The window was open.

Sneha sat at her desk by the window. A neat stack of blank pages lay in front of her, held together by a tattered clipboard. Her favorite fountain pen with its blue- grey ink lay unopened on top of the virginal sheets. The sheets fluttered once in a while in the balmy warm- cool air of a February mid- morning. She felt swamped by a state she called lukewarm; neither hot nor cold. It made rebellion rise in her throat in bucolic bitterness. This lifeless, antiseptic, in-between state had become intolerable.

The vista beyond the window was soothing but not quite. She looked up at the huge neem tree which cast its shadow over the house. Dappled sunshine danced under the tree as the wind rustled the yellowing leaves. Once in a while a leaf would let go and ride the winds languidly to land fleetingly on the ground. A vagabond zephyr would run breathlessly through the fallen leaves; the leaves were neither still nor moving. The tree was shedding its foliage early this year, but not really. It’s indeterminate shedding matched the general vagueness. Sneha stirred restlessly in her chair. She fought to quell her irrational desperation.

The neem tree stood alone majestically at one corner of a grassy knoll. In the mid- distance beyond it, a stone’s throw from the house, a pond glinted in the sunlight. It was not  a real pond- just a depression in which rain water collected for a few months. Come summer, it would disappear. The pond too, wished to remain unfixed and uncertain. Sneha bit her lip in annoyance.

The serpentine thread of a highway ran along the pond for a few meters and then turned sharply away. A narrow dirt road branched out from the highway and led to her house. The house stood in solitary, unapproachable aloofness. There were no other houses for miles around. Her late father had a strong distaste for his fellow humans.

A live in servant, companion of his own boyhood, was all that the company he had ever allowed after his beloved wife had passed away leaving a ten year old Sneha in his care. When he passed away suddenly one quiet night, Sneha had just turned twenty- three. Over the years since his passing away, she had become accustomed to the solitude. Though she had no dislike for people, she cherished her self- sufficient existence. But not anymore.

Five years after her father’s death, her sole companion, the live in servant, also passed away. Since his passing two years ago, her solitary existence had begun to irk her. She craved for the warmth that only sharing can bring. For no reason that she could imagine, she had suddenly begun hankering for conversation. Perhaps this feeling had been growing in her stealthily ever since her father had passed away. Maybe she had always carried a seed of it in an untouched corner of her heart. Whatever it was, there was no denying it.

The trouble was, she knew of no way to bring companionship into her life. The world swished past her on the highway. It didn’t notice her house sitting demurely on a grassy patch. Her years of solitary life had distanced her from the few friends she had made at college. A radio and a newspaper were her only contacts with the world. Both of these means, alas, are one way channels. She knew no one and to the world, she was well lost.

That’s when she began writing stories, weaving people and events that she wanted to live herself. Sometimes she felt as if she was going mad.

She pulled the clipboard towards her, uncapped the pen and began to write a new story. She let it spill out of her in untrammelled passion; the colors of her discontent painting the pristine white pages in their violent hues. This would be the last story she will ever write, one way or the other. She had promised herself this a few days ago.

Brows knotted together with desperate intensity, she began to write.

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

The window was closed.

Pranav stood at the window of his office housed in a landmark high rise in the busiest section of the commercial district. The air- conditioner hummed softly somewhere behind him, creating a pool of cool air around him. Ten minutes ago he was engrossed in work; simultaneously reading mails and talking to irate customers on the phone while jotting down his to- do list for the day.

For Pranav this kind of multitasking was a way of life. He never wondered at his ability to focus on three or four things in the same instant. It was a survival tool for him. They didn’t give him this swank office for his tall- dark- handsome looks, after all. He earned every privilege of his phenomenal compensation package.

Ten minutes ago, he had abruptly dropped everything he was working on and walked over to the window. He didn’t know why he did it. He had never before cut a client off in mid-sentence and hung up on him. A part of him was horrified. For ten minutes, the phones had been jangling; his unfinished to-do list was glaring at him accusingly. He had turned his back on all the demands of his plush office and stared at the faded blue sky over the tops of buildings. Somewhere in the distance, he knew, there was the sea.

He had a strange feeling- as if he was a puppet at the end of a string. Someone commanded him to move; someone pulled a string and he moved, not only physically but also inside. He was amazed at himself. He had never ignored a ringing phone in his life. Their strident call was an imperative he had always honored. An unanswered phone ring got on his nerves; he could never bear it. Yet, here he was, standing placidly in the vortex of ringing phones, as if he had gone stone deaf. What on earth was wrong with him? He shrugged his shoulders and kept standing at the window, ignoring the noise around him.

In the past few months, there were times when Pranav had felt as if the reins of his life had slipped from his fingers and he was being carried away on a strong current, unable to resist. He had felt like a puppet just as he was feeling today but the intensity was far muted then. Those times stood out clearly in his memory. The feeling of having lost control was intolerable to a man like him. It made him grind his teeth in annoyance.

He relived those periods of his life as he stood looking out of the window. Today too he got the uncanny feeling that he was being directed, as if he was just following a script with no power to change a single comma. He felt rebellious and belligerent. This was ridiculous! He was a man, not a toy train that could be shunted to any track by a manipulative dispatcher pulling levers! He was the master of his life; he was and he would be! This has got to stop, he declared to himself vehemently!

His desperation sealed his resolve.

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To be continued…