Free Chapters – This Is Not Your Story

Prologue

For a moment, forget who you are. More importantly, leave behind who we are and empty out everything. Instead, just be me.
‘I never wanted anything from life.’
If I say those words, I would be lying. In fact, that would be the biggest lie of my life. I wanted, I have always wanted. I just never could bring the words out. My voice failing, my heart breaking, my soul shattering.
But, what do I really want in life?
I don’t know yet. So, I will tell you everything I wanted and still want. Today, I will be true; true to you, and most importantly, true to myself.
I … I … I want to live.
Yes. Not one but many lives in one lifetime. I want to write about myself and everyone I ever met, capture the essence of what it’s like to live. To be able to read everything beautiful and painful ever written and appreciate the experiences captured. All of this hoping to inspire and be inspired.
I want to learn and to teach. Yes, both, because I have had life-defining encounters that need to be shared and understood. Even so, I still have life-changing experiences, lessons to learn.
I want to give away everything I have. Yes, I want that and I want to begin again. To remind myself what it means to start over, to be back at the beginning of one’s life.
I want to eat and dress well, have a nice car and a nicer home. To be rich, famous and appreciated. The little things and the bigger things, I want all of them.
I want to be single and yet attached. Alone yet accompanied. I want to be everything and nothing, all at once!
I want Death to want me. He cannot take me, I want him to come when I have exhausted these lives I want to live and become! I want him to desire the enriched soul I will be!
I want it all; slowly, gradually, definitely. But is this all possible? Can one person be all these things in one lifetime?
I don’t know, but I certainly want to know.

