanted to know but didn't give a direct answer. “It is sufficient to live in the city my friend” He responded
Can you help me make a little more, so that I also have sufficient to live?” I posed another indirect question.
What can you do?”
I will do anything” There was a desperation in my voice which he noticed
Anything?” He confirmed again.
Yes!” This time my answer was firm.
Tomorrow we will discuss about this. Let's sleep now!” He adjusted the pillow and closed his eyes. I did the same except I couldn't sleep the whole night. The only thought in my head was 'I will not die poor!'

Next day he introduced me to his little dark side. Laalu was part of a three member gang which used to rob houses. Laalu's job was to find out houses to rob, which he successfully did during his day job – houses where newspaper wasn't picked up for two-three days were the obvious target. Once the house was finalized other two members used to break in and rob the house. Rewards were proportional to the risk hence Laalu's share wasn't much. I proposed an equal partnership to him and asked him to be a look-out when I broke in the houses. He happily accepted my offer and told me about a house which he had recently surveyed. 
We robbed the house that very night. Our loot was sufficient to last three months but we spent it all in a month. We ate sumptuous meals, watched latest movies and slept near the lake for entire summer. It was the best month of my life.

I think money is the most addictive thing in the entire world. It makes a man do things which he will probably never do if he had sufficient money. Also, for an addict no amount of money is ever sufficient. I wasn't an addict yet. We robbed one house or shop every month and it was sufficient for us, but when opportunity came to make some more I couldn't say no.

We were having our dinner when Laalu said “Festival season is coming” “Are you going to your village?” I asked
Are you crazy, this is the time to work more.”
I was confused and it was visible on my face hence Laalu explained like a teacher.
During festival people go to their villages, leaving their houses, so that good fellows like you and me can rob them. Do you understand now or shall I write it down for you?” I simply nodded while he continued

Last year with those two morons I robbed ten houses in four days. You must have read about it in newspaper. It was on the first page, they called us Festive Robbers. The best part was I only delivered that newspaper to those ten houses.” Laalu had a wicked smile on his face. “This year we have to break that record my friend.” He announced.
Sure” seeing his excitement I didn't want to argue.

We robbed four houses on day one and were confident that we will break last year's record. On second day we robbed another four houses. As the collection on second day wasn't great we decided to break into another house. As soon as we entered the living room someone switched on the lights.

Don't move else I will shoot your head off” thundered a loud voice. 

Both of us turned to find a six foot tall and muscular Major Rana standing in the middle of the room with his military rifle pointed towards our head. He looked like someone capable of blowing our heads. Even if he didn't had the rifle he could have beaten us to death. I looked at Laalu, he was sweating like a pig and as his eyes met mine he started crying.

Please forgive us sir...we are poor...look at our clothes sir...we don't have anything to eat...we came here looking for some food...please don't kill us...please sir...I beg you...for god's sake...forgive us.”


Laalu was now lying flat on his belly with his hands outstretched, joined together, asking for forgiveness. I was still standing with my hands up. Interestingly, the rifle was still pointing towards Laalu.


Shut up you idiot! Don't lie to me. Now get up before I shoot you, I don't want my new marble floor to be all bloodied up.” Laalu wiped his fake tears and stood up.
You have two choices. One, you go to jail. Two you don't go to jail and do what I ask you to do. Now tell me what you want to do?”
All three of us knew answer to that question.
Major Rana sat on the sofa while we first cleaned his house, washed his clothes and then Laalu made tea for him and I cooked him breakfast. As promised, he did let us go but not before warning
us that next time if he sees us in the neighbourhood he would probably kill us.
Headlines in next morning's paper read “Festive Robbers Shot and Caught” with images of Laalu's ex-partners. We knew we couldn't stay in the city. We knew we couldn't continue robbing like this.

We moved to other city, decided to buy fire-arms and upgrade ourselves to armed robberies.
I won't die a poor man” Laalu declared when we were looking for suitable guns in the gun-shop.
I won't either. Not in this life, even if I have to kill someone for it.” I was also determined.
Yes, In this life only. God is anyway not going to grant us any riches in heaven” Laalu said.

