Showing posts with label Short Story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Short Story. Show all posts

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Spirit of Music

Saveri sat at her aunt's feet, watching with awe as the elder lady, with her eyes closed, strummed the tanpura and matched her voice to the tonal sound. Even that fundamental element of music emanating from that divine voice was perfect. Saveri opened her mouth and winced at the harsher sound that came from her own throat. Albeit in the right pitch, it lacked finesse. She tried to subdue the harshness by constricting the throat.

Her aunt looked at her kindly. "Don't hold back!"

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Classmate

Saveri was excited. She had just been added to the Whatsapp group of the school she had studied but for two years in Mumbai.

It had been a rude shock at that time, about 25 years ago... When she was just an 8-year-old... They were living in Delhi before that, and she had grown up ensconced in the warmth of her grandmother's love. Suddenly, after her grandmother's death, Saveri's distraught father had sought a change and gone to Mumbai, his wife and Saveri in tow.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - Part V

For Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV

When she came to, she was lying on her mother's lap. Revathi was fanning her with the pallu of her sari, while Gautama sprinkled water on her face. Seeing her revive, he helped her up and gave her some water to drink. She saw the anxious look on his face and felt her eyes welling up in relief.

"How are you feeling?" Gautama asked Shravanti solicitously.

She nodded in reply.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - IV

For Part I, For Part II, For Part III

Part IV Continued

Their swords clashed. Shravanti felt her entire body tremble at the impact. As they sparred, she became painfully aware that mere hacking away at firewood or practicing with a young student did not prepare you to meet a battle-hardened bandit. Most of her energy went only to keep her body straight. She was also ashamed to realise that the bandit was toying with her, the leer on his face suggesting the fanciful thoughts that flitted through his mind, and that he could make short work of her if he so desired. Any fancy footwork and agility won her a slash, but the bandit seldom drove home his advantage.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - III

For Part I
For Part II

Continued
"Vikrama's father Saranga and I were very good friends. Vikram was just around 10 when you were born. Saranga and I decided to get the two of you married when you came of age. Five years later, we even formalised it with an engagement ceremony... The marriage date was fixed for two years later, when Vikrama's apprenticeship under his father would be over," Gautama said, gazing out of the window with a far away look. "There was much hope, many plans... Soon after your engagement was fixed, one evening he visited us. It was all fun and laughter when you entered the room with a sword almost your size. We were amused and though I tried to dissuade you, Saranga encouraged you to slash like a swashbuckler with the weapon. Unfortunately, when you plunged, you tripped and injured Saranga severely. We rushed him to the doctor and bore the expenses of his intense treatment, which was a big draw on our limited resources. It also severely crippled Saranga, who could not continue to give training in weapons. He was unforgiving and within a few months, both of us fell into bad days... Saranga blamed us, you specifically, for our misfortune. Our friendship soured..." Gautama hesitated.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - II

Click for Part I

The man stood tall and broad, intimidating her with a glare that made her heart tremble.

"You have repaid my trust well," he said in a quiet, deep voice.

Shravanti lowered her head, her face pale. Ajaya, who had run ahead, saw the threat to Shravanti's person and regretted leaving his weapons behind near the tree where they had been sitting. But adept at the art of turning even a twig into a weapon, he picked up dry sand and stole up to the man.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - I

Shravanti walked down the path, her hips swaying gracefully as she balanced a pot on her head and a sickle in the other. Her youthful body was wrapped in fine, soft cotton that highlighted her curves. If one were to overtake her and catch a glimpse of her face, their heart could not be blamed for forgetting to beat on seeing the delicate features that seemed to be engraved perfectly.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Abandoned Queen

"Narayana, Narayana," our very own friendly neighbourhood Narada entered Vaikuntha. His eyes twinkled, and mentally, he rubbed his hands in glee. He expected a storm would have disrupted the peace of his Lord's domestic bliss, and was surprised by the evident calm, contrary to his expectations.

