The Sensible Mind

Photo by Serge Esteve/Unsplash

‘You women are so complicated!’, Arjun said, draining his glass till the last drop.

He poured some more wine to himself. The sound of dark red liquid falling into the base of the glass was tantalizing. The knots in his head were beginning to untangle, and his tongue loosened.

Shreya silently watched him. She was drunk too, and her head felt light, but she didn’t lose control over herself. She never does.

Maybe he was right. People say that it’s because of hormones: the emotions of a woman follow mysterious paths. Her mind is like a labyrinth where secrets are hidden in places untraceable, locked up in iron chests of insecurities and fear of abandonment.

She wants to be free, and simultaneously her heart clings to people she loves. She is like a dry leaf fallen from the tree, and her love is the fierce wind.

‘Why do you think so?’, she said, tilting her head and narrowing her eyes.

‘You women never tell what you want from us, create imaginary situations in your head, get upset about those imaginations and expect us to understand you’, he said.

He put his glass on the table with a clink.

‘Oh!’, Shreya said, ‘As if you are sensible enough not to hurt others with your sharp words and blatant criticism.’

Arjun opened his mouth, closed it and again opened it to speak.

‘Is this your perception of men in general?’, he said.

‘No’, she said, looking away, ‘I’m talking about only you.’

‘Ouch!’

Arjun was being overly dramatic. He put is hand on his heart and winced.

Shreya tried to hide her smile.

‘You think what you understand is the truth, and your way is the only right way’, she said.

‘At least I stick to what I believe’, he said, closing his eyes, ‘Your mind wavers like a boat in the middle of the ocean during a storm.’

‘Sometimes sticking to what you believe can lead to fanaticism’, she said, slowly, savouring each word, ‘Sometimes it is suffocating.’

‘Probably that’s why we are together’, he said, looking into her eyes, slowly inching closer to Shreya, ‘When I become blind in obsession, your cynical, sane mind brings me back to reality.’

‘Reality is seldom simple’, she remarked.

‘That’s why it is interesting, otherwise we might have become robots who only see 1 or 0, black or white, yes or no, true or false. There’s no grey, no half-truth’, he said.

His eyelids felt heavy. His head descended into her lap. She remained awake for some time, observing the presence of the man in deep slumber. He looked innocent like a child.

Shreya continued stroking his hair. Her last thought before falling asleep was: ‘He will not remember a single thing when he wakes up, but I will remember this conversation forever.’

—-

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Humdrum Blues

Photo by Spencer Imbrock/Unsplash

Natalie feels she has been losing the grip on her own life for quite a while. She wakes up, and thousands of thoughts rush into her mind–her to-do list for the morning and constant worries about the future. She wants to sit for a moment and breathe, yet she has no time, and when she has time, somehow she becomes unproductive.

She scolds herself every now and then. Life is passing by and she is unable to do something significant.

The carefree, energetic girl with dreams in her eyes is simply not there anymore. She misses that version of herself. She loved to travel. It used to fill herself with energy. When she travelled, she used to discover new things about herself. She loved to paint. A layer of dust has accumulated on her sketch book and drawing sheets. Paintbrushes stare at her in muted disbelief. In moments between one task to another, she watches those things and sighs.

Priorities have changed now. Though she doesn’t mind taking responsibilities, her failures are endless. She always feels she is not doing enough.

Sometimes she cries. Sometimes she feels numb. Each day is same as the previous day.

Natalie was folding her dry clothes, when something unusual happened. For a fleeting moment, her mind went blank. Then there was a frenzy. She felt a sudden impulse to laugh, and dance.

‘Perhaps I’m going crazy!’, she thought. Nevertheless, she got up and switched the music system on. She played ‘Hum-drum Blues’: Karrin Allyson’s version.

She closed her eyes, and started moving with the rhythm. Her body seemed to pick variations of steps on its own.

‘Stuck in a rut, gettin’ nowhere fast!
Mmmm-mmm, I got the hum-drum blues!’

She laughed. Holding a shirt she had recently folded in one hand and a scarf in another, she spun around in the room dancing and laughing. Her hair swayed from side to side.

