The last rites of our parents were completed. Afterward, I stand on the threshold, seeing every relative walk away quickly without giving us any comfort. Nisha’s silver payal tells me she is near, and sure enough, she puts her arms around my waist tightly, assuring me that we are never going to be alone. I decide then that this inheritance isn’t needed for us. That night, with some clothes packed in my schoolbag and a little money out of the big almirah, she and I sneak out, avoiding the guarding eyes which we fear.
We walk on, accompanied by the crickets till we reach the bus stand. It is desolate, and the last bus is just about to leave when we run and climb in through the back door. We shift behind the last seat, trying to hide from any passengers who are awake. The bus is empty but for a few people who occupy the seats near the front. The conductor is not from the town itself, so he issues our ticket, smiles and moves on without much talk.
Nisha is tired and squeezes my hand, unaware that she and I are leaving. As the bus starts to move, she finally realizes it and begins to cry into my shirt sleeve. I squeeze her hand tightly, and hold her close, whispering to her not to cry, that I am not going to let her go. In the pristine moonlight that streams through the open window, the cool breeze soothes her tired eyes, and she falls asleep. Soon I do too.
When I awaken, I see a woman near us. Two bags are between her seat and ours, and she’s half asleep, clutching the bags to her side and moving comfortably with the motion of the bus. The sun is rising far amidst the hills, and I have no idea where we are, just that I’m hungry. I see that Nisha is still fast asleep, but I know she will be too. There is nothing in my bag, for in my hurry, I’d not remembered food. I look around for some vendor, but the bus is as empty as it was last night. Then I notice them. A few carrots, sticking out of the bag near us. I check to see if the lady is really asleep, and take one slowly and put it into my bag.
She wakes up just as the bus enters the city of Dehradun, and gets ready to alight. Seeing me looking at her, she smiles warmly and greets me, asking my name and where I am going. I try to lie to her, but perhaps it is the kindness in her eyes that makes me trust her immediately. I recount to her, what happened over the last day, and why we had taken that bus. She was shocked by our story. Still smiling, she asks us to come with her when she alights, that she will look into what needs to be done. Her gesture touches me and I start to cry, my tears falling on to Nisha and waking her. The woman takes my hand and comforts me, but I take it away and apologize, giving back the carrot I’d taken from her. To my surprise, she takes my hand again and says it is okay. As we walk behind her, I wonder if God exists, and if He does, is it He who sent this woman to us?
Her home is a small one, but only she lives there. Her name is Chetana, she tells us, and we can call her didi. We sit on the floor, but she bids us to sit on the couch instead, as she busies herself in the kitchen. Half an hour later, the three of us sit around her little table, sipping some soup that she has made. After that, she shows us around the house and tells us to bathe and get refreshed. When are back in the hall, ready and feeling less tired than before, she tells me that she’s made some inquiries and found out that no one is looking for us in the town as yet. She suggests we stay with her. If after few days, there is still no search for us, she’ll arrange for us to be taken care of.
She tells us to be silent while she goes to work or else the nosy neighbors might ask more questions. Her home is adorned by lots of paintings. I see an empty white sheet placed on some crossed sticks and some crayons in a box next to it. I take one and it feels familiar in my hand. I see Nisha lying down on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, with a tear in her eye. I don’t stop her from crying, and draw her on that paper. The time goes by swiftly, and I turn when I hear a key in the lock. Didi returns, and applauds when she sees my drawing. Each day after that, she teaches us how to draw, and one of her friends teaches Nisha dancing. Days pass, and a month later, didi tells us that our relatives have not bothered to even complain to the police; that through the help of one of her friends, she’s going to adopt us herself, if that is okay with us. Even before I can ask her, Nisha hugs didi and tells her it is okay. It has been only a month, but it feels to us like so much more.
