Breathing Two Worlds

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Neena Arya, a Delhi-born goes abroad for further studies and decides to settle down there. Determined to be a ‘somebody’ from a ‘nobody’ she blends with the Americans via the accent and their mannerisms while having a live-in relationship with her European boyfriend, Adan Somoza. 

When illness hits home, Neena rushes to meet her ailing dad. Tragedy strikes and amidst the mingling with relatives and friends, she finds herself suffocated with the two different cultures that she has been breathing since she moved to the United States. How will she strike a balance between both the cultures as she continues to support her widowed mother? Will she be able to do justice to her personal and professional life after the loss? 

Amidst the adjusting she bonds with an ally and learns about ties beyond blood. On what grounds will she be able to form an invisible thread that she has longed for since childhood?

Breathing Two Worlds ventures into cultures and ethnicity allowing Neena to ponder upon her foundation and priorities. 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Dehradun,
India

 

 

 

 “Mother Sita! I’m definitely the messenger sent
by Lord Rama. To make you believe that, Lord Rama has given his signet ring for
you.” Hanuman spoke to Sita handing over Rama’s ring.

 

“Then,
what happened?” asked a curious five-year-old with inquisitive eyes and an open
mouth as an old lady fed her a morsel of roti
(1) dipped in lentil curry. The weather was hovering around 36 degrees
Celsius, which was quite hot for the standards of people living on this hill-station
because of which most of the humanity chose to be indoors. Neena was tucked in
her maternal grandmother’s lap that not only gave her comfort when the story
reached its climax in the epic Ramayana, but she also felt protected and secure
as goose bumps had arisen on her bare slender arms. The granny gently rocked
her legs to pacify her grandchild, giving out a gentle smile as she continued,
Sita was overjoyed on seeing the ring.
She felt as if she had seen Rama in person. This was the ring exchanged during
their marriage, and it made her remember all the joyous occasions they had
enjoyed. She felt grateful to Hanuman. Finally, she breathed a sigh of relief
as her prayers had been answered.

 

Hanuman replied, ”Oh! Mother Sita! Lord Rama
was unable to find your hideout till now, that’s why He sent me. Now that He
will get to know, he will come with the army of Vanars (monkeys) and save you.
He is following all His duties, and He is doing everything to get you back
safely.”

 

The
folklores from the ‘Panchatantra’ to ‘Jataka’ to ‘Akbar-Birbal’ along with
Indian epics like the ‘Ramayana,’ ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Bhagvad Gita’ that were
full of didactic stories about the lives of great souls formed a significant
part of Neena’s childhood. All these ancient stories had been passed along from
one generation to another creating a resilient bond of traditional values, and
she was no exception especially since as a child she was headstrong, making her
mom insist upon her exposure to the Indian culture and mythology.

*******

New Delhi, India

“The
water is boiling, Mom should I add the milk now?” came an irritated voice from
the kitchen. The little birdie called Neena was growing up quickly and was
being taught how to spread her wings before she took a flight of her own.

“Does the water have
the tinge of brown in it?” The calmness in the voice refused to soothe Neena’s
irritation.

“Uhm
not yet!” Neena replied with doubt lacing her voice after having rechecked the
exact shade of the water thrice to be sure.

“Let
it boil for a while then. Add milk only when the water is that required color.”

“But
Mom!” she said in a sharp tone, “then we will have only two cups of tea instead
of three.”

“That
is why I had asked you to put extra half cup water. Remember it next time!”
bawled mom from the living room while Dad was pretending not to hear any of it
as he continued reading his newspaper.

“How
much sugar do I add?”

“Neena
just pour the tea into cups and get the sugar cubes. We will help ourselves,”
said Mom in an irked voice.

“Finally!”
Mom remarked with an agitated nod of her head when the daughter came out with
three cups in a tray.

Dad
nodding in consent over the delicious tea complimented her, “I can taste the
ginger. Good tea, Neena!”

“But
Dad it took forever! I think I will just opt for black coffee or herbal tea,”
she said in an ambivalent tone.

