The Family Ritual
by Ritu Sama
“Papa”, five-year old Nysa rushed behind the ball that rolled down the gentle grassy slope of the park. She loved the game and it thrilled her every time she played. And she played it every time when her family visited the park in the centre of the city of Chandigarh. It was spring time and the park was filled with blooming roses circled with shy buds. The rose plants lined up in every nook and cranny, their fragrance filling the warm evening air.
Nysa picked up the ball and ran exuberantly, ready to give a tight hug – “I love you the most!”
“I love you even more” came the reply in a thick hoarse voice followed by a chuckle which sounded too soft.
“Your voice is not heavy enough today! Papa!” she complained with mock disappointment only to be tickled incessantly resulting in a gurgling laughter that resonated with so many other kids in the park. All enjoying the favourite part of their day with their families.
Nysa ran away to join a few of her friends while they swung up and down – their ponytails hopping joyously in the air with each thrust of the swing.
Reena watched Nysa from a distance, her lips consistently curved into an invisible smile. She watched her daughter from a distance who looked so much like her father – the brownish green eyes and the wheatish complexion. Not just her looks, but Nysa’s actions and behaviour were so much like her father’s – same carefree bones and courageous demeanour.
Nysa went around the park in circles not worrying about the sweat trickling down her forehead and making her hair stick to her nape whenever it bounced up and down. Reena touched her own forehead – it too had droplets indicating increasing humidity or was it something else, she didn’t know. She dabbed it clean with the spare tissue from the picnic basket. Moments like these gave our goose bumps – reality was not a play in the park, but Nysa had just made life a huge game. Reena had been just following the leads participating in all these small acts to fill their lives.
This was the freedom of childhood, just thinking of that hour, that hour in the park, that hour with friends, that hour at the ice cream shop. Reena wondered taking out the eatables from the basket. There were three plates set on the sheet that spread carelessly on the soft grass just next to the light pink rose bed, under a huge oak tree that made a leafy pattern on the ground with its soft shadows at this time of the day. Another hour and the sun would retire for the day and lights would go up giving the objects a different hue. Reena shooed a small insect trying to sit on the food she had put on the paper plates.
“Nysa, it’s time for the sandwich!” – Reena hollered on top of her voice, hoping it would reach Nysa amidst all the chatter and humdrum of the park.
Nysa came running – her pigtails jumping up and down like the swings she had left behind.
“Mama, I made two new friends today! They are gonna be my best friends!” she jumped with joy eating a mouthful of cheese sandwich and gulping half of the juice from the paper glass and continued chatting happily even with her mouth full. Having finished the snacks, she was soon ready to go back to the play area.
“Mom, I love you the most!” – she happily chirped while heading back to her newly made friends.
“I love you
even more”, Reena whispered as she watched her daughter sway back with delight.
Their life was simple – small family and a weekend ritual of coming to the park. Today the park was expectedly noisy and crowded with the roses blooming at this time of this year. The rose garden was quite popular with the tourists as well as the residents with its sprawling lush green lawns, rose line ups of innumerable beautiful hues and the tall fountains of water, cooling the breeze around them.
Reena had grown up in Chandigarh and had seen the city transform from a local town to a commercial hub – but the rose garden had not changed much. Or maybe she had been visiting it so often that she had not noticed any change. Some changes are so slow that they seep into your life silently without the slightest indication, but some cause a storm and leave your world upside down – she thought, watching her daughter intently.
Nysa came running again like a burst of fresh wind – “Papa, tell me the joke you told me yesterday! I love it! Please Please…”
And the joke began. For minutes she kept on laughing – some of it because of the joke and rest of it triggered by her own laughter.
Reena adored her daughter and seeing her elated with simple joys of life brought those invisible tears in her eyes which were forbidden to be shown – she had always put a stronger forefront for her daughter.
“Nysa, shall we go. The sun is setting!” – Reena asked her daughter gently stroking her brown curls.
“No. Papa had said a minute back that I could play near the fountains with my friends till all the lights of the fountains were switched on! I want to see the lights!”
Reena gave in. She couldn’t debate what her Papa promised. The tears threatened to roll down, but she took a deep breath and focussed her thoughts on her activities for the next day. It occupied her mind holding it from wandering into the troubled waters of her life.
Reena mentally completed her list as the lights of the fountain lit up in all their glory giving the park a bright illuminated look and officially indicating the commence of night from the dull hazy dusk.
After a few minutes, Nysa heard her papa calling her and she knew it was time to head back. Another Sunday was over, and it would be seven days before she would get to play here again. She loved the Sundays – it was their family time when they all were together.
Nysa ran back to her mother and they packed all the things back into the basket, both of them working together in a practised rhythm. Most of the people around them were also getting ready to head back after spending a relaxing afternoon with their families.
Nysa entwined her tiny fingers around her mother’s as they started walking towards the car.
“Ma, you need to practice more. Today your voice was not hoarse enough to be like Papa’s!” Nysa commented to her mother.
“Ok. I will take care next time!! Promise”, Reena promised trying to sound chirpy, instead her voice went a bit shaky with emotion.
It had been nearly two years since her husband had gone to his army post in Uri where he was declared missing. They had not been able to find him till date, not in the valley and not across the border. And this was Reena’s way to keep him alive in her daughter’s moments of family time…this family ritual every Sunday. ***