By Hirra Sultan
Stuck. Where? No idea. It was road till eyes could see. No civilization as far as eyes could catch a view. All that gave company were other vehicles. All queued up to move forward on a road where all wheels had ceased motion. Cold as the night was and dark as the hopes, the probability of moving out of the situation seemed zero. Maybe, they would remain stuck for days together. After all it was NH1.
NH1. It does not signify a national highway, but uncertainty. Where before leaving you think a thousand times. Call up helplines to know the status. Verify there are no landslides, no encounters. This may sound like an exaggeration but is this not reality? Are people not stuck due to bad condition of the road that pops up suddenly? Or due to a security beef up? Or because someone tried to take a turn and could not. And with him, every other being gets to suffer. Is this not the narrowest highway? Congested?
They had been early to start. So that any delay may not cause an impact on their schedule. It had been a smooth journey till a few kilometres. And then, they got stuck in a traffic jam. Roads were congested like never before. Vehicles stood still. It seemed to be an eternity. No way out of it. And the biting cold. Perfect conditions for being depressed. The chilly winter winds were piercing their skin, rendering them cold. What if hypothermia set in? There would be no way to avert such a condition or even treat it. Fear.
With nothing else to do, they all started sharing their stories with others. Along with the driver, there were six other people. They all hailed from different professions. Different lives. Different stories.
Person 1. Age: 19-21
Puffing a cigarette he mentioned his passion. Interiors. He loved doing interiors. He would have loved to pursue it further and develop a career out of it. It would have been the best thing for him. After all he had natural instincts in this. Revealing his desire to parents was a big task. He did not know how they would react. What they would say. Would they permit him or not. And yes, the worst fears turned true. His decision was rebuked. “You are a kid, what do you know about life? Do you even have slightest idea about what you are saying? Interiors? You must be kidding us. There is no profession like this. People would call you a painter at most. A casual labourer. Do you want to bring shame to the family by doing this? Painting peoples’ homes makes no living!”
It was not what they assumed it to be. And what had he got to do with peoples’ perception of his job? He could do anything with his life. Choose any profession. But no. He forgot that society does not give anyone such liberties. Professions are chosen by the society not concerned person. He tried all possible ways to convince his parents. In vain! Giving up, he chose to graduate in engineering. Civil Engineering. After all, there are job openings almost every year. And has good marriage market too. Away from home. Because he could not bear the voices in the house. How they repeatedly called him a loser. He had given up his love for society. Shame on him. Pain. Tears. Cigarettes.
Person 2. Age: 22-27
He did not have a story anymore. He was one who would pursue things on intuition. Help strangers. Go with whatever his heart told him. He never gave things a second thought. More often than not he would be criticized. “Why do you go for everything your heart wants you to?” He knew he was doing right. Helping those who needed them. Sometimes even going over the board for them. But why? Compassion.
This was what made him feel alive. This was what his life was. But this turned his life hell. Whenever something went wrong he was blamed for it. Society had been up in arms against him.
“Why did he save that dog?” “Why did he keep that bird?” His ears would ring with whys and blames. He was culprit for anything and everything. But why? Because society’s nature is sadistic. They could not see a suffering person smile and recover. They could not see a person prosper more than them. They could not bear a person of low social status to earn more than them; or hold an office. Society took pleasure in people’s tears and painful cries. Sadists. He did not belong there. Fled away.
Person 3. Age: 28-30
Sighing heavily. He did not know where to start from. Childhood had given him a close friend. A girl in neighbourhood. They grew up together. Nobody objected. And they grew closer everyday. Closer than siblings. What was it that she did not know about him? Nothing. She was aware of every secret, every mischief, everything. They had been in love ever since.
They did not even need to confess this. They could read it in each other’s eyes. The guy’s family was keen to marry him early. He had a job, a satisfactory salary. What else did he need to settle down? Hearing this he was tempted to reveal his love to them.
As he did, he assumed everyone would be happy with this. They knew the family and the girl very well. Everyone would adjust easily. But does life fulfill every desire?
Yeah! They denied. The reason? Her family was not at par with theirs. They belonged to higher hierarchy of the society. And the girl’s family occupied lower strata. This was no match. He pleaded but to no avail. They were firm on their stand. And if he married anyone else would he not be betraying her? Not able to decide what to do, he applied to job far away from his place. If he could not marry her, he would not marry anyone else. Ever.
Person 4. Age: 30-35
He was silent. No words could do justice to his story. It was more about emotions than about words. Empathy. He had a baby few years ago. Greatest joy anyone could experience. It brought the whole family together. Everyone was glad. Overjoyed. Being the first child he was highly pampered. The apple of everyone’s eyes. Beloved. He could get permission for anything and everything. Freedom. They did not want to put limits. “Let him do whatever he wants and learn his own lessons.”
Maybe this was where his parenting went wrong. He was betrayed by his own decision. His kid, some 3-4 years old, was roaming in the by-lanes of his locality. Going over to play with other friends.
This turned out to be his last stroll in those lanes. Some gunned people beat him for no mistake of his. And when they were done with breaking his bones, they shot him right in the head. Point blank range. Cold-blooded murder. He saw his son in that pool of blood. The wounds on his body. His tattered clothes. He did not even know how to react. Should he wail loud? Should he shout? Blank. Shattered. “Smallest coffins are the heaviest.”
Person 5. Age: 20-25. Female
Her face revealed her pain. Distress. She had dreams of being a travel writer. She had loved both travelling and writing. What other profession would suit her better? Determined. She knew from her very childhood what she desired of this life. Her career would be fun. Her dream.
She described it to her parents. Their reaction was bizarre. They did not want her to do this. Not till she was with them. So they asked her to get married and do whatever she desires after that. It would be difficult to find a groom according to your career choices otherwise.
She did not want to get married this early. But an understanding husband was her only chance. Before agreeing to get married she talked to the guy about her dreams. All he did was smile back. She took it for a yes and went ahead with the proposal. When she mentioned her dream after marriage he laughed it over. “Were you serious? I thought you were kidding!”
She was not kidding. Trapped. Her parents had not mentioned this thing to the groom. And now he won’t let her go after it. He had a family and she had to take care of everyone there. Responsibility. She was shocked out of her wits. Her giggles and happiness died that day.
Person 6. Age >50
Being eldest amongst this small group, his story was expected to be full of wisdom. What he revealed was naked truth. An eyesore. He had fathered two kids. Did everything he could. Belonging to a poor family he could not do much. But he definitely did more than he could bear the expenses for.
He worked many hours at a stretch to fetch his children the things they demanded. But all they saw was unsatisfied demands. Not the efforts their father had to put in. Greedy. They would be easily tempted by anything and everything. And they expected their poor father to provide them all that the rich kids had. He did all he could.
But it never satisfied them. As they grew up to be better off than their parents, he expected them to be thankful. Instead they treated their parents as burden. Never spoke to them in a pleasing manner. Probably they awaited their death. The setback of kids not talking caused heartbreak.
His wife died of a broken heart. Stress cardiomyopathy. Her death was a blow. She took care of his needs. Who would be concerned about him now? He took up a new job and shifted out of his kids’ place. Alone. Rejected.
It was late now. The traffic jam was cleared. Empty roads. The cab moved on fast. Trying to compensate for the lost time. Soon enough they reached their destination. Bade each other farewell. Parted. Leaving their stories with the driver. Caretaker of secrets. A vault for strangers.
(An aspiring storyteller, Hirra Sultan is a B.Tech student)