Now I can say, our lives changed when we stepped out of that shop. We met a few volunteers of a group- a big criminal group, way above our league. They were looking for new recruits. They promised to take care of us while we were part of the group and also of our families in case we die. We decided to join them. Initially we were trained together but after few weeks we got separated into sub-groups. That was the last time I saw Laalu, my only true friend in this world.

I had twenty-five members in my sub-group. We were given special training in multiple locations. On one of such locations I thought I saw Major Rana but I wasn't sure. Even if I was sure, I would have looked the other way.

Once the training was over, few of us were sent to Mumbai and that's how today I landed in this amazing city.

*************

Today Dera Bhai was my partner in crime. We reached CST railway station at around 9:20 PM. We were running late as our plan was to reach there by 9 PM. Dera Bhai checked his bags one last time while I was continuously looking at my watch almost every ten seconds.

Stop looking at your watch, we are on time. Just follow my lead, we will go to passenger area first” Dera Bhai commanded

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

I pulled out my AK 47 rifle at the count of one and started shooting in the room. The first bullet hit a girl who was talking to someone on phone. I saw her body hit the ground, she had a butterfly tattoo on her forearm which was now covered in her blood. I had murdered her. I murdered her and others in that room for some money that my family will hopefully get. I continued shooting till the last person was alive in that room.

Once the shooting stopped, Dera Bhai patted my back and said “Very well done Kasab! Let's move to platforms now. Remember my friend, for this God will grant you riches in heaven.”

Friday, May 04, 2018

For Mridula - A Short Story

'Daughter'
'Wife'
'Mother'
'Home-maker'

Writing each word on her old writing-pad evoked a memory.
'Nostalgia' She whispered to herself. Smile broke on her lips as she recalled the Greek origin of the word while looking at her hand. She was in mild pain but she picked up the pen and wrote

'Shalini?'

*****************
*****************

"Hi...Are you Prashant?"
"Yes...and you must be Shalini" He promptly responded and got up from his chair. He had a pleasant smile on his face. 
She was looking around. "Shall we take the sofas?" She asked

"Sure. I haven't ordered anything yet"
"Sorry! I am late. I was stuck in traffic. You know how bad it gets when it rains" She explained as she settled down in the comfortable sofas of Cafe Coffee Day. He simply nodded. 

"So how do you know Ruchika?"
"Well, she is a friend's friend and we met during a seminar last week." Prashant answered.

Ruchika was Shalini's room-mate and she was the one who had set them up for this blind date. Shalini agreed only because she got tired of Ruchika's constant pestering for three days. Her only condition was that she would choose the place. The new CCD was Shalini's favourite. She had often visited that outlet and hence it was an obvious choice for a blind date. Her love for the smell of coffee beans brought her to the cafe at-least twice every week. She would sit there for hours, sipping coffee, reading book or writing something. She even knew the entire staff of the cafe.

"Ok, and why did you agreed for this?" Shalini asked another question
"Well...Ruchika convinced me...convinced me a lot" Prashant answered and looked at Shalini for a reaction.
"That I am pretty sure of" Shalini responded with a straight face which soon broke into a laughter Prashant also managed to laugh with her. Some of his nervousness was gone.

He was completely relaxed by their fourth date, which was also in CCD.
"You have a beautiful name" Prashant remarked
"Shalini Bhonsle??"
"Just Shalini...Bhonsle is a distraction" Prashant quipped.
"Well, I am named after my great great great... grandmother. This name has been in the family for a very long time"
"That's lovely" Prashant said.
"It is!" Shalini said with a smile.
"You know what else is lovely?" Prashant asked
"What?"
"This scarf of yours. I am guessing blue is your favourite colour"
"Not really, but you are right I love this scarf. This is the first thing I bought for myself from my
first salary" Shalini said.
"It looks beautiful on you"
"It's silk!" Shalini proudly mentioned.

