Shama was one of a kind. She was the first female to own a BAR in the heart of the busy city. The Bar was house full every evening. The city, being a cosmopolitan, had myriad ways to break people’s heart; love failure, work pressure, estrangement, bereavement being some of the common methods employed by it. The bull market brought in a lot of people to celebrate and at the same time a bear market would bring in a lot of disturbed souls. People who had no qualms in life would come to drink just because they did not know what else to do. Some people came to celebrate the entry of the newly born and at the same time some came to forget the departed. The palpable tension before an important event made people succumb to the habit of drinking, whereas, the joy/sorrow of the eventual success/failure of the event dragged them to acquaint the company of the bitter liquid.
“They say sweetness overpowers bitterness. But isn’t it true that most of the people, to forget the bitter experiences in their lives, fall into the trap of these bitter liquids. And what more, they say the more bitter, the more better. Interesting isn’t it?” Shama would often remark, while conversing with her husband’s photo, a task she would perform daily, before retiring for the day. As usual, every time, without a doubt, he would reply with a smile, and with the same smile. He loved her so much. An army major, he was killed while on duty. He left her alone, with two children, a decent amount of cash and a photo frame, which captured him smiling.
While in Kashmir with her husband she had taken up a bartender course just for fun. Now, it came to proper use. Her uncle, who was shifting overseas, sold his Bar to her at a very nominal price. From then on, she never looked back. To be true, she never had the time. Bringing up two children, taking care of the Bar and the household work would consume the 24 hours available for the day and sometimes would leave her begging for more. Six years had passed, and now she had got ‘used to’.
Madhu uncle, 85 years of age, was her loyal customer. Not a day had gone by without his attendance in the Bar. Even Shama looked forward to meeting him everyday. He was a fatherly figure for her, and someone with whom she could open up. He had helped her a lot in the upbringing of her children. In turn, Shama, quite an exponent in mixing spirits, would tender him a surprise drink across the table, everyday. He drank to forget; to forget the tragic death of his daughter, who would almost be Shama’s age, if she were alive. “Life has its own way of filling the gaps, isn’t it Shama dear?” he would ask her. “Shama, a lot of your customers talk hours together with you. What do they talk about?” he asked one day. “Uncle, it is not them, but the high spirits that talk. And the most common subject is God and Religion.” “Religion!!, Hinduism, Christianism or Isalmism. Which one?” he quizzed inquisitively. “Ah, the one that brings all of them under one roof, Alchoholism” she retorted. Both had a hearty laugh. He would always be the last customer to leave the bar, along with its owner. He would make sure that she transferred the cash from the box to the purse and she safely locked up the Bar. He was also kind enough to remit the cash to the bank the next day.
The rainy season would always give Shama sleepless nights. The reason for that being the Bar was situated in a low lying area. Rain water running down the adjacent streets would finally accumulate right on the street where the Bar was located. In the past, there were occasions when rain water had lodged in and flooded the Bar. This time the rains were torrential. On that fateful day, Shama had decided to close the bar early. She was worried about the children being alone at home and also heavy rains had made sure that the attendance in the bar that day was scarce. It was quite early in the evening that the bar was left with only one customer, Madhu uncle. Sensing the increasing violence of the heavy rains, Shama asked the employees to leave at once. Madhu Uncle volunteered to drop Shama back home. She was in the rest room changing, when she heard a unusual loud noise. She, at once, guessed that the huge water tank right in front of the Bar had collapsed due to the rains, and the flooding of the Bar was now imminent. As she changed quickly and came out of the rest room, water bursted into the bar dismissing every thing in its way. In a moment she found herself drowning. She quickly swam to the roof and managed to take a few deep breaths in air and began to search for Madhu Uncle. When she swam to the serving area she noticed Madhu uncle, severely injured, desperately trying to keep his face above the water surface, struggling to breathe. She at once swam to him, caught hold of his long hair and dragged him along with her to the entrance. She dived into the water, asking Madhu uncle to manage on his own for a moment. As she reached to the door handle and tried to open the door she realised that something huge was on the other side of the door and even her strongest attempts inside water was not enough to open the door even an inch wide. She swam back to the surface caught hold of Madhu Uncle’s hair again, and in the brief respite she got to breathe, she had to come up with an escape plan. “Yes, the window of the rest room” she shouted. “It does not have grilles” she exclaimed, not caring for the fact that the only person who could celebrate the idea with her was almost unconscious. But to reach there she had to swim dragging Uncle with her for at least twenty metres. She closed her eyes. The smiling face of her husband and the innocent faces of her children passed by. She was ready. She took a deep breath and began to swim. She was determined not to let Uncle go. He was the God – given father to her. She had lost enough in her life and was not ready to lose someone she loved, again. She made it to the rest room. She was taken aback when she noticed that the window was ten feet high. Since the rest room was the inner most part of the Bar, the water was only neck deep. So grabbing Uncle, she had to jump ten feet high to reach the window and go out to live again. She made sure that Uncle rested on the wall, standing. She jumped to reach the window. She could only make eight feet. “I love you children” she cried. She again thought of her husband’s smile and this time, she raised the bar. By taking the support of the toilet seat, she gathered enough energy to jump high enough to get the required grip. The willingness to survive can give you unbelievable amounts of energy, isn’t it? She then reached out to Uncle, who by now was almost conscious and reached out to her. She pulled him up and both were out of danger. They had snatched life from the jaws of death.
Six months later, Madhu Uncle inaugurated the renovated Bar. This time it was on the first floor with the ground floor dedicated for parking only. While talking to the invitees during inauguration, Madhu Uncle jocularly remarked about Shama that “this time, she has raised the BAR, literally”. Shama won the bravery award that year, which was only apt for an Army Major’s wife.