Uprooting

They were left with very little time to pack. Her father and uncle wanted them to leave immediately. It was no longer safe to stay back. The mobs were literally at their door step! They had less than an hour to decide what and how much to carry.

It seemed unbelievable, the way things had come to this! Even one month ago it had not seemed possible that things would deteriorate to this level. People who had until recently peacefully co existed in this small town up on the hills suddenly seemed to be reaching for each other’s throats. What had turned them against each other like this? However this was not the time for reflection. As the minority group in the town, they had no option left now but to flee.

She walked around her room looking at the beautiful four poster bed, the mahogany dresser laden with cosmetic and trinkets., the cupboards filled with silks and satin. What was she to take with her? Why, even the furniture were like family members. The dresser had arrived here with her mother when she had entered the family as a bride, the bed had been her aunt’s , later her cousin’s before they had got married and left home.

“Hurry hurry” said her mother running into her room and opening out the cupboard , pulling the jewelry out of their boxes, bundling them into scarves before stuffing them into her large purse.

She watched silently as the doll that she had played with in her childhood fell out of its perch from the top of the cupboard. She remembered the day her grand father had bought it for her at the local fair. This doll for her, was more than a play thing. It was her link to her grand father and the happy childhood she had in this beautiful house on the hills. She remembered falling asleep on his lap with the doll clutched tightly against her chest as he sat on the swing in the verandah.

Grand father was no more. She was glad about that! She could not imagine what he would have said about leaving like this. His portrait smiled benignly at her from the gallery of ancestral photographs up on the wall in stairway outside her room. How many generations had lived and died in this house…!!

A photo album slipped out of the cupboard and landed on the floor with a thud. Images of happy times, birthday parties, college picnics were all packed in between those pages. She dared not pick it up!

The books on the shelf beside her bed beckoned her pleading with her to open them just once more before leaving. She resisted. Each book had a story beyond the words that were inscribed within. The rainy afternoons spent reading “ Pride and Prejudice” sitting on the window seat came back to her. She would probably find another copy of the book wherever it was that they were headed for now but none of them would give her that special feeling that reading this one did or would have her name inscribed in a childish scrawl…

“Are you done with your packing ?” asked her father rushing in. She stared at him vacant eyed.

How did he expect her to pack all the memories of her eighteen year old existence in this house within twenty minutes? She had never known life anywhere else. Most of her family and almost all her friends were from this small town in the hills. Many of them had already fled while others like them were now in the process of leaving. Was there any way that they would ever meet again?

She collapsed against her father’s shoulders sobbing. He hugged her close whispering “It will be alright. We will come back when all of this settles down”.
But when she got into one of the two cars lined up outside on the driveway she knew they were only fooling themselves about coming back. She pulled down the window gazing at her beloved home.

The swing in the verandah moved slightly in the wind. Did she imagine or was it her grand father that she saw seated on it? And was that her grand mother in the garden plucking flowers? She wanted to scream “Stop!! We are leaving grand pa and grand ma behind”

She shifted herself inside the car, allowing her mother and aunt more room to keep the bundles of things that they had managed to bring along with them. No body spoke. Her father and brother sat in the front with their uncle who was driving.

They drove carefully taking care to ensure that the cars stayed together. The streets in their quarter seemed empty. There was not a soul outside. They passed her school and then her college. Both buildings were ravaged in the violence of the past few weeks.

She wanted to look out of the window for one last time to see if he was there. The boy on the bicycle who often stood outside her college gate gazing at her. She had never got round to knowing what his name was because he did not ever come up to her to speak.

But it was better it remained that way.. Her mind was already overloaded with memories. She did not know if there would be room for one more.

She looked ahead at the road in front of her wondering what was it that lay beyond. Was it possible to start afresh? Could all uprooted plants take root again on new soil?

It was more than their belongings that they had left behind. Lost now was their history, their lives and their identities. They were like pieces of wood floating in the sea after a ship wreck. The pieces might reach the shore but the ship would never be rebuilt!

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Guiding Star

Hi All

I started this fiction blog on an impulse. I was not sure where I was going with it. But I consider myself fortunate that readers like you read the first story and came back again to read the next and the next.  Thank you so much for  sharing your thoughts through  your comments! I think it has helped me evolve as a writer.

I have read some of your blogs and I like what you write.

So I thought I would make an attempt at what I call “Collective Creativity”. I have written a few lines about a story that is still germinating in my mind. I am presenting it to you. Please do continue with it by adding your words and thoughts . You can post  them  in the comments section.