"So, what are you working on these days? Prashant asked sipping his Cappuccino.
"I am writing a piece on Gulzaar Sahab, it is due this week."
"When will you write about yourself?"
"Why? What do you want to know Mr. Prashant?"Shalini asked with a raised eyebrow. "Everything!"

Shalini worked as a column writer in a national daily. Writing was therapeutic for her. She could write on the smallest of the paper. Sight of a blank page urged her to write. One of the reason she liked Prashant was that he took interest in her writing. She considered him her true critic. He never minced his words, someone who would call a spade a spade. Shalini realized this when on their first trip, he proposed to her in the most romantic setting; watching sunrise at a beach; in the most unromantic way possible.

"Shalini I like you and I don't think I will find someone more compatible and more comfortable
than you...I don't know how to define love. I will be honest, I don't think about you all the time but
when I do, I feel happy. When you are not in town, I miss you as well. May be this is love, may be
it's not. I want to marry you. What are your thoughts on this?" Prashant was out of breath when he
finished his monologue.
"Yes!"
"Yes what?" Prashant was bundle of nerves.
"Yes, I want to marry you... you had me at 'I like you'" Shalini replied with a wide grin on her face.
She planted a kiss on Prashant's cheek.

They were married within two months. Convincing the parents was not difficult as both the families respected their children's choice. Convincing Ruchika to keep quiet wasn't. She was the one who danced the most at their wedding and made sure that everyone knew how she played cupid. She got quiet only after she met Arun, Prashant's cousin. They really hit it off. They were married in 6 months but Shalini and Prashant couldn't attend their wedding as Prashant had to go for a year long on-site project.

As Shalini went on a dependent visa, Prashant encouraged her to write. "Why don't you write a book?" Prashant suggested one day over breakfast. "I don't have a story yet!"
"Write your own story sweetheart"
"That story is still unfolding. I will start writing it when I hit 40. Let me enjoy this housewife phase"
"You will get bored, that's why I am suggesting this."
"Don't worry, I'll pick up some freelancing work over net"

She did pick up four writing assignments and delivered three of them. Though the work wasn't satisfying, it kept her busy. She was happier travelling to new places. In a year they covered a total of seven countries and Shalini shared travelogues on her blog. Her blog's popularity grew and she had a good reader base by the year end. She planned to make it a full time venture when they returned to India but something unplanned happened. They got pregnant.

"Are you ready to be a father?" Shalini asked the first question after ten minutes of silence.
"It's not about me, not only about me. You should be making this decision as it probably changes a lot of things for you than it does for me" Prashant responded after thinking for a minute or so. "I am making the decision, now tell me, are you ready to be a father?"
"Honestly, I don't think I will ever be 'ready' but when I think about it I will surely be happy becoming a father someday. It will be challenging but I think together we should be able manage. What do you think?"
Shalini smiled, kissed Prashant and announced "We are having this baby!"
They moved back to India after a month. Both set of parents were extremely happy when Shalini and Prashant broke the news to them. Both mothers took turn in helping them out in settling back and prepare for child birth. Shalini dropped the idea of her venture but wrote a few post on her blog. She stopped in the eighth month of pregnancy, when baby started kicking. Baby would kick in night keeping Shalini and Prashant awake and chatting.
"Prashant, this is the most beautiful chapter in my life's story" Shalini said while she was lying on the recliner couch.
"Really? Even better than our dating days" Prashant jokingly asked.
"Yes!"
"Oh, so where would you rank our dating days, wedding, honeymoon etc?" Prashant frowned 
"There is no ranking but don't worry there will be lots of pages for you in my book."

"I am not worried. I am sure that I will be mentioned before this baby" Prashant smiled but it didn't last.
"That's true but I can introduce you in the first chapter and can make the rest of the book only about the baby and me" Shalini quipped.
"...also we were supposed to choose the name for the baby by now, what about that Mister?"