‘Ooh honey,
When you ain’t got money,
Then you just can’t do as you choose;
Just gotta live with the hum-drum blues!’

She laughed even harder. She threw away the shirt and the scarf and didn’t care where they landed.

‘Natalie, you’ve definitely lost your mind!’, she told herself.

‘Don’t know which way I’m goin’,
I don’t know which way I come from?
Rainin’, a shine or a-snowin’,
Everything’s so doggone hum-drum!’

She continued her dance, and this time, her laughter subsided. She was smiling. Tears welled up in her eyes.

She suddenly realized she is not alone in this universal struggle.

Life will not always be easy. Sometimes the trouble may continue for years. She just has to accept it. She might learn something from it. Life will keep on changing, even if the change is slow.

If someone can write a song on a humdrum life, something good will come out of herself too.

Isn’t art the way to transform pain into a masterpiece?

—-

The Weeping Willow

Photo by Daniel Ruyter/Unsplash

Under the Weeping Willow,
She watches herself die.

Now she cannot lie.

She had lived her life lying,
Wailing and crying.

The sun is bright and mellow!
She kneels under the Willow,
And hears the wind sigh.

Now she cannot lie.

The wind sings her dirge,
She’d borne ugly scars.

She’d fought the wrong wars.

Deep down inside,
She’d let the pain reside:

Its shadows still emerge.
She listens to the dirge.
Now she’s broken her bars!

She’d fought the wrong wars.

She watches her closed eyes–
In a never-ending sleep.

She does not weep!

She laughs in glee:
Now she is free!

A thousand butterflies
Carry her death to the skies!
Life is hers to keep.

She does not weep!

For the Weeping Willow,
She sings a new song,

For the Willow’s will is strong.

The shadows disappear,
They take away her fear.

The sun is sweet and yellow
Behind the Weeping Willow:
Its leaves sing along!

For the Willow’s will is strong.

The Quest

Photo by Amit Agnihotri/Unsplash

She stood in the shower and let the water run down her body. The coolness of the water was soothing. She felt a little better. Closing her eyes she began thinking of the evening, and the knot in her heart began to ache. Once she used to shed tears at moments like these. Now it’s just the pain.

She is over thirty three, and has been in several relationships. Some lasted for a few months, some for a few years, and in some cases, ended in a few days, even before it could be called a relationship.

She thought perhaps she was incapable of loving. Sometimes she would think she loved her partner. Then she would start feeling the void within, the emptiness, loneliness, depressing feelings. Eventually she would become apathetic towards the person, after suffering the pain of disappointment for quite a while.

Why was she always dissatisfied with her relationships?

She was lying on her couch after bath. Her evening was a disaster. She walked out of the restaurant without even informing her boyfriend. She was disgusted, sick, tired.

He would be on his phone, and she would silently eat her dinner.

When he went to toilet while talking on his phone, she picked her bag up and left. She has kept her phone on silent mode since then.

She checked her phone. 21 missed calls. A message that he was coming over to her house.

She panicked. She didn’t want to see him.

She called him and told him she felt sick.

‘You could’ve told me!’

‘I’m sorry I left.’

‘I’m coming.’

‘No you don’t need to.’

‘But why? You might need medical help.’

‘I’m ok now’, she said, ‘and I need to be alone.’

There was silence on the other side.

‘You don’t like me anymore’, he said, ‘Did I guess that right?’

‘No it’s not that simple.’

‘Nothing is simple to you’, he slowly spoke, the annoyance evident in his voice, ‘because you are too complicated!’

His words pierced her heart like a cold dagger. She remained silent.

‘Maybe this is why your relationships don’t last’, he said, ‘You’re complicated and confused.’

‘Don’t call me again. Good bye’, she replied in a voice as cold and hard as an iceberg.

After disconnecting the phone, she stared blankly at the mess in her room. Clothes on a chair. Books piled up just beside her on the couch. An empty packet of crisps lying on the floor. Dust and strands of hair almost everywhere.

She let out a sigh, and began cleaning up to keep her mind busy. She cleaned and tidied the room till late, until she felt really tired. She brought her pillow to the couch, hugged it and fell asleep.

