Thursday, July 19, 2018

Writes of what to write and what not to write

Recently reading a lot of emails (because that is what I do), I realized that there is no correct or incorrect way to perform written communication. If you are a student, all the letters that you have written and the formats that you have learnt, apparently you shall forget them as soon as you start working i.e. be of age of actually writing those letters. Also, there is nothing like US or UK format. There is simply no format.

When I spent a couple of minutes browsing through different emails, there was something more that I realized. The closing or every mail changed a lot. It is similar to how we take home the climax of a good movie. Similarly, the closing changes the tone of the email.

Here is a list collated from the ones I saw -
  1. Regards
I am not sure how this came into being a part of the business communication at all. Imagine all the mails where you are berating the other or demanding explanation yet you finish the email with Regards. Another comical example is applying sick leave on email and then ending the same with Regards. Right, you are the one who is unwell yet you would like to show Regards to others. However this is the safest option as it is a mildly happy emotion. There are no expectations from this and neither any strong sentiments reflecting from the same.

  1. Sincerely
Never used in the real world! Sincerely, if I recall was to make the tone formal. Writing any business email and then ending it with Sincerely ensured that the tone of the email remained formal and business meaning. People were supposed to know that you meant business and that you are sincere in your approach. However this has never been used even once in any email that has passed from my sight in the past nearly four years of my experience.

  1. Best Wishes
Seldom used in quite jovial mails. This is like 'Regards' but in stronger sentiment. Imagine firing someone and ending it with 'Best Wishes' - almost like you are wishing him/her away. This is showing that the sender is simply too happy. And trust me, happiness is not an emotion that your boss likes. He is soon going to sense your happiness and burden you with more work. So no Best Wishes.

  1. Cheers
Now I have seen a lot of people from other countries posting some info or a very neutral email and ending with Cheers. While Cheers always seems to lighten the mood, it never makes sense to write your name after Cheers. That totally shows that the sender is drunk and takes Cheers to a totally different meaning.

  1. Thanks
This is totally the safest option of them all. From applying for leave to berating someone, thanks can be used everywhere. Depending on the reader, it can be conceived as ending the conversation or putting you as a humble person. When in doubt, go with Thanks!!

  1. Mixed Tone/ Multiple closing notes
Horrible choice! Never go for it! Often people will mix two notes which don’t match each other. That makes the situation disastrous. Other times having long closing notes or multiple line closing notes makes the email content smaller than the same. So unless you are totally sure - totally not advised. Topic closed!

  1. No closing note
Why? In a world full of words, you don’t even find one for yourself? It often makes you sound rude and changes the tone to be angry. Avoid it unless you can afford it.

  1. Love
Never appeared anywhere else other than the formats written in school. Won't appear either. Don’t bother yourself.

  1. Short forms or abbreviations like Thnx or Regds
Like who stole your vowels? How much extra calories are you going to burn typing those extra alphabets? You know right that signatures can be saved and configured to be attached to mails automatically? Did you know you were sending an email and not an sms?

  1. Take Care
Becomes too good will seeking. Read passage for Best Wishes.

  1. -Name
Right! We could have never guessed your name unless you wrote it. This is only useful if you have a long name - like really long and you are working with people from other regions as well who might have difficulty pronouncing your name or your name is too long to write. Only then it is acceptable to sign your name or short of it to ensure people know what you like to be called. It is also better than nothing. In general sense, not a too preferable practice.

  1. Yours
What? Freaking complete your sentence/phrase/sentiment and then I will complete mine.

Some other humorous closing notes that I found on the internet -
  1. Sent from my iPhone / Sent from BlackBerry
Flaunting your phone/ application? Would the content change if you sent it from desktop?
It explains away brevity and typos—who’s at their best when typing on a phone? But it also conveys that you don’t care enough to do away with the default email signature that came stock with your device’s email app.
Some people get creative with this signature. A few fun (if not necessarily business appropriate) examples found round the Internet include:
  • My parents wouldn’t buy me an iPhone so I have to manually type “Sent from my iPhone” to look cool
  • Sent telepathically
  • Sent from my laptop, so I have no excuse for typos
  • Sent from my smartphone so please forgive any dumb mistakes
  • I am responsible for the concept of this message. Unfortunately, autocorrect is responsible for the content
  • Sent from my mobile. Fingers big. Keyboard small.
  • iPhone. iTypos. iApologize.
  • My phone can’t spell for crap.