Baby Mridula was born the next month. Prashant painted the room himself. First year was challenging as they expected but they had support from the families. It got easier after that. Mridula kept Shalini busy and Shalini tried her best to be a great mother. Mridula grew up a cheerful and obedient child, a bit like her mother and a bit like her father. Prashant's job kept him busy and Shalini encouraged him to be more ambitious and worry less about home. She was a confident home-maker by Mridula's 5th birthday.

Before Mridula's 6th birthday Shalini lost her father. She was devastated but she hid all her feelings and remained strong for her mother. It took them nearly six months to overcome the grief. Shalini asked her mother to move in with them but she refused. Shalini knew the reason. She wouldn't have either.

Next five years passed quickly, two of which were spent abroad as Prashant accepted a long term project. Mridula took some time to adjust but when the time came to return to India, she was least happy about it.
They bought a new house by the time Mridula was eleven. Shalini lost her mother the same year. It broke her. This time she didn't hide her emotions and Prashant was there for her. Shalini overcame the grief but she wasn't the same. Prashant knew he had to do something. 

"Shall we go for a vacation?" Prashant asked during dinner.
"Sure" Shalini was lost in her thoughts
"Dad, I will help you plan!" Mridula also knew her mother needed a break. 
They went to Goa for a five day trip, fifth day was Shalini's birthday.

"Happy birthday Mom!" Mridula shouted as the clock struck midnight. Prashant lit the candle on the cake which was discreetly brought in by Mridula. He kissed Shalini's forehead and said "Happy birthday sweetheart! Welcome to Forties club! Now you owe me that book you promised." 
"I don't know if I can Prashant..."
"Mom writes books?" Mridula asked
"She had planned to write one when she turned forty" Prashant answered while gulping a big piece of cake.
"Please Mom, Write it!" Mridula pleaded.
"I don't know Mridu whether I can write an entire book"
"Then write a short story! I would love to read."
'Don't know whether I can write at all' Shalini wanted to say but she only smiled.

When they got back Shalini felt better than before. She would smile and talk to Mridula and
Prashant for hours but when she was alone all she thought about was the finiteness of time and life. Prashant tried his best to keep her in good mood all the time. During lunch hours he would her call up from office.

"Done with your lunch?" was Shalini's first question as she picked up the phone. "Yes! Daal Tadka was amazing. What are you doing?" Prashant asked "I am slicing apples for apple-pie"
"Wow! That's awesome. I will be home early and please don't tell Mridu about the pie" "Ok, I won't. Now finish your work. Bye!" Shalini hung-up with a smile on her face

She picked up the knife and a fresh apple. Still thinking about Prashant's child like exuberance, she accidentally made a deep cut on her left palm. She was bleeding but surprisingly didn't feel much pain at that point of time. She washed her hand and put a band-aid strip over the cut. She again picked up the knife but wasn't able to hold apple in the injured hand
She got up and went to bedroom to find something to cover the left hand. She digged in her old purse to find a handkerchief but pulled out a larger piece of cloth. It was her blue scarf.
'Shall I use this?' she thought
'How can you use this?' her thoughts replied.

She kept the knife on bed and turned the purse upside down. There was a pen, a writing pad, few bills, coffee beans and her copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. There was no handkerchief. 
She got up and went to her dresser. She wrapped the blue scarf across her neck. 
The reflection looked familiar. 
She felt the cloth; it was silk. 
She smelt it; it was coffee. 
She knew what she had to do.
She put everything lying on bed back in her old purse and stepped out of the house. She drove down to the best coffee place she knew.

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. She tore the first page of writing pad, where she had scribbled something and started writing on the fresh page

For Mridula - A Short Story

'It was raining that day. I walked into Cafe Coffee Day and there he was. I went to him and asked


"Hi...Are you Prashant?"


Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Brave - Short Story


Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!

But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn't working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.

'I am sick of this!' she grunted loudly. 'I am a human being, why am I being treated like Gauri' she looked at her cow grazing nearby. She was furious because last evening she was again 'paraded' before prospective groom's family.

"Why can't I decide when I shall marry, whom I shall marry?" She argued with her mother. This was the fourth rejection and her mother was upset with her for not dressing up properly for the occasion.

