by Sneha Subramanian Kanta
Darjeeling. Picture for representational purposes only.
From the many windows of the building, one could look outside and see spectacular hills encompassing the town of Darjeeling. The reflections of the skies were streaked across the hills and the mild rays of the sun dazzled in the chill of January.
As he walked through the entrance of the hostel gate towards the main building where the office of the Principal would be, a flurry of thoughts crossed his mind. He quickened his walk and climbed two floors, after which he saw the Principal’s office. An appointment had been fixed for eight o’clock and he didn’t want to be late. He waited inside the cabin of the Principal. A glint of the sun’s rays permeated through the huge glass window and it seemed to him that this was what kept the cabin comfortably warm.
“Tell me, how can I help you?”
“Ma’am, I am Mr. Harinder Singh. My grand daughter Priyanka studies here. I was just wondering if I could take her with me for the summer vacations.”
“Well, that is three long months away. Aren’t you Ameesha’s father-in-Law? I mean…Mr. Gurpreet’s father?”
“You are right, ma’am. I need to meet her once. She hasn’t seen her grandfather as yet. Another thing ma’am, I will ensure that I bear all her school expenses, ma’am. Please let me know.”
“Mr. Singh, her mother was one of the founders of this place, and it is our duty to take care of her daughter now that she or her husband isn’t in this world anymore.”
“Ma’am, I am Priyanka’s father’s father. We had some family misunderstandings due to which we could never stay together. I don’t have my son or daughter-in-law with me anymore, I want to support Priyanka. She is the only family member that I have left.”
“Let me call Priyanka, Mr. Singh. The decision would be entirely hers, for I don’t want to force her for anything. She’s anyway got into a shell after hearing about her parents.”
Meanwhile, in the classroom 4-B, Priyanka took out her pencil box from her schoolbag and removed a set of a two pencils, in case the pencil point of one would break. She felt unexplainably lonely these days, and cried hugging her pillow at night. Mentally, she had made a note of the fact that her parents weren’t going to return anymore. However, a fourth standard girl would not understand life’s varied and sometimes cruel ways so easily.
The peon went to get her from class and as she walked with him, she asked, “Who has come?”
“Beta, your dadaji has come.”
“But I don’t want to meet him. Amma kept saying he did not talk to her or Appa. Now why me?”
“Don’t ask so many questions, beta Priyanka. Come, meet your dadaji.”
As soon as Harinder Singh saw his grand-daughter, the first thing he noticed was the manner she stood. Her eyes were almost an instant reflection of her mother’s, and the rigid manner in which she stood, hands crossed, with an awkward expression on her face; reminded him of her mother.
“Priyanka, your grandfather wants to meet you. Will you sit here and talk to him for sometime?”
“Ma’am, I don’t want to talk to anyone. Please.”
As her grandfather stood there, open faced, at a loss of words, he instinctively came close to the child. Finally, Priyanka agreed to a conversation with him. He asked the Principal if he could take here somewhere out, to which she said, “Mr. Singh, for now, you can go to the garden outside. No one would disturb you there, and there’s a cafeteria nearby there too.”
“Very well, ma’am. Thank you.”
Priyanka reluctantly walked with her grandfather and her little legs made heir pace more quick, so that all this would be over quick. As they sat on
one seat of the cafeteria, her grandfather asked here, “Beta, what will you eat?”
“I have eaten breakfast already. Thank you.”
“You will share some sandwiches with me, won’t you?” saying this, he did not wait for her answer and placed the order.
“Priyanka, how are you beta?”
“I am fine. Thank you.”
“I know it has been two months that you haven’t met your parents. Do you know…?”
“Yes, they are dead. The Principal ma’am told me.”
“Beta, your father was very dear to me. When they got married, I did not accept them because of my ego. A little fight with them one day lead me to lose my only son.”
Priyanka stared at him blankly.
“I know you must have heard a lot about me from them. I did not do well. Today I want you to come back with me, spend your summer vacation with me. If you like, you can come and stay with me at Kolkata. Right from the time your father lost his mother at a very young age, we both lived there alone. I know I should have treated your mother like my own daughter as she also did not have her parents. Anyway, I just had one son, who is unfortunately no more. Now, all the property is yours. Forgive me, beta. Please understand my pain.”
Priyanka said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. As much as I knew my parents, I always heard them speak at night and say that you deserted them. You know, they had to even stay in a dilapidated place for eight days after you left them. I never had the courage to ask them, but I always thought I will. I don't want to live with you, please. I am happy here, amidst all my people.”
“Beta, I am sorry.” That’s all he could say.
“I don’t know all this again. All I knew was I had my parents, the only solace of my life. Now I don’t have anyone. I don’t want to talk to you. I am fine. Please leave me alone. Everyone here is my family, and this is my mother’s place. This is where she had dreams, and our house is right here, in Darjeeling. I will go back there once I am old enough. Please, I don’t want to go anywhere else. I don’t want anything. Please…”
By the time he could stop her, Priyanka had gone running and was far away. As he saw her image get fainter by the passing, he too got up. His legs felt heavier than before, and his heart sank. But he knew he has to get up in sometime, and make his way back home.
One last time, he went to the Principal’s room and told her everything that had happened.
“All right, Mr. Singh. I’ll try and convince her to spend the vacations with you. I can’t promise though.”
He said, “Thank you, ma’am” and walked away heavy hearted.
That night, Priyanka stood with the photograph of her mother and father near the balcony close to her bed. She looked at the stars and thought about the man she had met today. She disliked his heavy built and the accent he spoke in, and felt uncomfortable with his overpowering personality. She quickly wiped the tears that rolled on her cheek; and went to her bed. She clutched a pillow and the photograph on one side of her hand, and was gently tucked to sleep by the breezy night atmosphere.
For oft when I pass by faces;
All appear familiar, but yet are strangers
I see a pain in every eye I pass…
A brow raised; questioning my identity
I’m the one who roams empty streets at lonesome roads;
The hours trickle past like
drops making an ocean
and come one full circle…