Stopping Time

Why won't you stop?
Why won't you just listen?
I need a moment
Or maybe more
Till it all sinks in

From the moment that I started
With you as my constant companion
A shadow in the watch
A friend, sometimes a foe
An observer in oblivion

Till the highest of peaks
And deep into the oceans great
In school, in the mall
In office, in my hoe
Like a pendulum, you gyrate

Breaking me from within
And teaching me to move on
You are the teacher, I yearn for
When I reach out
You are long gone

O Time, yet again I plead
This is one moment that I need
The moment when you freeze
This moment in sorrow or in glee
Will never tend to cease or be freed

I need this moment to catch a breath
To sit in quiet and retrospect
To just stop running for a while
All I need is a moment to smile
And I plead and inflect

One challenge after another
Sometimes more than one at a time
I have fared through it all
Sometimes taking a toll
Other times with a shine like dime

Today is not any other day
The words fall short for what I have to say
Wanting a moment is a wish
Waiting for a shooting star, under
The starless night I lay

A moment for me
A moment for you
If you stop, the moment anew
Hold my hand, let me walk you through
When you stop, the moment comes true!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The precious Elbow

Once or twice now, I have asked people to wear helmets. When they were only travelling the nearby areas, they felt helmet was unnecessary and it is only required when travelling long distances. Further if you insist that helmets should be worn even for the smallest of distances being travelled on road, they would reply that they drive carefully.

Well, to all those people and everyone who thinks similarly -
1. Helmets are for the protection of yourself - specifically your skull. The traffic police personnel who fined you for not wearing one or I, who keeps bothering you with such trivial information, have nothing to gain from you wearing a helmet. Trust me.
2. I certainly believe you are careful and drive safely. The same can not be said truthfully about every other vehicle driver on the road. Unfortunately.
3. Helmets will protect your skull even if you are seated in the rear. So if you have a skull, helmets are mandatory. If you have a spare, you are exempted Lord Raavana.

But helmets can be really annoying if I want to talk to someone with me or especially in summer time! True!
Use the public transport or pool a car with friends. I can guarantee no public transport requires you to wear helmets. Some of them will have ACs to help you fight the summer. They will cost you less or equal to what you spend while using you two-wheeler. Moreover, public transport will take away a lot of your issues - wearing a second shirt Over your office clothes, tan over your exposed arms, gives you extra time to read or catch up on your favourite show/movie, gives you chance to meet new people, takes away your tension about your parking spot getting full.. and more. All this at the tempting price of only two disadvantages - you will need to carry perfume at most times and you will need to careful about your belongings.

It is not the case that nobody wears helmets. Almost everyone has and carries them. However, to my utter astonishment, many people find themselves safer securing their elbows instead of their heads. Now i have heard of brains being in the knee joints but God knows what hidden treasure is there in the elbow joints (sometimes my elbow joints pain.. maybe the treasures are growing beyond capacity). Weirdly we only aim at protecting one elbow. Not sure how someone finds the exact elbow where their treasure is. What if they are wrong? What if they meet an accident and their other elbow breaks and the treasure gets lost? More importantly - why only elbow?? A person has 206 bones.. many joints I don’t know the count of.. other organs and muscles.. what about them?

On a serious note.. I am cursed with travelling to Gurgaon from Delhi for the past three and a half years. Taking the Delhi-Jaipur highway, I have seen several accidents. Some as they happen.. other leaving the road bloody. Seen headless corpses. Tick. Seen a man being hit by a truck and die on spot. Tick.
Worst of all I have seen how the buses or travellers drive on the highway. Most of the drivers are none the less experts in navigating the bus through spaces enough for a nano car. This becomes more a reason to be cautious when you dare to drive on the same road.

Well even after everything you believe that your hairstyle is important than some weird safety measure, trust me hair will grow (or wear a wig) as long as you have a skull. Without a skull, it is very difficult to style and flaunt your hair!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A wedding to attend

Some twenty years ago I lived in a small town called ‘Mandi’. It is a quiet and lesser knows towns in the picturesque state of Himachal Pradesh. The city is near to the very famous Kullu - Manali stations and IIT has opened in the district. Other than the above two, there is simply nothing out of the ordinary.
I was here a great while back. The memories I have of this place are all of daily life - visit to the temple, visit to the market, celebrating festivals in the colony, pretending to be detectives in school, eating, celebrating local festivities, and the other memories that my parents have implanted in my mind from the stories heard and re-heard a countless times.

Yet Mandi remains to be one place I feel at home. It is one place that I am always eager to see. Every time that I am here, it feels like I had never left. I don’t know everyone here and I constantly get the facts incorrect. The feeling still doesn’t recede.

Today I am here to witness a wedding. Wedding of our then neighbours’ son. My parents love these people. Apparently they had been wonderful while we were here and I am supposed to have countless memories with them. They have also stayed in touch for the twenty years - sufficient time for anyone to forget the other.
The wedding is a simple affair. These people are rich but this is not the rich wedding that I am used to. This wedding was rich but in some other manner. It was rich in emotions, rich with happiness and rich with people who genuinely were there to spread happiness and bless the couple.

