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Since When - contd

by Sunanda Chatterjee

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Mina was brought up by her grandmother, since her mother had passed away during childbirth. Timid and shy, Mina had always craved for her father’s attention. Although her grandmother doted on her, Mina always felt the burning need to prove herself to her father.
But all she got was a guttural “Okay” from him, while he read the newspaper or got ready for work.

Bereft of a life-partner, Papa concentrated all his efforts on his business, leaving Mina to fill her idle hours with worry.

She was not a beautiful child, although her grandmother insisted otherwise. She had large saucer-like eyes rimmed by extra-short eyelashes and a pencil-thin nose, under which her heavy dark lips seemed incongruous. Her chin was too small and her forehead too wide. Did her father hate her because she was not beautiful?

Mina soon found out from a kind but insensitive neighbor that she looked just like her mother.
Maybe that’s why he ignored the little girl.
With Grandma busy in the kitchen and Papa always at work, she spent many hours in the garden, wondering how to make her Papa proud.
Her grandmother was illiterate and her father was always at work, but Mina needed little help in school-work. Mina’s second grade teacher told her that she was good at Math. Perhaps she had her father’s business sense.

Yes, when she grew up, she would go into business like her father. Then, maybe, she’d get his attention. Maybe he’d let her run his shop, like old Mr. Mehra who lived down the street.

The summer sun baked the earth while she was taking her eighth grade final exams. The Science exam was easy, and she didn’t need to study for Math. So she played with her friends until seven o’clock, when her grandmother beckoned her inside.

After a dinner of rice and lentil soup with curried vegetables, she had opened her schoolbag.

To her horror, she found the flap open. She retrieved her lunch-box, but her pencil-box was missing.

They were not wealthy. She had two pairs of school uniforms which she wore alternately. Each year, she bought used textbooks. She owned no color pencils or crayons. Her only school supplies were two pencils, an eraser, and a ruler, all prized possessions, which she kept in a metal pencil-box.

And she’d lost it. Papa was going to be so angry!
He had told her times were difficult, and carelessness was a luxury they couldn’t afford. The store was not making any profit, and lately, he had been grumpy and short-tempered.
She could dash to the local store and return before Papa got home. But she needed money.
“Grandma,” she said, “I need some money to go to the store.”
“What do you need at this time of night?” asked Grandma.
“I lost my pencil-box. I have my Math exam tomorrow.”
“There is no store in the colony open so late,
child. Wait until your father comes. He’ll take you to the main market.”
“But Grandma, he’ll be angry!”
“How did you lose the pencil-box?”
“I left the flap open,” she said, showing Grandma the schoolbag.
“That was careless of you, Mina. Wait for Papa. He’ll be home by nine.”

Her father’s routine was to have a cup of tea, take a shower, and then sit down for dinner, sometimes at midnight.

While Grandma made his tea, Mina sat on the small couch that served as a sofa by day and her bed by night. She had already chewed off her fingernails, and now squirmed in her seat and wrung her hands in nervous agony. Her father ignored her.

Did Grandma expect her to tell him about the lost pencil-box? Or was she going to bail her out this time?

While the water was boiling, Grandma came into the tiny area that served as their dining room. “Mahesh, you need to take Mina to the store to buy a pencil box.”

Mina closed her eyes and bore the tirade of reprimands as her grandmother tried to defend her. She felt warm breath on her face and opened her eyes.

Her father’s flushed face was inches from hers. “Didn’t I tell you to be careful with your things?”
“I… I’m sorry, Papa. I’ll work in your shop or something to pay for it. Please!”
Grandma intervened. “Who ever heard of such a thing? Mahesh, take her to the store!”
His dark eyes gleamed. “Maybe she should learn her lesson and miss her exam tomorrow.”
Mina started sobbing. Grandma said, “Mina is good at Math. You’d know if you paid the slightest attention to the poor girl. She’s an orphan in her own home. There’s only so much I can do!”
“I’m tired,” said her father, suddenly looking older. “I am trying to start a new store in the Civic Center in Bhilai. All the important people shop there. I’m sure to make profit there. I was in meetings with town managers all day.”

