Motu Uncle

The destiny of man is in his own soul.
– Herodotus

“Carrot? Should I give you um um um …“He stammered staring at me with uncertainty.
“Half Kg ma’am?” She interrupted, completing the question for him. I looked at her. She seemed just like me, maybe a customer at the little corner bhaji – vegetable stall. The stall next to Motu Uncle’s cottage which he seemed to be managing today.
“Yes, half Kg, half Kg please. ” I repeated to him slowly , half turning to her.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked, a little shook up. The man was a shadow of his former self. I stared in shock.
“He was so full of life! I can’t believe this. I was passing by and thought about visiting him. I did not know now he runs this stall. What happened to his rickshaw?”
“Oh so you know him too, from before?”
“Ofcourse, Motu Uncle…”
Suddenly she broke into a smile. “Bina, isn’t it you? Battery Bina? I almost did not recognize you without your battery oops glasses!”
I paused and then rushed to hug her.
“Kalpana? Kinetic Kalpana ?
“Eat more ca ca carrot,” We heard him say. And we both turned to look at him, remembering….

“Oye Battery – why did you get chasama – glasses? Eat more Carrot”
“You know whoever gets most marks, gets Peru– Guava and Battery Bina it is! She is our rickshaw sitara –star yet again!”
“Kinetic Kalpana did it again! Great goal! Milind don’t you dare boss over her now!”
That was our Motu uncle – our school Rickshaw-walla. So full of life, he was our tormentor yet our savior. I practically grew up in his rickshaw. First I was among the little ones sitting at the back in the ‘balcony’ seat – behind all the big kids where customers usually put their luggage, that’s when I was in nursery. And over years I was the tai – big sister sitting on the main seat with some little kid on my lap traveling to school. I probably had more fun in his rickshaw, than in school. I probably learnt more in his rickshaw than in school!

Come hail or sunshine, Motu uncle was always there. He would pick us from school and leave us home every during those school years. He was there when our parent’s could not make it for that one important hockey match, cheering us on; And then later yelling at us in the rickshaw for all those fouls. And he was there when that fat kid bullied us and ate our dabba. Of course he was not there when we were late for school third time in a row. We sure had to follow the clock to be in his rickshaw!
He was our hero. Though uneducated himself he encouraged us to excel, to give our best at school. He rewarded us and teased us mercilessly. He helped build us for those life’s little battles, for those big challenges. You know, in life we probably cross paths with so many. Yet there are but a handful besides family who remain in our hearts forever. And Motu uncle was one of them.
Yes, I had not seen him in years. Yes I had almost not come even today. But each time I have seen a little one climbing into her school rickshaw animatedly , it has brought  a cheer.

“Eat more Ca Carrot, ” we heard him stammer. His familiar yet distant voice brought me back to reality.
“Carrots , eyes, good!” He gave a toothless grin to the five year old in front of him. And he juggled three carrots.
“Good for eyes!” giggled the kid tugging his mother’s hand to buy carrots.

“Motu uncle had an accident years ago. I guess you are visiting after a long time Bina?” I nodded in reply to Kalpana’s question mesmerized by Motu Uncle’s interaction with the little one.
“He was hit on his head and…” She paused “Then some of us and his friends from the Rickshaw panchayat – we all chipped in and helped setup this vegetable stall. He has given us so much; this is just a drop. Normally his wife is here and he helps her.”
“But you know what?”
She continued with a twinkle
“Motu Uncle has not changed a bit. Yeah he’s lost some weight but he is still a hero, isn’t he? Instead of being bed-ridden he stands tall. He still is a champion, just look at that kid…”
Yes, She did not have to say more. The carrot in the child’s hands and the expression on his mother’s face said it all.
Yes, the destiny of man is in his own soul, i think…

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The familiar stranger

“You know, it was never mine, really. She never did give it to me, really. It was meant to be.” Aparna’s big brown eyes filled with tears as she confessed to her daughter, Meera.

“What? Who?” Meera grabbed her mother’s shoulder urgently, as the clock on the wall struck twelve – the midnight hour. She felt a shiver run down her spine as she couldn’t help but think about the prior events…

********

Early that morning…

The ringing of the phone broke the silence in the room. Meera woke up with a start, grabbing the phone off the hook.

“Good Morning, Madam. This is room service. Sorry to bother you but this is an emergency. There has been a break-in at the hotel. A few valuables are missing mostly those belonging to the hotel. So far none of our guests have reported anything. But we just want to make sure. This is most unusual madam and highly disturbing.”
She heard the voice at the end of the phone.

She blinked for a moment as she felt the piercing green eyes stare at her once again. She looked back into the face on the wall, a face so familiar, yet a face of a stranger.

“Ma’am, are you there? Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes I am fine. I’ll check and let you know.” She heard herself answer back.

Trying to clear her head she hurried to her suitcase. Many of her possessions were randomly scattered all around the room – her cell phone, her purse even her gold chain. But the one thing she valued the most, she had hidden carefully draped in the old black dress in her bag.

With trembling hands she opened the bag and started digging looking for the black dress. But she already knew, she had felt the loss the moment she had heard the manager’s words on the phone.

It was gone, the dress and her mother’s choker. Tears streamed down her face as she hunted everywhere for the intricately carved necklace. Maybe she had just misplaced it. It was a family heirloom passed on from mother to daughter, or daughter-in-law. It was one of a kind made of pure gold embellished with gemstones. It was priceless!

And then her eyes darted back to the picture on the wall, resting on the necklace. The shining red gemstones and the gold peacocks seemed to mock her, the resemblance was unnerving.

Tears streaming down her face she packed her bags. Before checking out she reported the loss to the police inspector, leaving her ma’s address and phone number for further contact. And with a heavy heart she headed back home.

She had no choice but to go back to the same house which she had fled merely a day ago. Ugly words had been exchanged then, threats even. Her ma had been totally against her going to Utharashi for the shoot. Meera had been puzzled by her ma’s behavior, disappointed even.