FOUR YEARS AGO

Chapter 1
Shaurya

Jaipur
I was excited at the thought of sharing my dreams with my parents. My mom has always been a loving and gentle woman. A petite woman — far shorter than my dad and I — she was encouraging of what I did for the most part, and put my own wellbeing far above her own many times. Housework, cooking, and attending to me made her content. Her smile never failed to cheer me up, and the contrast she held to her husband, my dad, was like a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. She created warmth, and with a kiss she could cure a child’s injury without ever expecting a thank you for the miracles of motherhood that she performed.
As for my dad, he was an orthodox man in both appearance and action. He was a firm believer in letting things off your chest, but he was infamous for asking questions that made you second-guess your decisions. I would cringe at the thought of not meeting his approval in my choices and actions. The intense stare from those brown eyes would hit me, making me feel as if my belly was flopping down onto the cold, marble floor. His mouth would move with precision to slam me with questions to encourage me to think things through. I knew that this was his way of showing me he cared about my future, but his questions stripped me of creativity, imagination, and, more times than I could count, my dreams as a child and adult. His words fell from his lips in two manners: an elected official, or a priest.
Sitting across the table from him added to the anxiety wrapping itself around the joints of my knees and elbows. My mom’s spoon clacked against the pot with each scoop she served on the plates before us. She settled in her seat, and I remembered to breathe for a second. In my head I was trying to figure out how to start. Do I ask for their attention first? Or should I just blurt out my dream? No, maybe I should at least announce where I plan to go. My decision does require that I leave Jaipur, leave them far behind. The thudding of my heart made my chest ache; my palms were cold with sweat, and again I had to remind myself to breathe. Had I only taken two breaths since I’d sat at the dinner table under my dad’s watchful eye?
‘Mom, Dad.’ It had taken me weeks to build up the courage to make the announcement. ‘I want to go to Mumbai.’
The clanking of my dad’s silverware against his plate made me flinch. ‘Why on earth would you need to go to Mumbai?’
It was more abrasive of a reaction than I was prepared to face. The way his face reddened, the vein pulsing on his forehead and the sharpness of his stare cut me down with precision. He made it clear with his reaction that there was no reason for me to even think of Mumbai as a place I could go. Worse, clenching my fists under the table, I knew deep down the reaction wouldn’t improve when I stated why I wanted to go there. I managed somehow to cling on to my courage to survive that moment and carry on.
‘I …’ Swallowing, I pulled my courage back beside me before it could flee. ‘I want to go there and take a filmmaking course, become a film director.’
‘That’s no path for people like us,’ he grunted, and returned to the aggressive cutting of his food. ‘A career like that is all about luck. It’s a fool’s dream.’
‘And why do you need to go to Mumbai for that?’ My mom had paused in her own eating. ‘Can’t you take classes here in Jaipur? On the side?’
‘Mumbai has the best classes.’ I had locked eyes with my dad, sweat trickled down the side of my neck. ‘There are more opportunities to land a job afterwards in Mumbai as well.’
‘I see.’ My dad took a bite and chewed on it before continuing his interrogation. ‘Shaurya, have you considered the cost of living in Mumbai?’
It was one of the practical questions I had prepared myself for. ‘I am aware of that, Dad. In fact, I have been saving up for some time. My plan is to take the train to Mumbai. I have an idea of a few places within walking distance of the college I wish to attend, and —’
‘And how do you know this college will accept you?’ He lifted an eyebrow at me, another bite of food sliding into his mouth.
‘I have been building up a portfolio …’ I was losing my stand in the conversation. ‘The photos I have been taking, those have been for me to prove my artistic eye.’
‘With that old camera?’ snorted my mom. ‘But why on earth would a film college be interested in photos?’
I sighed, feeling like they were working together to spin me in circles. ‘It’s more than just filming something. You have to be able to tell a story, capture emotion, even in a single frame.’
‘And how many are you competing against for jobs?’ my dad took the reins again, laying his spoon down. ‘How many jobs are there? Are you sure you’ll be able to find one?’
‘There are not as many as …’ I stopped myself, rephrasing my words. ‘There are more jobs in Mumbai for filmmakers than anywhere else in India.’
‘You seem unsure about this.’ He went back to eating, as if confident he had redirected me on the matter. ‘You should start preparing for your Chartered Accountancy entrance, Shaurya.’
My chest tightened. ‘But, it’s not what I want to do. My dream is to be a filmmaker.’
‘I understand.’ A swallow from his glass, and then he cleared his throat. ‘Why mess with success? Why take a chance of failing?’
‘I …’ My words failed me and I found myself out of answers.
My soul was ripped away from me, and with it my courage. I stared down at my plate; my appetite had gone and the taste in my mouth was sour with the words ‘people like us’. I didn’t want to be a person like this. I wanted to chase after something that made me happy to wake up every morning. Was it so wrong to want to be something more?
Frustrated, I excused myself from the table. In the darkness of my bedroom I let the anger swirl in my mind. My dad had no idea what skill and talent was needed to become a film director. A fool’s dream? Wasn’t it foolish to be satisfied with a life that would not prosper beyond where it sits? To remain unhappy and miserable to the end of your days? My stomach twisted yet again, the idea of it all too nauseating to fathom. Becoming a filmmaker was no different from putting in the hard work and skills needed to become a CA. Being a CA — that was my dad’s dream for me. Not mine.
My door cracked open. It was my mom.
‘Shaurya, are you all right?’ she smiled, inviting herself into the room. ‘You barely ate.’
‘I lost my appetite after Dad trampled on my dreams,’ I said, glaring at her. ‘What were your thoughts on the matter?’
‘I have to admit, it’s a silly idea.’ She had the nerve to giggle at me. ‘You should listen to your dad. He’s a wise man, after all.’
Sitting up, my eyes ending the laughter, I warned, ‘One day, I will be gone. I will hop onto a train to Mumbai and chase my dreams.’
I meant every word. As many times as I’d gone to the railway station, I could have been gone from here. I lifted the black photo frame from the wall, removed the photo in it, and replaced the empty frame. My mom made a face, lifting an eyebrow at the awkward moment.
Laying back down, I hissed, ‘That will be my reminder that my destiny is an empty one. That my dreams mean nothing …’
She sighed and turned on her heel to leave as she waved a hand in rebuttal. ‘Stop being so dramatic, Shaurya. None of us ever gets to see our dreams …’