****

After lunch, she was feeling drowsy. There was a network issue at office and she couldn’t even work. She browsed social media on her phone, yawning frequently. Watching funny videos, she chuckled.

Amidst the crowd of advertisements, something caught her attention.

‘Want a solo trip? The Land of High Passes welcomes you.’

It was an advertisement from a renowned travel planner app. Intrigued, she opened the link and read the details.

She checked her account balance.

That was it.

She booked the trip.

****

They stayed at a hotel in Diskit, in the valley of Nubra–six other girls on the same trip and herself. There was an apple orchard right in front of her room. It was late August. Apples were still green, with a tinge of pink on them. Rosebushes blossomed bright pink and white. Sun was sweet and the sky was refreshingly blue. Far away from the smog, haze and noise of the city, this place was like a dream.

She woke up early and set out for a walk. A few steps ahead, just outside the hotel, at her right hand side of the street stood a prayer wheel, in the middle of four pillars canopied under a roof. The vibrant colours and patterns on the structure made it stand out amidst the saffron mountains, and plain white cottages. She observed it for a few minutes, and started walking along the street.

She saw little children giggle. Two middle aged women chatted, walking with bags of vegetables in their hands. All houses were white and their windows had carved wooden frames. She could see many white Stupas scattered everywhere.

Poplar trees stood tall like sentinels watching over the valley, as if petty issues of everyday life didn’t matter to them. The mountains were similar–like sages, clad in saffron clothes, deep in meditation.

She walked back to the prayer wheel. Her life in the big city seemed insignificant and foolish amidst this vastness encompassing the valley.

She rotated the wheel a few times, and then sat there, leaning on a pillar, with her eyes closed.

She wished she could stay there forever, away from her little and limited existence, the ceaseless battle for survival, the filth on the roads and people’s minds, including herself.

She took a deep breath, and opened her eyes, to see a pair of feet in sandals.

She looked up and saw a monk clad in saffron robes. His head was shaved, and a serene smile was on his face. He was glowing like sun.

‘I beg your pardon’, he said, ‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes’, she said, standing up, ‘I’m fine. Thank you.’

She smiled, put her palms together and bowed her head.

She felt a deep respect, and a feeling of awe filled her heart. Only once in her life she had felt such emotion before, when she was a child, watching the image of Jesus in a church.

The monk put his palms together too.

‘You know the significance of a prayer wheel?’

His voice sounded soothing like a lullaby from a mother’s affectionate voice.

‘No, I… I don’t’, she replied.

She felt a little embarrassed.

‘It is to purify yourself of whatever’s negative and not serving you.’

At that precise moment, a group of boys with pink cheeks came running and began to play beside the street. One of them was looking for something, and getting frustrated for not finding it. Other children laughed at him and teased him. An older boy came and scolded the boys who were laughing. He talked with the boy who was looking for something. Hanging from the back pocket of the little boy’s shorts was a tiny ball attached to a string. The older boy saw it, took it out of the little boy’s pocket and swung it in front of his eyes. The little boy was surprised and overjoyed to see the toy. It was evident that he was looking for that exact thing.

The monk was watching the scene.

‘Sometimes what we are looking for is already with us and we don’t even notice it’, he said, looking into her eyes with a glance that worked like a healing medicine.

She stood there, riveted to the place.

‘Peace be with you’, the monk said, and departed.

****

She visited the monastery at Diskit and stood before the gigantic statue of Buddha. He sat in the middle of desert mountains all around, eyes half-closed, in royal attire, and a colourful crown adorned his head.

Later that night she had dreamt of that place. She saw herself standing alone before the image of Buddha in a moonlit night. Down in the valley, the river glistened like a silver ribbon. She found herself growing bigger and bigger. She couldn’t feel her body. She grew and grew and grew, until she reached a height from where she could see the entire valley below her. The statue of Buddha seemed small from above.

She was overwhelmed with an unknown emotion at the sudden realization of her existence.

She woke up, and found that her pillow was wet. She had wept in her dream.

****

When she returned to her city, she understood that life wasn’t the same anymore. Something inside her had changed. She had called her mother and spoke her heart out. She longed to see her mother.

‘I’m coming to you, my child!’, her mother said. After a long time, she felt that her daughter was getting along with life again.