And this is what makes Mandi unique. Everyone here is genuinely happy about the wedding. The bride and the groom (or at least one) knows every person present to witness the matrimony. Instead of investing in decorations or the number of dishes for every function, the family has ensured that no guest remains unattended. They are spending as much time with everyone as possible. People are genuinely welcoming you as you meet and greet them.
There is music. The groom ensures that his to he better half doesn’t feel lost in the swarms of people from his end. He ensures to meet the family from her side. At his home, the groom is busy getting the room decorated for all the girls to get their selfies clicked. The food is simple and delicious than being large number of dishes with the task to find one to eat.

And don’t misunderstand me! Its not like the decorations were not there. Being a small town populated on both banks of Vyasa river, the decorations of the house or of the banquet hall were visible to anyone and everyone in the city. For anyone in the town, it was hard to miss that the wedding was happening. They house shone brighter than the brightest star in the sky. On the day of the wedding, everyone marched to the main market where the procession gathered and people danced. It was like the whole city was there. And don’t even ask about the fireworks! The fireworks were magnificent and continued for so long that everyone in the neighbouring towns must also gave seen them.
It was a wedding anyone would love to have!

Of course there were exceptions! You are to find them everywhere. The exceptions tried to make space for themselves removing the others aside. But unlike what I am used to, they didn’t try to ruin anyone else’s moment or anyhow create problem for the bride or the groom.
It was the first time when I saw the groom’s father stand outside his home for all the days of the function to welcome everyone. It was the first time I saw the groom’s father check all the arrangements done by the caterer since the bride’s family was not local and they had paid for the arrangement. It was the first time I saw the groom’s father go and hug his son and daughter in law when she climbed the stage. It was the first time when I saw the groom’s family scolding the hotel staff for not attending to the bride’s guests. It was the first time the family introduced their other samdhis with a pride not paralleled. It was the first time for a lot of things.
Moreover when I was leaving Mandi, we went to bid farewell to the family, I had tears and it felt like I was the one being bid farewell from my house than the bride.

It was not a wedding but an experience that is going to be treasured forever.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Pointed Revenge

The National Capital City of Delhi was in a state of shock. There were six murders in different parts of the city, each seemingly with no connection to the other. Somehow the media had caught wind of the happenings, making matters worse.

Dr. Nalini Mehta was found hanging in the living room of her lavish home in Paschim Vihar. She had started her career as an intern doctor at a Government Hospital. Her brilliance and connection with the right people saw her become Chief Medical Supervisor at PMO, post her retirement as the Director General of the Ministry of Health.
‘Divorced. Lived all by herself. Children working in America.’ Informed the constable who had received reports from Nalini’s background check. The Sub-Inspector nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on the body now lying on the floor. This cannot be suicide, thought Sub-Inspector Jayant. Nalini was doing well in her professional as well as personal life. Yet the maid found her hanging when she came this morning. The maid had also informed of the large amount of money that Nalini had brought home, which was now, missing.

Vikas Bhalla had retired as secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs and now worked there as a consultant. He had bought all four flats on one floor in a high priced Apartments in Chattarpur, one for each of his children and one for himself.
This morning when his eldest son went to check on him, no one answered the door. He got worried and called building security. They broke the door to find the couple lying in bed, throats slit open. It was apparent that they were killed in their sleep. There was no sign of struggle or an open window.
Inspector Nitesh, who usually reported to his office at ten, was at the Bhalla residence at eight in the morning, fully awake and in charge of the incident.

Akhil Prasad had retired as secretary of Ministry of Urban Development, having previously served as secretary of Ministry of Labour and Employment. He managed his positions well and came to be known as the secretary who completed most housing projects. Post retirement, he refused to join back. He actively worked in an NGO providing relief in Disaster struck areas for a couple of years before opening his own NGO. With his connections and experience with the Government, his work was soon noticed and appreciated. He won several public accolades and titles.
Akhil’s daughter and grand-daughter Nisha had come to live with him and his wife at their house in Asiad Village. Today morning, when Nisha woke up, she felt dizzier than usual. When she cleared her head and moved around the house, she let out a shrill scream at the sight of her mother’s pale body lying on the sofa. The television was switched on to a channel that she might have watched at night. Her grandparents were in the same state in their bed. Sensing that something was wrong, she gathered the neighbours for help.
Inspector Nishant was soon at the scene. His medical team soon found huge amount of poisonous gas that had been induced into the house through Air Conditioners. Nisha had decided to open the window at night, thus, surviving the attack.