********

Meera’s mother Aparna had never stopped her before. In fact she had always encouraged her to achieve her dreams and to fly high. Meera’s father had died in a car crash when she had been just three. She had almost no memories of him. But his face was everywhere. In every room, her mother had hung his photograph. And she treasured every gift he had given her, every small trinket. Twenty years after his death her mother still cherished him. Her love for him had merely grown stronger with each passing year. Car racing had been her father’s passion. Winning the Keystone cup his ultimate goal, the same goal had cost him his life.

“Meera if you put one step on that train, you are dead to me!” Her mother had threatened her.
“But ma, I have to go. This is a once in a lifetime chance. It’s a shoot for the Gwalior group, no less. It’s just a matter of a few days. What’s wrong with that?”
“Everything!” Aparna had thundered.

And that night, she had crept out of bed. And she had taken the necklace from the safe. She had stolen the necklace. She had felt a strange force and she hadn’t been able to help herself. Well it did belong to her, rather would belong to her someday, anyway.

“Beta, it’s been a tradition in our family. Your great-great grandmother gave it to her daughter and then…”
Yes, it would belong to her someday too. It didn’t matter.

The moment she had stepped off the train at Utharashi she had felt a shiver run down her spine. It was pretty warm there but yet she was shivering. She felt a sense of déjà vu. She had never been there. But yet…

The hotel, a former palace converted to a five star hotel had been breathtaking. She had been mesmerized by the intricate carvings and elegant landscape, especially by the charming fountain in the middle of the courtyard.

“It was our Maharani’s favorite. She passed away ten years ago, right after donating everything to the government.”
The elderly porter had informed her with a faraway look. The porter had been a former employee of the Maharani. Staring at her strangely, he had led her to her room.
“Ma’am this is the blue room, another of our Maharani’s joys.” He had stated gazing at the large portrait on the wall. And then Meera had felt those eyes the first time…

Captivated, she had stared at the elegant woman on the wall. The simple yet regal hairstyle, the beautiful saree and above all those pitch green eyes, had reminded her of someone. And then she looked at the necklace, she had been stunned! It was the same as the one she had stolen from her mother. But…

Her trail of thoughts had been interrupted by the phone. She had to get ready for the shoot. It was the campaign coordinator on the line. Every minute was precious; it was a costly affair. And the rest of the day had simply flown by. After an early dinner with the rest of the crew, she had returned back to her room to lie down.

And yet again she had had felt a force, this time, beckoning her to the fountain in the courtyard…

Almost in a daze she had walked up to it. There was a woman standing there with her back towards her. And when she had turned, Meera had stared at her shocked. It was the woman in the portrait. It was the same face. And the same green eyes.

“I have been waiting. It’s been a long wait.” The woman had whispered.
And Meera had fainted.

Next, she was awakened by the manager’s call about the robbery.

How she had got back to her room, she did not know. Or did she leave it at all?
Maybe it had all just been her overactive imagination. Maybe it had just been a dream after all.

 

********

Tears streaming down her face she had admitted to her mother about the necklace. But her mother’s words had shaken her.

“Meera you have to know the truth. History does repeat itself. History comes back to haunt.” Her ma had said gripping her hand.

“Just like you, your father had run away from home once. He had run away from it all to pursue his passion – car racing. His family had been furious, especially his mother. She had disowned him completely, totally shattering him.

We had tried to seek her blessings before our wedding but we had to turn back in humiliation. After your birth, despite your father’s anger, I had phoned her yet again. But she had continued being stubborn.

Five years later – two year’s after your father’s death, she had called me but this time I had refused to visit her. I had merely followed your father’s last wishes. In the end, for him only you and I were family, the only family he ever needed. He had left us sufficient money to get by and he just didn’t want us to suffer further at the hands of his relatives. He had asked me to forget everything. He had begged me to tell you nothing, so that you’d have a clean slate, a new beginning.

Just before your father had left his childhood home, he had stolen the necklace from his mother, the family heirloom for his future wife. That was all he had taken. That and his mother’s peace of mind!

“Meera, your grandmother was the Maharani of Utharashi. Maybe she was just waiting there for you. Maybe she was just waiting there for the necklace, her necklace.
You have her eyes, you know…”

 

 

He believed in me

 

“My grandfather gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me!” said my new boss, my childhood buddy.

It was early January. We were all a little anxious, a little keyed up. We were awaiting our new chief. Our last VP of IT had just stepped down, rather been asked to step down. After a series of intensive interviews and dialogues with numerous candidates, the board had unanimously voted on Mr. Pankaj Joshi to take his place. Rumored to be a go-getter and a doer, I’d come across his name a couple of times in ‘IT Today’ and ‘Computer World’. I heard that he was about my age, was looking forward to meeting him.

“Mr Kulkarni, could you please come to my office,” a call from the President.
A little surprised and apprehensive, I hurried to the elevator.

”Please come in,” I heard our president’s response, when I knocked on his door.

“Hello Mr. Kulkarni, Mr. Joshi, our new VP. I believe you know each other already.” I came face to face with my childhood pal, my buddy Pankya. I was definitely stunned to see that our class jester as my new chief!

“Anand, glad to see you again! My god, it’s been so long, at least a good twenty, twenty-five years!” Beaming we shook hands. We exchanged pleasantries, talked about our common friends and contacts. And then we moved into the conference room for a formal meeting with the rest of the company members.

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination. This determination will certainly take us places. And as Henry Ford once said, coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. May we achieve all the success and take this company to an unthinkable echelon,” on this note Pankaj ended his introductory speech. I was amazed! Was this really Pankya, the most mischievous boy in our class, the trouble-maker?

********

“Pankaj Joshi, behave yourself! Into the dustbin!” shouted Mrs Mishra, our Math teacher. “At this rate twenty years down the lane you’ll be cleaning dustbins! You should pick a page from your brother’s book!” And Pankaj spent the Math period standing in the dustbin, his punishment for pulling Tapan’s hair. This was nothing new. Pankaj was our class prankster, ever the mischief-maker; he always had new tricks up his sleeves.