On an autumn evening, she kept her head on her mother’s lap and listened to her words. A cool breeze blew. The sky was starry and clear.

She remembered her childhood days, when she lay on her back and watched the stars, and her mother explained their names and patterns.

She looked up at her mother’s face and smiled.

‘I love you Mom’, she said.

Her mother kissed her forehead.

****

Today was her first day at art class. She hadn’t held a pencil for years. Her heart was beating fast in anticipation of the moment when she would start drawing. The art teacher entered the class with paint smeared on his cheek and his shirt. Their eyes met. His eyes matched the colour of sky in the land of high passes.

—-

The Warrior Diaries

Photo by Azamat Zhanisov/Unsplash

Dorothy’s Diary:

Date: 9th January, 2012

Today my little girl was playing Moonlight Sonata on her piano. I listened, standing at the door, and watching her. Being a mother, I don’t always notice her changing every day, bit by bit, until all of a sudden something strikes me–a particular look in the eye, a word, or a gesture, which makes me realize that she has grown up quite a lot.

No matter how much she has grown, to her mother, the daughter will always be a little girl. I can tell when she is happy: she smiles unconsciously, and her gait changes. She moves around the house like a butterfly. She would play Spring Waltz on the piano and talk to me incessantly. I can tell when she is sad: she bites her lips frequently, stares unblinkingly at random things and becomes quieter. When she is deep in contemplation, she spends hours playing the piano, her eyes on her fingers, completely engrossed in playing. Who knows if she’s talking to celestial beings in the universe?

She has been thoughtful all day. Moonlight shone on piano keys. She didn’t notice my presence. What was she thinking?

When her father and I had separated, she had chosen me to stay with. I know how painful it had been for her. She loved her father very much, and she still does. I know she misses him.

It was neither her father’s fault nor mine. We were unable to get along together anymore. It wasn’t possible for me to consciously remain one step behind him, even if I lived in a house like a palace.

Now I’m working two jobs to give my girl a life that she deserves. Sometimes I feel guilty. Perhaps I have sacrificed her comfort for my own independence. My heart would have been broken if I had to leave her with her father, yet I wouldn’t have made any objection– after all she should have been free to make her own choice.

Without her, I couldn’t have gathered so much courage to fight for a purpose–the purpose of making her capable enough to fulfill her dreams.

Sometimes I’m terribly afraid to lose her. I understand that she is not my possession, yet a mother’s heart is always full of worst premonitions.

She spends part of her summer holidays with her father. I have heard his present wife is kind and compassionate. She usually has a good time there.

Whenever my girl seems thoughtful, I fear that perhaps I’m not living up to her expectations. Perhaps she is thinking of how different her life would have been if she lived with her father.

I guess I’m overthinking.

I stood there, musing, not even noticing when she had started playing Clair de Lune.

Joanne’s Diary:

Date: 9th January, 2012

Sometimes I feel I should start doing something on my own, to earn for my home. I have never been a great student. I got into an ordinary college with my average grades. I don’t even know if I will get a decent job. I know if I tell these things to Mom, she will be upset. She is doing everything she can so that I can follow my passion. I love my piano, and it is for her that I play. It would have been difficult to have the determination to keep playing if she wasn’t with me. She gave life to my dreams.

My heart aches when I see her exhausted at the end of the day, yet with a smile, stroking my head affectionately and talking to me in her soft tone, listening to my endless chatter. Dark circles don’t suit her beautiful face. I wish I could ease her troubles.

I come to my piano and play with my heart and soul. Mom believes in my abilities more than I do, and therefore I play.

Father often asks me to stay with him. He has got a lot of connections. He can easily help me reach a big concert hall packed with thousands of audience eager to listen to me.

Honestly, the idea doesn’t appeal to me. I will reach the stage on my own. I want to fight and I have learnt from Mom how to do that.

I know Mom is worried. Probably she thinks I’m thinking of living with my father and stepmother. Though they are nice to me, I have realized the fact that they’re both happy and content with the little new family they have. I love my young brother. I love them all, but they’ll do very well without me. I have slowly learnt to grow out of ‘Daddy’s little princess’ phase, accepting my fate, observing Dad’s attention turning away from me.