Let us see where it goes…

PS  “Guiding Star” is a working title. Once the  plot develops let us take a call and see if we might need to change it .

 

The city was bathed red in the light of the setting sun. Even the sea appeared to be a glowing red as the sun stood poised to dip into the water and do the disappearing act.

Bhavna stood at her balcony watching the play of light. It was her favorite time of the day. She loved the feeling of being enveloped by her dreams! She liked to think of them as a series of concentric circles revolving together at the back of her head and converging at a central point.

She could not remember how many years it was since she had started dreaming. The circles had grown and reduced but the central core remained intact.

However, today it seemed different. The vividness with which those images usually glowed in her mind appeared to be tempered by something dull.
What had happened she wondered…. Did dreams have a shelf life?

A long journey

He had noticed her the moment she had entered the coach.

How could he miss that dazzling smile?

She was coaxing an elderly lady to shift herself a little so that she could slide her bag underneath the seat. And the way she was going about it, the old lady was behaving as though she was looking for her feet under the seat to seek her blessings.

He wondered if he should walk up to her cubicle and say hello. He was sitting diagonally opposite her in the next cubicle that had two seats. But he decided to wait until the train started. He had no intentions of running into anyone who might have come to see her off.

But he could not draw his eyes away from her. He watched her from behind the curtain that hung next to his seat.

She seemed to have become thinner. Her face appeared angular. There were streaks of grey that were shining through the once jet black hair. And she was wearing a sari! The last detail surprised him the most! He could never imagine her in anything other than jeans and a kurta! Even for the college socials, when all the other girls were in saris, she only wore formal trousers and tops –in silk because of the occasion. Yet, here she was now, actually traveling in a sari.

He felt curious about the dozen odd years when she had transitioned from jeans to saris. He wondered how he would go up to her and start the conversation. Would she remember him? After all he was never part of the popular groups that she usually hung out with.

But he need not have worried because she noticed him almost immediately after the train started.

“Hi Rohan” she called out from her seat. He felt a bit embarrassed when strangers started looking at him.

“Hi Rekha” he said waving out towards her.

“Wait, let me come there. I think the seat opposite yours is free” she said moving towards him.

He found himself responding exactly the same way he used to whenever she singled him out in the campus. His ears were burning and he hoped that his face was not betraying him by turning red. He was thankful for the beard that now covered his face.

“My god!! Look at you! It is almost as though time has stood still. Except for that beard you look exactly the same” she said with a laugh settling down in front of him.

He found his voice finally and heard himself croak “ Hi!! Really surprised to meet you like this suddenly! I almost did not recognize you. You look different”

“Yes. I know. The sari surprises most people who used to know me earlier. But this is what I wear these days. My in laws are rather conservative. They do not like me to wear anything else” she said quietly looking at him.

He wanted to ask her so many questions. But somehow his tongue seemed to have become paralyzed.

“What are you doing these days “she asked him

“ I am the Head of research at Quartet chemicals” he replied.

“Wow!! I heard you got a scholarship to study abroad” she said gazing at him.
He felt disconcerted to have her so close by and looking up at his face. It had been different during those Chemistry practical sessions. They were lab partners.. She was a good student but not brilliant like him. Unlike him, her presence in the chemistry department was more out of compulsion than choice. Her father was a famous chemist who was keen that his daughter would follow in his footsteps.

The only child of the Chief of the National Chemical laboratories she had taken the good life around her for granted. He on the other hand was from a government school in a small town. He was very conscious about his English language skills, taking care to speak only when necessary. But unlike the other girls in his class from the convent schools, she had never laughed at him. She always spoke to him seriously seeking him out as her study partner before exams. He remembered fondly about the few hours that they spent together sitting under the tree near the University guest house studying for the semester exams.

His thoughts were broken as her mobile rang. She took some time to locate it from inside her bag. The phone in the meanwhile stopped ringing. So she called back.

He was amazed at the change that came over her face as she listened to the voice at the end. He could hear a bit of it too. A loud unpleasant male voice saying something that was clearly upsetting her.

“You okay?” he asked her after she put the phone back into her bag.

“Yes” she said quickly. But not fast enough for him to miss the tears welling up in her eyes.

“ Excuse me please, I need to use the toilet” she said getting up from her seat.
He wondered what was the news that had upset her so much. He sincerely hoped that all was well. He hated to see her upset.

He still remembered that day when the news about her father’s accident reached her. They were doing their chemistry practical when she had been called to the Principal’s office. He had followed her to see what the matter was. She had collapsed on him crying hysterically. Her father had died in a chemical explosion in the lab!