In fact, the Lord and His Consort welcomed him with twinkling eyes. "You seem disappointed to see us, Narada?" Narayana teased him.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Ghost of Nest

Niharika embraced Neha affectionately. "I am going to miss you all... Keep in touch," she said as she kissed the little ones, all excited about moving to a new city.

Neha nodded. "I have left my house key with the manager to show the house to prospective tenants. Just keep an eye, though."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Goal

Sheela typed away seriously on her computer, compiling the report about the latest project she was working on. At every stage, there had been delays, hurdles they had to overcome, unexpected calamities that created situations needing fire-fighting, resource crunch... a zillion other things. But the team had worked hard, overcoming each hurdle and ready to face the next... Finally, when the project was ready, the customer had delayed implementing it up due to some team churn at their end.

While she felt euphoric, she also wondered if all the sweat had been worth it. Now, as she typed out the details, of course there was pride. But there was also wonder. Are deadlines really worth it? This was not the first time that the client, after putting pressure, had become slack. Or, having implemented, they failed to use it effectively. Or even if they did use it well, they rarely acknowledged the development team...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Prize Pen

Every time she saw a car in that colour - that particular shade of burgundy-brown-maroon mix - she would pause and smile. It was the colour, not the car, that made her smile like that. A childhood memory, worth not even a pinch of salt, and yet, lodged deeply...

She must have been 8 or 9 years old at that time. The association of the colony in Delhi where she lived had organised the annual celebrations that October for Navaratri, culminating in cultural events, including Ram Leela skit with the burning of the effigy of Ravana followed by an entertainment show on the 10th day. She had been very excited that year because she, along with four of her friends from her Kathak class, were going to perform at the show.

Since she was good and picked up fast, she was slightly ahead of the rest. So in addition to a group performance with the other four, she was also going to do a solo piece. She was thrilled, and preened at the silent envious glances from her friends.

After many rehearsals, the evening of the show finally came. It seemed to fly past in the blinking of the eye. She could have gone on dancing, but had to stop with one. Her mother embraced her, her neighbours congratulated her. The events continued and she watched, but her mind kept going back to her own performance.

"Let's go home and you can change," her mother called her. "Where is your CD?"

She stared blankly. Her mother ran backstage, found the CD and came out smiling. Suddenly her name was announced on stage. "This year, we would like to honour our young star, who enthralled us with her Kathak performance!"

Her eyes opened wide and jaw dropped. She ran up the stage to receive a big box, gift wrapped attractively. The loud applause made her feel truly like a star receiving an award!

She went home and eagerly opened it to see a flask. That dampened her spirits a bit, but still, the sense of euphoria did not fade. She changed into ordinary clothes and got ready to relish the food being served as part of the events. Just then, the bell rang and a man stood apologetically. "The other mothers feel you deliberately influenced us to give your daughter the gift when you came backstage about the CD. They feel that all five children should be given equal importance."

Her mother immediately returned the flask without hesitation. Once the man left, of course, she displayed her ire. "Envious fools! Can't appreciate quality! And the organisers don't have the galls to stand by their decision. As if I have to beg them to give you an award in this insignificant event!"

She looked at her mother apprehensively. Would this mean they won't be going back to the event for dinner?

"What are you gaping for? Come," her mother snapped and dragged her to the park where it was happening.

Again her name, and that of her friends, was announced. With the same enthusiasm she ran up and took the smaller gift handed to her. She couldn't wait to open the wrapper and was excited to see a burgundy-brown-maroon ink pen.

She was secretly happy about returning the flask and getting the pen. That pen was with her for a long time. But more than the pen itself, it was getting it unexpectedly and the joy she had shared with her friends, comparing colours with the others and feeling good about the one she had received that made it more memorable.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Betrayed

“I want to sleep,” Neela grimaced looking at the clock. It was 5.30 am. “I don’t even have school today!” complained the eleven-year-old as she made to lie down again.

“No, no, Neela baby!” her mother Kiran said, holding her daughter’s head before it touched the pillow. She pulled the child to her and made her get up. “You know what your new music teacher said? You must practice early in the morning for your voice to become sweeter.”

