Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather

“JAAGO is not just a group of businessmen, it is an emotion. It is a saga, of members of our community coming together to…”  The speaker spoke with habitual ease. His plump hands rested on the podium, jewel studded rings adorning his chubby fingers.

In his comfort zone, like a tomcat by the fireside, Mauli smiled wryly, stealing a glance at her friend, Chandu, sitting next to her. Chandu rolled her eyes, pretending to stifle a yawn. 

There were a dozen round tables, with chairs encircling each. A crystal vase sat in the centre of each table, with roses yellow and white. A bowl of candy sat beside it. Candy wrappers were strewn all over. Audience members fidgeted with their phones, occasionally jerking their heads, as the rotund speaker dramatically lowered and raised his baritone. The 5-star air-conditioned hall was lit brightly. Chandeliers dangled from its high ceiling, their light reflected off the diamonds studded rings and bracelets of the ten elderly gentlemen sitting in a row, on the dais. Birds of a feather, Mauli mulled.

A round of applause revived the marauding attention of the audience. The men alighted from the dais, as few young men scattered across the hall made way to the stage. Jiyo re bahubali, crooned the voice from the speakers, amid thumping drum beats.

As the speaker raised his hand, the music abruptly stopped. “I, as the President of JAAGO, proudly present to you the next generation of leaders, representing our youth wing. I call upon the President of JAAGO JAVAAN, Mr Vaibhav Mundada to introduce his team for this year.”

Amid applause intermittently spiced with Jiyo re baahubali repetitions, dashing leaders were introduced. Their photographs with the industries enterprises they owned flashed on the screen behind them. 

Launch-pad for start-ups, medical insurance, scholarships, business networks, matrimony; the daughter forums of JAAGO were variegated. The microphone crackled as the stubbled speaker exaggeratedly introduced, “Please put your hands together for the treasurer of JAAGO JAVAAN, our very own blue-eyed boy, Ronnie Kasliwal!” 

A dapper young man in a red suit and bow-tie sauntered to the podium, winking at his buddies, chewing gum plastered against his lower molars. Fox, Mauli sized him up. His speech with its swirling rrrrs, and lumbering ells nudged Chandu out of her boredom. He concluded his speech with “We willlll never lllet our brrrotherrrs sufferrrr forr want of financiall aid! 

Chandu sniggered, “What about sisterrrrs?” 

“Ah, theorraticallly yes, sisterrrs as well” A silken baritone startled Chandu. 

She turned around to see a bespectacled man looking at her amusedly. Dressed in a simple checked blue shirt, his plain features could not conceal his razor sharp eyes. He greeted her with a ‘Namaste,’ before introducing himself.

“I am Yatharth, a software engineer.”

“And I am Sambhav Oswal, his son. I am not a software engineer.” A six year old boy, dressed in a pink kurta shook Chandu’s hand.

Chandu laughed out loud, excitedly shaking hands. “I am Chandralekha, a veterinary doctor.”

A middle aged man on the next table susurated.

“Ooo that’s awesome. Dad, can we ask her for coffee?” The young lad inquired in a very hushed tone.

“Coffee is our Labrador.” Yatharth clarified, the crow’s feet around his eyes deepening with amusement. “He has these itchy patches on his back.”

“Why don’t you bring him for a consultation?” Chandu handed out her business card.

“New to Pune?” Yatharth enquired, as he read the card.

“ Umm..Shifted back recently.” Chandu smiled, turning her attention back to the phony accented speaker.

Mauli scanned the room. As with the previous meetings, the absence of women was jarring. There were only two other women, drop dead gorgeous, dressed in business suits, accompanying their husbands. The men on the dais, just like the ones off it, intermittently glanced at the door that led to the buffet. The enticing aroma of Butter-Paneer triggered massive salivation, garrulous noises emanating from protruding tummies. Her brother, Sharan, sat among the boisterous small-time leaders of the youth wing, a sugar-coated smile plastered to his face. 

The last speaker concluded, “We hereby declare the JAAGO Professionals’ wing open for memberships. Let us avail…”The last few words of the speaker were drowned in premature applause, as the buffet was laid open for all.

