Joined: 09 October 2008
Her grandpa said with great determination, "Of course, they'll get a peaceful home…we will ensure that other people don't trouble them with their company," and her innocent mother also nodded.
Uncle looked even more uncomfortable and he started to say, "Thats not exactly what I meant....." but was interrupted by grandfather, who said very timidly, "Anything your friends give us would be a great blessing...but we just wanted to know...."
Nandini and her mother looked at each other apprehensively.
Uncle smiled at the genuine innocence behind the question and quoted an amount. Nandini's mother sat down on a chair, overcome with relief and happiness – the money would go a long way in solving their financial problems. Nandini walked over to her and hugged her tight, while her grandfather pulled up uncle from the sofa and squeezed the life out of him with a bear hug.
Once they had all calmed down, uncle tried to explain again, "That is why they are willing to pay so high a sum, because they want a quiet place..." but his audience was lost, as her mother and grandfather had begun discussing all the arrangements to be made for their stay.
Nandini had listened to the whole exchange in silence and realized that she was the only one who understood what uncle was trying to say…..that her family was also among those who must leave the new family alone.
While Prakash was sulking over the next day's planned activities, she walked over to the sofa, kneeled down before uncle, and whispered with a very grave expression and twinkling eyes, "If they wanted to go to some quite place where they would not be disturbed by noisy, nosy and obnoxious neighbours…then you've shown them the wrong house uncle." And uncle gave a sigh of resignation.
"Sumer uncle and his nephew are going to get a readymade family, whether they like it or not," she announced with a mischievous smile.
It was already evening and Nandini came out of the house with two hot cups of tea and found uncle sitting in one of the two cane chairs permanently placed in the little courtyard outside their house. He was gazing at the rose plant in their garden, looking troubled and lost in thought.
"All problems can be solved with tea, my child,"
Uncle came out of his reverie, and looked at Nandini who was standing with a cup in her outstretched hand with an exaggerated motherly attitude, and laughed. "Sit down mother," he said, patting the chair next to his. But she sat down on the ground near his feet, with her arms around her knees, and grinned up at him. He chortled again, "That's exactly what you used to do as a child too. You would come and sit in between your father's and my feet whenever and wherever we were sitting together."
In an instant, the afternoon's gaiety was forgotten; Nandini looked down at the grass near her feet to hide her suddenly wet eyes, and memories that were simultaneously beautiful and painful came rushing into both their minds.
After a few minutes, uncle placed his hand on her head and said gently, "He is still here with all of you, Nandini. I don't think you realize how much you are like him in spirit. I feel his presence in you….in your compassion, your smile, your warmth and your ideals. Every time I see you, I feel like I am meeting him in essence."
Nandini squeezed her eyes shut, and let the tears fall….his words were bringing comfort to wounds that had not healed yet.
"He was my moral anchor when he was alive; he kept me on the right path when my other friends were selling their principles for wealth and they wanted to drag me down too. He always refused to take a single rupee from me or anyone else…no matter how many problems arose, and even after his death your mother and you have kept his values alive. Until a few years ago, whenever I had to choose between principles and money, I would think of your father, and the decision would become clear. Now, instead of his image, I think of his daughter's face…..and my daughter's too," he said, his voice sounding a little choked.
Garewal uncle was leaving. He and Nandini were standing by the car that would take him to the station. Her mother was packing some eatables for his journey, and Prakash and her grandfather were gift wrapping some of aunty's favourite sweets.
"Your aunty was so desperate to meet you; if she had been feeling even slightly better, she would have come," uncle was saying. "She cried when I was leaving. Oh….I almost forgot…she has given me a letter for you." And he pulled out an envelope from his pocket and handed it over to her. Nandini took the letter and ran her fingers fondly over the words on the cover - 'For my Nanhi.' Nanhi…aunty's exclusive pet name for her….
