Friday, February 8, 2019

No. 101

Shraddha looked at the message from her brother Shankar with a frown. "Paapu is unwell, it seems. Mom told me today. Please visit, if you can."

She was puzzled that her mom had told Shankar this but not her. Was it because it had slipped her mother's mind that she also knew Paapu; was it because her mother didn't think the news would matter to her; or did her mother think that she couldn't be bothered with it? Why tell Shankar the news? What could he do, either? He had simply passed the buck to her, after all.

Shraddha was relieved too, in a way. She wouldn't have to take responsibility for the news. She didn't have to do anything about it. Her mother knew that she couldn't do anything about it. Shraddha, for one, didn't know where Paapu lived. But unless he lived right next door - and even then - she didn't have the time to visit.

No, she didn't... And already her mind was slipping to a hundred things that were demanding her attention. This had to be the hundred and first thing, and would probably never move up the list, permanently taking residence against the number 101.

But now that she had seen the message...

She heard her 12-year-old son Akshay waking up. She quickly got the milk ready. She was behind schedule, this stupid message distracting her from priorities - packing lunch, giving breakfast, getting ready...

She set the table half an hour later and called Akshay and her husband Mithun to the table. "One of my relatives is unwell it seems," she said, surprised that it was still on her mind. Mithun looked up from his phone absent-mindedly. "Shankar wants me to find out how things are," she persisted. She wanted someone else to take the responsibility for the next course of action - her brother, mother, even Mithun.

"Who is this?" Mithun asks to show that he was listening.

"Well... Neeta chaachi's brother. My father's brother's wife..." she explained patiently, knowing that even after 14 years of marriage, Mithun needed the family tree to be explained.

Mithun raised an eyebrow. "Your chaachi's brother? How does he become your relative?"

"Well, he doesn't..." she drawled, that equation presenting a escape route.

"It's up to you, of course," Mithun said, making it abundantly clear that he thought even the suggestion that she had to do something about it ridiculous; and that he was not about to be trapped into making any indiscrete comments that could haunt him later.

She sighed, stll undecided.

Oh god! She was late!!! She jumped up and cleared the table quickly, giving her maid instructions. She dressed, grabbed her Tablet and rushed to the car. In the car, she turned her Bluetooth on and dialled her mother's number for a chat. "Shankar messaged about Paapu. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Does it matter?" her mother asked, reflecting Mithun's thoughts. But the difference was that while Mithun asked the question indifferently, her mother managed to make it sound accusing.

The conversation threatened to explode and so Shraddha changed the topic. It was easy for Shankar to suggest she visit, considering he himself never made the effort during any of his brief trips to India. And it was easy for her mother to sound dissatisfied because she had never had to work overtime and she had a battalion of relatives to help her.

At work, work took over and, now an expert in boxing up her emotions, Shraddha plunged in. So much happened in a day that sometimes as she returned home, she couldn't even remember leaving home in the morning.

Next morning, as she busied herself in the kitchen, she heard Akshay ask Mithun, "Papa, can you give me 50 rupees to school today?"

"Why?" Mithun asked.

"It's Friday, baba... I am allowed to eat in the canteen, remember your promise?"

"But why 50?" Mithun asked, his tone serious. Shraddha smiled, knowing well that Mithun could never deny Akshay anything. But this had become a weekly ritual - Akshay's asking for Rs 50 and Mithun's dragging the suspense till they left together, when he would hand the money over.

Oh, how Shankar and she would beg their mother to given them Rs 5 each, and succeed probably once in a month! But the rest of the month?

It was all fun, the asking despite knowing that they would be denied, but trying their luck anyway. It was a large joint family. Of the nearly half a dozen cousins who went to the same school, someone or the other would have some change and they would all taste a morsel of sinful candies from the shop outside.

And then Paapu moved in. He was their aunt's brother from the village. He had got admission in a city college and moved in with the extended family, no questions asked. He lent a hand wherever he could out of gratitude. He was treated like a son of the family, and he behaved like one.

Including when he saw the children trying to wheedle a pie out of their parents. For some reason, Shankar and Shraddha were the favourites, and whenever he could, he would slip in whatever he could.

Not just money, he taught them mathematics and science. He took them out. He watched over them.

Tears welled up as Shraddha remembered those days. He had been an elder brother to all of them, even those who were nearly his age. After college, he got a job in another city and how bereft they had all felt. He continued to visit them whenever he was in the city and brought them gifts.

But if time healed wounds, it also sealed the memories of the good times and the good people. In her pursuit of independence, Shraddha had moved far, too far, so far that even when Paapu moved back to the city, she visited him only once or twice. Her family, her work, her priorities... Where was the time for anything else?

But now that the floodgates had opened, her heart would not let her ignore the message anymore. She pinged her boss to say she would be late. "Do you want to visit Paapu?" she called and asked her mother. "I am planning to go there before work. I can pick you up and drop you back," she said.

"OK," her mother replied, sounding uncertain whether to trust her daughter or not.

"Only half an hour," Shraddha warned.

"That's a good beginning," her mother replied laughing.


  1. Replies
    1. Haha... Didn't think of that connection. It just came from her thought about having a 100 things to do :D


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