Navigating through the maze of ravenous guests and buffet counters, Mauli and Chandu managed to locate Mr Harish Kasliwal, awaiting his turn at the Pizza counter. He greeted the ladies enthusiastically, “Dynamic young ladies of JAAGO! Let me introduce you to our patron members.”

He licked his fingers before patting them on their shoulders, precariously balancing his over-laden dish in the other hand. “Meet Mrs..uh..Miss Mauli Biyani, a Chartered accountant with Jhaveri Finances; and Dr Chandralekha Maheshwari, a veteran!”

Chandu interjected, “No sir, you are a veteran. I am a veterinary doctor!”

“Ofcoure, eh, heh, veterans, your patients. My bad!”  Mr Kasliwal shrugged his fat shoulders.

“Never! I would never be able to treat you…” Cha du felt a sharp tug in her palm, forcing her to withhold her caustic tongue just for a moment. Mauli accosted her as a gentleman exchanged pleasantries with the veteran.

“They have recently joined our group and are enthusiastically shouldering responsibilities.”Mr Kasliwal resumed another round of introductions.

“Finally, Goddess Lakshmi has arrived to grace our group! Welcome!” An elderly gentleman in crisp white seemed pleased with himself for having accorded such a warm welcome.

“Sir, can we have a guest lecture on financial planning next month?” Mauli suggested, as the President planted two oversized pieces of Butter-Naan on his plate.

“Good idea. Let’s ask the youth wing co-ordinators to rope in a professional guy.”

Chandu cleared her throat most indiscreetly, as Mauli persisted, “I could volunteer myself, you know. Infact, at my firm…” The president interrupted her, and then paused to lick the gravy off his fingers.

“Oh yes, why you don’t arrange one for the Women’s Wing? I believe they have a meet next week, isn’t it, Dhanpat?” Mr Kasliwal suddenly seemed to give in to the Gulab-Jamun’s cry for attention.

***

The same air-conditioned hall appeared livelier and noisier.. As she looked at the women in resplendent jewellery and impeccably draped sarees, Chandu wondered if she was directing her efforts in the wrong direction. After shifting back with her parents, heartbroken over the debacle of her marriage of seven years, her work had been her solace. Pursuing her childhood hobby of dance, exploring her fascination for rock climbing, or time; she was not sure what healed her. But heal she did, enough to want to seek out opportunities for professional and personal growth. Taking out time for community service was on her mind as well, so this group identified as a perfect opportunity. Or was it?

“ Damn, Mauli! How much longer?” Chandu swore. Mauli had called her moments earlier, to inform she’d be late. Samarth was throwing a tantrum of epic proportions, she said.

 Chandu circumambulated the hall with satirical attention. The setting looked perfect for a kitty party. Women dressed to impress, each scrutinizing the other after the customary greeting hug. The hall seemed to be divided into two sections; mothers and daughters, in law. The dividing line, albeit not physical, was sharp. Everything from pleasantries to recipes, smiles to sarcasm, gyaan to gossip was being exchanged.

“ Chandralekha?” A voice startled her.

“Namaste. I am Mrs.Malti Somany, President of JAAGO NAARI.” A lady with two dozen bangles and a huge golden wristwatch greeted her with folded hands. 

“Mr Kasliwal briefed me about you. Where is your friend, our speaker of the day, ummm, what’s her name?” The lady in carmine red lip-colour snapped her fingers. “Mauli Biyani is caught up in an emergency. She will be here shortly.” Chandra replied, praying inwardly that her words came true.

“Aah, doesn’t matter, her talk is anyway at the fag end of the programme.” Malti added in the same breath, “Tell me, how are you doing? Good you raised your voice against injustice. What if you had to come back to your parent’s place, it’s better than dying there, right? Don’t you worry, stress relief, massage, new hairstyle…all under one roof, only at my spa. Here is my card.”

That’s what I was looking for. I am just at the right place.” Chandu was sure she had bitten her tongue hard enough to lisp lifelong.

