Joined: 01 July 2006
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 09 October 2008
Nandini's anklet on her right leg was missing. She had been looking for it all over the house since morning. Her mother was busy in the kitchen, packing lunch for her and Prakash, and Nandini didn't want to bother her. Her grandfather had left for the temple a little early this morning for a special pooja. So Nandini and Prakash were searching alone. After they both had gone through the house without success, it struck her that it might have fallen in Ayodhya yesterday while cleaning it. But now there was no time to look for it there. She removed the anklet on her left leg and kept it on her table and decided that on her way back from college she would look for it in Ayodhya before returning home.
Her cycle had barely taken the turn to enter the little street, when two strangers came from around the corner on one end of the square. Those who were strolling outside in the area around the temple paused at the sight of the unknown faces. The boy was carrying two heavy-looking suitcases, while the older man was holding a relatively smaller traveling bag. The old man looked very respectable and distinguished, but it was the boy who drew their attention and held it.
Tall, very fair and broad shouldered…there was something awe-inspiring in the way he was walking…as though every bit of land he covered with his feet was his …and if not, then it became his own the instant he strode over it…
A strange kind of silence fell over the little locality; a couple of men who were slightly in their path, unconsciously made way and stood to a side and remained there while they passed.
Absolutely indifferent and uninterested in the number of eyes fixed on him, Prithvi reached the gate of the house mentioned in the address given by Rajesh Garewal, with Sumer Singh right behind him. For about a minute, Prithvi stood examining the rather unimpressive exterior of the house in front and the one next door, and Sumer Singh waited in silence. Then Prithvi pushed the gate wide open and stepped inside.
Nandini walked into the canteen and looked around for Vrinda and Nishi. There was still some time left for the first class of the day to begin and they usually checked in the canteen for each other before going to class so that they could go together. The girls hadn't reached, but one really thin, bespectacled boy with a very pimpled face was sitting alone at a table, totally absorbed in some notes. Nandini smiled, walked over to him and hit him lightly on the head with a notebook that had been lying on the table. Rishabh looked up surprised and then grinned at her and moved some books from the chair near him so she could sit down.
"Found any more mistakes in calculations made by your mathematics professor?" she asked teasingly.
He grinned and said, "If I get just one more, I can publish a book on his blunders…"
Nandini laughed, and then asked, "Where were you for the past two days,"
"I wasn't feeling too well"
Nandini's lightheartedness immediately turned to concern. "What happened…did you have fever again…"
"Nothing serious" Rishabh said reassuringly, "It's just this weather, too chilly at night."
"That's what you say every time, Rishabh, I'm sure you have been ignoring the doctor's advice again," she scolded "How many times must I tell you to take proper care of your health…"
"Has he been falling sick again?" a familiar voice asked. Vrinda and Nishi had arrived and they also sat down at the table, both giving Rishabh a stern look. "We really should appoint a full time caretaker for this boy…" Vrinda added.
"Here come my other two mothers. The Tri-Devis are together now…I'm doomed," Rishabh groaned, burying his face in his book and forcing all three girls to laugh.
"We'll let you go this time, but if you still do as you please and fall ill again, we'll hire a nurse for you," Nishi warned.
"Young and pretty?" Rishabh asked hopefully.
"Nope. Old and ugly - who thinks she is young and pretty," Vrinda said promptly.
Rishabh shuddered at the idea and the girls burst into a fresh round of giggles.
"When are the tenants arriving today," Nishi asked Nandini.
"What tenants?" Rishabh asked, confused
"Nandini's family has found some people to rent Ayodhya," Vrinda answered.
"Wow…that's great news," Rishabh said enthusiastically, "It would….really help, wouldn't it?" he added tentatively.
Nandini smiled at the cautious question and nodded.
"Yesterday, when we were cleaning Ayodhya, Garewal uncle telephoned and told grandpa that they would arrive at around 7 in the evening," she said in response to Nishi's original question.
"Didn't you say aunty had sent a letter for you, what did it say?" Vrinda enquired.
"Oh no, I forgot about it!" Nandini exclaimed in dismay, feeling crushing remorse for not having read it as yet. She hurriedly opened her bag and took out the envelope from the notebook.
Nishi leaned over, took the envelope from her hand and read out the writing on the cover. "Nanhi…that's what she used to always call you…" she said, thinking out aloud.
