I will always remember that day.Some say that it’s unreasonable to expect a five year old to remember everything in the right sequence of events. I’m inclined to agree. But deep down, I also know everything I saw and heard that night. No matter how much people trivialise what I say, they cannot take away what I saw. And when such memories are imprinted in your brain, with the same intensity that the colonial slave-traders branded their slaves, you hardly forget. And the nightmares liven them. Every single day.
I will always remember that day.
It was a few days before Christmas. I remember, because I was upset about having bitten Tony Gonzales on his arm. No, the biting did not bother me. He deserved it. What upset me was what my mother had said. She looked into my eyes and said that I had been a bad boy and so Santa wouldn’t be bringing me any presents that year. And she had told me off in front of that over-sized buffoon. Just for that, I wanted to bite his other arm too. Santa wasn’t going to come anyway. But I didn’t. It was because for the first time, my mother’s eyes were missing the twinkle that they always had. I couldn’t bear to see my mother upset. So I did nothing. Except follow her home with the demeanour of a quiet, little lamb.
That night at dinner, my mother had a forlorn expression. She had not spoken to me since the incident at school. Neither had she laughed when Maria, my elder sister, had recited a joke she had learned. I can’t remember what the joke was - but only that it was something funny, and I too had laughed along. Maria and I had a chasm of an age difference - 11 years. After dinner, my sister left for the movies along with her douche-bag of a boyfriend, Buster. I mean, who gives a dog’s name to a kid? After they’d gone, mother had rushed me upstairs. Father had not come home yet - he had been working rather late for the past few months and they had been arguing a lot.
Mother tucked me in tight and left without saying a good night or reading me my bed-time story of the little cat who would not have its milk. That was the first time that she had forgotten to do either. Usually she would sit around to make sure I had slept; but that day, it had seemed like she did not care. She had seemed impatient and agitated. I remember blaming myself for having made my mother upset. And I had cried myself to sleep for that.
I woke up to loud voices. Maybe screaming is more apt. I don’t think I noticed the time. All I knew was that it was late. Too late for my liking. And people were shouting. I tiptoed towards the stairs. The voices were coming from the kitchen. As I slowly climbed down the stairs, the voices became clearer. “You Bastard!” , I heard my mother scream. At least I think it was a scream. I’d never heard her raise her voice before. Not even when I had managed to slip a red sock into the washing machine along with all her whites.
Back then, I knew not what ‘bastard’ meant. All I knew was the intensity with which the words were spoken. And the hatred that coated each word. As I neared the kitchen, I heard a thud. And a groan. Followed by a long pause. And then a blood curdling cry. I stood rooted to the spot. The kitchen door, that was slightly ajar, was only a few feet away from me. But I couldn’t move.
"How could you? You wretched man! She’s your……", I heard my mother’s voice, slowly fade out. Like the horn of the local train did, as it sped away from the station. I still do not know where I got the strength from. But I took a step. And then another. And then a couple more, till I reached the door. And then I peered through the gap. In there, I saw the scene. One that would haunt my nights and days for months and years to come. One that no amount of therapy or counselling could cure. One that I wish I hadn’t seen or heard.
I noticed my mother sobbing. The sound started like a tiny sing-song noise, like the hum of the bees in Mr. Dickenson’s yard. Gradually rising and falling. And then it exploded. I had to rub my eyes to be sure that the source of the voice was indeed, my mother. I hoped it was not. But my eyes said otherwise.
She was leaning over a man on the chair, hugging him. Rocking back and forth, like she was cradling a baby. A man who I would soon find out was dead, with a kitchen knife through his chest. A man I would soon find out, was my father. I wondered why my sister hadn’t rushed down yet. I would find out later that she was in the kitchen that very moment. Lying in a puddle of blood. Unconscious. But still breathing. Barely.
I will always remember that day.
Because it was the day I lost my family.
Although this work is fiction, I have read and in some cases, even known a few families who have been shred to pieces because of instances like these. As a parent, it scares me. The fact that sometimes we cannot trust the very people who are responsible for us. I've left out explicit scenes or descriptions so as not to disturb the readers. Also it is the first time, I've attempted a 'first person narrative style'.
[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. Tell us about a conversation you couldn’t help but overhear and wish you hadn't] Image source: Getty Images
Satyamurti frowned as he heard the doorbell chime. Letting out a groan, he got up from the floor where he was sitting cross-legged offering his prayers. The door bell continued to ring persistently. “Coming!” yelled out Satya, as he shut the door to the pooja area. He ambled towards the front door, muttering how it had become impossible to say his morning prayers without being disturbed. Unlatching the door, he swung it open to reveal a delivery man smiling at him. “I was just about to leave” he said thrusting a thickly padded package into Satya’s hands. “Yes, yes. You people can’t even wait for an old man to get to the door. Always in a hurry” mumbled Satya as he hastily scribbled his signature on the delivery sheet.