Inspector Jayant had not progressed much. Nalini had some big connections and her mysterious death had created a sense of insecurity amongst many influential others. The pressure to resolve the case was increasing every minute and even when the inspector had spoken to her colleagues, her maid, her children and her neighbours, he had absolutely nothing to report.
Jayant was on the call with the commissioner for the fourth time since morning. He cut the call, when he heard some commotion around the entrance of the house. He saw a plump woman with brown eyes, wearing an apron and carrying a rolling pin, trying to enter the house. She appeared to be in her late thirties. From her appearance, Jayant tagged her as one-of-the-nosy neighbours. She kept asking for a muffler. When Jayant asked her clearly, she said ‘This lady was standing down the road yesterday, waiting for cab. She was cold and so borrowed a muffler from me. Today I saw in news that she died. How will I get my muffler back?’ The lady started sobbing. Jayant didn’t care – it was news to him that Nalini took a cab when she always travels in her office car. He welcomed the lady inside who was suddenly very interested to tell him all the details that she remembered.
When Kamla, the neighbour, left, Jayant had a big smile. He saw her leave for a moment and then immediately took out his phone. He had a murderer to catch.

Inspector Nitesh was able to locate the knife used to commit the crime. The ordinary kitchen knife was thrown out of the window. The forensic report will take a long time but the blood stains were sufficient to mark it as an evidence. Vikas’s driver had not reported that day. Nitesh had followed this lead for more than two hours, only to find that the driver was admitted to a hospital for dengue. He was frustrated when he saw a lady in black suit, walk out of the elevator on Vikas’s floor. She had flaming orange hair and a pale white face. Her black eyes stood distinctly in her otherwise colourful appearance. She walked up to Nitesh and shook his hand, introducing herself. She claimed to be Vikas’s physician and unaware of the incident.
She informed that Vikas had called in last night and reported disgestive troubles. She had prescribed him some medicines and advised to take some milk.
After a couple of minutes into the discussion, Vikas’s mind was bursting with the solution to the case. As Dr. Nidhi Shashtri left, he fired directions in all directions. He had nearly solved the case.

If hell had broken lose, it had to be here. Nishant had heard of the other two murders and earlier thought that they were connected. It is always better to have a serial killer; you always get more time to investigate. However, when he had spoken to Jayant and Nitesh, he was displeased to know that they had found the killer. There was no one to talk to except the maid or the granddaughter who was in shock.
He was making futile attempts of talking to the neighbouts when a lady walked upto him and introduced herself as Akhil’s psycologist. She was a tall woman with thick brown curls. She had deep blue eyes and wore a lot of funky jewellery. She seemed quite disturbed with the news and was holding a file. ‘Akhil did seem disturbed lately. I was supposed to meet them yesterday but I got stuck at work. I got free after one in the morning and stopped by on my way to home. There was no answer to the doorbell so I left. I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered.’ The lady’s last few words took Nishant by surprise. He forgot all about the points he intended to verify about the doctor’s story and provided her his maximum attention. She agreed to talk to him but only in private.
Nishant was holding the file that the Dr. Jennifer had left with him. He opened the file and closed it shut, symbolic for the case that he would close soon.

After hours of silence, Commissioner Choudhary’s phone kept ringing. His officers had cracked the cases. They were simple enough now that the picture was complete. Nonetheless, Delhi Police (and he) deserved a lot of praise for solving them in a remarkable time.
He was picturing his media statement for the next day, when his phone rang. Apparently the CBI was interested in the case. His dream of a long-awaited promotion began to shatter. Then again, this could be a meeting to highlight his involvement and materialize his dream.

All the men felt extremely happy and confident standing in front of CBI Senior Inspector Ravi. In less than a day, the able officers of the Delhi Police had solved the cases.
Ravi took their reports and read them. ‘There was no connection between the deaths?’ asked Ravi without taking his eyes off the last report. ‘None. Except three of the murdered persons held positions of significance in the Government departments. The other murdered victims are their family members.’ Replied the Commissioner proudly. There was some credit for the Delhi Police in store and he was not letting the CBI take it away. Ravi ignored the Commissioner, kept the report down and walked over to Sub-Inspector Jayant.
‘Would you mind telling me as to why did you direct your investigation towards the cab company?’ Ravi asked with utmost interest. Eagerly waiting for his moment to shine, Jayant started spinning his tale ‘No one at Nalini’s home or office could provide any details. She was always surrounded by people except when she travelled. On checking records in her office we found that she used a cab to commute the day before her demise. We got the car number from the register and tracked the car. We traced it to Atul in Dwarka, who also seemed to have five lakh rupees cash at his home. It became apparent that Atul saw Nalini bring cash home. The rest is obvious. When Atul was caught, he confessed.’