Mom
eyed her while sipping her beverage, “Today’s dinner will be made by your dear
daughter. “She announced as her father
gleamed with pride. Neena was clearly annoyed and tried hiding her head in a
pillow as if repenting over the decision to go away for higher studies.

“You
need it, Neena! After some days you will miss home, and that’s when you will
remember me. These things will act as comfort food for you. I might as well
train you properly so that you are not desolate.”  Said a concerned mother to which even the Dad
agreed and that annoyed the daughter further.

             The daughter followed orders diligently as
tears were flowing through her eyes, thanks to the onions. She was biting her
tongue every now and then to avoid cursing out loud since subconsciously she
loved Indian food, but the time to prepare it was cumbersome. Finally, after
comparing notes on how much and which spices to add, how thick the curry should
be, detailed discussion on the softness and edibility of the rice, dinner was
on the table. The Dad was proud of his daughter and served her as she plopped
on her dining chair.

“Ummm!
Rajma Chawal (2) with plain curd and
raw onions! Mom I would not mind shipping you there just for this.” said Neena
in a warm tone as she dug into it with her bare hands.

             “No need! You are trained for it. Just watch
out for the salt and the chili powder. Add a little for starters, and then you
could add some more if needed.” the Mom advised.

            The
last few days had been crazy for Neena. Surviving as a trainee in the
hinterland of Mrs. Arya was no mean feat. Consistently agile and proactive responses
were expected from her 24*7.  Nobody had
ever told her this side effect of deciding to study abroad. Mrs. Arya wanted to
make sure the daughter carried at least the basic survival skills with her so
that she could create a home far away from home for herself. As if the guerilla
training at home front wasn’t enough her mom took Neena to a nearby temple to
seek the blessings of their family priest. He tied a black thread around her
wrist announcing that the divine had sanctioned the journey and advised her to
wear this thread all the time, to shun away negative energy.

Just
a few days before the D-day Neena was busy trying to fit all her belongings
into two jumbo suitcases specially designed for traveling abroad when her
mother walked in with her hands full.
Neena’s eyes followed her mother as she placed all the packets gently on
the bed one by one and began the story behind each of them. “The festival of Raksha Bandhan (3) is around the corner.
Riddhi Masi’s (4) son will come by to
your University.” Her voice devoid of any emotions while handing over a small
packet consisting of 2-3 Rakhis neatly packed.

She
paused for a moment after holding a small idol close to her heart “Oh God, we
are not done yet!” Neena muttered under her breath before pretending to be
interested in the next story.

Her
mother wrapped the idol in a muslin cloth and spoke in what sounded like a
quaky voice albeit choked with emotions, “Don’t forget your daily prayers that
you have been doing since a teen. Starting your day with that will help you
stay focused on your goals. Place it at a clean place, preferably in an
east-facing corner and if possible light a lamp next to it daily. This will
create an ambiance of energy and positivity within you.”

“Mom,
where will I get lamps there? Depending on the college schedule I will have to
keep rushing around. Moreover, with the smoke detectors and all, it might not
be that easy!” the daughter lamented while placing the Rakhis in the bag,
trying to not sound offensive.

After
yet another prolonged silence her mother nodded in agreement, “You are right.
At least recite your prayers each day,” she suggested.

Neena
gaped in bemusement as her mother pulled out a book and held it tenderly before
giving it to her. Her moist eyes and traces of love in her voice were hard to
miss.  “This is your lifeline. Though we
are always there for you, God forbid there could be a time when you might not
be able to reach us.  During such times
when the universe is complying against, you ponder over the Geeta Shlokas (5) and get the answers.
You will never be alone my child… Also, don’t forget to pack some Indian
outfits. I have heard they celebrate Indian festivals there with a lot of pomp
and show. Wear them, you will feel at home.”

Neena
was amicable although she was surprised on agreeing to all the above. Maybe
distance was already making her fonder towards her mom and her likings. Having
said that mom went out briefly only to return with another package which had
the basic spices and pickles nicely labeled and packed. Neena’s face broke into
a huge smile. Her mother surely knew her well enough to take the pains of doing
all this. And then suddenly her curiosity got better of her “But the US
customs….”

