“Mr. Sharma?”
“Yes, that’s me…oh, a courier…where do I need to sign?”

Mr. Sharma signed on a crumpled sheet of paper and latched the door. The envelope read - State bank of India. As he held the envelope in his trembling hands, he felt a shiver within him. On the corner table beside him, was his wife’s photograph in a wooden frame.

Although inter-caste, his marriage was well accepted by everyone. Initially though, his mother was apprehensive of marrying her only son to a south Indian girl. “She comes from a different background. Her culture, traditions, everything is so different from ours. How will she adjust? How will we adjust? Think practically, Vinod!”

His family was a respectable family- rich, well educated, and liberal. His grandfather was a landlord, while his father started a textile business after independence. He had two elder sisters, Bharati and Vandita, who were married after completing their studies. Vinod was sent to Calcutta to pursue a degree in textile management. It was there he met Lata- the simple, naïve daughter of his professor, who was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English. The regular formal greetings developed into long conversations and acquaintance grew into friendship and then blossomed into love. Professor Sundaram, Lata’s father, was against the match. However, after much persuasion by Vinod and Lata, he agreed. The marriage was performed according to both north and south Indian rituals and customs. Both the families were happy, and to Vinod’s surprise, his mother forgot all her frets and worries and welcomed her son’s bride with open arms.

The sound of the doorbell brought Vinod to the present. He peeped through the door eye and saw Nikhil, his teenaged son standing, his clothes wet with perspiration and his face glowing after a game of basketball. He opened the door and his son stormed in excitedly. His team had won the tournament’s final match, a feat after a dry span of many years. Nikhil hugged his father, handed him a cup and a certificate and went on excitedly describing the events. “Oh, Papa, you really missed it. We were losing by a point, and then I gave it a shot; and you know what, it was a three-pointer! And just then, the referee blew the whistle.” Nikhil embraced his father and seated him on his favourite rocking chair. As he went on relating the events of the victorious morning, Vinod’s eyes fell on the envelope.

It had to wait. Vinod could not afford to react to it before Nikhil. The letter was the answer to his son’s dreams. Nikhil had always excelled in his studies, sports and games and co-curricular activities. He represented the state for national tournaments. After completing school, he wanted to pursue basketball as his career. He even won a 50% scholarship and an invite from a basketball league in the USA. And Vinod had also been making all efforts to see his son fulfil his dreams.

After completing his studies, Vinod joined his father’s business, which was natural as he was the only son. He vividly remembers that fateful day. His father had finally gained possession of the land where their factory was located. A puja was scheduled, followed by a dinner for friends and relatives to celebrate the occasion. Their house was a hustle of activities that day. The servants were running around here and there, acting on the instructions of their masters. The décor, flowers, puja samagri, sweets, lemonade, and other eatables, everything was in place. Nikhil, then twelve years old, was running around excitedly with his cousins. While Lata was organizing the Hawan kund, the cook informed her that they had run out of LPG cylinder. She told Vinod, who called the local distributor. However, the distributor said that it would take an hour or two to deliver a cylinder. Just then, Vinita, Lata’s friend, told them that she had a spare one at her place. It was arranged that Vinod’s father will drive Lata and Vinita to the latter’s place to collect it and they left. Vinod was instructing the florist when he was told that there was a call for him. He answered the call, while selecting the flowers. The words spoken at the other end were catastrophic. The entire gathering rushed to the City Hospital. The car had had an accident, and only Vinita survived. An auspicious day had turned into a disastrous one. The next few days were spent performing the last rites of Vinod’s father and Lata.

“Papa, you are crying? Is everything alright?” Nikhil’s voice spurred Vinod, who realized that memories had brought tears in his eyes. “Nothing dear, go, take a wash, and then we will have lunch together. Amma has prepared kadhi for you. You like it, don’t you?” During lunch, Nikhil continued describing the day and the victory. “Saab, I found this on the floor,” the servant handed Vinod the letter from the bank. Nikhil went to his room soon after finishing his lunch. Alone by himself, Vinod tore opened the envelope.

His mother wasn’t able to cope with the loss of her husband, and lost her health over the years. Vinod consulted many specialists, but to no avail. His business ran into loss due to the neglect. Eventually, during spring, the previous year, she succumbed to her illness. And today, his son needed the money to go abroad, study, and achieve his dreams.

‘Dear Sir, we regret to inform you we cannot accept your loan application on account of lack of sufficient security. We thank you for showing interest in our services.’

