Vedika stared at her computer screen blankly and wrung her hands in frustration. Her fingers seemed to be itching to hit the keyboard, but her mind as usual was failing to respond. A minute or two later, heaving a sigh mingled with confusion and despair, she shut down her computer and made her way to the dinner table.
This had been going on for quite some time. People had always told Vedika she had the flair to write. Her parents, overlooking the fact that she was their darling, had always appreciated her work and her friends never failed to heap praise upon her. So consumed with enthusiasm and determination, she had decided to quite literally, pen down her talent .And now by her own admission it seemed that the idea had been a decided failure, if not a disaster.
For whenever she sat down to write, her mind, abuzz with ideas earlier, would completely blank, leaving her with a dearth of topics to write on. She would grope from topic to topic and nothing would satisfy .She would start a romantic fantasy novel in her mind and dump it midway. Or an adventure tale for children, which would be discarded even before the characters’ names were finalized. Simply put, her ideas would fail to take off, let alone find their expression on paper.
People say stories and inspirations are to be found everywhere. Yet wherever Vedika tried to find a topic, she would fail .She had tried talking to strangers on the train, her domestic helps, even a little beggar girl on the road. All she got was the gajra the beggar girl handed to her ecstatically in return for the candy Vedika had distributed amongst the kids .She tried to draw inspiration from the beauty of nature by spending a week in the hills, but had come back with dissatisfied and with a bout of cold. She even tried not thinking about it so as to “not try too hard” ,(as the literary genius sometimes advice),but still her golden moment would not arrive.
“How hard is it to find a decent tale to write in this world Nani?” Vedika complained to her grandmother after they had settled down in the drawing room post dinner. Her grandmother merely smiled and soothed Vedika’s hair, saying mildly “Don’t worry so much darling, you will get one .Just be a good girl now and get me some more barfi from the fridge.”
“No Nani, the doctor has forbidden you. I won’t get you anymore and I’ll tell Ma.”
“Arey ok baba..Just don’t tell your mother . This diabetes na…”Nani trailed off in resignation while Vedika giggled.
“What are you looking at Nani?” she asked as she saw her grandmother looking absorbed amongst a bundle of old photographs tied loosely with a string.” That’s you and Nana when you got married isn’t it? Wow,you were such a lovely bride!”
“Oh come on”- Nani replied as she tried hard not to look too pleased.” Yes this was my wedding and look ,this was your mother when she was born. You looked exactly like her.”
“And what’s this place Nani ? And you in a skirt and goggles.. Oh my god!”Vedika exclaimed as she looked at her saree clad grandmother in her carefree days, smiling at the camera while clinging to a tree, just like the heroines in those days posed.
“Yes that’s me dear, can you believe it? Before my marriage to your Nana of course” Nani said, laughing heartily at the recollection .” I was some girl then, full of spirits and so naughty.”
“You still are, especially when tomorrow Ma is going to discover the missing barfi that I know you are going to steal and eat” Vedika retorted while Nani seemed more than usually absorbed in a particular photo. Peeping, Vedika saw the photo of a magnificent house, surrounded by mountains and her grandmother’s face, filled with nostalgia. Vedika, sensing some deep memory attached to the particular photo kept quiet while Nani,breaking her reverie began to tell her tale.
“This, Vedika,was my aunt’s house in Dalhousie. She was a widow but very wealthy and knew how to live her life.The house that you see ,was hers, and let me tell you, I have never seen such a splendid house. So big a garden, so many trees, antique furniture, an army of servants…..
Yet Aunty was one of the nicest and kindest person I have met . She had invited me to Dalhousie one summer after I turned 18 and my wedding had just got fixed with your grandfather. We had the best time ,going on long walks and enjoying the beauties of the place. In the evenings we would sit together by the fire and talk about any topic under the sun-marriage,films,food. I loved aunty for her independent ways and her incredible zest for life.
I loved to read books in those days. Aunty too had read many books and encouraged me to indulge in the hobby as much as possible. There was a large public library about half a km from her house and everyday when she took her afternoon nap, I would sneak out and read books to my heart’s content. The library had a nice sunny corner where I would settle and spend my afternoons.”
Seeing her Grand daughters’ face alive with curiosity, Nani continued-
“Every day I would see a young man come to the library and work diligently,often not even looking up from his books throughout the afternoon. My curiosity about him got the better of me one day and I finally mustered up courage to go and talk to him. As it turned out , he was trying to learn French and came to the library every day to study. I had studied a little French myself but had had to discontinue it after I stopped college . So French being the common bond between us ,we began interacting and looked forward to spending the afternoon in each other’s company.”
As Nani paused, Vedika looked at the photo she was clutching in her hand and wondered if the tale was heading where she thought it was. Meanwhile her grandmother, unaware of Vedika’s suspicions ,moved on with the rest of the story.