"I don't know what is in the letter; she didn't let me see it," her uncle said chuckling, then paused, and said seriously, "I have told your mother and grandfather all that I know and believe and was told to convey about the guests…..however, there was something else that I wanted to tell only you. There is no time now...But, if I know my wife at all, then I can tell you that the letter in your hands says exactly what I have in mind…"
The others were coming out of the house now and walking towards the car now with broad smiles.
Uncle said in small voice, "I know no one can ever take the place of your father. But sometimes, if you feel like talking to him, give me a missed call on my phone. I'll call you back. Even otherwise, I hope you will at least call for this old man and his wife, who are lonely in a faraway land."
Nandini didn't trust herself to speak without crying, and she only nodded tearfully.
All the packages were handed over to uncle. He took leave of her mother, touched her grandpa's feet, kissed Prakash on the forehead, stroked Nandini's head lovingly one last time, and got into the car. Nandini waved till the car was lost from view.
Suvek Gujral was confused. It was late evening and he was sitting alone in one of the comfortable chairs in the exclusive club that Nandini had declined to join. And that was precisely why he was confused. Why had she refused? Any other student would have jumped at the chance. And there he had hit another roadblock – Nandini wasn't any other student, she was very special, to him at least. He almost regretted that he was a year older and so couldn't be in the same class as her. That would have made it so easy for him to interact with her and become friends. Now he had to come up with good reasons to talk to her, because it was not Suvek Gujral's style to approach other students for anything….they came to him.
And Suvek was not being too vain or arrogant in thinking like that - he knew for a fact that lots of girls had crushes on him. He had always been very good at both academics and sports, was always polite and courteous towards others, all students either loved him or envied him, and his teachers and professors had upheld him as a role model for other students for as long as he could remember. His good looks were only one more reason for his popularity, and he knew for a fact that he had at least one secret fan club in the college comprised of a minimum of 30 girls.
Nandini too was always very friendly and nice towards him….but then she was like that towards everybody. There was none of the blushing or flustered looks that he was used to when dealing with other girls. He found that very puzzling….and ironic as well. Nandini was the first girl ever on whom he had a crush. He had first seen her at the fresher's party 7 months ago, and had immediately been attracted by her unusual loveliness, with big, black and extremely beautiful eyes, delicate and perfectly shaped nose and lips, a clear and glowing complexion, and lustrous long black hair. Suvek knew the infatuation would have waned over time if the only reason had been her looks, because he wasn't a shallow person at heart. But as the months went by, his interest had only deepened as he saw the genuine warmth that seemed to radiate from her, her cheerful nature and her infectious smile and laughter. In fact, a couple of times, he had incredibly and uncharacteristically found himself fumbling for words when he looked into her big black eyes.
And so, after a lot of thinking, he had decided very rationally that as he was finding it difficult to ignore his feelings and they were not going to simply go away, it was time to do something about it and take the first step towards starting a meaningful relationship with her. His invitation had been the first step - it was not mere chance that the club had decided to include first years from this year on. It had been his suggestion and, little by little, he had convinced the other members that the rule must be changed. And he had only one intention; he wanted Nandini to join the club. He was confident that as she spent more time with him, she too would begin to return his feelings. But all of his planning had gone to waste, and now he would have to find another way.
It was disappointing that the only girl he liked was the only one who didn't think he was special. But Suvek was not one to give in so easily, he would find another way, it was just a question of how long it would take.
There was no need to hurry or be concerned, he comforted himself; Nandini wasn't going anywhere, neither was he. And no one was coming to stake a claim on her or anything.
"Stake a claim..." Suvek thought distastefully, ".it was such a medieval expression....you don't stake claim on a human being."
He got up from the chair and looked down and admired his reflection in the glass covering the conference table…
No one was going to come in his way, and no one was going to stake a claim on Nandini, he thought self-assuredly and smiled smugly at his handsome reflection…
Who would dare….
Joined: 01 June 2007
Joined: 01 June 2007
gosh I mde such a biiiiiiiggggg lonnnnnnggggg compli na..buh still thats less coz u deserve a lot mre.....