"I don't like the music teacher," grumbled Neela. 

"She is so gentle and sweet," Kiran protested. "And, she is turning you into such a fine singer!"

"I don't want to be a fine singer. I just want to sleep," the girl said as she closed her eyes and yawned.

"No, no! You have so much to prepare!! Come, come, come!" Kiran picked up her daughter and headed for the bathroom. In the last six months, the intense music practice, lack of any play and bribing the child with chocolates and sweets had made even carrying her difficult. But Kiran was ready to do anything to see her darling daughter selected as the little champ in music. She had the voice. She had the talent. Just a little bit of fine tuning... Just a little bit.

"Just think," as she helped her daughter freshen up and gave her a glass of milk with turmeric and honey. "You will be the voice of India!"

Neela sulked as she let her mother cajole her into believing how good she was. "You can pick up any rag just like that... And you can play with it, tease it out... You have a bright future in music... You just have to approach it with devotion..."

Neela loved hearing this. Every morning, every evening. Every time her guru seemed unhappy, every time she herself was unhappy. Every time a new song seemed difficult to learn. Every time she wanted to play with her friends but couldn't. Every time she wanted to sleep more, but had to wake up early. Every time her voice and chest hurt from all the practice. These words of assurance kept her going. 

Finally, the day of auditions arrived. The long cue, the hundreds of young aspirants, the sweat, the stinky toilets... 

Neela shrank under the stress. She was tired by the time her turn came. But her mother stood by her, patting her, cajoling her, boosting her confidence. "This is it, now nothing can stop you..." she whispered as Neela went on stage.

She sang what came to her naturally. As she finished, she waited to look at the judges - leading musicians in the film industry. Their heads bent, they discussed intensely. One of them looked up. Neela's heart sank, but she calmed herself that this was a ploy they always used.

"You sang well, beta..." the first one started and paused.

"Very tuneful, soulful... I liked it... Let's see what the other two say," said the second noncommittally. Neela was sure of having bagged it. But still, her heart raced and her body trembled.

"We feel that you have potential... But, you need more practice. The standards are going up every year..." the third said, trying to sound encouraging. 

Neela stood rooted to the spot. Tears flowed, but she felt nothing. She felt an arm around her and saw her mother. Her eyes accused her mother of lying to her.

Her mother's eyes blamed her for failure.

When they walked out, the mother whispered, "Next year."

The daughter replied vehemently, "Never."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Deliveries

He felt wretched as he walked up and down, caught between two in the throes of labour pain. His anxiety was not so much on account of the expectant mothers as what he hoped they would deliver. He muttered just one prayer repeatedly, "A boy for me, O Lord, and a girl for the cow."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Just Siblings

The heated battle left them both breathless. Still, sparks flew from their eyes and hot words waited to be spat out. The intensity of the emotions had drained them of all energies. The ring of fire around them kept well wishers with soothing words at bay.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Old Couple

Retirement. After having worked for 40 odd years. Ajay Thakur looked forward to this phase. He looked forward to the time he could spend on his garden, crossword puzzle, visit to the nearby temples, puja at home... And help his wife Sarala in the kitchen. Poor woman, she has seen no holiday or taken a break from the kitchen all these years, he thought fondly.

The shifting from Mumbai to Jaipur took some time, but he was glad to be back in his home town. His relatives were in and around. That will keep Sarala occupied as she loved to visit her sisters and niece and the hoards of relatives that she had been kept away from because of his job. And she also wanted to be in a different city from her son. It hurt her that Jeet had moved to a flat of his own after his marriage to Namita. Nothing Ajay could say soothed her.

Their married daughter Prabha too had moved to the US with her family - her husband and two adorable twins.

What was there to hold her in Mumbai? She had jumped at the opportunity to return to the city she loved. Now they could spend their sunset years visiting relatives, enjoying leisure and travelling to nearby pilgrim centres. Maybe even Tirupathi.

