At the end of the day I hasten in fear lest thy gate to be shut; but I find that yet there is time. - Tagore
Prarthana had grasped hard the side iron bars of the auto-rickshaw sitting in the lap of her mother and was pressing her tiny legs on the shoulders of the driver who was taking her and her parents through the narrow lanes of the city after their visit to the city goddess. The driver with a broad smile on his face seemed to enjoy the tender touch. In their apartment, built between the railway line and the university quarters for the teachers, things were kept unkempt; they were not staying there for many days in a row, only during the vacation period when they came to their city, always traveling to be able to meet their kith and kin within a limited time. And then the vacation period would come to an end at once as if they had come only yesterday.
Although well-constructed and considered one of the best in the locality, it was like a tent for these two travelers during their visits to this city. They were like those persons who used to visit places on a tourist visa. Unlike a tourist who will never visit this city in the rainy, hot, humid and a sweaty summer season, they used to come every year in their summer break to feel their roots in their own native land. It was, for them, a journey of necessity and renewal – a journey for maintaining the human and spiritual ties with their birth place.
Prarthana’s eyes were big almonds, put well on a gifted face for an instant beam and then a mouse teeth would never miss its timing to peep through from inside. Her face was round, with a dimple always sitting at the chin; she had soft and silky hair though thin at the crown rising into a broad round forehead. She had a small, slightly flattened nose which the elderly women of the apartment building were trying to pay utmost attention by making it go up a little more, by a few millimeters at least, by putting some mustard oil and pressing the bridge and the tip of the nose up. They thought it should have gone well with her lively individuality. They were hopeful when they felt its tenderness.
They told Devika about their hope in their endeavor and praised her nose and added without fail that Prarthana had inherited this feature from her father’s family. A nose has always been an important thing on one’s face. It is the Eiffel Tower of a face. And if the person is a female of a community bound by tradition, then her future entirely depends on her nose! Her neck also at times fell under the critical lens of those elderly women with long experience. They are found everywhere. They always have been on the universal censor board of any society, traditional or modern.
But the neck is considered not so important today as it was during the time of the Egyptian queens, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. Those women often left with the comment that Prarthana had inherited her neck from her father and not from you. They said, “Devika you look very royal with your neck that makes your head high.” They felt relieved as Prarthana grew up and the neck looked bigger and better. They touched the tip of her nose and said, “Where is your flattened nose now?” Inwardly, they felt satisfied with their mission of making it up by applying pure mustard oil on it every day. Only her Dadi, her grandmother, never felt anxious about it. She loved Prarthana as she was, and praised her for her intelligence. She was her first playmate, her boon companion - agreeable, caring and devoted to her every demand.
Prarthana’s round arms were like her father’s. She looked like a cherub Kanishk. Like him she looked healthy. She was a miniature Kanishk minus a well-trimmed moustache. Her grip of thumb and index finger was firm. Her movements quick. Her knees showed signs of crawling all over the apartment and into the corridor in attempts to enter through the inviting doors of her Dadi’s apartment. Clothes pulled from the chairs, tablecloths from the dining table, shoes, slippers gathered from their places, utensils from the kitchen beside her own toys were scattered all over.
In their evening gatherings, the elderly women from the neighboring apartments would never fail to start their ceremony of comparison and contrast. Their parameters of comparison and contrast were taken from all the famous rich and royal ladies as their ultimate models of perfection: the wives of the well-known business moghuls and the kings, ancient and modern and the lesser known and the not-very-well-known daughters and wives of the local businessmen and post-Privy-purse Maharajas.
After the housemaid would be gone hurriedly by closing the side door with a quaking thud, within five minutes the entire house will be pulled down on the floor by Prarthana. Her Dadi advised Devika to keep things beyond Prarthana’s reach. Pens, pencils, empty bottles, books, magazines and newspapers made her instantly hungry and since their tastes were unfamiliar unlike her baby milk or banana or apple, she tried them for a long time to test their taste until Devika cried in alarm and tried to wash her mouth and tiny hands. Water attracted her more probably because it was ever ready to play with her. The bathroom door always invited her with an open smile, and the clinks in the kitchen invited her too, sometimes making her wince back with its weird twitching and hissing sounds coming out of pans and pots, giving her sneezes and red eyes and a running nose. She would immediately take up a retreating position intending to be rescued from such an unidentified bother.
Devika and Kanishk were not bothered about many things in their lives until the birth of Prarthana. Their long previous years of search for anchoring at a safe destination before that were mostly spent in moving; drifting from one place to another, from one position to another, from one person to another, from one grid to another. Their vessel was without an anchor. They did not think of a kind of stability which comes with the arrival of children in one’s life. They had been busy only for the purpose of living a life for their own achievements, like coming back at last to their own homeland ending up teaching at a university, then living a retired life, calm but eventful with their own quiet creative endeavors.
That was all. They did not know how to look forward to a life of a different kind. Kanishk tried to live by borrowing. Emotions are hard to borrow, and if they are they cannot be lived with sincerity and openness. He was slowly beginning to realize it. His heart was in shambles like a pauper who did not have any fears for the future. Devika was neither a borrower nor a lender. She was, relatively, in a better position. But she needed some fresh flowers to decorate her life-vase.
The interior decorator visited their residence. With her tiny hands, and tender touch - she decorated their lives.