Ravi sighed; it had been the last response that Jayant anticipated. Ravi moved over to Nitesh and asked ‘How did you find the suspect?’
Nitesh displayed all his teeth and spoke ‘Vikas and Neeta were known for their social status. They were also known for being creatures of habit. Every alternate evening they would buy milk from a nearby milk booth. That day someone drugged the milk which they consumed. The man then entered the house, took the jewellery Neeta had worn the previous night and killed them in cold blood. The milk booth vendor identified two men who were present at the booth around the time Vikas and Neeta had bought the milk. Tracing them both, we found Chandan, who lives in the nearby slums. He was drunk unconscious on his bed and there was the necklace in his pocket. Later he confessed to his crimes.’
Still looking down, Ravi moved to the last. He didn’t need to ask as Nishant began his heroic tale – ‘The gases found in the house were nitrogen and carbon-di-oxide. Both components are used in packing. We found a shop in ShahpurJat that was closed on petitions by Akhil’s NGO. The shop had employed many under-aged children. The petition not only brought the shop to close but caused bad reputation for the franchise. Kshitij - The manager for the shop got sacked and committed the murder for revenge.’

‘Are you all sure that this is all there is to report?’ Ravi shouted at the three of them. They looked back in confusion. Ignoring them, Ravi continued ‘Three significant government officials get murdered within hours and you tell me that this is not planned or connected.’
They had obviously thought about this but when the suspects confessed to their crimes, there is no reason to look any further.
Ravi spoke, as if reading their minds, ‘If all the suspects became cooperative as to confess to their crimes, I would highly worry about my job. Now tell me – any other person or incident, no matter how small.’
‘Well, the counsellor came to see Nisha. Nisha seemed a lot better after that’ Nishant said. Ravi’s eyes gleamed. He looked at Nishant, eager for more information. Nishant started ‘A doctor had come from the Vilas Hospital to talk to Nisha. She was a very young and friendly woman.’ ‘Dr. Jennifer, Vikas’s psychologist visited the crime scene.’ Nitesh added. Everyone looked at Jayant who mentioned about the neighbour wanting her muffler back.
He didn’t want names. Ravi had seen them to be fake. He asked them to get these women sketched. This was the connection – a lady at each of the crime scenes. Also, why weren’t these women mentioned in any of the reports?
When Ravi grilled the able officers again, they broke and revealed how the nosy neighbour told Jayant about the cab. Nitesh told that Vikas’s physician had discussed how contaminated food samples had caused an emergency in her hospital the previous night, which got her delayed. She also mentioned that she had advised him to take milk. Finally, Nitesh confessed that the psychologist had brought him a file which had article clippings of Akhil’s work These were records that Akhil maintained of disturbing events related to his work.

When the sketches were ready, they were of three very different women except all of them had a extremely pointed noses. A voice inside Ravi’s mind told him that these three women were connected or were the same person. The officers were trying to contact the women they had met but had failed so far. All the names and visiting cards turned out to be fake or borrowed.
He liked challenges though. Ravi decided to dig the past and find a connection. Only that would now lead to the clear future.

Sandhya walked down the dark corridor for one last time. No matter how hard she had tried, the end was inevitable. The orphanage was closed and uninhabited for a couple of months. It would be broken to ruins the next day.
She was fourteen when she had first stepped into the building. Her parents had died in a car crash and her aunt refused to take her in. Uncle John, the caretaker of the orphanage, was a great person. He encouraged her to study and become a psychologist. She was an intern in Chennai when Uncle John passed away – or so they made it look.
The orphanage received its grants from a trust. It would have had a bad fate if it hadn’t been for Uncle John. He constantly fought with the trust to get the best for the children. He educated all his children and inspired them. As a result, most children during Sandhya’s stay had found good jobs and were settled. Having settled, the children would keep in contact with Uncle John and help other children follow their footsteps.
It was all going well until two girls disappeared. Uncle John left no stone unturned to find them and to seek Government’s help for the same. Fifteen days later, the two girls were found dead at a construction site. It was evident that they had died of assault. Yet the deputy director general from Health Ministry denied any such case. The labour ministry gave a statement that the girls had come looking for a job and died in an accident. The home ministry found this incident very upsetting. No one took notice that the members from Home Ministry and Labour Ministry were in the trust. Indeed they were the ones who had long conversations with the children during their visit to the orphanage.
Unable to bring any justice to his children, Uncle John sought help of the children who had left the orphanage. When the matter caught fire again, the newspapers reported that Uncle John passed away in his sleep. A new caretaker was appointed by the trust and the orphanage soon became a hub for all sorts of illegal activities. Less than an year ago, the trust decided to close this orphanage as it was ‘no longer safe for children’. Only if irony could kill!
Sandhya pulled out the most peculiar assortment of items from her bag and placed them on a pyre in the courtyard. The items were a thick bun wig, false cheeks, a dirty apron, flaming orange hair, a black suit, some rings and bracelets, two pair of contact lenses, a brown curly wig, a white kurta and blue jeans. She opened her bag and took out a wet tissue to wipe off the wrinkles off her face. As she threw the tissue on top of the pyre, she looked years younger than she had the whole day.
It had taken her ten years to get here. Ever since the Uncle John’s demise, she knew that only well placed people make a difference. She worked hard each day and became the best in her profession. She got employed by one of the best Government hospitals. Other than her job, she would often volunteer as a counsellor for the under privileged occasionally. It took her sometime to identify Atul, Chandan and Kshitij. They were identical in many aspects – alcoholic and abusive. Their family members had often come to her for counselling and help. She decided to meet them. In a couple of months, she was able to hypnotize them and what-she-called reprogram them. They were filled with hatred, waiting for the moment to strike their targets. Also, she had got them to sign an organ donation form – which was her way of making them repay to the society. On the right moment, she programmed them to strike. It was all planned.
Sooner or later the police would find the connection to the orphanage. It wouldn’t matter. The orphanage land had been reclaimed by the Government and the building would be collapsed the next day. Let them come, let them find whatever they may. The past was buried just like the fate of the orphanage.
Sandhya sat down by the fire in the cold December night. She finally pulled out the extremely pointed nose and threw it into the pyre, before setting it on fire. She watched the last remains of Kamla, Dr. Nidhi Shashtri and Dr. Jennifer, characters she had worked on for months, turn to ashes.
The police may find her someday but for now, she had the pointed revenge.