“Correct! And we have our matrimony services at JAAGO JODI. Absolutely innocent divorcee boys in the market. Remember, it’s not the end of your life, right?” The lady was heaving with theatrical concern. “Let your friend know that as well.”

“ Ofcourse. Both of us needed to hear this. Our membership to this club has redeemed our confidence in life.” Chandu lapped up opportunities to spew sarcasm like a ravenous kitten offered milk.

Spurned by the girl’s interest, Malti proceeded, “ Infact don’t leave that  imbecile husband of yours unpunished. I’ll connect you to a great lawyer; let your husband pay through his nose.” 

Chandu, with the instincts of a doctor, started looking for signs of a seizure, for she was convinced the excited lady was heading for one.

She clasped Chandu’s hand, shouting like a revolutionary, “We are all FAMINISTS here. We will not stay silent. We need girls like you to take FAMINISM forward, right?”

Mauli walked in, panting, her long braid dismantling in segments, testifying her struggle in the past one hour. Samarth hid behind her, shying away from the attention. Chandu exhaled in relief, as she introduced her friend to the president of JAAGO NAARI. As the women all around scrutinized her crumpled saree, her blouse showing hints of sweat patches under the arms and the slightly smudged kohl in her eyes, Mauli felt strangely inadequate. 

But recovering quickly, she shook hands with the leader, the twinkle in her eye compensating for lustreless face. 

“Here are membership forms of JAAGO NAARI. We offer ten percent discount to professionals, right?” Malti Somany laughed. Hungry Hyena. Mauli stared at her teeth, stained with lip-colour.

A game of Tambola had already begun. The emcee pulled out tokens from the bag, reading them aloud like a riddle.

“Big fat lady, are you late?

Oho! She is number 8.”

Chandu punched holes in her housie ticket with the same vengeance she lent to her scalding remarks. After half a dozen games, an impromptu dance performance and several rounds of starters, Mauli still sat with her back straight as an arrow, anticipating an invite to the dais anytime. 

Just when Chandu rose to grill the emcee lady, she announced Mauli’s name, introducing her. She hurriedly added, “The buffet counters are now open. Please enjoy dinner and the guest lecture on the side. We request Mrs Mauli to keep her talk brief, for paucity of time.”

Mauli rushed through her slides, mercilessly skipping the practical scenarios she had drafted keeping the niche audience in mind. She found herself competing for attention with the fritters and chocolate mousse, and losing badly. Her eyes gravitated to the only four people listening to her with rapt attention. As she concluded her talk, ready to dive off the podium, Malti Somany tottered upstage to deliver the vote of thanks.

“We have been the finance ministers of our homes for ages, while our men deal with money outside the house. Such efficient division of labour, right? But what Miss Mauli said here is good too. Here is a small token of appreciation.” She handed Mauli a gift wrapped box.” Please join us for a picture.”

Mauli noticed Samarth cheering for her, and smiled.

Their appetites withered with disappointment, the young ladies decided to skip dinner. Samarth was at his hyperactive best, swinging between chairs as Mauli struggled to shove morsels in his mouth.

Malty Somany pinched the little boy’s cheeks exclaiming, “Look who accompanied Mumma to gobble yummy food!”

Turning to Mauli she introduced a distinguished looking lady in the perfect bob, not a flick of hair out of place. “Meet Mrs Mundada, esteemed ex-president of JAAGO NAARI.”

“It’s heartening to see young ladies like you taking keen interest in social service. I as an academician myself, have been closely involved in teaching underprivileged women and children at my NGO.” She reached out to the eleven year old girl standing behind her, holding her Louis Vouton bag.

The girl in pigtails pulled out pamphlets, squinting to read the headings on them, before handing out the correct ones. Chandu smiled at the girl, “What’s your name?”

“She is Chimki, our maid’s daughter. Poor thing has no place to go, while her mother works in our house. So I let her tag along,doing odd jobs all day.”

Before Chandu could unleash her whip-like tongue, Mauli diverted her to another esteemed guest. “That’s Mrs Jyoti Kasliwal, wife of our President.”