"Baba, Namita is due in January," Jeet called one evening, sending the old couple in a frenzy of joy.

Prabha too called with news of her own. "Maa, I have got a promotion in my job!"

What more could the parents want? Just these blessings to keep the smile on their faces.

"Maa, Namita needs bed rest according to the doctor. Some complication. Her parents are in the US visiting their son. Do you think...?"

"Of course!" Sarala said without batting an eyelid. She made arrangements for Ajay and left for Mumbai. Three months later, when Namita's parents arrived for the delivery, she returned to Jaipur, promising to be back whenever her son needed her.

"Maa, since my promotion, I have been commuting two hours one way. It is killing me and the twins are falling sick often... Can you please come?"

It took the couple a few days to get the right papers. But a month later, they left for the US, to be with the daughter and her family. What bliss, the twins, all over them, loving them... doting them.

But when they were at school and after Sarala had finished all the housework, she was bored. Ajay was bored. There was precious little they could do. As winter set in, they felt hemmed in and were glad to return home, Jaipur was cold too, but there was the warmth of the people around.

And then, Namita needed to get back to work, her parents needed to return to the US to their son, and Sarala and Ajay went back to Mumbai. Ajay felt on edge, always, as if on borrowed time, waiting to get back to do all that he wanted to do.

His sister fell sick and Ajay and Sarala returned to take care of her. A widow, Chanda lived alone in Jaipur. Sarala was fond of her sister-in-law and the moment she could, she made her way back. Chanda's son Bharat came home for a few days. He was grateful to his uncle and aunt for taking care of his mother. "I have to get back to Delhi, mamu..." he said one day, hesitantly. "I am worried about leaving ma alone at home..."

"Why should she be alone here? Delhi has better medical facilities. Take her there and get her good treatment," Ajay advised his nephew.

"Right now she seems fine... Once she is better, she wants to return to her house... My wife has not been keeping well...My children have exams. I will take her during the vacation, mama..." he said politely but firmly.

Ajay's temper flared. "She is not a holiday project! She is your mother!" But as the harsh words had no effect beyond making Bharat hang his head in shame, Ajay declared, "She will live with us. She is not going anywhere!"

"How can you take this on your head, baba!" Prabha asked indignantly. "It is Bharat's responsibility, not yours!"

"Baba, this is unnecessary headache for you," sympathised Jeet. "At your age... If something happens to you?"

"She is my sister," he silenced them.

"But that means you can't travel freely!" the children echoed each other with concern.

"Don't worry. Whenever you need, your mother will be there."

Placated, they stopped pestering him about it.

That restricted his travel severely, but a price he was willing to pay as his wife traveled to the US and Mumbai alone as and when the children needed them for the next three years. When Chanda passed away, Prabha, Jeet and Bharat said, "Poor woman. She suffered so much. I am glad god ended her suffering."

Ajay and Sarala shed tears, thinking of the many years Chanda could have lived had she not died of a broken heart. Knowing that age and illness had nothing to do with the desire to live.

Time seemed to fly even as the couple flew around for their children. He was 80 now. His wife, 75. He walked erect, ready to run when his children called, if his relatives needed him. His wife, his shadow sometimes, leading him at other times, complained rarely though her aging bones protested.

Age is only in the mind - it was fashionable to say. As he thanked god for a good health and even better fortitude, he thought of the many times when he was tormented watching the malady his children suffered from - the need to run with the hares and hunt with the wolves, never a moment of peace as they tried to grow higher and higher at work, feeling weighed down by personal responsibilities, glad that their parents could take their place in the family at least for the children. Though happy to be of use to them, he wished they could have mental peace even if that meant being away from them.

He reached the door of the house and saw the neglected front yard. He crumpled the list he had made of pilgrim centres. Till their bodies remained, they would be there for their children. What greater joy could they hope for? 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Invitation

Sangeetha stood behind the mike and matched the scale given by the orchestra. The music director waved his hand and the orchestra began. Getting her cue, Sangeetha closed her eyes and began singing, her concentration only on the tune, the beat and the pitch.

