Hurray! I was free! For two glorious months, I wouldn’t have to see the school again or have nightmares about Miss Lal’s notorious cane. Visions of cool glasses of lemonade, exciting books, endless games of cricket and dadi’s long storytelling sessions began to fill my head with delight. I reached home with a huge smile and a terribly dusty uniform. Dadi was there waiting for me as she normally did in the drawing-room, busy knitting.
My dadi never really stops knitting. It doesn’t bother her whether it’s summer or winter. Most of the time she just sits in a corner, muttering to her self with her knitting under her nose. It is best to avoid her when she’s muttering with a small frown on her forehead because she’s usually reciting the hanuman chalisa. Dadi prays a lot; especially since mumma papa died. As an unwritten rule in the house, mumma papa is not mentioned. At least not if she can help it.
Anyway, when dadi saw my uniform, she gave an exasperated sigh and started off with a very different kind of muttering, “Like father, like son! Can’t you ever stay clean? Your father used to be the same way….always off to someplace, catching frogs in the rain, playing Chor-Police..” and she rambled away into her secret magic world of memories, that I only got tiny glimpses of.
You see I never really knew my mumma papa, they died in a plane crash when I was two and I’ve been living with my dadi ever since. I wish I could ask her more about them but I know it makes her sad, so I don’t. But no matter how hard I try to forget, the gnawing feeling in my heart keeps growing bigger and bigger.
Today I went to Ravi’s house and stared at his photographs again. His folks have photographs in their drawing-room. All of them are laughing into the camera, their eyes shining and their arms around each other. A curious sense of longing filled my tummy.
And I found myself trying to fit myself in there somewhere in a little corner of the photograph. But no matter how hard I tried, there just wasn’t enough space for me. But on my way back home, I suddenly remembered. With my heart hammering against my chest I ran the whole way and shut the door behind me. I knew it! I had my own family photograph too.
I thought of a picture of a little baby with a loving mumma papa smiling into the camera. But then my smile did not live very long. “Oh no!” I thought “it’s in the attic!? the attic was a horrendously, horribly petrifying place. It was full of old discarded things that had lived out their days of glory in the house. Now the only things keeping them company were rats, spiders and cockroaches and other creepy crawlies.
I let out an involuntary shudder. But I needed my photograph. My family. I squared my shoulders with determination. With a heavy heart, I went to dadi’s mandir and peeked under the carpet. Coins and coins lay there. I knew dadi had been saving up to buy a new mandir and she almost had enough. I took the money carefully and filled it into my soon bulging pockets.
I went to the Aggarwal store and bought chocolates with all the coins. I hated to see dadi sad. But a mans’ got to do what a mans got to do. I couldn’t bring myself to eat them so I gave them to Ravi who then told everyone that I was his best friend in the whole world, but I wasn’t even paying attention. I knew back home dadi would be waiting.
She asked me, “Do you know where my mandir money is?” “Yes, dadi!” I said “I took it because I wanted chocolates and you never give me any money. All you care about is your stupid mandir! I hate you!” I was very shocked at myself but I hoped that I had done enough. Dadi didn’t look angry or even upset.
She just suddenly looked very, very old. She quietly asked me to follow her to the attic. I knew she would lock me up there for at least an hour. If today was any other day, I would have begged and pleaded for her to forgive me. But today I was a man on a mission. I just walked in bravely and heard dadi lock the door behind me and walk away.
Soon my eyes adjusted to the dark and I could see rats scuttling to and fro. I tried to ignore them. I got down to work. I opened the huge drum and with my small flashlight began my quest. I was about to reach the end of the drum. I had given up hope of ever finding my family photograph when suddenly I actually saw it.
The familiar silver photo frame. I pulled it out with awe. I used my grubby hands to clean it. My eyes grew wide with disbelief when I saw that it was empty. Slowly my tears fell down onto the empty frame and my sobs filled the attic with despair. Below the attic in the drawing-room, dadi sat as usual with her knitting and her hanuman chalisa.
She opened the hanuman chalisa and peered down at the photograph nestling comfortably between its pages. A teardrop trickled down her cheek and made its way to the little baby smiling up at his loving parents. “My family”, thought dadi and quietly wiped the tear away.
Contributing Story Teller:: Kanika Mehrotra, sometimes inspired and often disillusioned 22 years old, I love to write and connect with thoughts and ideas that I cannot connect within any other way. [email protected]
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