"No you can't, you don't know anything. This is how it has been and how it will be" Shalinibai was in no mood for debate.

"No Aai (Mother), it wasn't like that, Sita ji chose her own groom. Baba (Father) told me this" Ilaa tried to reason with her mother.

"Shut up Ilaa, you are no Sita and your Baba is no Raja Janak. No Ram ji is going to come to your swayamvar. Look at yourself!"

Ilaa looked like an average sixteen year old. She was taller than most of the girls in Sauviragram and probably duskier than all of the girls in Sauviragram.

"Why are you talking like that, Shalu? Bheemji Jadhav tried to interfere, but was shut up by Shalinibai's response

"You! I don't want to talk to you. It's all your fault. You had to send her to school. All this non-sense she talks all day is result of that. Her skin has also darkened with all that roaming in the Sun."

"Now who will marry her? Tell me wise man!"
Bheemji had no answer and he didn't want to argue with Shalinibai when she was this angry. He simply went out of the house, symbolizing a silent protest.

"Listen to me Ilaa! This year you won't go to Cotton market. Your Baba can manage on his own. You will stay at home and will help me with household chores. You will learn a thing or two. This is where you belong"

"But Aai..."

"That's enough Ilaa, I don't want to hear a word more. By God's grace the cotton production is good this year. Once we sell this season's cotton, I am getting you married to Shyamji's son. I think we should be able to meet his demands"

With that remark Ilaa knew her fate was sealed. Shyamji was the richest farmer in the village and he had asked for half of Bheemji's farm in dowry. Last year Ilaa somehow managed to convince her parents not to agree to Shyamji's demands. Since the crop wasn't good last year, they reluctantly agreed.

Entire year, while working in cotton fields, all Ilaa thought of was the annual cotton market. She had always loved the market. As a child, she would accompany Bheemji and help him in whatever way possible. She loved to see merchants from Paithan, dressed in colorful clothing.

Once she asked her Baba "Why don't you wear such clothes?"

"We are not rich like them my little Princess" Bheemji gave an honest reply.

"Don't worry Baba, one day I will buy such clothes for you!"

Those words stayed with her and every year she spent time in the market to learn new things about cotton and its trade. She was sharp with her calculations and picked up the nuances of the trade by her 15th Birthday. Last year she also learnt about weaving and dyeing. This year she wanted to try a few things in the market to earn more.

Shalinibai's instructions were resonating in her head and were erasing that dream, like a sea-wave erasing the writing on sand.

'May be I will also end up like you Gauri' Ilaa discouragingly spoke to her cow.

She got up, grabbed the rope by which Gauri was tied and started walking towards her cotton field. She knew others would have started the work but she wasn't worried as she was the quickest when it came to picking cotton from the plants. According to her calculation, the bales would be ready at least one week before any merchant from Paithan arrived in Sauviragram.

She was still mulling over how she can avoid getting married to Shyamji's son, she saw a man walking towards her. A handsome man with beard and vermillion on forehead. He had a horse, a sword and was wearing nice colorful clothes.

'Must be from Paithan' Ilaa thought.

"Is this the way to Paithan?" Man asked.

"No, it's the other way. From the next Banyan tree take a left" Ilaa answered. There was something about the man which made Ilaa more inquisitive.

"Who are you? Is that your horse?" Ilaa asked as the man turned around.

"I am the…I am a soldier and this…Yes this is my horse" Man surprised by the question, fumbled with words.

"Name?"

"Well! His name is Krushna"

"And yours?" Ilaa was firing questions one after another.

"Mine...my name is Shanker"

Ilaa was sure he was lying.

"How about you?" It was man's turn to ask question

"Well, my name is Kaashi and this is my cow Gauri and this is our village" Ilaa replied in almost single breath. "We are going in the same direction, you can walk with me and Gauri"

Man started walking along side Ilaa.

"What brings you to our village Shanker?" Ilaa asked.

"I am looking for some soldiers to join our infantry"

"But here everyone is a farmer. You won't find any suitable man here" Ilaa responded.