I remember the time when Pankaj had put stink bombs in the teacher’s desk. The whole class had to spend the rest of the day in the library, as our classroom was uninhabitable thanks to the smell! Another trick I remember was Pankaj putting super glue on the tap in the teacher’s bathroom! Our poor history teacher was the victim. It was the talk of the school for months! And then there was the perfect trick, it was a custom for the entire school to gather in the assembly hall every morning for prayers and for Principal’s address. Somehow Pankaj had managed to get twenty small alarm clocks from somewhere. We crept inside our assembly hall early that morning, before the first bell. We set them at 30 second intervals and placed them randomly. You can imagine the chaos during the assembly! Our prayer session that morning is still etched in my memory!

Pankaj’s elder brother Prashant, our senior was the exact opposite. The football champ, our school prefect, our school teachers always sang his praises. One of the most popular boys in our school, he was an all-rounder. I would have been so proud if I had a brother like Prashant. But frankly, I don’t ever recall seeing Pankaj and Prashant together. Not that I’d ever seen them fight or something but they didn’t seem to be the best of friends either. We were all studying at the Mountainview High school in Panchgani.

Oh I still remember those glorious schooldays. The football matches, the debates, inter-house quiz competitions. If only I could turn the clock! I was on the swimming team as was Pankaj. The only days-scholar in the class, I would have definitely felt left out, if it hadn’t been for Pankaj. Impish Pankaj was my best pal, my buddy. Some weekends he even came over to stay at my house, of course with Father D’souza’s permission.

I have that day, stamped in my memory when Pankaj’s father yanked him out of school. That was the day when Pankaj was almost expelled. It was actually a pretty childish trick. We had placed a couple of banana skins outside our staff room door. Of course the aim was to see our teachers slip and fall. We didn’t see any harm in it! But our vice principal, our second casualty, had a rather nasty fall and had to be hospitalized for it! When asked to own up, Pankaj took all the blame for the tomfoolery.

“You should be ashamed of yourself! Look at your brother; you are a total disgrace to the family, a complete failure!” I remember Pankaj’s father roaring at him.
Thanks to Pankaj’s behavior he was called to meet the Principal that day, taking time out of his busy schedule. Pankaj’s father a renowned cardiologist was known to be a self-starter and an ambitious man. His mother was also a much sought pediatrician. This kind of behavior from their son was unacceptable.

That was the last I saw of Pankaj. There were rumors that Pankaj was sent to live with his grandfather in Pune.

********

“My grandfather gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me!” said Pankaj.
It was Friday. Pankaj and I were sharing drinks. It was then that I had asked him about the metamorphosis.

“That day my father was really furious,” said Pankaj. He continued, “according to him I was a disgrace to the family. In my father’s words, I didn’t deserve any of the privileges. And I was deported to my grandfather’s. As always, my mother supported my dad cent percent.”

And that was the turning point in Pankaj’s life. His grandfather lived alone near Parvati hill, in Pune. Just matriculate, he was a strict disciplarian . Pankaj was admitted to the English medium school nearby. Every morning he had to get up early, and then he went for a walk on Parvati with his grandfather, followed by prayers and some studies. After school he was allowed to play with the neighborhood boys and then it was homework time. His grandfather always sat by him when he did his homework.

“He made me recite the poems aloud, quite often twice or thrice, so that I could understand their real meaning. He made me reflect on every word, on every stanza,” said Pankaj, his eyes clouding thinking about those precious moments. “I started falling in love with the words; I started getting lost in the world of books! Math which had been drudgery became an adventure. The numbers and equations puzzles I couldn’t wait to solve. I hated Hindi the most, but he pretended sometimes that he didn’t understand and I had to read the same lines over and over again.”

Of course it didn’t happen overnight. Pankaj had tried some of the same tricks in his new school. But in the end, his grandfather’s perseverance and love prevailed. Initially it had been a trying time for both of them; eventually peace prevailed in the household. Besides studies, his grandfather exposed him to a whole new world. On weekends and during school vacations they’d go on small expeditions to the nearby killas and hills. His grandfather would tell him all about their history and the old culture. They even went star-gazing with IUCAA on Singhgarh. Over time the dark horse was transformed into a star!

His father had wanted him to come back and join the boarding. Stubbornly Pankaj had refused. He completed his schooling and later Engineering at COEP staying with his old grandpa. With his grandfather’s blessings he got admission in IIT. He felt most fortunate that his grandfather had lived to see him get his first job. Despite protests from the old man, he had quit his job to take care of his granddad, during his last few days.

“If I had the kind of advantages you had, I would have achieved so much more. You don’t know how lucky you are!” had shouted the successful doctor at his son that day. But neither the wealth nor the status had helped. It had been love and faith that had made Pankaj what he was today.

—————————————————————————————–

Quote from Jim Valvano :
My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.

 

Life’s little Steps

[Printed : Blogprint – Penguin Publication]

“Sweetheart, could you please drop in at the post-office for some stamps today? We need to mail those invitations by tomorrow. It’s already pretty late. Please, you know how your mother is about these things. Besides it’s just round the corner from your office.” Yes a call from high-command, my wife, and a dash to the post-office imperative.

I was quite annoyed. Did she think I was her personal assistant? Or maybe she thought I was superman. I barely had half an hour lunch break and she expected me to run errands for her during that time besides stuff whatever I could into my mouth too! Grumbling, I rushed to the post-office at noon. It was better to walk than to drive, I decided.

I had barely set foot inside the parking lot of the post-office when I heard a loud honk. I turned to look. There was a bright red car exactly behind me.

“Hello, do you think you have the whole day?” shrieked Mr. Loud from behind the wheel. I ignored him. He continued honking the car’s horn, the car radio blaring ‘Main hoon Don’, in full volume.  Giving him the look , I rushed into the post-office.

There was a woman holding a little boy, almost blocking the entrance.
“Excuse me!” I exclaimed loudly.
She hurriedly stepped aside. I raced in to join the shortest queue; hurried to counter number seven.
There were already at least a dozen people ahead of me.
“Here goes my lunch break.” I mumbled silently cursing my wife yet again.
Irritated I looked around.
The man standing just ahead of me was jabbering non-stop into his cell-phone.