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 09 October 2008
Nandini's house, Vrindavan, and the adjacent house, Ayodhya, which also belonged to her family, were proof of the family's golden past, when they had been affluent, and had many members. But it was a very long forgotten past; for almost a century, 'think and think again before you spend' had been an integral part of the family's thought process.
Ayodhya was as huge as Vrindavan – but it lacked the little open indoor courtyard that Vrindavan had. Both Vrindavan and Ayodhya were one-storey houses with 7 rooms, and a huge open-air terrace on the second storey. The houses were separated by a short wall, which was less than 2 feet away from the external wall of both the houses, and there was a little gate in the middle of it that connected the houses. Both the houses had courtyards in the front, sizeable backyards, and a common compound wall, which was quite tall, with separate gates for each. The houses stood in a quiet corner of a big square, which was dotted with similar kind of houses and lots of trees. Nandini's family temple was in the centre of this square, and a few feet away from its door stood a huge banyan tree with a natural alcove in its trunk, a holy tree for some and giver of shade and rest to others.
Vrindavan and Ayodhya were both a little shabby looking from the outside, with the paint chipping off in some places, as the family had found the maintenance of even one home, leave alone two, too expensive.
But thanks to years of dedicated and loving care by Sarojini and Nandini, Vrindavan sparkled from the inside; and now Nandini and her family were determined to make Ayodhya glitter too.
Dusk was falling in Shamli. Nandini lit the lamp in front of the Tulsi plant, and placed it in the alcove of the earthen structure that housed it in the middle of the courtyard. She circumbulated the holy plant three times, and prayed before it for a few minutes. Then she walked slowly towards the gate in their compound. Grandfather had gone to perform the evening pooja at their family temple and her brother had gone along with him. People were returning home after a long day at their offices and familiar faces called out to her and waved. She smiled and waved back but didn't step outside to join them.
Uncle's news about moving to the US had really distressed her. She had pretended to be happy and cheerful till he left, and the news of someone coming to rent Ayodhya had helped divert her attention to some extent. The tuition children were on a break for a couple of days as their exams had just gotten over today. And now, there was nothing to distract her from the sad reality that the Garewals were leaving the country for 3 years.
Her father, Siddharth Bharadwaj had been amongst the most loved and respected men in Shamli and all homes in their locality considered the Bharadwaj family to be part of their own. If that was not enough, Nandini's nature had made her an adored daughter of all the households, and she had the freedom to walk into their homes whenever she pleased. So their family had never lacked for emotional support, and they had never ever sought financial assistance from anyone. But the Garewals had a special place in their lives and Nandini especially had been very attached to uncle and aunty. Even though they had left Shamli 2 years ago, the thought that they were near enough to go meet or call had been very comforting. And now that support would not be there for a while…..
She sighed and turned around and walked into the house. Prakash's math notebook was lying on the floor of living room. She picked it up and walked over to the dinner table where his school bag had been abandoned earlier in the day. She was placing the book in the bag when she noticed the letter lying next to it. The letter aunty had sent for her…she had kept it on the table while tidying up the room after uncle had left and had forgotten about it till now.
Nandini picked it up and tried to open the envelope carefully without causing any unnecessary tear - it was as precious as the letter to her, and both would be lovingly preserved for years to come. Just then she heard the sounds of vessels from the kitchen; her mother was already making preparations for dinner. She pulled out a notebook from her bag, which had been lying alongside her brother's, placed the letter carefully in it for reading later at night, and replaced the book in the bag. Then she hurried off to help her mother in the kitchen.
Vrinda sat down on the floor, exhausted. Nishi, who was equally tired, was currently sitting against a wall in the same room. Nandini was sweeping and swabbing the last room, and she too planned to join her friends on the floor once this was done. Prakash had been given the responsibility of thoroughly dusting the furniture and he had taken 5-minute breaks every 15 minutes. 1 hour ago he had left for a bathroom break and had not reappeared. Nandini strongly suspected she would have to dust the furniture all over again. It was not a very happy thought - they had been cleaning non-stop for almost 4 hours.