When the song ended, there was total silence - she was used to it. She opened her eyes, and the applause from the director and the other assistants began. She smiled a half smile, inclined her head and stepped out of the studio.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Friend In-Debt

Madhumita saw the caller's name - Leela. Her best friend, her childhood friend. And yet... she felt her heart tightening at the prospect of speaking to her. Reluctantly, she took the call. "Hi Leela, how are you?"

"Good. I have been wanting to talk to you for so long. But you never call!" Leela grumbled.

"I was planning to..."

"Busy, always busy. I don't know with what!?" Leela complained tersely.

Madhu rolled her eyes and said softly, "You know how it is. My work, yoga in the evening, managing the house..."

"And your treatment!!!" Leela added before Madhu could complete. Madhu was stunned and kept quiet. "Yes, you didn't tell me, but your mother did... I am going to take you to the best gynec there..."

"No, really!" Madhu tried to discourage her but Leela wouldn't listen. "If you were in Delhi, I would know whom to go to. But I have found a very highly recommended fertility expert. I am coming with Rashmi next week and take you to him..." Rashmi was Leela's one year old daughter.

"Really, Leela, there is no need. I am going to a good doctor and that's fine."

"Yes, but not the best!" Leela said without any room for negotiation.

Madhu rolled her eyes, resenting this intrusion. Samarth and she had been trying for a baby for the last two years without success. She was already stressed, and now she didn't want Leela complicating her life. But would that girl understand and respect her wish?

Leela was the daughter of an industrialist, Bhaskar, in whose company Madhu's father Jaidev worked. When the company went through difficult times, Leela was not even aware. Her father would not let her daughter be denied any luxury - be it the expensive schooling she received, expensive gifts or toys... Jaidev was forced to do so, though.

"What! You get to change your school! How cool is that!" had been Leela's remarkable reaction. "Dad, I want to change schools too! Make new friends! I will be stuck to this place forever otherwise!!!" Her father obliged immediately and she was enrolled in the school with Madhu. But within a month, she couldn't stand the very bourgeois crowd. "I want to go back," she screamed and brought the roof down. "I want Madhu also to come back..." she insisted once she was returned to the fold. Bhaskar obliged, stretching his already stretched means and funding Madhu's education too. Jaidev felt obliged to Bhaskar forever. But what about Madhu?

"She would have died of boredom in that school! Oh my god! Imagine, with none of us to keep her company!!!" Leela held public discourses for close to a year. Madhu felt her gratitude turning sour and wished she could return to that very bourgeois school, if only to escape Leela's boasting.

When Samarth joined the next year - they were in X at that time - Madhu did feel the gratitude return. Samarth was shy, quiet, and bullied by the other boys. Madhu tried defending him, but realised that it was harming him more for being defended by a girl. That angered him and he avoided her. Miserable, Madhu kept to her work and friends. She was both gratified and disappointed to see him become one of the most popular boys in the class because he was good at sports and in academics.

Leela complained, "Samarth seems interested only in girls who are into sports. You are so lucky that you play volleyball well! Coach me in the game," she demanded.

Any other reason, Madhu would have obliged. But to win over Samarth? Not at all! "You need a proper coach," she dismissed her friend, and was horrified to see her get one.

"But I can't play alone with the coach. At least in the initial days, Madhu has to be there... In fact, the entire volleyball team from my class can get trained by this coach," Leela insisted. Madhu couldn't help but notice that Leela had cunningly made Samarth also a part of her training team.

Now she was in a dilemma about whether to go or not. Her father made it easy for her. "I don't think you should be going for this," he ordered.

"I will," she rebelled and went.

"I knew, darling, that you will come. It is a great opportunity that you couldn't have afforded," Leela welcomed her with open arms and a barbed tongue. Madhu wanted to walk away, but feared her father taunting her about this for the rest of her life. And so she stuck around.