Grandma put her hands on her hips. “Since when did you become too important to take care of your daughter?”

Papa had stared at grandma and at glanced at Mina. Horrified, Mina lowered her eyes.
Finally he had asked, “Can I finish my tea first?”

They bought a new pencil-box from a stationery shop in the main market in Raipur. Returning home on her father’s scooter, Mina felt the rough material of his shirt against her cheek. She clasped her father’s waist tightly, her mousy hair blowing in the cool night breeze.
“I love you, Papa,” she had whispered softly to herself.
Much to her astonishment, he said, “I love you too.”

The kettle whistled and Mina’s mind raced back to reality. Her father stood by the doorway, hands still on his hips, his words still echoing in her ears.
She smiled at him and said, “Can I finish my tea first?”


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Jan 06, 2016
great relevance to time being scarce!
by: shoma lahiri

A touching story--highlights how important it is to "give a bit of yourself " as the most important gift to come back manifold as the GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING...
Also ,a poingnant pointer to the fact that both children and the elderly, define the Alpha and Omega to our journey of success--whether it be material acquisition or emotional gratification.
WELL DONE Sunanada!

Dec 31, 2015
A warm-hearted tale of 2 generations on 2 continents
by: Marjory Harris

In this warm-hearted tale of two generations on two continents, Ms. Chatterjee reminds us of the timeless bonds between parents and children, that family obligations and burdens span our lifetimes. She explores filial duty, an elemental Asian theme, with well-written telling detail.

Dec 21, 2015
by: Moneesh K Jain

Some moments were so touching! I love you Papa and her Dad responding to that expression...When did .....become so important to take care of your....
Brings us to our senses who are running for positions and success...

Dec 20, 2015
Very nicely written
by: Swati Gupta

Nice and touchy! Very true story! Nicely written and the scenes are very clear. I can visualize it as I read it!

Dec 19, 2015
by: Priya

Beautiful and touching. Family responsibilities and love always triumph over ambition.

Dec 19, 2015
Lovely story
by: Kabir

Very nice story, reminded me of my childhood :)

Dec 19, 2015
Moving and heartwarming
by: Sameer

This is a lovely commentary on today's obsession with work and the absence of time to do what's really important in life. Can't wait to read more from this author.

Dec 18, 2015
Since when
by: Poonam

Loved it. Well written!

Dec 18, 2015
Nostalgic sentiment
by: Manohar Naidu

Well written. A page from memoirs. Expect many more good read.

Dec 17, 2015
Since when......
by: Nameleeta das

Loved the simple story which had a emotional twist in the end. Short sweet simlpe....

Dec 15, 2015
Engrossing Read
by: Saurabh Karmakar

You seem to have a weakness for adjectives.

Dec 15, 2015
by: Name

Sad and empty lives.
The father lost his spouse.
The daughter had a significant other who never became one. The dependence reverses as time passes. Evocative imagery.
Old warm carpets replaced with functional sterile gleaming white tiles making warm socks necessary

Interesting read

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Dec 15, 2015
Loved it
by: S Sen

Beautiful and heartwarming - tugs at your heart's strings! Love the way the author jumps back and forth between past and present - from India to the US - can't wait to read more from Sunanda!

Dec 15, 2015
Since When
by: Lilly Brock

Such a special story between a father and daughter. Very well written and descriptive. I felt like I was a little bird in the room watching.

Dec 14, 2015
Nicely written
by: Pinaki

Liked your style and the story as well :) Reminds me of a short story about a conversation between a father and his son about a crow sitting on the window. Did you read?
Warm regards & lovely writing junior!!

Dec 14, 2015
Heartwarming story
by: Jayant Joshi

I enjoyed this heart warming tale. It is only too easy to lose sight of what is important and who was there on one's way to the top. This story reminds us of that. The touching interplay between father and daughter are beautifully painted.

Loved the story

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