“Yeah, yeah for god’s sake don’t you understand plain English? I want those documents by 4:00pm today and that’s final.” I heard him roar.

“Mister keep it low. This is a public place you know. You are almost screaming into my ears.” Shouted back Miss Dainty standing directly ahead of him, all dolled-up pink and crimson.
Mr. Cell-phone ignored her and continued his vital conversation on the phone.

The heat, the humidity was getting to all of us. I glared at the worthless fan croaking overhead. It was going to be quite a wait from the looks of it. The tone was certainly depressing in the dimly-lit room. From somewhere in the background, probably from the post-master’s room, I could hear the cricket commentary filtering out ….”And now we have lost the seventh wicket at one fifty two, there seems to be no end in sight…victory is….”

Agitated, trying to gain control, I slowly started counting under my breath…”Zero, one, two, three, four…”
I had reached fifty-six when I heard someone whisper into my ears.

“Oh to be in love again!” startled I turned back.
It was Mrs. Dreamer, the nice old woman at the bakery next-door.
“Oh look at the two love-birds!” She exclaimed.
I glanced in the direction she was pointing to.

I noticed the young denim-clad Romeo-Juliet gazing into each other’s eyes exchanging silly smiles. They were oblivious to everything and everybody, totally lost in their own little universe. Rolling my eyes, I turned back. “Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine…” I continued.

“Waah waah,” this time a baby’s loud wailing interrupted my count.

The lady with her little boy had joined the line. And behind her I could see Mr. Loud, the honker. I glowered at him, yet again, slightly distracted by the baby’s shriek.

“Waah waah,” continued the little boy.
“Waah Waaah,” his cry getting louder and louder with each passing moment.
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” hissed Mr. Cell-phone, but of course he continued jabbering into the mobile device.
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” hissed Miss Dainty, glaring at him and now also glaring at the baby.
“Cutie Pie be quiet, Sweetie. Shh.” The young anguished mother tried to calm her child.
“Waaaah,” wailed the boy paying no heed to his mother’s distress.
“Why don’t you take him outside, he’s disturbing everybody!” commanded Mr. Loud. She tried to ignore him and the rest of the bunch.
“Is he hungry, did he eat something?” asked Mrs. Dreamer, caressing the little one’s cheek.
“Waaaaah” he rewarded her with an even louder wail.
The mother nodded trying to calm him, grateful for that one sympathetic face.
“Waaaaah Waaaaaah.”

Amidst all this noise and confusion the post-master yelled,
“Please will the rest of this line at counter seven join the one at the third counter? This counter is closed for lunch now.”
“This is terrible!” exclaimed Miss Dainty, who was almost at the head of the line now.
“Public Servants, my Foot!” That had to be Mr. Cell-phone.

Protesting and cribbing, we all moved to line three, our new Prime Minister staring at us all from the photograph on the wall right in front of us.

Tempers had reached peak now. Even Romeo and Juliet were quarreling, Juliet was definitely pouting.

“……Ninety-seven,Ninety-eight, Ninety-nine…” I continued.
And before I could say hundred, amidst all the chaos and annoyance, I heard laughter…

Amazed I turned around…

Old Mrs. Dreamer was clapping loudly all smiles.
And the young mother almost in tears was smiling and laughing too!
The wailing had stopped and the little boy was on the floor, standing.
“Oh my god, he took his first step! He just took his first step!” proclaimed the proud mother.
“Right here in the post-office he took his first step!” She said hugging her little boy to her chest and kissing him.
And then Mr. Loud started clapping.
“Once more, once more” Cheered Mrs. Dreamer, as the mother placed her little one on the floor yet again.
“Once more,” joined in Mr. Cell-phone, all poised with his camera phone to take a snap, he had actually interrupted his conversation for this little miracle.
Romeo and Juliet were holding hands again. Miss Dainty was smiling too.
And tears welled up in the young mother’s eyes yet again.

“Once more, once more,” I started chanting too. And the young charmer awarded us with one tiny little step. And yet another one…

And as I watched the boy, I couldn’t help but think about my daughter, all sixteen and practically grown-up. I had missed her first step, but my eyes clouded as I recollected my wife’s animated face as she had described it all. I smiled. I thanked god for his little wonders. I felt a sense of peace and calm. And I looked around…

There were tears and there was laughter as the little one took one step and yet another step and yet another. We all looked at each other in glee and amazement. Just then a young girl, dressed in a blue and white school uniform, who had also joined the line, started clapping. And so did us all. We all joined in. We were all beaming. We were a team; a virtual bond had formed between us…

… all shared the joy of Life’s little miracle…Life’s first steps…

————————————–

*** ‘Main hoon Don’ – Hindi Song (Rough Translation : I am Don)

 

Vanished

[Published in DNA]

——–
“Ma, my necklace has vanished!!!” wailed my twenty-three year old, Meera.

“What do you mean by vanished?” I shrieked, alarmed!

My elder daughter, Meera was getting married in three more days. The past few days rather months, had been most hectic. The planning, the booking, the shopping, the invitations, the list was endless. Almost everything was under wraps. And now this new episode!

We had made new jewelry for Meera, except for the necklace. I’d got it from my mother and I was passing it onto my daughter. Made of pure gold, it was one of a kind. Intricately and elaborately designed, the necklace was quite exquisite. And also very expensive .The jeweler had just returned it to us yesterday, after polishing it. My daughter’s announcement just left me flabbergasted!

“Don’t just stand there and look at me,” I yelled, “look for it.”

“But ma I already did that, I can’t find it anywhere. It has simply vanished!”

We rechecked all the jewelry boxes, checked the locker. We went through all her bridal clothes, her cupboards, even my clothes and my cupboard. We almost turned the entire house upside down, why we even checked in the kitchen! We double checked every nook and corner of the house. But we couldn’t find the necklace anywhere. I was exhausted, didn’t know what to do.

