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Divya Sachar 

I wear two strings of cotton thread - sutras - on my left wrist. The red one was tied when I went to the ashram with N's parents to perform a ritual after he died. The black one was part of another ritual of consecration. Sometimes the dangling ends of the intertwined sutras brush against my wrist, giving the feeling of something crawling on my skin. The first several times this happened, I jumped, expecting a bug on my wrist, only to find these harmless threads. But I've learnt to ignore these false alarms now. However, today when the threads kept brushing against my wrist continuously, I looked - and saw this large black insect crawling on my skin. I remember the time an aunt died. A day or so after her death we were all sitting in her house when a large black ant appeared out of nowhere on the white sheets spread on the floor. My middle aged cousin - the dead woman's daughter - jumped and exclaimed that this ant was her dead mother - reincarnated - and that everyone should take care not to squish mummy. She said this in utter seriousness and I couldn't help laughing in the poor, bereaved woman's face. So why is it that this very morning I was thinking of N, his once athletic frame now skeletal, the whites of his big, bulbous eyes in stark contrast to his dark skin, those eyes with a vacant look, sad and resigned to his fate? And why is it that his mother says he must have been reborn by now? And why is it that this big black insect on my wrist had these big white bulbous markings where its eyes were supposed to be?

We've never been friends, she and I, though we've known each other practically all our lives. We are neighbors, our parents have been friends and colleagues, and she and I went to the same school. In fact we were born two days apart in the same hospital. We should have been friends, but we both always knew that we didn't really like each other. /// "I want my father to die," she wept. He has been ill and bedridden for years now and it has taken its toll on the entire family. "He is not going to get any better," she said, "and I can't bear to see my mother suffering so much. I want him to die now." And in that one moment I knew that I was going to be her friend, that I was always going to be by her side.

Pillars.

Yesterday I met a young visually challenged guy who wanted to direct films. He wanted to adapt short stories by writers like Manto and Ismat Chugtai. He laughed a lot and talked about falling in love. He said he had often been hurt in love. Once, he was so traumatized after having been rejected that he landed up in hospital. "But that's okay," he added, "I flirted with all the nurses. I refused to call them 'sister'. They laughed at my flirtatious attempts and asked me to sing songs for them." Then he went on to sing a ghazal for me.

Nature or nurture? Perhaps you are born with certain talents but weren't provided with the necessary environment to nurture your gifts. Or maybe you were born with no special talents, but were lucky to have been nurtured in an environment that still heaps rewards on you. // A was a child prodigy who could play dozens of different musical instruments. He was remarkably poor at studies (and everything else besides) and perhaps many Indian parents would have given up on him. But luckily for him, his special musical talents were encouraged by his rich family and he was sent abroad to study jazz music. However, when he returned to India he realized that to be rich and famous (was there any other way to live?) you had to go to Bollywood. So he made mediocre, insipid auto-tuned music that instantly catapulted him to B-grade celebrity-hood. He now earns millions, and his proud mother, once looking at my own lack of any special talents, gave commiserations to my mother. Such talent is god-gifted, inborn, and cannot be replicated however hard you try, she said, even though A and I share our genes. // Another relative, B, hero-worships A. B was equally poor at studies (and everything else besides), but wasn't lucky enough to be born with any special talents. (Always remember what A's mother says.) Yet, B aspired to be rich and famous (was there any other way?) like his musician uncle. His loving parents couldn't afford a foreign education for him, so the local music school would have to suffice. Sadly, even after years of training there seems to be nothing remarkable about this young man, musically or otherwise. His father's mother complains how he is short (her daughter in law's genes, of course) and dull. And dark, to make matters worse in India. Everyone seems to agree that B's younger sister is far more intelligent and competent. And fair-skinned as well. // But life is not so bad for B. He may not be especially gifted in anything, but his loving family is now grooming him to take on the family business. His sister, clearly superior in intellect despite similar nurturing, will not be taking on the reins because - Oh, fate! - her marriage has already been arranged.

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