Chapter 2
Anubhav

Jaipur
Growing up in Jaipur was something precious to me. Jaipur is a wonderful place to start one’s life, amidst beautiful relics in the form of palaces, forts and even temples. Before our time, this was a place full of dreams coming true, and as a child, I wanted a piece of that.
My mom once asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up, Anubhav?’
I replied, ‘A king of my own making.’
When I thought about it much later, it made me laugh to think of my tiny voice saying those big words; I didn’t even know exactly what they meant. I do remember that my dad got a good laugh out of it. But never did my parents say no or correct the thought. After all, I was only a child at the time.
Dreams of being in my own tower of power built from something I had worked hard at, I suppose, was a worthy goal in life.
‘Why Bangalore?’ When I told my mom I wanted to move for my studies, her face was showing her age by that point. I looked at her eyes, suddenly sad at the thought of my leaving.
‘Because one of the best colleges for pursuing MBA is there,’ I smiled, reassuring her that this was indeed something I wanted to do, where I wanted to go. ‘If I am going to build a successful business, then I should learn what I can from the very best, right?’
‘He has a point.’ My dad’s eyes squinted as his grin grew wider, pushing his wrinkled cheeks high. ‘We want the best for you as well, Anubhav.’
‘I …’ Tears danced in her eyes; she sniffled, gathering her words again. ‘I will miss you terribly, Anubhav.’
Taking my mom into my arms, I was thankful they wouldn’t keep me from going. ‘I plan to get my MBA and launch a startup company while I am there. Please say you’ll visit me in Bangalore.’
‘Of course!’ She pulled away, wiping the tears from her cheeks. ‘Know that you are always welcome to come home if things don’t work out.’
‘I hope you find everything you are looking for,’ my dad grunted, fighting back his own emotions. ‘Make me proud, son.’
‘I will. I know I will,’ I nodded.
A few weeks later, I caught the train to Bangalore and — without a second thought — left Jaipur behind to pursue a Master’s in Business and launch my startup venture.
~
Bangalore
Bangalore was an interesting place, not like Jaipur, yet reminiscent of Jaipur with large, towering skyscrapers leaving a sensation of modern palaces and temples. It seemed like the streets were crowded day and night. So much so, you wondered if the people there ever slept. They had their fair share of temples and relics, but they felt like weeds growing between the cracks of a brick road. Take a wrong turn, and you would find yourself in slums. The modern architecture there was amazing. You could find yourself standing in the streets, looking up in awe at the engineering needed to create a work of art people were able to live in, work in.
‘You again?’ The man blinked at me and came to stand by me, looking in the same direction I was, curious. ‘I see you out here all the time, just staring up.’
‘Does it not inspire you to see what someone designed, created from their imagination?’ I eyed the man; he worked in the building I was gazing at, though I had never looked any deeper than that. ‘And for you to work inside a work of art must be amazing.’
He chuckled. ‘I’ve never thought of it that way. It was always where I worked. I suppose there is a great pride to it, to be in this extraordinary building.’
A smile crept across my face and with great confidence I claimed, ‘One day I’ll have my own business and join you in there.’
He folded his arms and grinned. ‘Tell me about what you do,’ he invited. ‘I have a couple of minutes. I’d love to hear your story.’
My smile was bright as I took in his words. ‘I like that. My story.’
I gestured to a low stone wall a few steps away and we sat down together. ‘I have always wanted to be a successful entrepreneur. Although I am from Jaipur, my parents encouraged me to come to Bangalore to go to college and start my own venture.’
He nodded. ‘You are lucky to have such supportive parents.’
‘Yes, I am,’ I mused. ‘They gave me the courage to follow my dreams. I can barely wait to finish my degree — I have so many great ideas to bring to the world!’
‘You are a fortunate young man,’ he commented. ‘You have both courage and support. That is a powerful combination, because both feed off each other. As long as you have both those things, I know your path will lead you to success.’
His words were as powerful as a bolt of lightning. ‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I look forward to the day you and I can have lunch together in this building.’
‘For your sake, I hope your wish comes true.’ He glanced at his wristwatch then and said, ‘So sorry, I’ll be late if I dream beside you any longer!’
Personally, I liked the buildings in India’s Silicon Valley. Looking back later, maybe it was also the innovation of the businesses there that added to the curves and angles of the buildings. The outer shells of successful ideas decorated to match the greatness of the men and women achievers within those glass and concrete walls.
In this place, my creativity and determination were fuelled beyond what I could have hoped. The Amer Fort, where my parents often took me when I was kid, was far away, but in front of me were the palaces of modern man, ready for me to stake my own claim in them.
My dream was to be a successful entrepreneur, to become someone who could come out of my ordinary existence to bloom into something far greater.

