by Bhargavi Srinivasan
“Kethki, will you please keep those bags inside the house?” as my mother, Yamuna, called me, I jumped off the van in which we travelled from Mumbai to Bangalore, paced up to my mom to pick up the bags around her.
My father, Vinod, is the Senior Accounts Manager for a nationalized bank. As his job demands transfer once in every four years, we are always on transit from one place to another. It’s not new for me to adapt to a new ambience, new school, and new neighbourhood and make new friends though my little brother, Abhinay, who turned seven last month, still finds it a bit difficult to accommodate to these frequent changes. I am five years older than my brother and extremely protective about him, helping him evade my mom’s dubious eyes during all those naughty pranks he plays on...
A week passed by as we were settling down in our new house. Our school was just 1 km away from my place. My brother and I walked every day to school, glancing around the neighbourhood with an amicable gesture as some of them smiled at us. There was an old dilapidated mansion at the corner of our street inhabited by a grumpy old man living in solitude. Some of our neighbours had even cautioned us not to cross the threshold of his premises as he was a recluse who despised anyone barging into his privacy. He seldom came out and in the nights the lights were always on, as we could see him walk to and fro twitchily expressing his thoughts in a long-winded soliloquy. Undoubtedly the entire mood around his mansion was uncanny and I always feared while surpassing his home to reach my school.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Abhinay and I were playing hide-and-seek with some of our new colony friends when Abhinay, trying to find some place to conceal, unknowingly ran into the garage of the mysterious old man’s mansion. I was petrified, worrying if that old man would hurt him, sped up to my brother trembling in fear to rescue him...I grabbed him by my arms and turned towards the gate, ran as fast as I could fretting and fuming, gasping for breath. As I ran towards the gate, through the window of the mansion, for the first time I took a quick glimpse of the old man who was rocking on his chair brooding over something and before his eyes met mine I reached the gate.
A few days later, on my birthday my mom had instructed me to distribute sweets to all my neighbours. I was giving away the sweets to each of my neighbour, thanked them for their wishes and quite merrily as I was walking to the next house, I reached the creepy mansion. I had two minds, there was this fear instilled in me commanded me to just move forward to the next house and other this curiosity to meet the senile solitary dweller of our locality. While the inquisitiveness to meet him dominated and dragged me to the house, I stepped up and rang the bell. The moment I realized what I did, I just jolted off from my trance and tried to leave, a tall shadow fell upon me as the door opened. I saw Mr. Chandrashekar so close for the first time. With a frown in his eyebrows and a malicious look he asked me “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Hello, Grandpa, I am Kethki. My family and I recently shifted to this colony. Uh... by the way today is my birthday so I came here to distribute sweets. Sorry if I am bothering you.” As I told nervously and stepped out, I was stopped by a hand.
I turned back and saw Mr.Chandrashekar holding me by my shoulders. Suddenly the frown disappeared and there was a benign smile on his face. He welcomed me inside. I was startled. Quite precariously I walked into his house and sat on the couch with the sweet box in my hand. The room was unkempt and dank. He went inside another room and came back with a pen. He gave me the pen and greeted “Happy Birthday kid!”
I was overwhelmed, as I gave the sweet to him and strode back to my house. That night I was so much preoccupied by this old man, contemplating the scene that happened at his place. His insolent, unfriendly, a savage monster like image in my mind just vanished. After that I started interacting with him a little too often. People in my locality were awestruck to see me visit his house frequently and chatting with him for so long... I always wondered
what made him befriend me. Was it because I called him “Grandpa” or was it because I went to his house on my birthday? But whatever be the reason, he sure was not someone who abhorred humans but definitely someone craving for love, for a bond.
As days passed by, Chandrashekar grandpa and I became very intimate. He used to laugh about all the silly things I shared with him at my school and even crack some jokes from his olden days. It was one such day when I asked him, why he was staying alone and where his relatives were. He sat still for a moment and gazed at me with a poignant expression on his face. I thought I had asked something unruly and cursed myself, fretting if he would dislike me for my question.
“My wife expired a few years ago. I have a son. He married against my wishes so I was very upset and cross with him. He left me and went with his wife as I had forbidden him to stay with me. It is ten years now since I have seen my son.” I saw him as he spoke with tears trickling down his cheeks. There I saw a father who was indeed dying to meet his son, but somewhere in between this love, an ego which was hurt by a son who disobeyed his father, prevented him from forgiving, isolated him from humanly adhesion.
I also learnt that despite his son’s several futile attempts to reach out to his father, Chandrashekar was obstinate on his decision and never wanted to meet him, moved places and remained disconnected.
"Do have a photo of your son?” Curiously I asked him.
He went inside his room and got back some old album... his son’s childhood photos and the most recent one. To my bewilderment I was quite surprised to see Vishnu uncle’s photo in that album. “Is this your son?” I asked him pointing at Vishnu uncle’s picture. He nodded. I left home after that.
There were several questions racing through my mind. Vishnu uncle is my dad’s close friend, his ex-colleague in Mumbai. Our family knows him and his wife Reena aunty very well. Is this a sheer coincidence or a destiny that has brought a stranger like me from somewhere to straighten two disjointed relationships?
I was looking for my dad’s contacts diary in a drawer to find out Vishnu uncle’s number. The following week, my brother and I had planned for a wedding anniversary party for my parents. I had invited all my friends, relatives, and neighbours and decided to invite Vishnu uncle also.
My mother dressed in a beautiful maroon sari and my father wearing a white kurta looking so elegant and graceful, stood at the aisle of our house welcoming the guests. As I watched everyone arriving, I saw Chandrashekar grandpa also walking towards our door. I greeted him and took him inside, introduced to my parents and seated him on the sofa. The party began, with people, eating and laughing as I was hoping anxiously for Vishnu uncle to arrive.
Almost two hours later, when slowly people were leaving, while Vishnu uncle had still not come, I was turning disappointedly towards Chandrashekar grandpa to say goodbye who was also getting ready to leave. Suddenly from far I saw Vishnu uncle marching towards my home. With a radiant beam of smile glowing jubilantly on my face I ran towards him, who was a bit perplexed by my overwhelming gesture, I held his hand and got him inside. As he was citing reasons for his arriving late, I took him inside where Chandrashekar grandpa was talking to my parents.
Vishnu uncle was appalled, flabbergasted, a whole lot of mixed emotions going through his spine as he gaped at his father. At this unforeseen sight of his son, Chandrashekar grandpa scurried towards his home, Vishnu uncle ran up to him, held his hand and told “Appa I missed you! Please forgive me”. This was the moment that melted the rock and gushing water wiped away all the bitter emotions... He turned back and embraced his son. There I saw love overpowered ego.
A month later, I heard a knock at my door. As I opened the door, I saw Chandrashekar grandpa standing at the footstep.
“I am leaving to Mumbai tonight to be with my son for a while so thought I would wish you goodbye,” he said.
I was excited although a bit morose that I would not get to see him for some time, wished him good luck.
As he waved at me and walked away he stopped for a moment and told “Thank you dear!” ***