Saturday, December 18, 2010

Khairoo and her sisters

Khairoo and Her Sisters – Still a Reverie
-Reshmi Chandrasekhar

It wasn’t easy playing Hide-N-Seek with Khairoo in your company.Khairoo was one lovable friend. She was only six with two elder sisters .They were sharp witted and pretty; Zainab and Iyesha- I instead of “Ai” that’s how she wanted it spelt. Why?God knows! Allah knows! Wherever she is now if she read this piece I am sure she would come grinning a pleasant nod. Iyesha was the eldest, shorter and darker compared to Zainab. On special days when the two dressed up anyone would admire Zainab even if Iyesha wore a costlier dress. If Zainab offered an endearing smile for the compliments Iyesha would part with a smirk. But both sisters paid lavish compliments to Khairoo who always wore spotless white clothes. She preferred it that way. Khairoo felt white created an odd brightness around her and if anybody made her sit in sunlight she gushed with laughter that followed a chuckle, expressing gratitude. And why? Khairoo was born blind-brightness or light around her made her see shadows of people moving around her. The simple joy of not being totally blind. Iyesha’s father sought special delight in lighting up his drawing room with bright lights only for Khairoo. Most afternoons she would sit in bright sunlight and sing songs or nursery rhymes on a rocking chair. Only when she felt hungry or sleepy would she stop singing and wait patiently for help.

Iyesha’s parents owned a shop in the city and both left the house in her care. Iyesha doted over her sisters and paid prompt attention to Khairoo. When the girls left for school they would lock in Khairoo and the latter would gladly sit on her rocking chair in the balcony, surrounded with toys. We were seven coeval friends always loved to play Hide-N-Seek in the evening . But if one made the mistake of hiding behind the furniture in Iyesha’s house you are bound to be caught. The credit would go to Khairoo who will recognise your movements and keep talking to you in loud whispers and addressing you by name and alas! The person who gives the den can easily spot you.

All bright days bring dark clouds as well. Tragedy struck the Usman family. Mrs Usman, Iyesha ‘s mother, was a thin lady with delicate features. The gold ornaments she wore were also delicately designed. Usually she would be impeccably dressed but after the fall from the stairs she remained umkempt .The fracture on her right arm did not heal fully and health complications came manifold. Mr Usman felt drained out managing the shop and domestic chores. His daughters were quite supportive though only Khairoo looked a little neglected. One fine day Mrs Usman was taken amidst a lot of howling and tears to hospitals. A month later the same ambulance entered the building and all of us hoped she would be better by now. She was dead. None of her daughters were around, except for Mr Usman looking forlorn and hapless. When the funeral preparations were almost over the three sisters arrived in a taxi with a relative. Khairoo called out to friends and smiled and greeted one and all.

I thought, if the light of the day has no definition for a blind person how can one define death to Khairoo?

Days and months passed by. The Usman household did not exude the old gaiety and brightness. The daughters were busy with mundane duties. Evenings were not as joyful or playful for them. If they did play with us it would barely last for an hour. Then came the great partition for the sisters. . A maternal uncle volunteered to take Iyesha and Zainab to his issueless home. Mr Usman’s elder sister agreed to look after Khairoo as would any concerned aunt. Mr Usman’s intentions came to light. He preened day in and day out and for what, we wondered. One Sunday evening a bedecked car with flowers and oozing oodles of Arabian attar brought out a bundle of glittering clothes amidst giggles and chuckles. Mr Usman’s new bride arrived and a new domestic establishment evolved. The old one wound up and my heart longed to see Khairoo, Iyesha and Zainab at least in my dreams every night. One relishes those memories of childhood and  friends of the good old days.We were neighbours but were more than  blood sisters.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Specimen of a story for readers

-Reshmi Chandrasekhar
Nishi kept gazing at that same sunset that day. It was the umpteenth sunset she longed to gaze and wish for her heart’s desire to come true. Of her forty years the last ten were status quo. No change of place or persons around her, not even the walls had been whitewashed. The same verandah and its shaky grilled enclosure.
Ten years ago she lost her father who was the only relative she kept doting on. But after that she belonged to no one although she longed for some person to fill that emotional vacuum. Her younger sister married to an army officer kept visiting her occasionally sometimes from Pune or from Guwahati. But Nishi’s Mumbai life hardly changed.
Nishi was the second  girl child born to her parents. Her parents had named her Nishigandha and her elder sister, Sugandha. As a child, her sister loved to be called Sue. But as she grew up,she became stout, her round and plump figure made every one call her Polly. Polly was good humoured and fun-loving. That was what Nishi felt, a good consolation to be a sequel to sue. Probably that was why she did not get along well with her sister nor did she find a suitable life partner.  Nishi was not always ill-tempered. She was low-profile and reticent. Dr Shamoo, a psychiatrist and a family friend often visited Nishi when she was around. Nishi’s favourite hobby during schooldays was to gaze at beautiful scenery whether it was a painting or an actual landscape. Her favourite obsession was also especially the setting sun.
Somebody had mentioned to her that she could wish for her heart’s desire or  while looking at the setting sun. They say the desire comes true. But what had Nishi been looking for, all these years? Her friends and relatives opined together that her particular wish would not come true if Nishi expressed it.
To divert from the setting sun the only other object that she would prefer to look at is Vivek's framed photograph. His infectious smile could floor any teenaged girl. So was Nishi during her second year at college. Vivek had passed out from the same college as a rank holder. Before seeking admission at the Kanpur Aeronautical Engineering College. That day proved lucky for Nishi as the two expressed their heart’s desire. Stealing glances in the college canteen or in the corridors kept them engrossed besides studies.