“Call me Jyoti. ‘Kasliwal’ seems too heavy for me.” Her blue eyes crinkling with humour, she gestured towards her pear-like body frame. “So proud of you girls for venturing into this territory. All the best.” 

Mrs Kasliwal shifted her weight from one leg to another, nervously playing with a kerchief. She giggled nervously, as her sophisticated acquaintances chattered. Fish out of water, Mauli surmised.

“Nice talk there. But I would have loved to discuss the scenarios you had to skip!”A beautiful woman in her late thirties, with a complexion as flawless as her diction, greeted Mauli. “Hi, I am Asha. I am a neurosurgeon.”

Neurosurgeon, Mauli momentarily thought of her estranged husband.

“And you must be Chandralekha?” Asha shook hands, as Chandu complied, puzzled.

“Yatharth spoke about you. We are friends.” Asha elaborated.

“Alright! Infact I was expecting the smarty Sambhav to be present here, to give Samarth company!” Chandu exclaimed.

“Oh, but that wouldn’t be. Yatharth is a single dad.” Asha enunciated cheerfully.

***

The the rooftop restaurant with its fairy-lights enamoured Mauli and Chandu, as they marked their debut in the monthly meets of JAAGO JAVAAN. 

Chandu enquired, “How’s Coffee doing?”

Chuckling, Yatharth introduced them to his friend Aman and his wife Asha, who they had met before. The young women connected instantly with their new friends, exchanging ideas and revealing long forgotten items on their bucket lists. The magical words, “You too?” went back and forth quite often, their sense of camaraderie deepening with the darkness of the evening sky. 

At the farthest end of the dinner table, youth leaders were waxing eloquent about building a gender neutral environment in their wing. A few drinks down, the banter of the visionaries had lightened enough to elicit laughter from everyone around. 

Unexpectedly, Ronnie Kasliwal with his inebriated azure eyes glanced at Chandu and raised a toast, “To the two revolutionary ladies that have ventured into our territory!”Amidst applause he added, “Dad says both want to join the core committee as leaders! Chicks of a feather.” 

“Join as…Treasurer?” Vaibhav Mundada blabbered, collapsing into a fit of laughter, joined by boisterous cheers from his mates, including Sharan, Mauli’s brother. 

“My wife Pinaali could never join me; sacrificing her goals to juggle trips to the kids’ PTA meetings and the parlour. But kudos to these women! They broke off their marriages to join our team!” Ronnie winked lasciviously, “I am sure they’d be of great help, since they don’t have any family responsibilities!” 

The sequence of events that followed was jumbled in Chandu’s head, probably owing to her blood boiling over each time she recalled it. But it involved Mauli trying to calm her down as she locked horns with the gang of incoherent men.The party split into three sections, the pigs slinging mud on their own wives and females in general, the upright souls standing up for the girls; namely Yatharth, Aman and Asha. The third and  largest section comprised of imbeciles staring at their food; avoiding confrontation .

Pushing the swing vigorously with her feet, Chandu narrated events of the night before to her father. 

Madhav Maheshwari pored over his morning paper, recalling the time his daughter had returned home after being bullied by older kids in the park. Today, he was again torn between trying to protect his little girl; and teaching her to fight her own battles. He chose, as he had before.

“ Chandralekha  Maheshwari, the newly elected Cultural secretary, on the dais, please!” Madhav bellowed; his newspaper rolled into an imaginary microphone.

Chandu laughed out loud, floored with her father’s wit. “Why did you give me such a mothballed name, Dad?”

“Trends go in circles, sweetie. Maybe I miscalculated. Be patient; you will be a grandmom with a funky name!” Madhav chuckled.

“And Indravadan?” Chandu giggled, referring to her brother, settled in the U.S.

“ Aah, he did turn his name to his advantage, didn’t he?  They call him ‘Invade’ I believe!” Madhav’s full throated laughter lifted Chandu’s spirits.

Contemplating for a moment, she picked up her phone.Mauli answered instantly.

Chandu said solemnly, “We are contesting the elections.”