Urmila's Enchantment

My father wanted a son, someone who could be the King of Mithila when the time comes. Yet when I was born, he couldnt be more proud. Sage Narada had visited our kingdom shortly before my birth. He predicted that my sister Sita and I, will be instrumental to the unevitable dharm yudh to come. Our lives will be filled with challenges and our choices will impact the course of future. Scared that both his children will have to suffer and face difficulties, our mother prayed to the Sage to bless her children with some comfort. Though he couldn’t change destiny, he was moved by our mothers love. He said, as often our father quoted to me, 'I cannot change the destiny, but I bless your unborn child not to suffer during the tough times.' When I was born, my mother tells me that I smiled at her. She named me Urmila, meaning 'The Enchantress'.

Inspite of our mother's futile attempts, our father ensured that Sita and I receive the best education in finance, philosphy and warfare other than our regular education of science and scriptures. In all the spare moments that our mother could steal us from our trainings, she tried to give us a life a princess should have. As we grew older, our trainings became harder and longer. Father would send us with nobles to other kingdoms to understand their policies, with saints to gain deeper understanding of ourselves and the world, with army men to train us for combat and wars , and he took us himself to meet the people of our kingdom to understand our people and help them overcome those.

I grew up with Sita, Madhavi and Shrutakirti. Madhavi and Shrutakirti were our uncle's daughters who was the king of the neighbouring kingdom. We were all trained and educated together. Some of the trainings were very hard, but having such lovely sisters, made up for everything. We were together all the time - we attended trainings together and visited each other very frequently. It was all going well until Sage Narada visited our kingdom, again.
Lord ParshuRama had organized a yagna at a place near our Kingdom. Sage Narada, the sage with the highest honor amongst all sages - to be free to roam all the worlds and visit the Gods, attended the yagna. Impressed with his contributions towards the yagna, Lord ParshuRama presented Sage Narada with the holy Shiv Dhanush, a cross bow that he had won from the almighty Lord Shiva. On his journey back, sage Narada decided to take a tour of the nearby lands, disguised as a lonely farmer looking for a new land to relocate to. On the outskirts of our kingdom, he was attacked by some bandits. Scared that these bandits would discover the Shiva-Dhanush, sage Narada tried to engage them with his wits. At the same time, as Lords had destined it, Sita and I were returning from our visit to Madhavi and Shrutakirti. We saw as five bandits with swords had cornered a lonely person with no means to help himself. Without a second thought, I jumped off my horse and took my sword in hand. Sita too had her sword drawn and was charging at the bandits. In a matter of minutes, the bandits were disarmed and tied up. Oblivious to his true identity, we invited sage Narada to travel with us to our kingdom where he could take shelter.

On the way, Sita and I were discussing the new trainings that we took with Madhavi and Shrutakirti. While we were discussing, the disguised sage spoke 'You princesses are well read for your age, your highnesses. You seem to have taken a leaf or two from the scriptures of Lord Shiva.'
That didnt sound like some farmer's word. None but only the enlightened spoke of Lord Shiva's scriptures. 'You dont sound like a farmer. Who are you? Reveal yourself.' I commanded. At the same time Sita had drawn her sword and was holding it against his chest. The soldiers had already surrounded him. The farmer spoke no more and smiled as the soldiers took him captive along with the bandits.
When Sita and I reached the palace, our father came rushing out to greet us. Instead of blessing us as he always did whenever we returned from a visit elsewhere, he rushed pass us, to the tied farmer. He kneeled before the farmer and apologized. Suddenly we were standing in front of a sage who was radiating knowledge more than anyone we had ever met, sage Narada. We knelt in front of him and begged him to forgive us for our ignorance. We requested him to accept our hospitality for few days and he heartily agreed.
Later that evening, sage Narada demanded an audience with our parents, alone. Next morning, he blessed us all and left.
My father, though an able King, was a father. His heart ached for the life that I was moving towards. One day, he took me to the treasury and showed a magnificent bow. It was the Shiv-Dhanush. My father announced that he was organizing a swayamwar for Sita, the only hope to make allies with a larger kingdom to ensure safety of our people.

