Friday, May 04, 2018

For Mridula - A Short Story

'Daughter'
'Wife'
'Mother'
'Home-maker'

Writing each word on her old writing-pad evoked a memory.
'Nostalgia' She whispered to herself. Smile broke on her lips as she recalled the Greek origin of the word while looking at her hand. She was in mild pain but she picked up the pen and wrote

'Shalini?'

*****************
*****************

"Hi...Are you Prashant?"
"Yes...and you must be Shalini" He promptly responded and got up from his chair. He had a pleasant smile on his face. 
She was looking around. "Shall we take the sofas?" She asked

"Sure. I haven't ordered anything yet"
"Sorry! I am late. I was stuck in traffic. You know how bad it gets when it rains" She explained as she settled down in the comfortable sofas of Cafe Coffee Day. He simply nodded. 

"So how do you know Ruchika?"
"Well, she is a friend's friend and we met during a seminar last week." Prashant answered.

Ruchika was Shalini's room-mate and she was the one who had set them up for this blind date. Shalini agreed only because she got tired of Ruchika's constant pestering for three days. Her only condition was that she would choose the place. The new CCD was Shalini's favourite. She had often visited that outlet and hence it was an obvious choice for a blind date. Her love for the smell of coffee beans brought her to the cafe at-least twice every week. She would sit there for hours, sipping coffee, reading book or writing something. She even knew the entire staff of the cafe.

"Ok, and why did you agreed for this?" Shalini asked another question
"Well...Ruchika convinced me...convinced me a lot" Prashant answered and looked at Shalini for a reaction.
"That I am pretty sure of" Shalini responded with a straight face which soon broke into a laughter Prashant also managed to laugh with her. Some of his nervousness was gone.

He was completely relaxed by their fourth date, which was also in CCD.
"You have a beautiful name" Prashant remarked
"Shalini Bhonsle??"
"Just Shalini...Bhonsle is a distraction" Prashant quipped.
"Well, I am named after my great great great... grandmother. This name has been in the family for a very long time"
"That's lovely" Prashant said.
"It is!" Shalini said with a smile.
"You know what else is lovely?" Prashant asked
"What?"
"This scarf of yours. I am guessing blue is your favourite colour"
"Not really, but you are right I love this scarf. This is the first thing I bought for myself from my
first salary" Shalini said.
"It looks beautiful on you"
"It's silk!" Shalini proudly mentioned.

"So, what are you working on these days? Prashant asked sipping his Cappuccino.
"I am writing a piece on Gulzaar Sahab, it is due this week."
"When will you write about yourself?"
"Why? What do you want to know Mr. Prashant?"Shalini asked with a raised eyebrow. "Everything!"

Shalini worked as a column writer in a national daily. Writing was therapeutic for her. She could write on the smallest of the paper. Sight of a blank page urged her to write. One of the reason she liked Prashant was that he took interest in her writing. She considered him her true critic. He never minced his words, someone who would call a spade a spade. Shalini realized this when on their first trip, he proposed to her in the most romantic setting; watching sunrise at a beach; in the most unromantic way possible.

"Shalini I like you and I don't think I will find someone more compatible and more comfortable
than you...I don't know how to define love. I will be honest, I don't think about you all the time but
when I do, I feel happy. When you are not in town, I miss you as well. May be this is love, may be
it's not. I want to marry you. What are your thoughts on this?" Prashant was out of breath when he
finished his monologue.
"Yes!"
"Yes what?" Prashant was bundle of nerves.
"Yes, I want to marry you... you had me at 'I like you'" Shalini replied with a wide grin on her face.
She planted a kiss on Prashant's cheek.

They were married within two months. Convincing the parents was not difficult as both the families respected their children's choice. Convincing Ruchika to keep quiet wasn't. She was the one who danced the most at their wedding and made sure that everyone knew how she played cupid. She got quiet only after she met Arun, Prashant's cousin. They really hit it off. They were married in 6 months but Shalini and Prashant couldn't attend their wedding as Prashant had to go for a year long on-site project.

As Shalini went on a dependent visa, Prashant encouraged her to write. "Why don't you write a book?" Prashant suggested one day over breakfast. "I don't have a story yet!"
"Write your own story sweetheart"
"That story is still unfolding. I will start writing it when I hit 40. Let me enjoy this housewife phase"
"You will get bored, that's why I am suggesting this."
"Don't worry, I'll pick up some freelancing work over net"

She did pick up four writing assignments and delivered three of them. Though the work wasn't satisfying, it kept her busy. She was happier travelling to new places. In a year they covered a total of seven countries and Shalini shared travelogues on her blog. Her blog's popularity grew and she had a good reader base by the year end. She planned to make it a full time venture when they returned to India but something unplanned happened. They got pregnant.