Mauli replied, “I know. I already downloaded the JAAGO rulebook.”

***

“JAAGO leaders are selected by nomination.”  Harish Kasliwal spoke with an impassive countenance.

“I am aware, sir. But there are no women representatives here. A legally binding one third of seats…” Mauli persisted.

“Why do you think we designed the Women’s wing?” Mr Kasliwal snorted. “By the way, Mr Vikram Bothra, your ex-husband, is a member of JAAGO, Jaipur. He seems to be accusing you of laundering money from his account. I don’t know if that would help your reputation as candidate for the post of Treasurer.” 

JOR SE BOLO…JAI MAATA DI…PREM SE BOLO, JAI MATA DI.  

The metallic clang of the manjeera punctuated the rhythm of the drum, jerking Mauli out of her reverie. The Jagraata had begun, heralding the end of Navratri. Men and women swayed to the chants, beads of sweat moistening the kumkum on their foreheads. 

As Mauli stared into the mesmerising eyes of the deity, brief flashbacks raided her consciousness.

“Why do you need all this drama? Isn’t getting a divorce enough already?”

“Ofcourse you can handle this. You don’t have the hassles of a married life to bother you.”

“We are all faminists here. But JAAGO NAARI is a daughter wing of JAAGO. A daughter can’t rebel against her father, right?”

Chandu stared unblinking, as Ronnie Kasliwal romped around the devotees, thumping his fist in the air victoriously. The words from earlier in the evening rang in her ears, “Even women did not vote for you. You did not even come close to winning.”

A voice barely audible above the din seemed to complain, “The coffers of JAAGO spell BIG money. Why would they let these women infiltrate their network? Naive girls!”

Walking home defeated, the chants of Jai Maa Amba Bhavaani seemed superfluous to Chandu and Mauli. Feignminists, Chandu mumbled. 

***

Mauli awoke from her nightmare screaming. Seeing Samarth fast asleep by her side, she heaved a sigh of relief. Just then, her phone rang.

 It was Chandu. “Ronnie Kasliwal is dead.”

Before she could process the shocking news, Chandu added, “And they have declared a replacement for the post of treasurer, already. It’s Sharan, your brother.”

Mauli slumped on the bed, slapped hard by the very demon she fought each day, in the outside world. Because like all other demons, patriarchy was most destructive, when it struck from inside. 

***

The glasses jingled against each other. Their ruby and emerald contents swirled rhythmically, matching steps with the waiter holding the tray. Condensed droplets trickled down the glass, as if tearing up, around anger and jealousy, Mauli noted. 

This hall, although housed in the same 5-star hotel, seemed smaller, with subdued interiors. A single delicate chandelier cast a soft glow in the middle of the room, leaving the peripherally arranged rows of seats semi-illuminated. A perfect setting for a performance, for selected audience.

Chandu and Asha sat flanking the two boys, as they sat facing the wall, playing shadow puppets. Sambhav shrieked in mock terror as Chandu wriggled her fingers, sending her quivering monster chasing behind his shadow bunny. The following cracking laughter was drowned in the collective gasp as Jyoti Kasliwal, dressed in a white saree, stiffened with starch, tumbled in. 

A retinue of eminent ladies, draped in spotless white, rose from the seats, gathering around the grieving lady. Stifled sobs replaced the chuckles that had filled the room moments earlier. Except that, the lady at the fulcrum of all gazes, Jyoti, was not sobbing. She seemed calm, in fact, calmer than before. Gone were the purposeless hand movements, the habitual shrug and the nervous giggle. 

As she marched to the centre of the hall, her shoulders rolled back in relief, her eyes met each face along the way, as if sizing up the audience. Her gaze rested on Samarth and Sambhav, who continued to play, unfazed. A sliver of a smile bristled around her lips, before reaching her blue-gray eyes, drowning in their twinkling waters.