As he closed the front door behind him, Satya wondered about the contents of the package. He wasn’t expecting any deliveries, especially not at the rented address he was staying at presently. The package itself was nondescript with no markings or indication as to who the sender could be. Curious to find out, Satya grabbed a knife from the kitchen and ripped open the package. Inside was a rectangular wooden block with the word "Meenakshi" engraved on it in cursive. He smiled as he read the sender’s address on the gift receipt inside the packaging. He had often thought about getting this done, but his only daughter had surprised him. Once again.
As he placed the wooden block on the teapoy, he glanced at the decorated invite lying next to it. He smiled again as he picked up the invitation for the house warming ceremony for “Meenakshi”, the new apartment complex that he was going to move into soon. He was excited just like the rest of his family was. He'd been waiting for this for a long time. Three years to be precise. He slowly walked out to the balcony and peered through the grills at the four-storeyed apartment block in the distance. Though the construction had been completed a few months ago, the painter and his team were busy applying a final coat of all-weather paint to the exterior walls of the apartment complex. As he followed the painters’ brushes moving in deliberate patterns across the wall, he felt his mind starting to flood with memories of his home.
Even though it was over three decades ago, Satya clearly remembered the day he bought his first and only piece of land. When he was sixteen, Satya’s father had passed away after a brief but vigorous battle with Typhoid. As the eldest of five children and the only son to his parents, he had taken over the helm of the family to look after his sisters and ailing mother. It hadn’t been easy. Since his father had died while in service, the Railways provided a meagre pension to help support the family. Satya desperately wanted to help supplement the income and hadstarted working part-time after school at the local tea-shop. Though he’d cleared his boards with flying colours, unlike his classmates, Satya did not have the opportunity to study further. Fortunately one of his father’s colleagues helped him get a paid internship with one of the state banks and he was soon flourishing in his career as a bank officer. By the time he had turned 30, Satya was working in Chennai as the Assistant Manager for Reserve Bank of India. His four sisters had been married off and were settled comfortably and his mother reminded him it was time for him to do the same.
Since they were still staying in a rented house, Satya decided that it was high time that they got one of their own. Having secured a house loan against his meagre salary, he purchased a plot of land in Adyar in Chennai. At the time, the area had been mostly residential and far away from the bustling crowds and traffic of Central Chennai. Though he was conscious that he would be repaying the loan for the next thirty years, he had decided that it was imperative that they have their own home before he got married. So in September 1974, along with his mother, he laid the foundation stone for what was going to be their family home. Satya had been actively involved in every aspect of construction and design of the modest three bedroom house and it was a dream come true for him and his mother. It was into this family home, that his beautiful bride Meenakshi had set foot first after the wedding. It was in this very home that their three kids Karthik, Balaji and Radhika had been born. It was in this home, that his mother Subbalakshmi had breathed her last.
A lone tear trickled down his cheek as Satya thought about his deceased mother. She had been his guide and source of strength, and he had never taken any decision throughout his life without consulting her. The sound of a group of kids playing hide and seek snapped Satya out of his melancholic thoughts. Watching them run around carefree and enjoy themselves, his mind started racing once again. During summer holidays, their family home would turn into a playground with kids of all ages running around the house and making a mess. Along with their own kids, Satya and Meenakshi had almost an entire cricket team of kids to look after and manage. Though Meenakshi always complained about it, he knew that she secretly enjoyed the presence of all the kids. She had been an only child and nothing made her happier than when she was in the presence of young kids. And she had left a positive mark on all the kids. Even today as grown ups, some of their nieces and nephews preferred to speak with their aunt Meenakshi about their issues rather than with their own parents.
Before they knew it, their three little kids had grown up and had families and careers of their own. Karthik and Radhika were settled abroad and Satya and Meenakshi hardly saw their grandkids except when they visited India for two weeks every year. Though Balaji and his wife were still in Chennai, they had rented an apartment closer to their work location and hence apart from the occasional visits during a family festival, Satya and Meenakshi were mostly alone. And suddenly the modest three-bedroom family home started to feel really huge for just the two of them.