Chariots started coming in from all directions. As the date of the swayamvar approached, Mithila turned to a host for nobles and royalties of various kingdoms. I didnt understand the idea of marrying my sister without her choice but I knew better than to say. On our mother's orders, we left for the Lordess Gauri temple at the palace gardens to pray. On entering the gardens, we saw sage Vishwamitra along with his two disciples. The young men settled the sage under a tree and came into the garden. From their mannerisms, they had to be princes. One of them had the built of a warrior. He stood with poise and a sparkle in his eyes. Somehow even long after we left, I couldnt forget the sparkle.
The next day, prince Rama of Ayodhya, the other disciple of sage Vishwamitra, known for his kindness and valour, won the swayamvar. This made the other prince to be prince Lakshmana, the mighty warrior with a sparkle in his eyes. Soon King Dashrath, King and ruler of the mighty Ayodhaya, his Queens and the other Princes arrived in Mithila to cater to the holy matrimony. Sage Vashishta and sage Vishwamitra, who had agreed to grace the matrimony, suggested that it was unwise to separate the four sisters. Before long I found myself standing in front of the holy fire with prince Lakshmana. In the blue dhoti with a golden border and a golden angvastram, he stood before me. I had heard of his bravery but none had ever mentioned how beautiful his smile was, or how enchanting the sparkle of his eyes was.

The entire kingdom was celebrating the matrimonies. The celebration seemed endless. Lakshmana was a wonderful person. He was a man of few words. We didnt spend much time together but, he treated me with love, care and respect. On our first evening in the palace, Lakshmana told me that he held his mother, father, brothers in high esteem. Their happiness meant everything for him. From this day forth, my happiness would also be equally important for him.
The honestly and love of his soul sparkled through his eyes. My happiness knew no bound. It was all like a dream.

It took less than two sunsets for my blissful dreams to turn into nightmares. When King Dashrath announced coronation of prince Rama as the new King of Ayodhaya, Queen Kekaiyi became upset. She demanded two boons from the King which he had promised. The first boon was coronation of prince Bharat as the new King. The second boon was exile to prince Rama for fourteen years.
All the happiness melted away from the castle and the darkness set in. When Lakshmana heard the news, he overcame with rage.
He was angry at the turn of events. 'How could anyone in their right mind think of exile for Rama?' he asked.I put a hand on his shoulder, 'It is just fourteen years. When he comes back, King Rama will ascend the throne that is rightfully his.' Suddenly, the expression on Lakshmana's face changed. He sat me down and told me that he needs to go with prince Rama. The brothers had always been together. I smiled at Lakshmana and started bringing clothes to pack. Lakshmana held my hand and stopped me. He told me that I couldnt accompany him. I was a princess and that life that he was going to lead was not suited for me. I protested that Sita is going. A wife had no reason to be in the palace if her husband was going to live in the jungle. That life was also not suited for me. I couldnt believe my ears. He was not understanding. I protested again 'Lakshmana listen...' but he cut me in between. 'Take care of everyone' he said and left.
I sat in my chambers, weeping, unable to believe that this was really happening. In one day my husband and my sister, people I loved the most, were going away for fourteen years. I heard the chariot come to take them. I rushed to the balcony to have a last image of Lakshmana before he left. He was no longer wearing his robes worthy of a prince but dressed like a sage. Once on the chariot that would take them to the boundary, he looked up. There was no sparkle in his eyes. I couldnt hold back the tears. I couldnt see him leave or believe that he didnt take me. I cried as the chariot slowly moved out of the sight.
The chariot wouldnt have even made to the boundary but the distance took King Dashrath's life. Immediate news was sent to prince Bharat and prince Shatrughana. Messengers were also send to find prince Rama and prince Lakshmana.