Jyoti Kasliwal stood in the middle of the hall, her knobbly palms asking the weeping ladies to settle down. Folding her hands she began, “ Namaskar, Sakhiyon. I am indebted to each one of you for gracing this gathering. The older ones from you have known me for more than three decades, from when I came to the city as a new bride. I have had the good fortune of knowing you ladies, witnessing your lives unfold and sometimes, convolute. I have keenly observed a few of you detangle your tresses and misunderstandings with equal grace. I have watched elegance stamping your faces with wrinkles; I have also witnessed a few such stamps being erased. Then came a bubbly generation of daughters, both in-law and in-deed.” She chuckled, igniting Chandu’s delight with the sarcastic reference.

The women in the audience listened intently, hypnotized by the charismatic lady who had come alive after being passed off as a piece of furniture for a lifetime.

I was a mute spectator as these young, nubile women transformed to respected wives and mothers, shouldering all responsibilities thrust on them with aplomb. I say thrust upon, not entrusted with,” she raised a finger.

“And I watched from a distance, life repeating itself. There have been winds of change,” she glanced at Chandu and Mauli, before continuing, “But when a rat lives in a sewer for too long, a strong smell of cheese is often alarming, and shockingly, unwelcome.”

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, and forget who we were.”

“It has been two months since I lost my son. After giving a lot of thought, I have decided I want to tell you my story. I will leave it open to interpretation and skip the sermon altogether!” 

“Three decades ago I was a practising pharmacist, a very educated girl for those days. Married into the very prestigious family of Kasliwals, I gave up my professional aspirations without a second thought, as was the norm then. But try as I might, I could never fit into the majestic moulds of legacy that the women of the household had laid out for me. I lacked the poise, the zeal, the devotion and the pretence for the job. 

“I spent a good number of years trying to cultivate those elusive virtues, beating myself up at the end of each day. While I regret never having stood up for myself, I abhor not having objected to the problematic upbringing of my only child. Raised with a silver spoon, my son was brought up to believe he was superior, by birth, caste, class and gender. And he seemed entitled to be served by his subordinates, including his friends, his mother and his wife.

While my husband and in-laws actively nurtured his pride; timid as a rabbit, I blinked tears in the background. To my disappointment, I saw Pinaali, his bride, fit into the mould I had vacated, without resistance.”

“In her submissiveness, I saw my failure; each day. I saw here holding back each time her hubristic husband tore her self esteem to smithereens. I saw her hold back, as he turned their sons into miniature versions of himself. I saw her bruised and hurting often, in body and soul.”

“The night of the Jagraata, I heard screams, followed by a thud, as if something was banged against the wall. I saw Pinaali rush out of her bedroom, bleeding from her ear.”

A very faint sob fell on the audiences’ ears, like the first drop of rain on the scorched earth. All eyes riveted in the direction of the sound. Pinaali sat in the last row, weeping profusely, soundlessly, clutching both her children tight. Relief. The voice in Mauli’s head shocked her.

A quivering voice summoned the attention back to the speaker. Words rushed from Jyoti’s mouth in urgency, before they could be caged in her throat forever. “I POISONED my son, Raunak Kasliwal, who was apparently the pride of our family; but a disgrace to humanity. I knew a jab of insulin would suffice, given his blood alcohol levels. No one would ever know.”

“While few mothers would know the pain of taking life of their own offspring; I know a lot of mothers here are inflicted with the guilt of having raised a monster. My reaction to that guilt may have been unacceptable morally. But I accept I did what I did in my full senses, and I hope Pinaali, my beloved daughter, has a beautiful life ahead.”

The murmurs in the shocked audience were escalating to uproars. A woman, in scarlet red saree, sat crouched behind a chair with her arm raised, shooting a video on her phone. “WAIT, before you upload that one. Please record till the very end.” Jyoti smiled benevolently.

“I have consolidated my entire life savings in the name of AGNI Trust, named after my daughter who could never take birth. In a way, I am guilty of killing both my children.”

They say life goes in circles. So be it. But let’s learn to stand in the centre of our own lives. And let each subsequent circle widen in circumference, embracing newer horizons. I hereby officially handover the AGNI trust to the Chandramauli Foundation, hoping it fans the flame these women have ignited. ” 

Jyoti, like a lotus in a cesspool, walked upto Pinaali, folding her hands in apology. The young widow hugged her mother-in-law and in-deed, falling at her feet. Gratitude, summarised Mauli.