It was when Karthik decided to return to India and Balaji started to look for his own flat, that Satya decided that it was time. The decision to build a block of flats over their family home was not an easy one for Satya to make. The home held a lot of memories for them and demolishing it to build an apartment was akin to him being stabbed in the heart. But as a father, he knew that he had certain duties to fulfil. A joint family was no longer the norm of modern society and he had decided that it was time to give each of his kids their share of what they were due.
When he had broached the subject with his kids, they had been shocked by the idea. To them too, the family home was a treasure trove of childhood memories. Though they had initially opposed him, they eventually agreed to his plan and had supported Satya emotionally during the past three years. He still remembered the heartache he experienced as he watched the bulldozer tear through their home. He hadn’t been able to eat or sleep peacefully for weeks after that incident, but his family had stood by him.
A noise from behind - snapped Satya out of his trance like state. He turned around to find Meenakshi placing a steaming cup of filter coffee on the teapoy. She had noticed the wooden block which he had placed on the teapoy and was admiring it. He smiled as he walked towards her. It was just a matter of days before his wife and him, along with their sons and their families would be moving into their new homes in the apartment complex.
As he sat down on the chair, he made a mental note to call the carpenter to fix the name board before the ceremony. He took a sip of the strong coffee. It was bittersweet, just like his memories of the family home.
[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?" ]
I'd also like to add a special thanks to my lovely wife Janaki who provided the basis for the story and Seeta Bodke (of "The Lady in Black" fame who blogs at "The Write Side" for going through the rough draft and helping me fine tune it.
Main image : Courtesy Google Images
Karthik stared at the tall, rusting wrought iron gates emblazoned with the familiar insignia of the institution. He smiled wryly. He clearly remembered the day these gates had replaced the short wooden picket fence that had originally guarded the entrance to the college. They had watched from the hostel, as the iron bars were lifted off the back of the truck and placed vertically, erect like sentinels standing guard to a castle. The gates had been put up to serve as a deterrent to late comers from entering the campus after a night out. But what the college administration didn't realise was that Bikram bhaiya (brother), who proudly manned the gates in his khaki uniform was easily bribed with a bottle of rum and a plate of half-chicken from Velu Military hotel down the road.
Extinguishing the cigarette in the ashtray of his car, Karthik got out. He smiled as he caught the eye of the pleasant faced Nepali guard who sat at the desk near the gate. As he walked up to the entrance, the guard got up from his seat and gestured towards an open- register on the table. Karthik leaned over, signed the register and picked up the pass that the guard handed him. As the gates creaked open giving him access once again to a place that was etched in his memory, a wave of nostalgia swept over Karthik. He slowly ambled down the corridor of the first block, lightly running his hand along the short wall that ran the length of the corridor. Though most of the class rooms were empty, there were a few students around. While some of them had their heads bent over the desks, some others were deep in conversation. Karthik smiled. He was sure they were hostellers, undoubtedly skipping the nuisance-ridden dorms, wandering along the corridors, books in hand and chanting away formulae like they were reciting a holy verse. He’d been one of them too, a long time ago.
He glanced at his watch. There was still plenty of time to kill. He slowly walked up to the stairs and started climbing them, one step at a time. He casually glanced at two girls huddled over a thick book, hastily scribbling in their long, unruled Classmate notebooks. As his shadow fell over their notebooks, they looked up at him and smiled. Returning their smile, he pushed ahead slowly, his left hand firmly placed on the cement hand rail of the staircase. It took him a little over ten minutes to climb up to the sixth floor. He looked at the thick set wooden door that was in front of him. The door was latched with an Aldrop bolt and secured with a rusty padlock. As Raju kaka had promised, there was a rickety wooden chair by the corner. Karthik lightly ran his hand under the seat of the chair and found what he’d been looking for - a bronze coloured key.
As he opened the door that led to the terrace of the building, he felt a light vibration in his shirt pocket. He decided to ignore whoever was calling and shut the door behind him. Whilst most of the terrace was open, there were a set of cylindrical domes that ran along one side of the terrace providing a relief from the harsh Chennai sun. Karthik walked under one of the domes and perched carefully on the parapet wall. Leaning against one of the pillars, he slowly lifted his left leg and let it dangle from the roof. He glanced at the boy’s hostel in the distance, where he could make out the bustling activity that accompanied every normal week day. He smiled as the memories came rushing back.