"Are you ready to be a father?" Shalini asked the first question after ten minutes of silence.
"It's not about me, not only about me. You should be making this decision as it probably changes a lot of things for you than it does for me" Prashant responded after thinking for a minute or so. "I am making the decision, now tell me, are you ready to be a father?"
"Honestly, I don't think I will ever be 'ready' but when I think about it I will surely be happy becoming a father someday. It will be challenging but I think together we should be able manage. What do you think?"
Shalini smiled, kissed Prashant and announced "We are having this baby!"
They moved back to India after a month. Both set of parents were extremely happy when Shalini and Prashant broke the news to them. Both mothers took turn in helping them out in settling back and prepare for child birth. Shalini dropped the idea of her venture but wrote a few post on her blog. She stopped in the eighth month of pregnancy, when baby started kicking. Baby would kick in night keeping Shalini and Prashant awake and chatting.
"Prashant, this is the most beautiful chapter in my life's story" Shalini said while she was lying on the recliner couch.
"Really? Even better than our dating days" Prashant jokingly asked.
"Yes!"
"Oh, so where would you rank our dating days, wedding, honeymoon etc?" Prashant frowned 
"There is no ranking but don't worry there will be lots of pages for you in my book."

"I am not worried. I am sure that I will be mentioned before this baby" Prashant smiled but it didn't last.
"That's true but I can introduce you in the first chapter and can make the rest of the book only about the baby and me" Shalini quipped.
"...also we were supposed to choose the name for the baby by now, what about that Mister?"

Baby Mridula was born the next month. Prashant painted the room himself. First year was challenging as they expected but they had support from the families. It got easier after that. Mridula kept Shalini busy and Shalini tried her best to be a great mother. Mridula grew up a cheerful and obedient child, a bit like her mother and a bit like her father. Prashant's job kept him busy and Shalini encouraged him to be more ambitious and worry less about home. She was a confident home-maker by Mridula's 5th birthday.

Before Mridula's 6th birthday Shalini lost her father. She was devastated but she hid all her feelings and remained strong for her mother. It took them nearly six months to overcome the grief. Shalini asked her mother to move in with them but she refused. Shalini knew the reason. She wouldn't have either.

Next five years passed quickly, two of which were spent abroad as Prashant accepted a long term project. Mridula took some time to adjust but when the time came to return to India, she was least happy about it.
They bought a new house by the time Mridula was eleven. Shalini lost her mother the same year. It broke her. This time she didn't hide her emotions and Prashant was there for her. Shalini overcame the grief but she wasn't the same. Prashant knew he had to do something. 

"Shall we go for a vacation?" Prashant asked during dinner.
"Sure" Shalini was lost in her thoughts
"Dad, I will help you plan!" Mridula also knew her mother needed a break. 
They went to Goa for a five day trip, fifth day was Shalini's birthday.

"Happy birthday Mom!" Mridula shouted as the clock struck midnight. Prashant lit the candle on the cake which was discreetly brought in by Mridula. He kissed Shalini's forehead and said "Happy birthday sweetheart! Welcome to Forties club! Now you owe me that book you promised." 
"I don't know if I can Prashant..."
"Mom writes books?" Mridula asked
"She had planned to write one when she turned forty" Prashant answered while gulping a big piece of cake.
"Please Mom, Write it!" Mridula pleaded.
"I don't know Mridu whether I can write an entire book"
"Then write a short story! I would love to read."
'Don't know whether I can write at all' Shalini wanted to say but she only smiled.

When they got back Shalini felt better than before. She would smile and talk to Mridula and
Prashant for hours but when she was alone all she thought about was the finiteness of time and life. Prashant tried his best to keep her in good mood all the time. During lunch hours he would her call up from office.

"Done with your lunch?" was Shalini's first question as she picked up the phone. "Yes! Daal Tadka was amazing. What are you doing?" Prashant asked "I am slicing apples for apple-pie"
"Wow! That's awesome. I will be home early and please don't tell Mridu about the pie" "Ok, I won't. Now finish your work. Bye!" Shalini hung-up with a smile on her face

She picked up the knife and a fresh apple. Still thinking about Prashant's child like exuberance, she accidentally made a deep cut on her left palm. She was bleeding but surprisingly didn't feel much pain at that point of time. She washed her hand and put a band-aid strip over the cut. She again picked up the knife but wasn't able to hold apple in the injured hand
She got up and went to bedroom to find something to cover the left hand. She digged in her old purse to find a handkerchief but pulled out a larger piece of cloth. It was her blue scarf.
'Shall I use this?' she thought
'How can you use this?' her thoughts replied.

She kept the knife on bed and turned the purse upside down. There was a pen, a writing pad, few bills, coffee beans and her copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. There was no handkerchief. 
She got up and went to her dresser. She wrapped the blue scarf across her neck. 
The reflection looked familiar. 
She felt the cloth; it was silk. 
She smelt it; it was coffee. 
She knew what she had to do.
She put everything lying on bed back in her old purse and stepped out of the house. She drove down to the best coffee place she knew.

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. She tore the first page of writing pad, where she had scribbled something and started writing on the fresh page

For Mridula - A Short Story

'It was raining that day. I walked into Cafe Coffee Day and there he was. I went to him and asked


"Hi...Are you Prashant?"


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