“So as I said , we soon became good friends . He was a very intelligent man and his thorough knowledge on topics from politics to books to even cookery impressed me. His sensitivity touched my heart. He carried the watch that had belonged to his father once, everywhere, even though it did not work and was beyond repairs and would refuse to wear any other watch!! Can you believe it? We instantly connected and shared a great rapport. I would be unaware of how quickly the afternoons would pass and had to often sneak in secretly so that my aunt, (up by now) would not scold me on how late it was. I looked forward to these afternoon meetings with him more ardently every passing day and would return home forgetful and dreamy eyed.”
Seeing her old grandmother’s face transformed by her long lost youthful love, Vedika shifted uncomfortably, wondering what other emotions those withered eyes had suppressed for years.
“Soon the holidays ended and I had to face the stark reality of separation.I did not have the courage to tell him that I would never see him again so we simply parted,he expecting me to come back in the holidays again, as I had promised.”
“But Nani why ? Why did you keep him waiting? Why didn’t you tell him the truth? ” Aghast, Vedika asked her grandmother.
“I was afraid , my dear to see him suffering the pain I was.I tried to take the easier way out I guess…No Vedika….” Nani sighed when she saw her granddaughter about to protest.” Those days weren’t like today. My marriage had already been fixed, remember,even though I had not even seen your Grandfather’s face. My fate had tied me to someone else and I could do nothing else but accept.”
A deep silence followed, as both Grandmother and grand daughter seemed absorbed in thought. Finally Vedika, breaking the silence asked,” So did you ever see him or meet him again Nani?”
“No beta, I never heard from him again and he was too much of a gentleman, I guess, to go around making enquires about me from my aunt.”
Nani, sensing a little disappointment in Vedika’s silence, continued- “I came home and soon got married to your Nana. And then I became steadily absorbed ,for years, in the work and life of an Indian wife. Soon those memories became a blur from the past and I locked them up like these photos in my drawer.”
“It had been ten years since our marriage when your Nana had to go to Canada for some months. Your mother had just been born so I stayed here back in India. Once he was traveling back from his office to his apartment in the evening, when he met a fellow Indian on the train. Those days not many people went to work and settle abroad, so meeting a person from home was not a common sight. Anyway, the stranger on the train was distraught, he had moved to the country only a fortnight ago, leaving his family in India. He had not even received his first salary yet but as misfortune would have it, his only brother had met with a serious accident. He had to return to India immediately, but had no money for even the plane ticket.”
“You know na ,Vedika, how large hearted your grandfather was? He was taken in by the man’s story and immediately took him to his apartment and gave him enough money to cover the expense of his travel ,even though Nana’s income was barely enough to sustain him in an expensive,modern city.”
“When your Nana came back to India, he narrated to me this incident and prudent as I always am, I was sure he had been tricked.”
“How can you be so sure he was not lying?”- I had complained to your grandfather “It is like child’s play to trick you!”
“No Lata, the man was sincere, he was in real trouble , I assure you.”
“How can you say? Did you meet him again?”
“No. But you see, on parting ,as a token of his gratitude he gave me the only wordly possession that he had.”
“And pray, why did he give it you and not sell it to get money for his ticket?”- I coaxed further.
“Suspicious as usual.. You should have been a police officer my dear. What can we do, we Indians are born sentimental fools, I suppose ! This had belonged to his father,you know and since it doesn’t work it wouldn’t have fetched a good price in the market anyway………Here have a look at this watch.Royal isn’t it?”
Vedika gasped in shock as her grandmother fell silent. After a long pause she continued-“Yes Vedika,God has his own funny ways. It was the same watch that I had seen hanging loosely on someone’s wrist everyday in those long forgotten afternoons in Dalhousie .And after some thousand afternoons later,it had come back to me.”
Nani was smiling now as she finished her narration. Vedika,however was in deep thought,pondering over her grandmother’s unusual story . Then she too smiled. She had been hankering for so long for inspiration, and here it had been hidden, in her own grandmother’s tale! Her eyes lit up with excitement as she kissed Nani on the cheek and retired for the night.
As her granddaughter made her way towards her room, Nani sighed and stared again at her wedding photo . Then she gave the young groom in the photo a wicked smile as she whispered- “I hope you’ll forgive me for this my dear. The poor girl wanted her story so badly. How could I tell her that my mystery lover from the hills was no one else but her her Nana and that I had gone to Dalhousie with my aunt for the sole purpose of finding a suitable match for myself amongst her contacts ?And that we did meet and fall in love , but not in those lazy afternoons at the library ,but in my aunt’s drawing room under her and your parents’ watchful eyes ? How would my Vedika have found her tale in our ‘boring arranged marriage’?”
Nani carefully wrapped the bundle of photos together and kept them back in the drawer. After switching off the house lights, she made her way silently towards the fridge to claim her piece of Barfi. Smiling to herself, she enjoyed the sweet prize of her labours.She had earned it, after all!