“Tai, would you like to have some tea?” asked Parvatibai my servant.

“Bai, did you see Meera’s necklace,” I asked her.

Parvatibai was my most trusted servant. We were childhood buddies. Parvati and I, we practically grew up together. Her mother had been taking care of me, almost from the day I was born. Parvati was a couple of years younger than I, but we got along just fine. As kids, I never realized that there was anything different between us. Of course she went to a marathi medium school, where as I was convent educated. Her clothes were mostly my old ones. She helped her mother, at times cleaning the utensils and clothes. But all that didn’t really matter, when we played with dolls and hide and seek together.

Time flew by. I started going to college. Parvati had quit school in the middle of tenth grade. Though my mother tried her best to teach her, she had failed Math twice in the tenth grade. And that was the end of her education. She started helping her mother, washing clothes and utensils. I really can’t pinpoint the exact moment when my childhood pal Parvati transformed to Parvatibai, our servant.

Parvati had married Dharma our watchman’s son. But he turned out to be a drunkard, a good for nothing! All he did was to beat her up and curse all day! When I got married, Parvati accompanied me to my in-laws’ place. All these years she’d been with us, helping me with the kids, taking care of the house. She was practically part of the family.

Suddenly it dawned on me, “Parvati did you take the necklace, I know you always liked it, even as kids when aai wore it, you always admired it.”

“Tai, what are you saying? How is it even possible?” she murmured, shocked at my allegations!

“Don’t worry Parvati, you are almost like our family member. I won’t turn you over to the police. Just tell me where you have kept it. And that will be the end of it.”

“Tai, Meeru is like my own! You are the only family I have.” she wept.

My sister-in-law checked everywhere in Parvatibai’s room. She came up empty handed, except for a few black and white photographs of us together as girls.

“Ma, granny just called,” shrieked Meera, “She’s got the necklace. She didn’t quite like the polishing so she had taken it along, to the jewelers!”

“Thank god!” I exclaimed, relieved.

That evening, I couldn’t quite face Parvati. Though I was feeling guilty, I didn’t say anything to her. She went about her duties as if nothing had happened. But I am sure she must have cried her heart out. I tossed and turned that night. How could I have broken our bond, and her trust? What was I thinking?

The next few days are a blur. We were all extremely busy. The guests started arriving, the last minute chores, it’s all a haze. And Parvati was there all the time by my side, helping me with everything. I couldn’t have managed for a minute, without her. I am sure she must have been exhausted too. But everything worked out just great. And our darling Meera commenced her married life.

..~~~~..

“Ma, Parvatibai has vanished!!!” I got a rude awakening the next morning, when my sixteen year old banged on the bedroom door loudly.

I hurried over to Parvati’s room. Her room was clean and tidy, all her stuff gone. There was absolutely nothing, but not quite. In the cupboard were the black and white photographs of us together as girls.

Random Reflection: The Magic of Enid Blyton

Random Reflection: The Magic of Enid Blyton

The air is sprinkled with magic! It’s a charming spring day.
The chirping birds, the dazzling butterflies and the sweet fragrance in the air fill me with bliss and harmony. And there I see her, by the side of the lake; lost…She is totally lost in the book she holds. She is far away. She is but ten years old. I catch a glimpse of the book, of the cover…I am as if possessed…

And with her I am transported to the enchanted wood…atop the magical faraway tree…

Hey, have you visited the tree too? Have you visited Silky and the Saucepan Man? Have you visited the ‘Land of Birthdays’? Were you drenched by Dame Washalot’s tumbling water? Hey were you transported there by the wishing chair along with Molly and Peter. Oops am I getting my stories all mixed up? But am sure this is exactly what Enid Blyton would have wanted. This is her magic…transporting the reader to land of imagination and dreams…

Probably the first ‘story’ book, I got my grubby hands on was Noddy. Oh it was fun time in Toyland. It was fun playing with Big Ears! It was awesome riding in Noddy’s cute car. And who can forget the terrible twosome, Sly and Gobble?

And as years flew by, I outgrew Toyland. My new fascination was St Clare’s and Mallory towers. Oh who can forget the midnight parties with the twins at St Clare’s? It was fantastic cheering for Darrell while she played what was that game again…the one with a net? And yes who can forget the naughtiest girl of them all, Miss Elizabeth Allen?

Enid Blyton’s books had it all…thrill, adventure, fun, mystery…what more did a little child need? Remember the tree house? Remember the Secret Seven meetings? Oh how I loved George, yes sweet old fiery George of the Famous Five. And if this was not enough I would join the Five-findouters…it sure was fun out-witting old Clear-Orf!

For fun and laughter, I would visit Jimmy at the Circus…and Lilliput and Lotta too. And who can forget Barney and Miranda the monkey?The Rat-a-Tat Mystery…one of my favorite…

Gosh, there are so many many more books which I enjoyed like the Blue book, the tales about the family at Red-roofs…the list goes on and on…I sure was mesmerized by Enid Blyton’s magic back then. In fact I still am…

I read on wiki that Enid Blyton’s total book publication is probably around 800 titles, not including decades of magazine writing. And that at one point in her career she regularly produced 10,000 words a day. Amazing isn’t it? Makes you wonder…

Were you touched by Enid Blyton’s magic too?
Did her books enchant you too? Left you spell-bound?
I can see that the little girl is touched by her book too…touched by the magic this enchanting spring day…i hope she’s done with the book soon…hope she lets me borrow it…

The Child in me…

Celebrating children’s day, children’s tales based on proverbs:

(A) A friend in need is a friend indeed!
(B) Better late than never!
(C) Cut your coat according to your cloth!

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Monty the monkey

Would you like to meet Monty the monkey and his friends Jumbo, bunny and Bumbly?

Once upon a time in the enchanted forest, far far away lived Monty the monkey with his bunch of friends. He was the most beautiful monkey in the whole wide world, the fairest of them all. He was so proud of himself! Every morning he would look at himself in the mirror and give himself a pat with his long tail.
“Hey monkey, you look so pretty today!” He would exclaim!