The coach had not expected much from this mixed group, and was stunned to see how well some of them played. He identified three boys and two girls, Madhu and Samarth included, for playing in the under-19, inter club competition. "What a lucky break!" Leela congratulated. "Good thing you came today!" Yes, she cheered the people who were selected and gave an elaborate party since she felt somehow it was she who was responsible for this good break.

Samarth indeed found himself bound to Leela, whom he thought was his Lady Luck. Madhu watched them jealously, but decided he was not worth crying over if this is what it took to win his attention. She could never match it anyway. Still, the heart will play by its own rules, and it did cry.

Because of their good academic performance, passing in the entrance with flying colours as well as their sports achievements, Samarth and Madhu got admission in the best engineering college. Leela, despite all the tantrum she threw and the money power, could not get it in the same college. She went to the best that money could buy, probably better than theirs, but was unhappy. "Madhu, my father will sponsor you. You join my college," she told her friend confidently.

"No thanks, I am doing what I want, here," Madhu dissuaded her firmly.

As Leela watched Madhu and Samarth becoming closer and closer, she made sure Madhu remembered her indebtedness more and more.

"Samarth and I are just friends," Madhu tried to assure her more than once. For Samarth still held a candle for Leela. But Leela, used to undivided attention, was alarmed by the strong bond these two shared. "That's because we have a lot in common, Leela," Madhu reasoned. She herself wished for the relationship to move to the next level, but was disappointed at how steadfast Samarth was towards Leela. It was even hard to bitch about her to him when she was annoyed. "She is insecure, that's all," he said with characteristic generosity.

Leela was the happiest when Samarth moved to a different city to work. And very upset when she came to know that Madhu and he kept in touch. But he knew how to handle her too. "Madhu is forever grateful to you for your timely help... Don't spoil it by being mean to her..."

"No, I won't be... He is right," Leela assured Madhu when showing her the message. "Isn't he just wonderful? I am so glad he and I are a couple. Both of us have your interest in our hearts," she said. Madhu inwardly rolled her eyes and decided to snap all ties. One was bad enough, two would be unbearable. She wanted Samarth's love, not his pity.

She left his messages unanswered. She didn't call or return his calls. When he stood in front of her in her office one afternoon, she thought she was hallucinating.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded without preliminaries.

"I haven't come for an interview and I don't know anyone else here... Then it must be to meet you!"

She got up and guided him to the canteen. "I didn't know you were coming."

"You would have had you seen my messages."

She mechanically looked at her phone. 223 unread messages from him in the last six months.

"Something happened and you just shut up. Now, I respect that. But I think I deserve to know what it is."

She felt tired. "There was nothing. Just projects and deadlines... And I am preparing for MBA."

"Story of my life. So why is it easy for me to send you a message a day but not for you to respond?"

"I don't know," she said and got up. He grasped her hand. "Madhu, don't leave me hanging like this! It was hard for me to take this break, but I have come to see you."

She jerked her hand free and laughed wryly. "Really? What does Leela have to say about it?"

"About what?"

"About your coming to meet me?"

He was silent, unable to answer. "Oh, by the way, thank you for giving me a character certificate to remain in her good books. I can't tell you how indebted I am to the two of you for keeping my best interests at heart."

He took a deep breath and got up. "I see..." And he was off, just like that...

Leela stormed into her house that evening. "When Samarth and you are having a good time, Madhu, remember to thank me. I cannot hold what is not mine, but remember that if he is yours, it is because I am letting him go without a fight," she declared with angry tears flowing down her cheeks and left immediately after, leaving a speechless Madhu behind.

But Samarth did not contact her, let alone propose. Leela remained cut off. Had Leela exaggerated a lover's quarrel and raised false hopes? Were they reconciled? Madhu couldn't focus on work or her preparations.

Finally, unable to stand the suspense, she messaged Samarth, "Sorry. I was upset."

No reply, just as she deserved, expected and feared.

When he stood again in front of her the next week, she started crying unmindful of her colleagues who shared her bay. Well... All is well that ends well. They married three years later, and had been married now for three years. "You have only me to thank," Leela said when Madhu handed her the invitation personally.