I love my Mom more than anything else. I’m never going to leave her. I know Mom was listening when I played this evening. She has made me her world. It’s time to tell her how much I love her. It’s time to tell her that I’m never going to leave her.

I love you Mom.

(And here, some little drops of tears)

—–

The Marionettist

Photo by Sagar Dani/Unsplash

‘What do you think of it?’, I asked as we quietly walked home.

‘Of what?’, he said, quite absent-mindedly. He was smoking a cigarette. Wisps of smoke surrounded his head like a halo, which disappeared and reappeared with his breath.

He used to say that he liked the flavour of tobacco. I didn’t understand how anyone could like such a thing which smelt so bad. Perhaps it’s our own perspective that makes things good or bad.

The street was deserted. Dogs barked and howled at a distance. An owl flew past us, high above our heads, making a screeching noise. Yellow lamps glittered on wet street. It had rained earlier in the evening. When all was silent, we could hear our own footsteps.

‘The show of course’, I said. He cast his glance at me, finally returning to the present moment.

We were returning home after watching a puppet-show. A renowned marionettist had come to the city. He was so skilled that for some time I had almost forgotten that the marionettes were lifeless.

‘It was good. The guy is exceptionally skilled’, he said, ‘I never thought puppet-shows could be so interesting.’

‘The guy must feel like God’, I remarked.

He looked at me with a start.

‘How?’, he said, smirking.

‘Aren’t we all like puppets with our strings in the hands of God, if there is one? Do we really have control over what happens to us? Aren’t we at the mercy of something that we cannot control?’, I said, looking at my feet.

‘Do you believe in God?’, he said.

‘Don’t know! I guess I’m agnostic’, I said, ‘And you?’

‘I do believe that God exists’, he said, looking at his shoes, ‘but my idea of God is a bit different from yours.’

‘I think that’s what God is: an idea.’

‘Maybe.’

We sat on a bench at the side of the lake. I was watching my own hands. The paint on my nails had changed colour in yellow light.

‘If God really exists’, I continued, ‘He, or she must be unjust. Look at this world. Religion has made it worse.’

‘Religions!’, he smiled sardonically, ‘Those people who shout in support their religions know nothing of it. Doctrines and dogmas are not religions.’

‘What is your idea of God?’

‘It is difficult to explain–it’s something to realize.’

I looked at him, he gazed ahead, watching the reflections of lights on water.

‘I’m God. You are God. So are the dogs in the street. So is the owl. We all are gods.’

‘Even the selfish, lustful, envious, cruel ones?’

‘Yes.’

‘How?’

He didn’t respond for some time. He held my hand. Soft breeze was blowing. The lake glittered.

‘In a way you are right’, he said, ‘About the marionettist. The only difference is that I believe, I’m the marionettist and I’m the marionette too. This is true for all of us. The marionettist and the marionettes–both are God.’

We started walking again. As we reached the gate of our house, Patch, the little puppy came running to him, wagging its tail. Patch’s mother was sleeping nearby.

He picked Patch up. The playful puppy cuddled with him and licked his arms. He affectionately watched Patch and smiled contentedly. His eyes glimmered.

‘Maybe that’s how it feels to be God’, I thought, ‘Maybe that’s how God looks like.’

—-

The Forgotten Kingdom

Photo by Julie Johnson / Unsplash

I walked along the gravelled path up to the front steps of the house. The verandah extended from one end to the other. A conglomeration of vibrant morning glories all over the porch dazzled my eyes. The garden was well tended as always. A pair of blossoming cherry trees stood at the left side of the garden. I closed my eyes and inhaled the sweet fragrance of pink roses. Many of them were in full bloom, and the others with their half-opened petals looked like little children bundled in blankets, unwilling to wake up.

I walked ahead in my hiking boots, with a rucksack on my back. I took out my phone just to see the reflection of my own face. I hadn’t shaved for weeks. My hair was growing longer and full of dirt. The jacket had not been washed for months. I didn’t know how the owner of this house would react if he saw me in this attire.