“Hey monkey, you look so pretty today!”
Everybody else would exclaim, especially his two friends Bunty bunny and Jumbo.
“You are the best!” They would shout!
Simple little Bumbly bee  who loved monkey the best would just smile.
“Monkey, you are the best! Can I play with you too?” She would ask
But foolish little monkey would always say no. He didn’t want to play with tiny little Bumbly bee. He would rather play with big fella Jumbo and pretty Bunty!

One day Monty was playing basketball in the school gym along with his other classmates. Suddenly he heard shouting,
“Run, run,” he heard. It was their teacher yelling.
“Everybody out, out of the main door, there is a fire!”
All the little animals ran for dear life!
“Help, help” our friend Monty monkey shouted. “Help Jumbo, help Bunty.”
Poor Monty, his tail was stuck in the basket ball net!
“Help, help.” He shouted again. But his friends Jumbo and Bunty paid no attention at all. They just ran away.  Little Bumbly  Bee saw his friend in distress. “Don’t worry Monty i will get our teacher,” he buzzed in Monty’s ear. “Buzzzzzzzzzzz”.

Within minutes, he saw Bumbly followed by his teacher with a big ladder and a pair of scissors. And he was freed within seconds!

Monty felt so ashamed of himself. He remembered all those times he had run away from Bumbly  , had avoided playing with her.“I am so sorry Bumbly  ; I have been so mean to you. Will you be my best friend?” He asked, as they scattered from the basket ball court away from the fire.

MORAL : A friend in need is a friend indeed!

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Flora the Fairy

Hey, have you heard about Flora the fairy? Have you heard about river Sparkle?
Flora the fairy lived on the banks of river Sparkle? She was the happiest little fairy of them all! She was the laziest little fairy of them all!
“Flora, you got to learn to use your magic wand,” her mamma would tell her.
“Flora, just say abracadra, lipsie doo and hey presto you can wish for whatever you want,” her sisters would tell her. But Flora was too lazy to do that.
“Mamma maybe tomorrow,” she would say.
“Sis, you can do it for me, please sis.” She would beg her big sister.

One night there was a big storm. Miss Lightening shone as never before. Mr. Thunder rumbled with all his might It poured cats and dogs. River Sparkle started to rise. And in a matter of minutes, the banks were flooded. The fairies got scared, their wings were all wet. They could not fly. They started waving their wands. They started magically transporting themselves far far away from the water onto the mountain tops. And in hurry, her family totally forgot about lazy Flora who was still fast asleep!
When the water reached Flora’s nose, she woke up with a start.
“Mama,” she shouted “Mama, where are you?”
“Oh Flora, I can hear you,” her mother replied, “I am here on the mountaintop to the right. Flora you have got to wave your wand so that you can be transported to the mountains. Your wings are all wet; you won’t be able to fly.”
“Mama, I can’t do it, you got to help me” she cried.
“Flora this time you got to do it on your own, because of the storm my powers are weak. You are too far away for me to help. You have got to do it yourself.”
“Flora, you can do it” Shouted her sisters.
“Flora you got to try” the fairies all cheered in unison. Trembling, shivering with cold she picked up the wand and waved.
“Abracadabra lipsie do la do boo,” she whispered and tightly closed her eyes.

Flora you can open your eyes now. You’ve done it!” She heard her mother whispering into her ears. Flora opened her eyes. Yes, she was now on the mountain top in her mother’s arms. Yes, she had done it!
“Better late than never, Flora!” Her mother said as she hugged her.

MORAL :Better late than never!

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Sarja and Raja

Now, let’s visit Sarja and Raja, the bullocks…
In the tiny little village of Bhimeshwar in Maharashtra lived a farmer named Vinayak. Vinayak had two bullocks Sarja and Raja. He loved his bullocks very much and took great care of them. And the bullocks also loved him and worked hard for him, ploughing his fields. Vinayak’s neighbour was Sitaram who was a very ambitious man.

One day Sarja said to Raja, “You always praise our master very much. But look at his neighbor Sitaram. His farm is as small as our master’s but he lives in such a grand house, in such great style. His wife wears the most beautiful clothes; his children have the most wonderful toys.”
Raja replied, “Our master is the best. He knows what he is doing.”
Two months later Sarja said to Raja, “Our neighboring bullocks Biku and Niku are so lucky. Their master Sitaram just bought four more bullocks. Now they won’t have to work so hard.”
Raja replied, “I still think our master is the best.”
A week later, Sarja complained again to Raja “Biku just told me that Sitaram bought more land. Now his farm will be larger than our master’s farm.”
Raja replied yet again, “Our master is the best. He knows what he is doing.”

Six months later, Raja and Sarja woke up with a start. They could hear some noises. They could see a black police car with flashing red lights. Sitaram was being taking away by the police. Biku and Niku were crying because they would be auctioned soon. Their master had borrowed so much money. That is how he had been able to live so lavishly in his big house and big farm. All on borrowed money! This time Sarja said to Raja,
”You are right. Our master is the very best. He knows what he is doing!”

MORAL :Cut your coat according to your cloth

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His smile lights up your world!
Her love is a shower of pearls.
Their laughter is sweet music,
Their chatter is what makes you tick,
His touch ebbs all the pain away,
Her trust and belief makes you a bigger person today!
Sweet, Sweet dear child!

Sleep, baby, sleep

“Sleep, baby, sleep,
Thy papa guards the sheep;
Thy mama shakes the dreamland tree
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee,
Sleep, baby, sleep,”

 Nina hummed to herself. She was thinking about her baby, dreaming about her. Her seven-month old Apeksha was back home, in India. She was thousands of miles away from her. She longed to hold her, to rock her.