The palace that stood high like the Sun at sunrise, was sunken into death and despair by the sunset. Darkness engulfed the Suryavanshi Palace.
Deep inside I felt that Lakshmana would return soon. The chariot that they had ridden, had not returned yet nor had the messenger. It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back and saw a Goddess standing in the middle of my chamber. I knelt down in front of her to pay my respects. She smiled and introduced herself as Goddess Nidra - the sleep Goddess. She said that it is customary for a human to sleep. Lakshmana had taken a vow to his mother before leaving that he would protect his brother and sister-in-law at day and guard them at night. When he refused to sleep, she was forced to visit him. Seeing his devotion towards his brother and towards his vow, Goddess Nidra offered him an exchange - if another human took his share of sleep for next fourteen years, he could fulfill his vow.
I couldnt believe this was happening. Goddess Nidra came to me and said 'Your sacrifice will be of utmost importance to your husband, child. It would be like a bad dream. When you wake, he would be in front of you.' 'I would happily sleep for eternity if it helps my husband. That is the least I could do for him. I am just upset that if any news comes of him, I wouldnt get it. I wouldnt know what is happening with him' I replied. The Goddess smiled and placed a hand on my head. She was overwhelmed by my love for my husband even when he hurt me. She said that she will put me under an enchanted sleep, where I will be able to see him everytime he would think of me.

I dont know I was asleep and I dreamt of Goddess Nidra or I slept as soon as she put me under enchantment, but I slept.
My sleep was mostly an undisturbed one. I had no way of knowing where he was or how much time had passed. I was somehow aware of time passing but there was no way to track it. I seldom saw Lakshmana. Once I saw him by a river, picking fruits. The other time I saw him sitting next to Sita as she told him tales from our childhood. It was like being plunged into a vast emptiness with just his memories as the source of comfort. Everytime I saw him, I grew more worried. His limbs had deep cuts and there were always new wounds on his torso whenever I saw him. However these images were only flashes. Sometimes I would ponder if he only remembered me in flashes.

My first long vision of Lakshmana came quite late. I saw him on a battle-field. He had a lot of cuts on his body and a particular nasty cut on his arm was bleeding. Suddenly I noticed that snakes appeared to be coiling him from underneath. Before he could react, his bow fell down from his hand and he fell unconcious. I saw an army of mighty apes come and lift him and take him to shelter. He had turned pale and looked unmovable. Prince Rama lay next to him, also coiled by snakes. I shouted as loud as possible but no one heard me. After what seemed like hours, the mightiest of the apes known as Hanuman, brought help. I kept praying to Lord Shiva to protect my prince. In couple of minutes, as Lakshmana gained conscious, I drifted back into the darkness.
The second time when I found myself in the battle-field again, things had become uglier than before. Just then something blinding and loud as Lord Indra's thunder struck Lakshmana and he fell on the ground. On the other end of the battle-field I could hear the demons making scary noises. Prince Rama took Lakshmana in his arms. Once again the mighty Hanuman came to the rescue. He brought a doctor from the enemy city who asked for herbs which only grew in the northern ranges. Without a moments delay, Hanuman flew into the air and headed north. I paced nervously around. Lakshmana was turning white. Suddenly this enchanted sleep started feeling like a nightmare. When Hanuman returned, everyone was praying for Lakshmana's speedy recovery Once again, as he got up, his image faded into darkness.
I dont know how long I slept but till now I prayed that I could see him. However seeing him injured and not being able to even touch him was a curse. I prayed that I dont see him unless he returned.

My heard was heavy and spinning. It felt like a really bad dream when I woke up. Madhavi and Shrutakirti were waiting by my bedside. The moment I opened my eyes, they each hugged me and said that the war was over. King Rama, Queen Sita and prince Lakshmana were coming back. I looked at my sisters. They had grown old. I didnt know how long I slept but I could see how long they had suffered. Madhavi kept filling me in with the things I had missed. I listened half heartedly.
I went and started tiding my chambers. The inkpot which was open fourteen years ago was still open. All the ink had dried. The clothes I had taken out to be packed were stacked on a chair. I looked into the mirror, an old lady stared back. The princess worthy of those clothes was no where to be found. I kept going into the balcony looking for the chariot that had still not come back.
It felt like forever when someone finally announced that a pushpak vimaan was headed towards the palace.

I rushed outside the Palace to where the vimaan would land. I could see King Rama and Sita being seated. Lakshmana was standing by King Rama's side. He wore the same clothes as he did when I had last seen him. There were a few cuts on his limbs, scars that a victor wore with pride. I had waited for fourteen years to have a glimpse of my prince. When he got down, he took blessings from all the Queens and sage Vashishtha. Slowly, in what seemed like eternity, he walked over to me. There were no words with either of us for each other. I could see his face had grown rugged. It dawned on me that I was married to Lakshmana for more than fourteen years, yet, he is still a stranger to me. The eyes that waited for him for fourteen years, didnt seem to recognize him. I had forgotten how his voice sounded.
He bent his head lower and said that he was worried about my well bring. There were unknown threats and dangers in the forest. If I had accompanied them, he would always worry about my well-being and also would be guilty of making me go through all that. He worried that while he swore his duty to serve and protect prince Rama and princess Sita, he would not do justice to me.
I stood before a person I respected but I don’t know if he would understand what I went through. I don’t know how to deal with the years we have lost. As a wife, I follow him into the castle. As a woman, I still weep.

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