Madhu leaned forward and hugged her. "Yes Leela, I have only you to thank for my education, my sports, my husband... Every thing that matters to me is because of you"

"Don't be in a hurry to thank me! I am sure we are not done yet," Leela said, not without irony. Madhu laughed, glad that she did not begin her married life with the burden of Leela's ill will.

Of course, that feeling did not last. Many of their common friends knew about Samarth and Leela's long courtship. Leela was not above letting go of the opportunity. "I couldn't stand in her way, could I, when she seemed so deeply in love with him?" By the end of the wedding ceremonies, Madhu was totally fed up and didn't think she would look back to her wedding day with any special fondness. It was Samarth's good humour that had seen her through the day!

And now, this stress about not being able to conceive... Madhu sometimes wondered whether her childlessness was because of Leela, who herself had married and delivered a child within a year. Madhu dismissed those thoughts as mean and superstitious, but it recurred often.

She had not been keen on keeping in touch with Leela. And though Leela promised never to call again since Madhu herself never initiated a conversation, she couldn't seem to keep her promise! And now this trip! Madhu couldn't even wish for Leela's plan to fail! She just wished the trip would get cancelled.

She welcomed Leela and Rashmi with a warm smile when they came the week after. The next few days, Leela made sure that the purpose of her visit was not neglected. She fixed an appointment with the famous doctor, arranged for the treatment and was by Madhu's side, sometimes leaving Rashmi with Samarth.

Nothing helped, though. Madhu's body continued to reject any attempts at impregnation. Added to that, her failure in front of Leela humiliated her deeply. "Please leave, Leela... Whatever will be, will be," she told her friend in various tones, only to be met by stubborn refusal.

Leela's husband Guru joined them at the end of two months. When Leela talked of coming back in six months again, Madhu erupted angrily, "Just leave me alone, will you?"

"Yes, for now," Leela replied calmly. "But... I will be back," she said dramatically.

When they left that morning to catch the flight, Madhu leaned on Samarth and cried. "Madhu, I don't know why you torture yourself like this. I told you, I am fine even if we don' have children..."

"But I am not," Madhu retorted.

"Let's adopt..."

"Please Sam... Let's not talk about it right now..."

The phone rang. "Madam, there's been an accident..."

The car Leela and her family had been traveling in had met with an accident. Madhu and Samarth rushed to the government hospital to claim the bodies of Guru and Leela, who had died instantly. They traced Rashmi in the nearby police station. The child had had a miraculous escape, cushioned by her mother's body, and sat crying amidst strangers who were trying their best to placate her.

Seeing Samarth, the child toddled forward on unsteady legs and clung to him as they rushed about to complete the formalities.

Bhaskar - Leela's father, now an old man in his 60s - and Guru's father came down for taking the body with them to Delhi. Rashmi seemed to have forgotten her grandparents in the last two months of being away and wouldn't let go of Samarth. Madhu tried to prise the child's fingers free, but realised that Samarth too was reluctant to let go.

Bhaskar placed a gentle hand on Madhu and said softly, "We are old people and may not be able to take care for Rashmi well. Rashmi seems to have taken to you both well... Leela too would have wanted you to bring her child up..."

He looked at Guru's father, who nodded with tears in his eyes.

Madhu's eyes welled up. This time, she could not even say thank you to her friend. She would have preferred Leela tom-tomming her generosity yet again. The silence was deafening.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Autum

I sat in the veranda with my tea, watching the leaves falling from the trees. I sighed, feeling much like the loose, dry leaf. I felt one with the tree with the bare branches.

Sapped of youth, separated from my roots, I seemed to be waiting for time to destroy me, for earth to consume me, for fire to burn me, for winds to blow me away, for water to wash me...

"Naani," a tender voice called out to me.

I paused, wanting to indulge my thoughts, my melancholy. But the voice had already tugged at my heartstrings and melancholy was giving way to a sort of reluctant joy that only a grandchild could evoke.