“The ten twenty-nine train to New York is five to ten minutes delayed. We apologize for the inconvenience,” she was brought back from her trance, back to the present by the announcement. She was waiting at the station, at Princeton, waiting to get to work. She was late today. She’d spent the morning talking to her baby on phone, caressing her with her melodious voice. Her baby was teething, she had been whimpering. Oh, how much she missed her! She had tried to soothe her from across the ocean, but in vain. She glanced at her watch; it would be almost 8:00pm in Mumbai. “I hope my darling is fast asleep, lost in her own little dreamland,” she prayed

“I sent my sweetheart for her own good , for our good” she consoled herself. “I have no regrets! She is with her grandparents, getting pampered and getting all the love in the world.”

“Just for a year honey,” Nishant had consoled her “Let’s save enough to make the down payment on the house and then we can all be together again and live happily ever after. Just one year.”

“Yeah, just one year and then I can quit my job and be with my Apeksha forever,” she promised herself, as she saw the train approaching beckoning her to work.

She got on the train. It was so quiet today, compared to her peak hour commute everyday. It was definitely much more peaceful. Closing her eyes, she tried to block all her thoughts, tried to get away from it all. But her baby’s cries kept coming back to her.

Sleep, baby, sleep,
Our cottage vale is deep;

She hummed again. Then she heard a voice. It was a child’s voice, so melodious, so haunting.

The little lamb is on the green,
With woolly fleece so soft and clean,
Sleep, baby, sleep,

Startled, she opened her eyes. Sitting across the aisle she saw a little girl, all alone. Curious she looked around. There was nobody else in the car except for the small child and herself.

“Maybe her mother is there in the next compartment,” she thought. “So careless of her, letting her child out of her sight!” But she was too tired to worry about somebody else’s baby at that moment. She continued to stare at her. She appeared to be no more than four or five. All dolled up in a pretty pink frock and a white hat, she was clenching a big red haired doll.

The girl stared back. Nina smiled at her. The little angel gave Nina a timid smile, the dimpled smile lighting up her face. Nina’s troubles faded away. The lovely golden hair curling round her little face, her baby-blue eyes and her dimples enthralled Nina, reminding her of Apeksha.

“Hey cutie-pie what is your name?” she asked her.
“Lizzie , Lizzie Carol Wilson,” she replied in her sweet enchanting baby voice.
“Lizzie, what a sweet name!” Nina exclaimed, “Lizzie, where is your mom?”

The little girl pointed towards the back of the car. Perhaps her mother was in the next compartment.

“What is that?” asked Lizzie pointing to the big red bag in Nina’s lap.

Nina glanced at it, tearfully. On the way to the station, she’d not been able to stop herself. She’d pulled over at the Quail Ridge Mall, a quick stop at the ‘Toy’s R US’ store. Opening the bag, she pulled out a giant white teddy bear. The bear bigger than her baby! She was going to mail the bear, later today. Or maybe she should just return it to the store. Her mother had already been complaining about the dozens of toys and the lack of space.

Wide eyed, Lizzie continued staring at it. “Would you like to hold it?” Nina asked.
Reluctantly, the girl shook her head.
“So well mannered! Don’t worry baby, why don’t you come over and just touch it? You would like that, wouldn’t you?” Nina asked.

No sooner had Nina uttered those words, Lizzie was in Nina’s lap, hugging the teddy bear. Nina cuddled her. She was so cold. Lovingly, she draped her in her coat, as she stroked her baby-soft hair. She felt so calm now, all her worries disappearing. “Such an Angel,” she thought as she hummed and closed her eyes,

Sleep, baby, sleep,
Down where the woodbines creep;
Be always like the lamb so mild,

“In just a few minutes, we would be arriving at New York, Penn Station. Please take care of your belongings. Please be alert of your surroundings. If you see something, say something.”

The announcement woke Nina up from deep slumber with a start. Unknowingly she had fallen asleep. Deep peaceful sleep, after such a long time. She’d not been able to sleep so peacefully since her baby’s departure. She looked around for the child. She had vanished into thin air. “Perhaps she is with her mother,” she thought as the train approached the tunnel.

——————–
Later that evening as she was preparing dinner she could’nt help but think about the child. Nishant was watching the news on NBC. Dazed, she looked into Lizzie’s blue eyes on the screen, little Lizzie clenching a big white teddy bear.

“Five year old Elizabeth Carol Wilson and her mother Sheryl Wilson were killed today in a tragic accident. Mother and child were crossing the unmanned track at Rahway. As per early reports from the coroner, the mother died almost instantaneously and her daughter shortly after. Authorities are still investigating this incident.”

Lizzie and her mother had been killed by the same train, Nina had been on. The incident had come to light shortly after her arrival in New York. The memorial service was the next day.

A kind and sweet and gentle child,
Sleep, baby, sleep,

A Day of Celebration

…..Thanks dear Mavshi………  really value it!!!
This one is yours….and only for you

~~..~~..~~..~~

Give me all your sorrows,
Oh I take all those precious tears,
I bless you to conquer all,
That you’ll have no fear,
Today we celebrate, today we rejoice…

Today, I celebrate, today i rejoice,alas it’s September 12th. Today, I pray and thank god. Yet, why these shadows? Oh, why the disenchantment? Today, as I pen these words, why am I filled with dark gloom?

“Madhu,” I hear my husband call out for me, through the gloomy fog.
“Let’s leave a little early today. You know, we don’t have booking.”

I almost don’t hear him. I stare at my image in the mirror. What’s wrong with me, I wonder; I’d even forgotten to book the table at the restaurant. With a sigh, I lay aside my diary and pen. I force myself to get ready for dinner, for celebration.

~~..~~..~~..~~

“I am really sorry Sir, all the small tables are taken, at least half an hour wait. But….”  Hesitantly the manager asks,” Do you mind sharing one of the big ones with them?”

The manager glances towards the family sitting nearby in the waiting area. They are a family of four, huddled together, two adults and two children. They seem decent enough, though the adults do seem a little uncomfortable. Quite simply dressed, the woman stares in daze at the décor and furniture, her eyes darting now and then to the tables laden with food. The man trying to appear nonchalant fools none, his self-consciousness obvious to all. The children oblivious to their parents’ discomfort are quietly entertaining themselves; a couple of paper napkins are enough for them to build boats and bridges.