Nandini had telephoned Vrinda and Nishi the previous night to ask for help in cleaning. Both had jumped at the chance to spend the entire day at Nandini's home, which they simply loved, and eat her mother's food, which they loved even more. They had arrived at the crack of dawn and after a delicious breakfast served by Nandini's mother, had declared war on the dirt in the house next door. Thankfully, the house had been thoroughly cleaned 2 months ago for Diwali. So the task was still manageable.
Nandini finally finished with the work and went to join her friends; she sat down next to Nishi. It was nearing lunch time and her mother had already called out to them twice to come eat. But they didn't even have enough energy to walk over to the house that was just 9 feet away. So all three were sitting in silence in a now clean room, recovering from their exertions.
The stillness was broken by Vrinda, who said, "So these two people who are moving in…tell us about them..."
"They are Garewal uncle's friends….Sumer Singh and his nephew."
"What's the nephew's name?"
"I don't know, uncle didn't say…"
"How old is he?"
"I think uncle said he is 19."
Nishi sat up with more interest and asked enthusiastically, "Any idea if he is good looking?"
"I didn't ask uncle that," Nandini said dryly, "I'm sorry I forgot the importance of that question."
"Hey, don't grin..." Vrinda said indignantly, "it's a very important and valid question. And for all this work that we are doing, that guy better be really good looking." She paused for a moment, then added, "If he's ugly then forget it. But if he is a hunk, be sure to tell him who cleaned the fans."
Nishi sniggered and said, "Yes…he will ask her…'which fair maiden cleaned these fans' and Nandini will say, 'Nay…that was not me, oh hunk... It was my friend Vrinda, who was already ugly to look at, but now, after cleaning all the fans, looks almost deformed'." And she and Nandini burst out laughing, clutching each other.
This caused a temporary break in their relaxation as Vrinda sprung up from the ground and chased both of them around the house with a filthy duster in hand to 'clean them'.
Ayodhya was gleaming. Nandini, Vrinda and Nishi had cleaned and dusted every inch of the house. It was early evening by the time they finished, and all three took baths to wash off the dirt and dust. Afterwards, Vrinda and Nishi sat on either side of Grandpa, asking for some ghost stories. Grandpa was thrilled and obliged them with some of the most terrifying stories in his collection about all the mysterious and inexplicable events that had happened in and around Shamli, most of which were the products of his own rich creativity. Both of Nandini's friends sincerely regretted their request later, as every sound and shadow they saw seemed to be proof that a hideous ghoul was lurking outside the house to chew them up alive.
When the car came to pick them up, Nishi and Vrinda were very reluctant to step out. Out came Grandpa's threads, which were tied on their wrists and made them feel a little braver. Nandini's mother had prepared snacks for them to take home. Just before they stepped out of the house, Nandini drew both of them into a tight hug, which they returned with equal emotion – they would have beaten her up if she had tried to express her gratitude for their help in any other way….
After they had left, Nandini sat with Prakash for a while, helping him with his homework. Once that was done, she went upstairs to her room on the first storey to lie down for a while - her hands, feet and back were screaming for rest.
Some time later, Sarojini went into her room to call her daughter for dinner and found Nandini fast asleep. She went up to the bed, covered her with the bedsheet that was lying at the bottom of the bed, and caressed and kissed her forehead gently. Nandini stirred and smiled at her mother sleepily, and then she caught the hand that was still stroking her head and pulled her mother down to sit by her side. She cuddled up with her mother's hand firmly clasped between her own, and went off to sleep again.
Sarojini sat by the bedside, lovingly gazing at her daughter's face...she looked so peaceful and defenseless in sleep.
This last thought had barely formed in her mind when…without warning......Sarojini felt a sudden chill spread rapidly through her chest....and an irrational fear for her daughter seized her heart. All her motherly instincts arose with a terrifying urgency, as she felt an overpowering need to shield her child from harm...
