Hiraeth (Part 1)

Updated: Oct 2, 2018


I glanced at the signboard again, just to be doubly sure, after all it had been many years since I had last visited. 'Mehta Niwaas' - beamed the bright, yellow board. Yes, I was at the right place.

Just as I began making my way through the beautiful front lawn towards the door, it started drizzling. I hurried along as I couldn't risk my Italian leather shoes getting drenched. I rang the bell and waited. The rain had gathered strength by now. The full moon was partially eclipsed by dark clouds.

I was greeted at the door by a nine year old in a pretty polka dotted frock.

"Yes?", she asked inquisitively.

"Is Mrs. Mehta at home? I am a...uh...an old friend of hers...in town for a few days.. thought of catching up."

"Mum is out for groceries and should be back in a while."

"Do you mind if I wait for her inside?", I said pointing back at the pouring rain.

The girl opened the door for me, looking half suspiciously and half amused. Can't blame her, I was after all, dressed in a three piece suit.

As I walked into the house, I couldn't help notice how familiar everything looked. From the curtains to the sofa upholstery, very little had changed in all these years!

"I'm sorry I did not get your name", said the little one politely.

"Oh! I'm sorry. I never introduced myself. I'm Vineet Singh. Your mum and I went to college together...."

"Before she dropped out, that is", we both muttered. And then we chuckled in unison.

"I'm Rose", she said extending her little hand towards me.

"Rose Mehta. Quite a peculiar name. I like it!", I quipped.

I was thinking of avoiding the handshake, when as luck would have it, the power went out.

"Not again!", grumbled Rose as she proceeded moving towards the kitchen.

"Uncle, I'll be back with a candle. Make yourself comfortable, please."

Within a minute, she was back. One hand holding the candle, the other guarding the flame.

"Mum never talks about her college days. Its good that you are here. I hope you have some juicy incidents to share."

"Actually I do have a lot to tell", I said as I sat back to recollect memories from bygone days. I was lost in thought and the silence in our conversation was interspersed with the occasional rumbling of the thunder.

I finally opened my mouth. "You have your mother's eyes. Small eyes which light up when you talk", I said looking intently at her face through the candle's flame nestled between us. "Wide eyed when you talk, but small otherwise. Get it?", I said excitedly.

"Your mother was such a brat back in the day. She was a storm trapped in the human form. Boisterous, always full of life....." My sentence was cut short by a heedless Rose dashing for the cupboard. Clearly, she had taken after her mother.

She returned clutching an old album. "Can you spot yourself in this ?"

Of course, I could. There I was standing next to Shikha. Colgate smiles for a Kodak moment - it was our batch photo.

As Rose turned the album pages, she momentarily grazed my hand. "Your hands are so cold", she remarked. "So are my feet. This inclement weather is to blame!", I blurted out, as I quickly withdrew my hands away.

"I should be leaving now...its getting late. I'll meet Shikha some other time."

I was looking for a reason to excuse myself, when Rose came up with one herself.

"You are getting late for a meeting? Is that why you are suited up?"

"Yes yes.... You are such a smart kid. Now you be good!"

I planted a warm kiss on her forehead and proceeded to brave the rain once again, as the door slammed shut behind me.

But, I did not go back. Instead I turned round the corner and took shelter under the overhanging eaves, from where I could peep inside the window. The pretty girl was lost in flipping through the album pictures once again. I smiled to myself.

It was not long before a car entered the driveway. The driver not wearing a seat belt, a Kishore Kumar song playing in the car - it was unmistakably her.

She got out of the car and rushed to the door. "Has she not aged a day?", I thought to myself.

"Mommy! Guess who came to meet you today?", asked Rose as she welcomingly hugged her mother.

"Don't tell me it was the newspaper wallah again. I just cleared his dues last week."

"No, no. It was Vineet Uncle. Your friend from college. Such a sweet person!"

I watched through the misty window, as Shikha crashed down heavily upon the sofa. The purse slipping out of her hand. Her face pale as a corpse.

"That's not possible!", mumbled the mother. "How is it possible?"

The rain continued beating down heavily upon the roof and the winds carried with it the sweet smell of jasmines. I walked back a few paces to get a clearer view of the roof, to get a stronger scent of the flowers.

By now I was soaking wet, but I did not mind. How could I mind?

The night, the rain, the roof, the flowers - everything felt the same as that day - the day engraved in my heart.

This very spot etched indelibly in my mind.

After all, one never forgets the spot where one falls to death, isn't it?

Click here to read the second part of the story.

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