My husband looks at me. I nod my head, uncaring. Together we are all seated at a big rectangular table, a couple of chairs separating the two families.

“Let’s celebrate today.Let’s have Chinese, your favorite,” declares my husband the minute we are seated, trying to cheer me.
“Please order for both of us, you know what I like.” I reply, barely glancing at the menu.
“Let’s try the usual and something different too. How about Cashew nut chicken?”
I nod.

“Sweet and sour soup for both of us, Chicken lollipop as the starter, and then Chinese fried rice, cashew nut chicken and Hakka Noodles,” rattles off my husband to the waiter. Actually it is way too much food for just the two of us.

“Any drinks, Sir?” He asks.
“A Pepsi and a lemonade, please.”
Our order complete, the waiter walks over to the family seated next to us.

“Sir, could you give us some more time, we are not sure…” I hear the husband in the family seated next to us ask the waiter, in a small voice.

With a nod the waiter walks away.

“Vibhas this is too expensive.” I hear the wife whisper to her husband. “I was telling you, we should have gone some place cheaper.”
“Radha, we’ve discussed this. We want to expose our children to finer things in life. They should know all that’s out there for them.” He retorts a bit sharply
“Hey, don’t worry about that today. It’s Sameer’s birthday, a day for celebration, we’ll manage.” He adds a little calmly, tousling the little boy’s hair. The boy, around seven or eight looks at his father his face lighting up. His elder brother yanks at his hair, spontaneously. The younger one yelps.
“Shhhh, boys behave,” whispers their mother looking here and there, worried.
I can’t help but overhear all this.

Aai Paneer, Paneer, Paneer please” chants the elder one.
“And Ice-cream too!” chips in the little boy.
“Your baba will decide.” orders the mother.
Paneer Makhanwala and Four naans and raita,” says the man to the waiter.

“Sir, is that all?” asks the waiter.
“Yes,” the man replies, a little embarrassed, looking away.” We are not very hungry,” he mumbles to nobody in particular.

I look away. But my eyes wander back to them. I notice that they have not ordered any cold drinks either for the grown-ups or for the kids. The elder boy looks at my lemonade as I slurp on it. I try to smile. He smiles back. Quickly he picks the straw from the container in front of him and places it in the glass of water. He slurps on the water, his eyes twinkling. His brother follows suit. The expression on their faces is simply priceless! Surely they are enjoying the water much more than I am enjoying my lemonade.

By then both our meals have arrived.

“Madhu, you are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” I hear my husband ask.
I look at him and answer with a smile.
“I am really enjoying myself.” I replied honestly. Those boys have somehow lit up my world.
“I am glad,” says my husband.
“Yes, do you know it’s the little boy’s birthday?” I ask. He glances over at the family smiling at the little one, his eyes clouding just a little.

I too look at the boys. Pleasure is written all over their faces .And their parents are all smiles too. The family is enjoying their meal. Paneer, raita and Naan is all they need. Our table is overflowing with delicacies and theirs is overflowing with love and bliss.
I am somehow deeply touched.

I am rather impressed with the children’s mannerism and discipline too. Not once have I heard them answer back nor have I heard them complain or shout. They seem quite satisfied and happy.

“Waiter, can you get some chocolate ice-cream for the boys, there?” I order the waiter to get some ice-cream for the young ones.
I look at my husband’s face. “It’s a day of celebration.” I stammer.
He nods his head.
“Sure. Ma’am,” with that, the waiter leaves to get the ice-cream.

“But we didn’t order any ice-cream, take it away” states the woman the second the waiter set the cups of ice-cream on the table.
“It’s all right.” I say to the waiter aloud. And he hurried away from the scene.
“I ordered the ice-creams for the children.” I smile back in response.
I feel the children’s eyes on me and then on their mother.
“But ma’am why?”  She retorts, hurt and indignation written all over her face.
“Why did you do that? We would have bought the ice-cream for our children if we wanted to. We are not those types of people. We don’t want anybody’s charity.” Blurts the woman
“But…” there are tears in my eyes…
“Ma’am we try to give our children the best we can. And we don’t want anybody spoiling that. We may be poor compared to you but we have our self-respect. We want our children to work hard and I know that they will get all they want. We don’t…”
“Lady please don’t misunderstand…” I try to cut in.
“Ma’am there is no misunderstanding. We cannot take it. How could you?”

Tears are steaming down my face. My husband touches my hand and walks over to the woman’s chair.
“Lady Please, these ice-creams are not charity. These ice-creams are love. We are very sorry if we have insulted you in any way. We meant no harm.”
She is quite taken aback when she hears this. The woman, the man, the boys all stare at him.
“Lady just like you are celebrating your son’s birthday, we are also celebrating our grandson’s birthday, today. He is probably the same age as the little one. He is probably a lot like him too. And …and…” he pauses, overwhelmed.
“You see, we’ve not seen him for more than five years. He stays far away in America, we miss him so much…” his voice breaks.
“Lady our grandson loves chocolate ice-cream, if your sons eat the ice-cream, it’s like we are feeding our grandson…”

No more words are needed. The woman walks over to me and hugs me, her eyes clouding in understanding and love.
“I am sorry ma’am, I misunderstood. So sorry, you know even my mother is far away …” she whispers overwhelmed
I hold her tight, trying to fight back my tears. But now I am weeping. I am weeping with joy…

And I weep as I watch the little ones gulp down the ice-cream.
I weep as I hug them.
And I weep as they bid me goodbye.
“Bye Aij, see you soon,” those are their parting words.
I am overjoyed.

You are pure joy,
You are sweet delight,
You lighten my world,
You bring warmth and light…

It is indeed a day of celebration. It’s my grandson’s birthday…and on this day I have just attained two new grandsons too. They have promised to visit me next Sunday…I am waiting…
Copyright(c) Rutuja Joshi 2007

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Aai : mother
Baba : father
Aji : grandmother
Paneer Makhanwala : A delicious and spicy North Indian dish; made from Cottage cheese (Paneer)
Raita : Salad
Naan : Bread