Vinod’s world fell apart! What will he do now? How will he fund Nikhil’s studies abroad? Vinod applied for a loan, hopeful that he will get it. But now, to his bad fortune, everything seemed to be over. What will he tell his son? Is he not capable enough to fulfil his only child’s most coveted dreams?

He went to Nikhil’s room. The peace and bliss shone on his sleeping son’s face. His innocence and charm made the loan rejection unbearable. Nikhil was very young, when Lata died in the accident. Yet, he showed great maturity during the crisis. Initially, Vinod felt that his son was not able to cope with his mother’s loss, and hence the silence. He began spending time with him so that he would talk and share his suppressed feelings. However, he realized that Nikhil had taken things in his stride and silence was his way of dealing with his grief. Over the years, Nikhil grew into a responsible and sensible boy.

Vinod didn’t know how to make ends meet. Business was paying enough to bring bread and butter home and meet other necessities of life. He wrote to the state and national boards of basketball and the reply had been long awaited. He even wrote to Nikhil’s school asking for their help and they too expressed their regrets.

Vinod’s dilemma grew with each passing day. Nikhil’s final examinations were round the corner, which meant that there were fewer days to make the arrangements. Having to take the final resort, Vinod went to a property dealer. After Nikhil would leave, all he would require was a small apartment. His house had been the object of greed for most dealers, owing to its posh location and huge area. He had taken the decision. He will sell his house.

“40 lakhs, that’s all I can offer,” Suri, the property dealer, stated in between chewing betel leaves and tobacco.

“But, but… you offered a higher value when u came to me!” mumbled Vinod.

“You see, sir, the prices have fallen down! When we spoke last, things were different. This is real estate!” exclaimed Suri.

“Give me a few days to think over it,” said Vinod as he stammered out of the office.

The next day, Nikhil had his first examination. “Papa, I am confident that I will do well. After all, I have you with me.” The beam of pride in his eyes shook Vinod, ‘I have to do something, and soon!’ He began consulting lawyers and other agents. He called his sisters.

“I am sorry, but I see no other way. You will receive your share, I assure you.”

“Vinod, is that all you regard and trust me? Isn’t Nikhil anyone to me? I don’t need any money. The house is yours. Pitaaji and you made it. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Bharati’s, his elder sister, words gave him some relief.

The amount had to be sent within the next three weeks and Nikhil was to leave after a month of finishing his exams. With the help of his friend, Vinod managed to find a suitable apartment, which was not far from where he lived. It was arranged that he would get the money in instalments; the first one will pay for Nikhil’s fees. All the stamp paper work was under process. Multi-storeyed apartments were to be built on that site.

Vinod knew that only cherished memories would remain with him now. Each corner of their home had a story to tell. Each part of it reminded him of unforgettable moments. Their house was built on the ancient structure. After Vinod joined his father in his business, they got the house renovated without changing the structure. Few things were kept unchanged like the old money-vault and the aangan. These were reminisces of the name and power of their fathers and grandfathers.

And how will he bid a goodbye to his son, his sole companion? The thought of staying away from him gnawed him every moment. Life was so different and today, all seemed hollow and lost. At nights, all by himself, he would lie awake thinking of all possible words he would say while seeing off his son, all the advices he will give, all the learnings of his own experiences that he will share. However, he knew that his tongue would fail him that day. He was aware that his eyes would betray him and pour all his feelings in front of Nikhil. The mere thought scared him and he knew that the sight would break him completely. Yet, he needed to be strong. After all, Nikhil was going to live and achieve his dreams.

Finally, the day arrived. All the paperwork was complete and just needed to be submitted to Suri. He had promised to give the first instalment immediately. The redness of the first ray of dawn that morning appeared to hint at the decisive events destined for the day. Nikhil woke up early, had his breakfast and was sitting in the balcony solving the crossword puzzle in the daily paper. Vinod looked over at his son. Nostalgia came over him. Soon, Nikhil would go. Vinod tried to collect his thoughts. “Nikhil, I am going out for an important work. I might get late. Take your lunch on time,” Vinod stumbled on the doorstep, dropping all the papers.

“Papa, how long will you take? And what are those papers?” Nikhil asked while helping his father collect them.

“Son, these are some important papers. I will try to return soon.”

“I will wait for you,” Nikhil returned to his crosswords.