We join the local school soon, and there, the teachers welcome us warmly and help us catch up, as we had joined in the middle of the school year. The art teacher is delighted to see how much we know already, and she tells us with certainty that we’ll be her best students. We take her words to heart and put more work into our art, both at school and at our new home. In the exams that come at the end of each year, we scrape through most subjects, but get top marks in art. When we are ready to enter college, to our surprise, the college where didi was working offers us a full scholarship. They tell us in our interview, “Your paintings have a life in them,” the same words that didi and our school teacher used to say every day. We smile hearing that, and we wonder if it’s His presence in them that brings them to life.
Midway into each year, there is an exhibit that takes place at the college, a festival of the best artists in the state. Some of the teachers from the other colleges are being shown around by the principal for a short tour. When they come to our classroom, they are impressed with our work. As they praise our class and leave, I feel happy to know that they were pleased. Later that night, we are having dinner, and gloating of our achievement to didi when the telephone rings. Didi’s face shows her joy as she listens to the person on the other side. When she hangs up, she tells us that someone from an art gallery wanted to display our paintings, and they would be paying us money to display them; maybe even buy them. When we finally fall asleep that night after the excitement, I look at the stars through the window. Perhaps mummy and papa are there, near Him and smiling at us.
“No bhaiyya, mummy and papa are in the next room, now come to bed” calls a sleepy Nisha. I smile and do so. We always think where He is, when we see a beggar asking for alms, or the voice of the blind flower girl Mayuri when she sings in the morning. We always wonder if He cares for us, when we see Chetana didi run around making money for us, when it was mummy and papa who should have been there in her place, when it was our relatives who should have been looking out for our well-being than the money and the big home where we used to stay. Now to see our world becoming filled by the beauty of our dreams, His hand, I know is what scripted this. I know it is He who made us curious about Him. And I know, it is His will that makes me want to return to where it all began – for one final time.
As the sun casts the first light of the day through the clear windowpane, the river Ganga carries a melody with her travels. The people who have risen early to take a dip in her holy waters listen in admiration as the song becomes one with the river’s music and turns into a composition that they feel shall mesmerize even the gods and goddesses in the heavens.
As I walk on, the smile on my face remains, for a little further on my walk, I shall hear the music I’ve heard all these years. As I leave my slippers outside the door and enter our home, the tune of my sister’s beloved silver payal are clear, in perfect harmony with her beautiful voice as she dances to her own songs.
Nisha has no audience, but she is smiling; her eyes are closed and she is lost in each note as she sings from her heart. In silence, I sit on the threshold, watching her in awe as only a brother can. As she finishes with a quick pirouette and relaxes, she hears my gentle applause and turns around, laughing. “I knew you will be there, bhaiyya”, she says and hugs me. She walks off toward her room, to bathe and get dressed. It has been eleven years since we last were here, in our ancestral home, now a place where no one comes unless they have the money to pay the rent.
When she comes, we sit together and pray, before heading out to the banks of the Ganga with our brushes, easel and canvas. In the serenity of the meandering river, and the shadows of the towering mountains, we will spend the day, giving that beauty a life in our colors.
When the day ends, and we head home, I take her canvas, and she mine. Today, she surprises me and from the sudden gasp, I know that I’ve done the same. Neither of us spoke when we painted, but our minds have been in sync. We’ve both drawn ourselves today, looking out into the Ganga as we stand, she in my embrace.
As we leave our ancestral home the next day, the Ganga flowing serenely nearby, the last light of the day comes through the clear windowpane again. Nisha is fast asleep, curled up on my lap in the back seat of the car. As I caress her hair and hum silently to myself, the gurgling river joins my song. As I admire the beauty one last time, a tear slides down my cheek.
I realize that His presence is there in her, as she reaches up to wipe my tears. Her heart surely holds Him, for she has always let me to cry when I’ve felt like it. Seeing her smiling up at me, I smile back, and she gets up to lean on my shoulder. As we sing together in His presence, encouraged by the driver, the titian sun sinks between the mountains, and the night arrives with the voice of her silver payal.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael challenged me with “”My sense of God is my sense of wonder about the universe.” -Albert Einstein” and I challenged Tara Roberts with “”The strongest man upon Earth is he who stands most alone.” – Henrik Ibsen
Work your post around this quote.”