It was one usual Monday morning when Nishi was engrossed in her talk with one of her classmates that Nishi’s Bittu Maama (maternal uncle) boisterously appeared from nowhere and hugged her. Bittu was Sue’s pet maama, who was extremely fond of Nishi. His explicit affectionate embraces made someone curious somewhere. Who could that someone be other than Vivek?

Nishi was not prepared for Vivek’s unabashed frankness. He demanded more information about Bittu and the rest can be taken as a slightly zig-zag curve towards matrimony.

Then came the expected day for Vivek to leave for Kanpur. It spelled doom for Nishi. Vivek returned from Kanpur the following year, the house was filled with joy and peals of laughter could be heard day in and day out. Nishi, Sue and their father kept doting over an already spoilt Vivek. He hardly spoke of his parents in Dehradun. Busnessmen and their wives hardly have time to indulge in familial affections – so was Vivek’s quote about his parents. However, Vivek agreed upon a simple quick marriage.

After a lot of coaxing he agreed to take Nishi to Dehradun. As usual, it was not a well-planed visit to his parents. Vivek’s parents had just left for Europe. Nishi insisted on being there till they returned but Vivek was not in favour. He had to get back to Kanpur and there was no other go but to fly back to Bombay. After completing two years of studies, Vivek did come out in flying colours. But what about the remaining two years with a tight and demanding schedule. However, he agreed to visit Bombay for a simple marriage ceremony in order to cement emotional ties. The following two years were harrowing for Nishi. Her letters were not replied to by Vivek. She kept losing him emotionally. Nishi’s dreams shattered one by one which did kindle a new hope at times. But then for how long can one keep hoping against hope?
Nishi was determined to write a letter to Vivek and her parents-in-law, enquiring about Vivek’s future plans. The letters were no doubt delivered in the right hands but Nishi received no reply. Almost eighteen months after Vivek passed out and completed his training, there was a vague rumour that Vivek’s parents were arranging for his second marriage. Nishi thought it could be some other Vivek till one day she noticed a newly-wed couple’s photograph in a national weekly. How could this take place? Her mulish silence for eighteen months had paid dividends.
Like all well-bred girls she initiated the divorce proceedings. Vivek without sulking offered a lumpsum as alimony which Nishi politely refused. She thanked the college which accepted her application for M.Sc. She qualified to be a pathologist. Had it not been for Vivek’s unwanted intrusion in her life she would have been a qualified doctor.
She began working as a pathologist in a nearby polyclinic. The busy day-schedule kept her lively and chirpy. But not for long did she remain happy till one day her father breathed his last after a brief illness.
Nishi, now all alone in the world with a so-called sister whose visits were always with a selfish motive – either it is some relation’s marriage or for some festival or may be shopping in Bombay.
Nishi grew lonelier day by day till one day she met a middle aged doctor, Dr Kamath. Dr Kamath was Dr Shamoo’s classmate and Nishi being Dr Shamoo’s neighbour he became a regular visitor for Nishi too. A self-loving bachelor with no intention of marriage may be the summed-up opinion about Dr Kamath.
On Dr Shamoo’s advice, Nishi agreed to go on a holiday with Dr Kamat to Mahabaleshwar. Their brief stay at the hill-station, with a lot to talk and listen to they grew friendly. On their way back, as fate would have it, their car met with an accident and proved fatal for Dr Kamath. His last words to a mentally restless person like Nishi who felt totally responsible for the mishap came as a fatal blow. He said – be happy, Vivek will come back to you.
At first Nishi took his words as mere consolation from a dying man when actually she should have given him more courage to bear the pain of his multiple fractures.
Nishi turned more reticent after that incident. She refused to recognise familiar people. She stopped visiting the hospital and gradually lost her job. Dr Shamoo was the only person she opened the door for. Her daily needs were cared for by a servant who left by 4.00 p.m.
Her gaze at the sunset and her fervent wish that Vivek would come and apologise for his indifference remained a desire.
The next morning when Kamalabai came as usual to start her household duties, she found Nishi bent on the chair on the verandah. Vivek’s photograph had fallen on the floor whose infectious smile looked like a devilish grin, thought Sunanda. After only a few minutes of calling did she realise that Nishi was dead. If only she had not kept wishing for her heart's desire to come true. If only she had a companion to speak to. If only she had succeeded in forgetting Vivek, she would have lived longer.