Vinod checked the time and hurried with the papers and documents. Closing the gate, he looked towards his house. It needed whitewashing, yet it looked as beautiful and cosy as ever. Soon, it will no longer be his. There was a yearning look in his eyes, his lips quivered. He turned towards his car quickly. He couldn’t let his emotions fail him before his son. He had to accept the fact, sooner or later.

“Welcome, Sharma ji, welcome,” Suri exclaimed looking up from his mobile phone. “Saxena Sahab will also be here soon. He is looking forward to buying your property. A well-known businessman that he is, he owns a chain of restaurants across the state. A nice man to deal with.”

“Oh, so he is ready to buy the property? Is he willing to raise the price a little more?” Vinod asked expectantly.

“What are you saying, Sharma ji? The price I quoted is the best in the market. Trust me.”

Vinod knew that all he could do at this time was agree to Suri’s terms. After all, since when did beggars become choosers? Destiny dictates and you follow. That’s what they call life, isn’t it?

“Here comes Saxena sahab! Welcome Sir ji, welcome. I was just telling Sharma ji about you!”
“Hello, Mr Sharma. How are you doing?” There was something in Mr. Saxena’s eyes that unnerved Vinod. The look in his eyes was not that of a prospective buyer. Mr Saxena fell silent and the wait filled Vinod with agony. He wanted it to get over as soon as possible.

“Saxena sahab, I have prepared all the papers. All you need to do is sign them,” Suri broke the piercing silence.

“Mr Sharma, I need to speak to you. I consulted my lawyers, and I am afraid, I cannot buy your property. It’s an ancestral property! There are too many legal hassles involved, you see.”

Vinod stared on, aghast, shattered, stunned. Was he expecting this?

Suri looked on, quiet with the loss of a big business opportunity.

“Sir, how can you say this? There are absolutely no legal issues there. I assure you. I will take care of everything. I need the money, Sir; I need it for my son! Please, Sir!” Vinod felt ashamed at his own voice. He was begging!

“Mr Sharma, I understand. However, you need to understand my point as well. It’s a completely lost deal for me.” Mr Saxena put forward his point, his tone dry and cold.

“How can I explain, Mr Saxena, how much I need the money? This is my last resort! Please don’t snatch it from me. It’s for my son, for his dreams, for his life!” Vinod broke down.

“I completely sympathise with you, Mr Sharma. But tell me, why do you want to sell your house? What makes you do this? What does your son do?” This time, his voice seemed more human. Vinod saw a ray of hope.

“My only son, Nikhil, will pass his school this term. He is a basketball player and he wants to join a basketball league in the US. To fund him, the only resort I have is to sell my house. Please, Mr Saxena, don’t back out at this hour! You are my….”

“Are you Nikhil Sharma’s father?” Mr Saxena cut him short.

Vinod nodded, being too miserable to realize the familiarity in Mr Saxena’s voice.

“Mr Sharma, you need not worry at all now! Here, look at this!” He handed out a neatly folded paper to Vinod, who held it in his rickety hands. It was some list, handwritten, but Vinod’s eyes were too moist to make sense of the alphabets put together. He wiped his eyes, put on his glasses, and read the list. Somewhere in the middle, he read his son’s name, or may be it was somebody else’s.

“These are the players of the national basketball team. I have to attend a press conference, where these will be announced. Your son has been selected as the Vice Captain of the team. We have sent a confirmation by post.”

Vinod was speechless. Was it true or was he dreaming? He rubbed his eyes in disbelief and gaped at the paper in his hand. A hand touched his shoulder, “Yes, Mr Sharma, it is true!” Mr Saxena seemed to have read his thoughts.

His world had changed. Suddenly, it seemed easier to breathe! His faith in the Supreme was restored. Now, he will live his life with his son!
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4 Responses
  1. ani_aset Says:

    hey that was really awesome...kept me being not that keen of a reader..was really write good stuff..and the story was really gr8 :)
    all the best hoe to see more

  2. Well I am not qualified to be a critique I appreciate your effort for writing the stuff. you know the basic concept of drama is conflict. And conflicts give pace to stories. The setting was nice, you were successful in characterization, that’s something very important but you lost it in the middle….it became a fairy tale. Work on the intro-a little bit of editing and a different ending………… offence meant, don’t take it otherwise…..

  3. ashkd Says:

    Sensitive! artistic!! lovely!!! :-)

  4. Neha Says:

    @ ashkd - Thanks :)