PRESENT DAY

Chapter 3
Shaurya

Jaipur
The voices of travellers in the railway station washed over the platform like the murmuring of a river. To me, it was a numbing tone, much like silence. The red and yellow numbers flashing over the platform could not break me from the weight of my thoughts. They were nothing more than the pulsing beacons of the emotions wrestling with one another at the centre of my soul. Winter was ending, but it brought no cool breeze to make the long waits less agonizing as trains unloaded and loaded in screeching waves. February was being shy, keeping the last gentle cold fronts hidden and denying me the chill I should have been feeling at this moment. I weaved my way around the pillars and the occasional vendor, following the steps I had taken so often. There, as always on Platform No. 2, was an empty bench waiting, ever faithful, for me.
Sitting there alone, I was terrified and excited. The empty track before me would soon be filled with the metallic caterpillar promising to take me to a place where my dreams and ambitions could become reality. Stepping on board the train, I would be joining it on its journey, ready for the metamorphosis it had offered to so many before me. But my indecisiveness lay bitter in my mouth: was I willing to leave behind my parents — especially my mom, whom I adored so much — without regret?
All I wanted was the encouragement from them for me to reach for my dreams. Their responses, always in the back of my mind, brought on a drowning sensation now, and filled me with terror. Could I really leave everything behind? Would my life be happy without them there to share it all with? To bring a sense of pride to my parents and family would fill me with joy, wouldn’t it? It should, but the idea of it all felt so lonesome and cold. Perhaps, today, I might finally be able to move from this bench and into the next chapter of my own story.
‘May I sit here?’ A middle-aged man cut through my thoughts, making me flinch.
‘Y-yes.’ The loneliness of my situation was still biting at my mind, and I saw no harm in allowing him to join me in this isolated nook.
The man eyed me for a moment before he spoke. ‘This is my first time riding a train to Mumbai. How much longer will the train be?’
‘Twenty minutes.’ I didn’t need to look at a clock; this was not my first time at the Mumbai platform.
‘So, this is the Mumbai Platform No. 2?’ He looked around, seeming lost, staring at the yellow flashing signs.
‘Yes, you are on the right platform.’ Straightening myself, I pointed across the way. ‘That is Platform No. 3, where a train from Mumbai will arrive to unload. Here on Platform No. 2, the train going to Mumbai will arrive. If you intend to go to Mumbai, you are sitting in the right spot, sir.’
‘Ah.’ He nodded to himself, looking over the railway station in its entirety. ‘So, are you going to Mumbai as well, my friend?’
I opened my mouth to answer, but hesitated. Part of me was screaming yes, while the other half was shouting no. This bench was still holding me down with the chains of my frustrations.
Swallowing back my thoughts, I mumbled my answer. ‘Maybe …’
The man’s silence stung. Could he hear my thoughts? Could he feel my struggle between my life now and the life of my dreams?
‘Maybe?’ he repeated, a sense of surprise in his voice, but I said nothing. ‘What do you do?’
‘I am doing my CA, final year.’ My reply felt dry, but I was happy to change topics.
‘It’s a good profession.’ He was trying his best to change the mood between us, though I was not interested in brightening it myself. ‘Your life will be set once you clear it. When are your final exams?’
Sighing, I replied, ‘In three months.’
‘Oh! How many attempts did it take you to reach the finals?’ he asked, perking up, intrigued to know more.
‘Cleared the entrance and IPCC, everything on first attempt.’ I glanced at the man from the corner of my eyes, taking in his crow’s feet. ‘Now I just need to sit for my first attempt at the finals.’
‘That’s great!’ he smiled at me, the creases on his face growing deeper in his joy on hearing my achievements. ‘You will surely clear the finals! Live a great life!’
My gaze fell to the ground with a mix of emotions. ‘We’ll see …’
‘Why do you say that?’ he asked gently.
‘My parents … this is the path they want me on,’ I admitted.
‘But it is not the one you would choose?’ ‘No.’
He sighed, leaned back and threaded his fingers behind his head, thinking carefully. Finally, he spoke again. ‘I can tell you, others have tried to push me in other directions; paths of their choosing, not mine. I am a pig-headed man, I admit, and when this happened, their attempts to influence me only made me want even more to go in the opposite direction.’
‘Truly?’ I grinned, picturing my companion digging his heels into the ground like a stubborn mule.
‘Yes,’ he smiled. ‘You have to tell yourself that what you fear from the misery your parents may inflict if you cross them is much worse than the misery that you are in by not standing up for your dreams. If you follow the path you wish, if you chase down those dreams, you will truly not suffer. It is what the universe genuinely wants you to do. Embrace this second chance and take back your dreams.’