"Why? Farmer can't fight?" Man asked.

"They are not meant to fight" Ilaa replied.

"Oh! So they are meant to work in fields. May I know, what are you meant to do in life?"

"Well, I am probably meant to get married and 'excel' in household chores" Ilaa commented sarcastically.

"I am assuming you don't want to do that" Man stopped in his tracks and looked at Ilaa.

"No!" Ilaa almost shouted at him.

"Why? What is wrong with that?"

"I want to work, I want to earn and not just bear children of some rich farmer's son" Ilaa was getting furious.

"I disagree with you Kaashi. Being a mother is not easy. It may not earn you anything but it requires equal amount work and dedication. My mother raised me on her own and I can tell you for sure that motherhood is probably the most selfless and most difficult job in this world. It is not as easy as you are thinking right now"

Ilaa had no counter-argument to man's response. It made her think and she realized she was wrong in her assessment of motherhood. She felt a bit ashamed making that remark. She kept looking down avoiding eye-contact with the man.

"Let's walk, Banyan tree is not far now" Man tried to change the topic

Ilaa silently started walking along.

"Alright tell me this, what kind of work you want to do"

"Your mother is very brave, just like Sita ji" Ilaa said

"Yes! Just like Sita ji raised Luv and Kush, my mother also raised me" man replied with a smile.

Ilaa smiled back.

"I would love to work in cotton market, I want to create beautiful clothes from the cotton we grow in the field and sell the clothes instead of cotton" Ilaa started sharing her ideas.

"So will you create clothes for me?" man asked.

"No! Have you seen merchants from Paithan?" Ilaa responded

"No, Why?"

"Merchants from Paithan wear nice colorful clothes. Now if men wear such nice clothes, I am very sure that women of Paithan would die for beautiful clothes. Also, I have noticed that men don't spend much on themselves but would buy expensive clothes for their women. So Shanker ji, I wouldn't create clothes for you. I will create beautiful clothes for women" Ilaa was excited revealing her entire plan to a complete stranger. A plan which she had kept secret for a year now.

"I must say, that's a very good observation and I think it will work if your clothes are beautiful" Man remarked.

"I am very confident that it will work. I have even thought of different designs I will weave" Ilaa replied.

"From my experience of travelling in this region, I would suggest you to include peacock in your designs, it is considered auspicious by almost everyone in this region" Man gave his inputs

"Thank you, I will keep this in mind" Ilaa replied

"So we have reached the great Banyan tree" Man said looking at the giant Banyan tree by the bank of Godavari.

"It was really nice talking you Kaashi. I will take your leave now" He said.

"Wait! I have one more problem" Ilaa almost grabbed his hand but restrained herself.

"Tell me"

"Doing business, isn't it a man's job? How can I do this?" Ilaa said.

"What is the purpose of business?" he asked

"To create wealth" she replied

"Whom do all these men pray to for good business?"

Ilaa was blank. He went on with his explanation

"Goddess of wealth. Lakshmi ji! So when all the men pray to a women for prosperity and wealth, I don't see a reason why a woman can't run a business. Who can stop her?"

Ilaa's doubts were cleared. She had a smile on her face.

"You look determined" He said

"Yes I am" She said

"Good. So next time I am here I will collect my payment" He said with a half-smile "Payment?" Ilaa was puzzled.

"Advices don't come cheap!" He said and started laughing. Ilaa laughed with him. "Sure! I will make a beautiful Paithani for your mother" "It's a deal"

"But what if my business doesn't take off?"

"Well in that case you can join our battalion, we can surely have someone making strategies for us"

"I would be a failed business woman in that case"

"As I see it, you would be an experienced business woman"

"Does your battalion accepts everyone - farmers, experienced business woman...”

"I am looking for brave souls, Kaashi" Ilaa thought of correcting him, revealing her correct name but she couldn't.

He climbed his horse and as the horse started gaining pace he shouted

"...and trust me you are brave. One in hundred. One-in-hundred of Sauviragram!"