Then...as swiftly as it had come...the feeling vanished, and everything felt normal again. She was sitting by side of her daughter, who was fast asleep, safe and sound. She tried to smile at her foolish thoughts but was unsuccessful…
…….And once again, her mind replayed those terrible moments when she had sensed that a shadow was slowly casting a veil over Nandini, hiding her daughter from view.....
The expensive-looking black car, aflame in the first rays of the morning sun, purred along a beautiful road that had forests on both sides. It had two passengers. One, a very distinguished looking middle aged man, was sitting next to the driver. The other passenger, a young boy, was sitting alone in the back seat. The car was nearing the outskirts of Shamli.
The driver had been hired from the nearest metro, which was very far away. His instructions were to drop the passengers at Shamli, return to the metro and drop the car at a specific address.
"Stop the car," the boy commanded.
The driver immediately pulled the car over to one side. He had learnt early in the trip that it was in his best interests to do as the boy wanted without a second's delay and without asking any questions.
The boy, dressed in a white shirt and jeans, disembarked and walked over to the front of the car, surveying his surroundings, and leaned against the bonnet, with his arms crossed. The gray-haired, middle aged man also got out of the car and stood at a respectful distance from the boy.
"Is something the matter, my lord," the older man asked deferentially.
"How long before we reach the house," the boy asked with his eyes on the road ahead.
"Around two hours, my lord."
The boy turned his head very slightly towards his right, where the driver, who had also hurriedly gotten out of the car, was standing very nervously and said coldly, "Leave us for a few minutes."
The driver almost tripped in his hurry to obey; after he was gone, the boy finally turned to face the elder man.
"I am perhaps asking this of you for the hundredth time, Sumer Baba.…you have to stop me calling 'lord' in private also," he said irritably. "You know I hate it when you call me that. And someday it might slip out in front of others too."
"I am aware of your dislike; I will not do it again. I am sorry, my lord," the senior man said quietly, then caught the boy's glare and gave a rueful smile at having just repeated the mistake.
"So far, we have somehow managed to maintain the act that I am your nephew. And now we are going to a new town where they have been informed of our relationship. Don't you think people will wonder why my mother's brother is calling me 'my lord'," the boy asked, frustrated.
"I will be careful henceforth, I promise."
The boy looked a little skeptical, but he didn't pursue the topic. He was sure Sumer Baba would continue to use the term in private…nothing he said could ever convince Baba to call him by his first name. But he was fully confident that the lapse would not happen in public. Sumer Singh had been playing two different roles perfectly for many years now, and he had never made a mistake.
The boy moved on to another pressing issue, "The family does know that we have chosen the house next door for some calm and quiet and they must mind their own business and not interfere in ours, don't they?"
"Yes, I had specifically asked Rajesh to inform them of that condition. But as today is the first day, we will have to meet them and spend some time at their house to discuss the arrangements for food and some other minor details."
"That can't be avoided I suppose," The boy said grudgingly, "but we will not spend more time than absolutely necessary….and please try and keep them away from me, Baba."
"Of course," the man said seriously, but there was an affectionate and indulgent smile in his old eyes.
"Hmm…We will not take the car to the house….it will draw too much attention in the small locality," the boy said, frowning, "We'll go in a little, and then walk the rest of the way. We have just three bags...we'll carry those."
"That would seem the sensible thing to do, my ...." the older man stopped abruptly, restraining himself in time.
"Alright then….find that fool of a driver and let us move on."
When the man had left to follow the instruction, the boy looked in the direction of Shamli. He had sworn that he would not come back, not at any cost, and had tried everything possible to avoid returning to the town. But all his attempts had been foiled. It was almost as if something up there had been determined to bring him to Shamli.
If that was the case….then that something was just about to learn that this time, they had chosen the wrong person to impose a decision on. He had always made his own decisions, and written his own destiny….
No one - not even the powers that be –ever told Prithvi what to do without facing the consequences…
Joined: 01 June 2007
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 14 August 2007
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