Thoughts were creeping back into place, my heart aching. I was torn between love and duty. Was it always this difficult to follow both in one’s life? The man was still trying to pry a conversation from me, but I was more alone than ever. His words drifted through my ears, in and out again like loose stitches on a hemline. On occasion, I muttered a monotonous answer to the endless queries he pitched at me. Here I was again, sitting on this bench, trying to decipher what I should do with my life. What did I want to do, what was it I needed to be? Who could I not leave behind in Jaipur?
‘Life’s a funny thing, you know?’ The man leaned back on the bench, his eyes looking off to some invisible distance. ‘If you don’t give all of yourself to the life you want, heart, soul and mind, you won’t go anywhere at all. Many times I’ve found myself stuck, a lot like you are here, on this bench, unable to move no matter how much I yearned to go to that next chapter in my life.’
He had caught my attention. ‘So what do you do when you get stuck?’
He chuckled, pleased to have me back in the conversation. ‘I give it what it asks of me. I take risks, especially if the worst that can happen changes nothing from where I was sitting.’
‘You seem so confident,’ I said, my eyebrows raised high, feeling sceptical at his words. ‘Risks can often land you in a far worse situation.’
‘True,’ he nodded, his grin widening. ‘But then again, the weight of regret and asking yourself what if, down the road, is far more haunting to one’s soul. What if I took that chance? Well, if the worst that happens is that you have to come back home and pick up where you left off, at least you can stop wasting time on dreaming and wondering if it’s still a possibility.’
I took in his advice, mulling it over in my head. ‘Still, isn’t all that terrifying? What would your family think? Coming home to a family disappointed in you …’
‘Ah, but that’s part of taking that leap of faith.’ He leaned forward again. ‘Remember, there is a cost for everything you want in life. A cost for making your life better, a cost for not making your life better. And it’s you who will have to pay for it. So, decide carefully what you want.’
The screeching of a train on the tracks halted the man’s words. My eyes shot up, taking in the doors of the train to Mumbai.
The man stood and took a step. Then he stopped and turned. ‘Are you coming?’
Eyes locked on those doors, I was too afraid to say an answer aloud in the fear that it would make my decision final.
A horn blared, sounding the warning that the train would pull away soon. ‘Young man, are you coming?’
I held my breath, a cold sweat coming over me. ‘What are you thinking?’ the man whispered, or perhaps my ears and mind were too far away to hear him now. ‘The train is leaving, come …’
It was enough to prompt me to stand, my heart thumping in my ears. Still, my legs wouldn’t move. Another long, hard whistle, the rumbling of the engine rising, and then the railway coaches were rocking into motion; the train was leaving. The man huffed at me, his lips folded in a scowl. His happy demeanour lost as my body, mind and soul wrestled with one another. A hissing sound hit my ears, making the train take on a monstrous tone. My throat tightened and I gave the man a look of helplessness. Why was it so hard to take even one step towards my dreams?
He had spoken to me of risks and leaps of faith, but I was still afraid to even take the smallest of steps. To come to the edge of this moment in my life had taken courage, and I still didn’t know where it came from. But if I could truly be brave, like this man, perhaps I could be the one sitting and smiling at the bench. No, I lacked the ability to take blind leaps. Oh, how I knew the weight of regrets he’d spoken about, and the nightmare of playing the screaming chant of What If. Could today be the day I took a step towards my ambitions?
Sorrow swelled inside me as the man turned on his heel. He took off, sprinting in a frantic manner, and his shoulder slammed into a young woman. I opened my mouth to shout after him, but fear silenced what would have come out. He gave me a last pitiful look over his shoulder, and then hopped onto the metal beast. Motionless, I watched the train to Mumbai screech and snort further away.
Papers that the girl had been holding fell all around me, like a cold winter’s snow. Goosebumps rippled across my skin. The sounds of the train, the girl’s complaints, and even my thoughts fell silent. I was alone, swallowed by my fears. The train pulling through the station sent the sheets of papers flipping and flying alongside my courage across the platform. The colourful streak of a dress could not break my stare at the horizon before me. All I could do was watch my dreams rattle away until I could no longer see the train. My jaw aching from my clenched teeth, defeated by my cowardice, I turned and started the familiar walk home.
I would have to try again someday, when I found my courage once more. I would have to try again to justify the meaning of my name, Shaurya — brave, courageous.
~

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Sometimes, you do not write your story, it writes you. You don’t choose your story, it chooses you.
But would you believe it if someone told you, ‘This is Not Your Story’? Would you have the courage to rewrite it?
Shaurya, a CA student. This is his story of following his dreams.
Miraya, an interior designer. This is her story of believing in love.
Anubhav, an aspiring entrepreneur. This is his story of giving life another chance.
After her record-breaking debut novel Everyone Has A Story,
Savi Sharma tells a transforming tale of courage, hope and self-discovery.