Old Raju Kaka was sweeping the verandah. I had seen him years ago. He had lost almost all of his hair and all that remained were white. His beard was white too. He looked leaner and slouched a little, while standing with a broom in his hand. He wore a tawny oversized sweater and white pants.

He saw me coming, and frowned.

‘Saheb ji!’, he yelled, ‘there’s a hippie coming over!’

I nearly laughed!

‘Raju Kaka, it’s me!’

Raju Kaka stood there, staring at me, trying to remember something.

‘How many times did I tell you to keep your glasses on while working?’, a thundering voice issued from inside the house. The owner surely didn’t believe Raju Kaka.

‘Guddu Baba!’, Raju Kaka exclaimed. Dropping his broom he ran towards me. I ran faster towards him, lest the old man might stumble and fall while running.

‘You have grown so tall Baba!’, he said, embracing me and stroking my face with his withered palms. His voice trembled. The corners of his eyes glistened.

‘Where have you been all these years? And what has happened to you?’, he watched me intently. His eyes were full of concern now.

‘Everything ok with you Baba?’, he said.

‘Don’t worry Kaka’, I said, ‘I’m fine! How are you? And how is your Saheb Ji?’

‘Come inside! Come inside!’

I instructed Raju Kaka not to reveal anything to his Saheb Ji. I wanted to surprise him.

I left my rucksack at the verandah, walked into the house and reached the study room. A large window opened to the view of cherry trees. White curtains slowly swayed over the window. All the other walls were stacked with books. This room smelled like old times. Sunlight reached the armchair and illuminated the person sitting on it. I could only see his white hair turned golden in the sun–he sat with his back to me.

I could see that he held a book between his palms.

‘Dadu!’

My grandfather stirred in his armchair. He turned around and our eyes met. So many emotions crossed his eyes in a moment.

‘Meghnad!’, he spoke. He never called me by my nickname Guddu. He himself had chosen the name Meghnad for me.

I smiled and walked towards him. He closed his book, left his armchair and stood up.

He was scrutinizing me from head to toe. His hair had only changed colour, but remained unaltered in thickness. He was wearing glasses with a golden frame. Wrinkles were prominent on his face. The skin around his throat sagged. Age has diminished his stature to some extent, yet the warmth in his eyes was eternal. That day, I noticed a hint of sadness in his eyes.

‘Happy birthday Dadu!’, I said.

‘What have you done to yourself?’, he said, watching my disheveled hair and my beard. He didn’t even acknowledge my wish.

‘Long story!’, I said, embarrassed. I scratched the back of my neck.

He smiled.