Mom
interrupted her midway “Not the case anymore as long as it is properly sealed
with ingredients stated on the container. Riddhi Masi (4) was mentioning. She keeps sending spices and pickles to
her son via courier too.”

The
final piece of advice came while handing over a 0.5 Litre pressure cooker, her
one stop solution for quick & simple cooking.

“You
know the basics of Indian cooking to survive when needed. We, as parents have
passed on the wisdom of our ancestors. It’s time for you to go spread your
wings.” Mom stroked her hair gently before kissing her forehead as dad looked
upon with a gentle smile.

Till now he had been a mute spectator to the
whole show nothing new in that, though, Neena was used to his quiet
nature.  His smile said it all, just like
it always did.

Hello

 

New York,
USA

Aha! Is it so?” Neena addressed with a
borrowed accent but with genuine curiosity while throwing a ball of rubber
bands in the air with one hand and trying to catch it with the other.

Thanks to Bluetooth, she could move around
and grab a glimpse now and then of the Central Park while lending a sympathetic
ear to the client opening his can of worms.

This was routine for 24-year-old Neena Arya,
National Account Manager of Foremost Health Inc. a HealthCare company
headquartered in Europe. Equipped with an undergraduate degree in Science from
the Delhi University she had come to the States for her master’s in marketing
concentration acquainting her with consumer behavior, advertising, and
distribution and selling techniques.
This job was a manifestation of all her skills. She had joined as an
intern after her post -graduation from Columbia University and since then she
had grown steadily, climbing the stairs with confidence while learning the
techniques that could help her take ownership of the US revenue growth in
strategic regional and national distributor account within the reseller and
alternative distribution channels. Today she was handling the quotas, goals and
sales distribution of all the scientific instruments sold and distributed in
the East coast of this country. Her office consisted of two sales
representatives Pete and Bill who would assist her in either travels or
marketing inputs. There was a chartered accountant Alan who kept the finances
in order once the deals were sealed along with a secretary Sasha who handled
all the phones and detailing. Lately, they had hired a marketing intern Farah
who was gradually learning to grip the ropes to climb upward from the above
professionals.

She had a unique way of dealing with
clients. She loved giving a personal touch to it by inquiring about the
customer’s welfare, and Voila! They would open up.  The purchaser would open his faucet of
agonies without any inhibitions, as it would give the latter a cue that she is
interested in his problem.

“Sealed the deal!” she shouted jubilantly
with a softer L and a rumbling A while crumpling her syllables in her mouth, as
she hung up the phone and walked towards her glass office door that opened
towards her staff on the ground level. She tapped it three times, and that was
an indication for them to cheer along. Victory is never sweet if not celebrated
with your peers or friends or close relatives.

“The Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn
has ordered exactly two dozen of our kidney dialysis instruments.” she declared
triumphantly.

“Way to go!” cheered her colleagues by
raising their cups, which were usually suffused with some sort of caffeine that
helped them comply with the demands of staying on top of things.

Neena climbed down with steady yet quick
steps to take congratulatory handshakes from all. Keeping her petite and dainty
figure in check she grinned, one that exhibited confidence, and a certain
tenacity that made her climb the ladder of success in a few years’ time. Her
eyes always had that special spark that no one could miss out on. Some of her
peers would translate it as headstrong while some would call them mischievous.
The walls of this place of business could testify her hard work; she did not
care to explain as long as things were rolling in her favor.

Hearts would beat in plenty when she would
be around. Usually dressed in a formal shirt, and a pencil skirt that would
accentuate her gentle curves, her firm handshake would mark her confidence
along with a twinkle in her eye. She had a medium fair complexion with a
straight sharp nose, and a chiseled jaw with a dimple on her left side of the
cheek would be enough for the stallions anywhere around to get any excuse to
mob her. Fortunately, her stilettos would be a perk as they would accentuate
her tiny figure, allowing her to foresee things around and above her. This was
a perfect occasion when she had stepped down from her office.

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Author

Ruchira Khanna

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