He remembered going with her to her house. There had been a lot of people and he had felt completely lost. But he still remembered her tear stained face as she hugged him before going inside, saying “Rohan. I really appreciate this”.

He had hardly had a chance to speak to her after that. There had been the final exams and then each one of them had gone their separate ways. He did not see her at the convocation either.

She was back from the toilet now. Her eyes were red and looking puffed up. She sat down in front of him He watched waiting for her to speak.

“Rohan, that was my husband. He is such a jerk!” she said

He wanted to ask her what made her marry and stay married to such a man? He did not remember her as being a meek or vulnerable girl. As the Vice President of the Students Union she was a strong and confident girl. He did not know what had turned her into such a person.

“ I know what you are thinking! Sometimes, I myself wonder” she mumbled.

“If someone those days had told me that I would become something like this I would have laughed at them” she said fiercely

She turned to look out of the window as he waited for her to resume talking. But she did not seem inclined to speak any more.

“ Tell me do you have kids” he asked her trying to engage her in a conversation.

“Yes “ she said. That dazzling smile lit up her face once more. She dug into her bag and took out a photograph of a young boy “ This is Aditya. He is five years old”

He looked at tiny version of Rekha herself. The same curly hair and the light eyes. The same dazzling smile.

“He is very sweet” he said returning the photograph to her.

“What about you ? Do you have children” she asked him.

“Yes. I have a baby daughter” he said opening his wallet to show her the photograph his wife with the baby.

“Oh, is that your wife? What does she do?” she asked him

“Yes, that is Anuja my wife. She is a home maker” he said quietly.

It was slowly becoming clear to him why she might be staying married to the “jerk” as she referred to her husband. But he was still unable to understand why she had married someone like that in the first place.

“ I got married immediately after college to Jai” she said as though reading his thoughts.

“Papa had taken a lot of loans for financing an invention that he was privately working on. When he died, the technology was yet incomplete and the debtors were beginning to make life difficult for me and Mama. Jai’s parents had a business and they offered to clear the debts if I would marry their son” she said looking out of the window as though speaking to herself.

He did not know how to react. He wanted to tell her something but did not know how or what. So reached out and held her hand. She closed her hands over his and held on to it tightly.

He dared not speak as he was afraid that it might spoil the magic of the moment. He was dimly aware of voices in the background. He wished he had been there to help her when she needed someone. But then that was a different time in their lives. There had been the intention to help but he was not sure he would have had the resources.

He wanted to tell her about the many letters that he had written to her but never had the confidence to post. He still had them tucked away somewhere among the things in the cupboard in his parent’s house. He had tried to contact her through common friends but she seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

He tried to imagine her life with a dominating boor of a husband. It was not something that was pleasant or easy for him to think of.

She suddenly withdrew her hand from his as though realizing what she had done.

“You are a good friend Rohan. You have always been there for me. I still remember you coming home with me on that awful day” she said smiling at him through her tears. He was surprised that she had remembered.

“You were never like the others. There was something so sincere and earnest about everything that you said or did” she continued. “ I had hoped one day that I could take you to meet my father. Both of you would have liked each other so much”

He in turn wanted to say how much he had waited for that invitation to meet her father , his hero. But he kept quiet.

“No one understood what Papa was all about. My friends thought he was an eccentric man. Mama still blames him for dying like that and leaving her with debts. My husband and inlaws call him a fool whose debt they had to redeem” she said softly.

She looked away again at the speeding landscape outside. He wanted to say something but somehow it was difficult to penetrate the silence that she seemed to have suddenly surrounded herself with.

He did not know how long it was before she suddenly moved. She was getting up and going towards the seat under which she had stored her luggage.
“Rohan, my station is due in another five minutes. I need to go” she said as she came out with the luggage.

He followed her to the door as they waited for train to pull into her station. He pulled out a card from his pocket and handed it to her saying “ This is my card. Please call me if you need anything”

“No Rohan, thanks. I don’t think I will need that card. My life is complicated as it is. I do not want to involve you in these complications” she said returning it to him.

“ And yes, please go inside. My driver is expected at the station to pick me up. He might say something to my husband if he sees us talking and that would make life difficult for me” she said urging him to go back to his seat.

He returned reluctantly to his seat and watched from the window as the train entered the station. Among the many people who got off the train was a slight young woman in a printed silk sari with her hair pulled back into a bun behind her neck. A man in a chauffeur’s uniform came forward and took her bag from her.

Was it his imagination or did he see her looking back towards his window as she walked down the platform?

Poor girl.. what a long journey it had been for her!

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