Hailing from a reputed middle-class Iyer family, Karthik had initially found hostel life tough. And that fact that it was his first time away from home did nothing to help ease his woes. His first couple of months had been a nightmare. It involved night-time ragging by the seniors, surprise raids by the hostel warden, long queues for the toilet, a maddening dash to finish bathing before the water stopped, sub-standard food served from the hostel mess and waiting by the phone room for the permitted weekly phone call, to name a few. The list had been endless. But as with everything in life, he had eventually settled in. The ragging almost stopped, the raids became less frequent and with a little bit of smart planning, he had even managed to ensure that his morning ablutions proceeded unhindered. He had even surprised himself when after a few months, he had actually started to enjoy his new found freedom. He enjoyed having friends around all the time and gradually started exploring experiences which went beyond academia - the thrill of secret clubs, the adrenaline rush of smoking on the roof, the sweet intoxication of alcohol, the “high” of rolled up marijuana, the carnivorous delight of meat and sinful pleasures of the flesh.
A continuous toll of ringing bells from the hostel brought Karthik’s attention back to the present. He smiled as he pictured sets of hardcore religious students going about their morning prayers asking their favourite deities to bless them abundantly, whilst secretly hoping that their “gods and goddesses” would throw spanners in the progress of the non-believers.
Karthik inhaled deeply. He desperately needed a cigarette. Cursing himself for leaving the pack of the cigarettes in the car, he took another deep breath. The smell of fresh, deep-fried medhu-vadais (doughnut shaped golden brown coloured crispy south Indian snack) along with the fragrant smell of sambar (a spicy south Indian dish consisting of lentils and vegetables) wafted up his nostrils, causing his eyes to water slightly. He glanced at his watch again. He needed to leave if he wanted to accomplish what he had in mind. Karthik walked back to the door and exited, shutting the door carefully behind him. Having bolted the door and secured the padlock, he re-attached the key beneath the seat of the rickety chair with a piece of cellophane tape that was left there. Slowly, he walked down the stairs and got off on the third floor. He glanced down the long corridor. The room he was headed for was at the very end.
As he opened the double doors to the room that had been his classroom for four long years, Karthik stopped. Suddenly he wasn’t sure if coming back here was a good decision. He hesitantly stepped into the room. Though his association with this classroom had officially ended almost two decades ago, it still held a special place in his heart.This classroom had made him what he was today. It was here that the foundation stone for his successful career had been laid. It was here that he had spent nights and mornings trying to cram up equations, theorems and modules that helped him pass his engineering degree with flying colours. It was here that he had made friendships that had held strong through the tough times. It was here, that he had found his true love - Divya Nair. Suddenly Karthik felt a bit dizzy. He stumbled over to the nearest desk and sat down. The memories were coming fast and strong now and each caused a new surge of emotion in him. He could feel sweat beads starting to form on his forehead. In a bid to shut the emotions, he wiped his eyes. As his eyes refocussed, he looked around the room. Nothing had changed. He got up and walked to the second desk in the last row. Though plenty of students had left their mark on the desk in the form of initials, names, equations, caricatures and other graphical art forms, his eyes settled on a small engraving in the top right corner of the desk. It was so small and inconspicuous, that most people would not have given it a second look. But not Karthik. As he ran his fingers over the tiny compass-engraved heart with the initials KI and DN, he felt his eyes start to well up as he thought about Divya.
He could still picture her walking towards the wedding mandap (covered structure with pillars) where he was seated, draped in a gorgeous ruby red sari, the shine of her jewellery no match for the mischievous twinkle in her hazel brown eyes. Though not a believer in fate, at that instant he had silently thanked his lucky stars for having brought her into his life. They were complete opposites, yet strangely similar. And that had been the secret behind their long lasting relationship. But life had other plans. On 2nd July, 6 years after their marriage, Divya and their daughter, Shruti, had been killed by a reckless drunk-driver who had jumped a red signal. Karthik had gone into shock from the grief and it had taken years of psychiatric help and support from friends to get him to accept the truth that Divya and Shruti were no more.
Karthik splashed his face with water from the tap. The cold water helped soothe his pain, even if it was temporary. He looked up at his reflection in the mirror and noticed that his eyes were still bloodshot. He rapidly splashed his face with water again, taking special care to rinse out his eyes. After a few attempts, he stopped. His eyes were still red, but at least he no longer looked like a drunkard. He put on his round-rimmed spectacles and straightened his hair. It was time.
As Karthik entered the room, everyone fell silent. He slowly walked up to the table and placed his satchel on it. He noticed the group of young women in the front row watch him intently. He slowly walked up to the board and wrote the date - 2nd July 2014. He turned around, flashed all of them a pleasant smile and spoke slowly. “My name is Karthik Iyer. And this is Digital Communication - 101”. It was time to restart his academic journey in the same classroom that held all his memories.