***

Funny things, first rains. The scorched leaves waited for these first showers to let go of layers of dust smothering them. Bereft of facade, even the tiny tendrils clamouring from balconies shone in emerald relief. But dust would accumulate again, autumn would bring senescence and summer would be as merciless next year. Life in circles. Mauli was lost in poetic reflection.

The words of Madhav Maheshwari echoed in Mauli’s ears. After their humiliating defeat in the elections, he had goaded them on.

It took generations to build this wall of patriarchy, its foundations are deep. It will need several blows, consistent and powerful, to demolish it. But you must enter the garden to weed it.”

They had named their brainchild Chandramauli, after Shiva, the destroyer of evil.

“Pinaali just mailed me her presentation. Prompt girl, there.” Chandu offered her phone, nudging Mauli from her reverie.

Scrolling through the slides, Mauli beamed with pride. The animation clip showed a largish three storied building, with a courtyard in the centre and ample windows overlooking a vegetable garden, laden with cherry red tomatoes. The nameplate at the entrance gate read, ‘Akhand Jyoti rehabilitation centre for women.’

Chimki , the first student of their evening school, featured as the model on the brochure of Chandramauli Foundation. The brochure outlined their current ventures, namely crèches and childcare, food takeaways, tailoring services, organic farming  and an old age home; all run by underprivileged women. 

Asha and Aman, the couple yearning for a child; had taken charge of the evening school. Yatharth, who dabbled in theatre, was developing an idea for a television serial that challenged societal stereotypes. Mauli was authoring a series of books for children to promote healthier, inclusive social behaviour. And Chandu, in collaboration with her brother ‘DJ Invade’ wrote a rap that went viral on social media.

“Are we taking on more than we can handle?” Mauli voiced her doubt.

“We will need help.” Chandu conceded. “But we are no more just two divorcee women spawning rebellious ideas, you know. “

Mauli squirmed at Chandu’s bluntness, but she went on spiritedly, “Our dreams have sprouted, tearing through the soil. They are saplings. Heck! We are a nursery now. We need to nurture them; rather, we need folks who could adopt them into their own gardens.”

“Turning to poetry, are we?” Mauli teased.

“Birds of a feather.” Chandu bumped her fist against her friends shoulder, halting the car by the roadside.

Opening the car door, Mauli paused. “Are you not joining for some adrak waali chai? Samarth will demand pakodas as well!” 

Chandu flushed visibly, her wheatish cheeks turning auburn. “I am going out for coffee.”

Mauli’s eyes brightened. Acknowledging the quirky owl motif jhumkaas that her friend wore, she poked mischievously, “May I join you then?”

Chandu lamely fought back, “No.” She sped away, waving at her friend, her dimples as deep as the fresh puddles she navigated around.

Mauli unlatched the gate to her tenement, slightly startled by a frog in the offing. Her mother sat on the swing, stringing beans. Mauli beckoned her son on to the veranda, pushing the swing playfully. 

Shanti looked contentedly at her daughter, humming her favourite tune. “Kaisi paheli zindagaani”

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GLOSSARY

JAAGO: Awaken

JAVAAN: Youth, also soldier

NAARI: Woman

Jodi: Pair

Butter Paneer : Cottage cheese pieces in an Indian curry base

Butter Naan: type of Indian flatbread

Gulab Jamun: Indian dessert

Saree: Indian drape, apparel

Sakhi, sakhiyon(plural) : Female friends

Gyaan: hindi word for knowledge

NGO:  Non Government Organisation, involved in social service.

adrak waali chai: Ginger tea

Pakoda: Fritters

PTA meeting: Parents’ Teachers’ Association meeting (at school)

Manjeera: music instrument played typically to accompany devotional songs

Jagraata: Religious celebration where devotees keep awake all night, singing and chanting in devotion.

Kumkum: Vermillion

Jhumkaa: Dangling earrings

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