"Among all those who have been really close to your family, she is the only one who has a pet name for you, isn't she," Vrinda said slowly and Nandini grinned in agreement.
Nishi handed the envelope back to Nandini.
She was just about to open it when the bell for the first lecture rang and all four jumped up, picked their bags and notes and ran to their respective classes.
It was 3 O'clock in the afternoon and Nandini was standing in front of Ayodhya's door, which was slightly ajar. She wondered who had left it open; had her mother come in the morning for some work or had the tenants arrived?
But the house was so quiet, that it was not possible that anyone was inside. She cautiously opened the door and looked inside. The living room was just the way they had left it yesterday. There was no additional item anywhere that would point to anyone having come over to stay. The door to the small bedroom, which was in the left corner of the living room, was closed, as was the kitchen door.
She stepped inside the house, placed her bag near the door and quickly started searching for her anklet on the floor and under the furniture. But the search was not fruitful. She decided to check in the small bedroom and kitchen before searching upstairs.
She walked towards the bedroom and had just raised her right hand to push open the door, when it opened with force by itself, and a boy stepped outside. Caught totally unawares, Nandini froze in shock on the spot and…for a second or two…there was barely an inch between them…
Then, frightened and panicky at finding herself in a lot more than touching distance to him, Nandini hurriedly retraced several steps at once. And it was only then that another realization hit her with a jolt, and her beautiful big eyes widened even more in shock….
She was looking upon a face that belonged to a stranger, and yet, was very familiar….and those flashing black eyes that had troubled her thoughts more often that they should have in the past two months were now staring at her, equally shocked…
The boy she had seen outside the temple that night was now standing in Ayodhya, gazing at her in stunned disbelief….
But then, even as Nandini was struggling to calm her heart and mind and say something, his look of disbelief swiftly and unexpectedly changed to that of sheer fury. Nandini involuntarily took another step back, alarmed at the intensity of his anger. Then, abruptly, the anger was gone too and he was simply looking at her with an extremely unfriendly expression.
"Who the hell are you" he asked sharply, "and what are you doing in our house…"
Shaken by the unforeseen meeting and the fury she had seen his eyes just moments ago, Nandini struggled mentally to find the words….and failed.
Mercifully, before Prithvi could snap again, there was an intervention.
"Why are you frightening the poor girl, Prithvi," a perplexed voice asked, and Prithvi and Nandini turned to see a middle aged man walk into the room from the kitchen.
"Ok then, Sumer Baba...I'll ask nicely," he said mockingly, then turned to her again. "Would you like to share with me who you are and what exactly are you doing in our house," he asked with artificial politeness.
This time, even though she was still feeling befuddled, Nandini somehow managed to stammer, "I…I'm Nandini...I live in the house next door, in Vrindavan."
"And that apparently gives you the right to walk in here without permission," Prithvi asked with raised eyebrows.
The man, who had come and stood next to Prithvi, now smiled at Nandini reassuringly. "Stop treating her like she is a thief, Prithvi. Don't you remember the house-owner telling us today morning that he has a granddaughter called Nandini…"
"My memory is perfectly fine, Baba," Prithvi said irately, "I only wanted to know if the house-owners intend to continue treating this place as if it were not occupied.."
Feeling helpless, Nandini turned to the sympathetic old man. "I didn't know you had arrived…..if I had I wouldn't have just walked in like that," she said pleadingly, now addressing her words only to Sumer Singh. ""I…my friends and I were cleaning this house yesterday and I think I dropped my anklet somewhere. I only wanted to see if I have dropped it here. I'm really sorry…."
"You should be," Prithvi said, forcing her to look at his unforgiving expression, "Now if finding your anklet is not a matter of life and death, I would appreciate it if you either forget about it, or look for it elsewhere and spare us."
And just to ensure that she had understood that the conversation had ended, he looked at the main door and then at Nandini, who was starting to feel a little too close to tears now…
"Don't be so impolite, son" Sumer Singh said mildly. And he smiled at Nandini very kindly and said, "I'll keep an eye out for your anklet. If I see it anywhere here, I'll come over and give to you."
"Thank you," Nandini said gratefully, and without looking at Prithvi again, she turned to leave.
Just as she picked up her bag and stepped outside, Prithvi spoke again. "Close the door on your way out. Our quota for unwanted visitors is over for today."
Nandini slowly walked through the little connecting gate towards Vrindavan, feeling dazed and overwhelmed by all that had just happened.
