Broken Dreams - contd
by Mahua Das Chatterji
Back to Page 1 of the story
Nina was up early the next morning. She rushed to her father’s room, but it was empty. She decided to wait.
On returning from his morning walk, her father’s handsome face immediately broke into a smile. “What brings you here so early, my little princess?”
“Last night I heard that Chinmoy kaka wants to sell this house. I don’t want to go from here, Baba,” Nina said, with wide, anxious eyes.
Nina’s father gently put his hand on her head and kissed her forehead. “Please don’t worry yourself over all this. Chinmoy kaka was only joking. This house will never be sold, Nina.”
There was no way Nina’s father could have known that he was mistaken.
Her fears assuaged, Nina bounded off to the verandah which offered a breathtaking view of the river Hoogly. It seemed to be shrouded in a mysterious beauty, as the water gently lapped up the banks. Nina was always mesmerized by the sparkling water; and the way it turned golden after being caressed by the first rays of the morning sun.
While riding her bicycle, Nina noticed a short, stout man, with a pockmarked face, and thick oily hair slicked over his scalp, peering over the hedge, and curiously looking towards the driveway. He waved at Nina. Since her mother had told her not to acknowledge strangers, Nina looked the other way, and then, cycled to the end of the driveway and shut the gate.
One Sunday morning, Nina’s father was tending to the plants in the small picturesque garden. The garden was Nina’s idyllic retreat. Her father had converted a tiny strip of land into deep green foliage with beautiful blooms, alongside the old hibiscus tree which he was so fond of. Nina loved spending time with him in the garden; helping him in whatever way she could.
She teasingly pulled his sticky hair. “You really adore this house, don’t you, Baba?”
“Yes, Nina. It saddens me to think that my parents passed away before I could build this house for them. Your grandmother always dreamed of a house like this.” Nina’s father said, emotion choking his voice. He looked at her with intense eyes. “This home is my life’s dream. I have given a great deal of my time, money and energy in making this house unique. It is very special, Nina. I have plans of converting the top floor into a tutorial, where your mother wants to teach poor children for free.”
Nina took her father’s hand and nodded her head, as though she understood perfectly well. “Yes, Baba, this house is very special to all of us,” she said, hugging him endearingly.
It was Nina’s tenth birthday. She wore her new pink dress in the evening, and waited for her father to return from work. Giddy with excitement, she pranced and skipped her way through the long corridor, which had been decorated with balloons and streamers. “Woohooo! Woohoo! It’s my birthday!!”
Just then the house phone rang.
“Keep quiet, Nina,” her mother scolded. “I can’t hear what the person on the other end of the phone is saying.”
“Hello, I’m calling from City hospital. Mr. Ratan Majumdar has had an accident,” the grim voice said. “His car crashed into a speeding van on Strand Road. I’m very sorry to inform that he is no more.”
Outside, everything was
wrapped in darkness. The slow drizzle gained momentum, and the tremulous, rain-soaked flowers were bent and solemn. The leaves of the giant coconut trees in the neighbourhood rustled and gently swayed in the wind, as though bidding Nina’s father adieu for the last time.
After a fortnight of her father’s passing away, Nina heard acrimonious and agitated voices coming from the verandah. Her mother’s voice was full of painful consternation. “But why do you have to sell this house, Chinmoy? It was your brother’s dream home. Could you even mention this if he had been alive today?”
Nina could hear her uncle’s voice snapping back. “Boudi, I had discussed this issue with Ratan da several times. But there is no point in all that now. I am getting a terrific offer from some real estate developers. They want to build a hotel here. Moreover, I’m moving to New York soon. I have decided to sell this house. Please don’t make things difficult.”
The note of finality in her uncle’s voice made Nina shudder. A sense of foreboding swept over her.
Looking skyward, Nina made a silent prayer, “Baba, please help me to dispel this overwhelming darkness that seems to shut out the slightest light in me.”
One afternoon, nearly three months since her father’s demise, Nina tiptoed out of the ground floor flat, where she now lived. It was at the west end of the same neighbourhood, in an old gray building. She walked the two blocks to her father’s house - the only home she had ever known and loved.
Nina was struck at how the landscape of the place had undergone a drastic transformation. The house she had so lovingly cherished, her father’s sweat and toil, dreams and aspirations; had been demolished beyond recognition - it lay in ruins; broken and defeated - pieces of its former glory lying amongst the wreckage.
Beads of perspiration trickled down her neck, as she surveyed the devastation all around her. A feeling of utter helplessness and loss gripped her, and penetrated the very core of her being - slicing her senses into a million fragments.
Tears freely flowing down her cheeks, Nina gingerly made her way through the muck and debris. The garden was devoid of any colour. Flowers no longer bloomed here, and the grass was coarse and brownish in patches. A tiny sapling struggled to make its way out of a broken concrete slab, stretching out to her beseechingly.
The river Hoogly spread out before her - lackluster and insipid. Even the rays of the sun that caressed the water, failed to arouse its sensuality; as it flowed along - forlorn and empty. A lone boatman hummed a sad tune, perhaps in memory of his lost love.
Almost trance-like, Nina sat down on the ground, drawing her knees close to her chest.
Suddenly, her eyes settled on broken red marble pieces, which were unmistakably from the altar of the puja room. Nina tentatively kneeled to pick them up. She could almost hear her father whisper in her ears, “Take them with you, my princess; they are pieces of my broken dreams.”
With one last lingering look at the wreckage, she started walking away; hugging the red marble pieces from the altar close to her heart.
Fighting back tears, Nina came back to the ground floor flat and ran into her mother’s comforting arms. ***