‘Go and take a bath!’, he said, ‘Then we’ll hear your story.’

~~~

I was quite hungry. Raju Kaka served hot parathas with pickle and curried chick peas while I sat by Dadu and we talked.

Memories came up like treasures which had remained buried for years, locked inside an iron chest of time.

I remembered my school-days, when he used to pick me up from the bus stop while returning home. One day there was a terrible storm. Standing at the bus stop, I shivered at the sound of rumbling thunder. It had started raining. Dadu picked me up in his arms and ran towards home. I held him tight, clasping the side of his neck with my little fingers and pressing my cheek to his. There was a feeling of joy. I saw Dadu drenched in rain, yet laughing. Muddy water splashed around his feet. I giggled all the way to my home. Only with Dadu I could feel so peaceful and happy.

I had inherited his passion for traveling. When I was eleven, he and I had hiked up to the Valley of Flowers together. I remembered how I had felt when the valley unrolled itself in front of my eyes with its myriad forms and colours of flowers. The sight had cast a spell upon me as I stood there, drinking it in with my eyes. I was holding Dadu’s forefinger. He was smiling. Back then his hair was salt and pepper, fluttering languidly on his forehead in the wind. There was a smile of contentment on his face. At the moment I felt he was the king of this valley.

‘Last time I had heard from your parents’, he said, ‘when you were in engineering college. What happened after that?’

I broke a piece of paratha, blew on it, and put it in my mouth. It tasted delicious.

‘I had got a job in an MNC’, I said, ‘Mom and Dad were ecstatic. The company offered me a decent package to start with. Pretty good opportunities were there.’

‘And then?’

‘I worked for two years, and I hated it.’

‘So you decided to become a traveler?’, he added. He looked amused.

‘No. Not until I wrote my first book.’

‘You wrote a book?’

‘Yes’.

Dadu was intrigued. He was an avid reader.

‘Have you read “The Forgotten Kingdom”?’, I said, and looked into his eyes.

His eyes widened for a moment. He opened his mouth to say something, but came to an abrupt halt, waiting for a few seconds.

‘Shakrajit!’, he said, ‘I should have guessed!’

Shakrajit was my pen name–another name for Meghnad. I could see a hint of pride in Dadu’s eyes.

‘Did you like it?’, I asked.

He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Well done.’

I told him my story. I told him how my book became a bestseller and yet I had remained hidden behind my pen-name. I told him how I had started studying ancient Indian literature and scriptures for my next book. I had always wanted to return to the lap of Himalaya, where I had spent the best days of my life.

Hesitantly he asked about my parents.

‘They were pretty disappointed when I left the job’, I continued, ‘I fell out with them, and left home.’

‘I don’t think that was a wise decision’, he said.

‘Law of Karma’, I murmured, ‘One day they had left you alone, and taken me away. They ruined my childhood.’

‘They thought it was the best for you, for your future’, Dadu said, looking away, ‘I was a hindrance.’

He wanted to hide his moist eyes.

There was a moment of silence.

‘Do they know you write?’

‘No’, I said, ‘I haven’t told them. I haven’t felt like talking to them for a while. I had obeyed them long enough. They never paid heed to what I needed.’

I paused for a moment to lick the pickle off my finger. Dadu watched me complaining against my parents in a cold, indifferent tone.

‘I have complained and grudged enough, Dadu!’, I said, trying to gulp down something hurting in my throat, and it wasn’t food.

‘What do you want to do now?’, Dadu said, tilting his head, placing his cheek on his palm.

Raju Kaka came with two cups of coffee.

‘Kaka, can you please bring my rucksack?’, I said.

He nodded and went to pick it up. When he returned, I opened my bag, took out the papers and gave them to Dadu.

‘What is this?’, he said.

‘I have bought a piece of land here’, I said, ‘for building a school.’

‘You’re going to stay here?’, Dadu’s eyes widened.

‘Yes’, I looked down into my cup of coffee, ‘If it’s not a trouble for you.’

‘For a long time I have been dreaming of this day’, he said, sighing, ‘but I never had the slightest idea that it would come under such circumstances.’

I knew what he meant. He didn’t like the idea of a permanent bitterness between my parents and myself.

‘I have already told you I don’t want to hold grudges. I’m willing to talk to Mom and Dad. I will tell them what I’m doing. I will try my best to reconcile’, I said, ‘but the work I have taken up here is my dream. If they really love me, I hope they’ll understand. I have forgiven them for whatever they have done to me. It’s time for me to ask forgiveness for my rash decisions.’

Dadu sighed in relief.

‘No matter how much pain you’ve been through’, he said, ‘You must know that your parents intentions for you were always good. They had asked me to move with them to Mumbai, but I couldn’t do it. In another way I too was responsible for our separation.

‘We’ve been cold to each other since that day. I had been expecting him to come home all this while, and feeling hurt that my son didn’t care about me. I was angry with your father, for taking you away. With every phone call, he was growing distant. I longed to hear your voice. I longed to see your father and your mother.

‘For a long while I have been thinking the matter over. At some point of time, I had realized the fact that my ego was getting more important than the love I had for you all. I should have talked to your father long ago.

‘What he has done doesn’t matter to me now. Let’s create better days my boy! You have made me proud today.’

His eyes were full of tears. I held his hand and felt lighter.

‘I have a gift for you’, I said.

I reached for my bag and took out a framed picture–Dadu and I standing together in the Valley of Flowers.

‘This is beautiful!’, he said as he looked at the picture after wiping his eyes on his sleeves, ‘but I want to ask for another gift from you.’

‘Name it Dadu’.

‘Can you sign my copy of your book?’

‘A thousand times!’

I hugged him like I did when I was a child. Once he used to mend my broken toys. Now his presence was enough to mend my broken heart.

We had a lot of work ahead of us, together.

——