She didn't realize when she reached the door to her house. But she hesitated before ringing the doorbell... If she went in right now, within seconds her family would suspect that something had upset her. And she was feeling a little too emotional and fragile right now to face any questions. She drew away from the door and stood undecided for a minute, wondering where she could go for a few minutes of solitude. Then she remembered the perfect place….
Nandini made her round the house, to the backyard. Her home was her little piece of heaven and the backyard was a small part of that paradise. There were even more flowering bushes here than in the courtyard, and lots of fruit trees, many of which had been planted by her father. The place was full of memories of wonderful times spent with her father, helping him plant these trees, sometimes talking and laughing, and sometimes in companionable silence.
She made her way past all the other trees to a mango tree that stood silently in a corner, which was her favourite, placed her bag on the ground, sat down in the shade and leaned against the bark. Then she began to try to understand what had just happened.
She was still in the shock of seeing the boy…Prithvi, she amended ….again. She had never thought she would see him again.....
The encounter that dark night had always lurked somewhere in the back of Nandini's mind, puzzling and confusing her with the memory of the strange emotions that had assailed her for the first time in her life. But he, she realised feeling an irrational disappointment fill her heart, he had forgotten…it had meant nothing to him at all. As far as he was concerned, it had been a very ordinary, commonplace incident....
In the first few seconds of their meeting, he had looked so taken aback that she had believed he too had recognized her…but then…the sudden anger that had replaced it…it had truly frightened her…why had he looked at her with so much rage, and his tone when he spoke to her had been so cold and sarcastic. No, she thought with a sinking feeling, he had not remembered her.....his reaction had simply been that of someone who finds a stranger in his house...
Feeling utterly confused and drained, she sighed and looked up at the leafy branches that were sheltering her from the sun. This was the oldest tree in the backyard, planted by her great-great-grandfather, who had been a deeply spiritual and compassionate man with extraordinary healing powers, and her family believed that some of his spiritual and healing energy had been imbibed by the tree. For so many years now, whenever Nandini was confused, sad or depressed, her steps automatically led her to this tree, and a few moments under it could calm and clear her mind and soothe her heart as effectively as the company of a beloved old and wise friend.
Nandini closed her eyes and let her mind go to that strange night two months back. She had left the house after just having heard one of grandpa's very impressive proclamations about it being a magical night, and then she had stepped out of the temple and a boy had just happened to be standing there at that time...they both had been a little startled and had stared at each other, and then he had walked away.
Yes….that was all that happened, she thought slowly.
It had just been a chance meeting between a boy who had been passing through Shamli and a girl who had coincidentally stepped out of a temple at the same time…nothing more nothing less.
Prithvi had seen it in the right light and forgotten all about it, as any practical person would have done.… and she...how idiotic she had been...It was not anyone else's fault that she had imagined it to be something special, something beautiful….it was her own foolishness. How silly she had been….
Now Nandini felt a strange sense of relief and peace filling her heart. She had never ever hidden anything even slightly important from her family and best friends before, and until now, she hadn't realized how much this small secret had weighed on her conscience. But the afternoon's incident had knocked some sense into her head, and had made her understand that the meeting had not been anything momentous, so it was alright that she had not told anyone about it. And now she could look at what had happened in a more practical light.
Prithvi's shock and anger had nothing to do with the meeting that night, she concluded, he didn't even remember it; he had been furious only because he had found a stranger in his house. She should have checked with her mother before entering Ayodhya. Instead, she had simply assumed the tenants had not arrived and had walked into the house, which belonged to Sumer Singh and Prithvi now. It was all her fault...Prithvi had every right to be angry and it was her duty to make amends. Nandini resolved that she would apologise to him at first opportunity.
Her mind felt clear and light and she could now talk and be friendly with him just as she would have with any other tenant. And soon, she hoped, she would have two new friends in Sumer Singh and Prithvi.
That decided, Nandini picked up her bag and got to her feet. She took a couple of steps forward, then halted and turned towards the tree. She walked back, and stroked its bark lovingly, and whispered, "Thank you".
She then started to walk towards her house, still in a reflective mood. The enchantment she had sensed had been in her own head, all of her own making.... Evidently, she had inherited her grandfather's imaginative powers, Nandini thought wryly and chuckled.
Joined: 14 August 2007
Joined: 02 April 2005
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 09 October 2008
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