"I am here, beta," I called Advit to me. I heard his feet pattering as he ran out and threw his arms around me. My four-year-old grandson fitted the description of a cherubic angel. The curly rings falling on his forehead, the rosy, chubby cheeks... I scooped him in my arms and kissed him. "Chalo, let's get ready for school," I said and got up with him in my arms. My body swayed and I panicked. I sat back; luckily, both of us were safe.

Advit laughed. "Again, naani," he said, thinking it was a game.

I put him down gently and said, "And miss school?"

I took him into the house. My son-in-law Brajesh was in the kitchen, making coffee while daughter Neetu rushed around, getting the day organised. Advit dutifully hugged them and then came back to me to get ready for school. The usual tantrums, the running around the house, the cajoling, the coaxing, the shouting...

When Brajesh went to drop Advit to school, it was like the calm before the next storm began in the afternoon.

I sat on the dining chair and Neetu served breakfast. "You indulge him too much," she complained as usual. "You were never this lenient when we were growing up!"

I chuckled. The best way to deal with this.

"You make it difficult for me to discipline him," she went on, with her mouth full.

"I didn't succeed in disciplining you either," I joked. "Speaking while eating," I said with mock distaste and shook my head.

Neetu grimaced and I felt sorry for her. Where was the light-hearted girl that used to laugh at even the slightest joke and make me laugh too?

She whipped her phone out. "Papa? Happy birthday, papa," she said enthusiastically. Oh, I had forgotten it was my husband's birthday! "How are you? What happened? Did you go to the doctor? Does Sanjay bhayya know? Let me speak to him!" she plied him with questions. "Ya, mama is here." She handed me the phone with a displeased look.

"What happened?" I asked with concern, forgetting yet again to wish him. Seeing my daughter gesture, I said, "Happy birthday... haan, haan... What happened?"

"Nothing, just some back trouble... Was finding it difficult to move..." he tried to dismiss it lightly. But the fact that he had mentioned it and that his voice sounded tired were enough proof that he was suffering.

"Shall I come?" I asked. My daughter, who was clearing the table, stopped and her eyes widened.

"No, no, it's okay Sharada... Nothing serious," he said softly. "Just some balm... Shail's hands have magic. When he applies the balm, all pain vanishes," he said with quiet pride. Shail was our son Sanjay's 12 year old son.

Neetu mouthed something. Since I didn't understand, she said, "Ask papa to come here."

I got up, unable to contain the bubbling hope her suggestion had sparked. I relayed the suggestion, "Why don't you come here? It's...been a year..." My voice sounded hoarse... I blinked back tears and rushed to the veranda.

He sighed, just a hint of it. "Shail's exams are on and Renu needs to be at work... Someone needs to help Shail... Can't you get away for some time?" he asked, the question coming out very hesitantly, with just a hint of expectation.

"Neetu and Brajesh are going to be on tour this month..."

"Shail needs me... Will talk to you later," he said and disconnected.

I looked out the veranda. The ground looked deceptively rich with the fallen leaves, but the tree itself stood alone.

"Ma..." my daughter called out to me on her way out to work. "I will be late tonight. Brajesh has a dinner meeting... Don't let Advit wait up for us..."

I nodded and watched her go. I longed to be with my husband. But our children needed us.

The silence pressed against me. I wiped the tear that rolled down my cheek and busied myself to keep thoughts at bay.


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Loyal Friend

I peeped out of the window, hoping to see the usual cars passing by. A figure entered the picture unexpectedly and attracted my attention. I grimaced at his very scrawny look. He looked here and there, and then, called out to his friends. He was suddenly surrounded by five or six, all looking like stragglers - unkempt and rustic. I dismissed them and loitered around the house, ready for my mid-morning nap.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tough Match

She swung her racket and then paused in disappointment. She had missed. The silence was deafening, accusing her of failure.
It was coming at her again and she swung again. This time, the crackling sound as the mosquito hit the electric racket brought a smile to her face.
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