It was a bright sunny morning. “8:00am” said the bedside clock of Mr.Sharma. His tiny eyes opened once again to the empty room in which he had spent 10 years now, since the demise of his beloved wife. She was 65 years old, when she had a terrible car accident and died on the spot. His world came shattering down like a card palace. What wasleft for him in life then? The only person who had been faithful to him, who had loved him with all her heart since their youth, was gone. In a matter of moments.With great difficulty, he got out of bed and took hold of his glasses and walking stick. His usually heavy heart felt happy today. He could feel some lightness, like a heavy weight being slowly removed from his heart.
He started walking towards the garden of his 200 sq yard broken home in Karol Bagh. It was more than a century old, built by his great grandfather, way before India’s Independence. Somewhere around 1890s.
What a splendid house it was when it was newly constructed. A typical Indian house, with everything constructed according vastu shastra. The 2 floor building consisted of spacious rooms and narrow corridors which also served as balconies on each side. And the pride of the household were the gardens! As one passed through the huge iron gate into the driveway of “Sharma Niwas”, one could see a huge stretch of green grass on both left and right. The garden always smelled lovely. The trees and plants were watered several times everyday, and so the wonderful fragrance of wet mud was like a refreshing therapy for the visitors and also the household members. During winters, most of the time of the inhabitants of the house was spent in the garden, with swings for the kids on the left and English style tea tables for the adults on the right, days never seemed to be boring.
This house had witnessed so much. More than a century, with five generations. Earlier, around 4 families lived together in this house. Mr. Sharma’s great grandfather had four sons, and so they all lived together with their children. Disputes did take place from time to time, but never did any of them think of leaving. The same was true of the next generation. But soon after a dispute among the brothers of the next generation, the household fell apart. Mr. Sharma’s father was the only one who stayed. His two elder brothers moved out of the house with their share in the property. Sharma Niwas began losing it’s charm since that day in early 1935.
Though the household servants still continued to work and did not let the beautiful house be left uncared for. They too had been replaced by their next generation, who was equally hardworking. The gardens still were the pride of the few Sharmas left in Sharma Niwas.
But now, on this August day in 2010, everything had changed. The yellow paint of the house had turned into faint white. The plants had all died. The grass was not fresh green anymore and was covered every inch with pale yellow leaves. Every room except that of Mr. Sharma’s, was covered with spider webs and dust. Half the rooms were locked. And the outer walls of the building were stained with thin long black marks, which seemed like black tears rolling down the cheeks of Sharma Niwas.
The old man walked up to the main gate and stood with support of the iron bars. His eyes were fixed in the direction of the bus stand just opposite his house. His face lit up with a smile as he watched a little school boy running around in circles aimlessly, and an older looking girl running behind him. How well he could see himself in that boy. How well he could picture himself back in 1940, when he was a tiny little mischevious boy of 8. His two elder sisters would always be on his left and right, each one holding his hands, in order to protect him from anything and everything.
How carefree were those days when his family was always there to cater to his every need. Money was never an issue, for his grandfather was a highly reputed official in British India. Even after his retirement, the pension that he earned was more than enough for the happy survival of the few members that lived in Sharma Niwas then.
Childhood was a happy affair. But those 8 year old mischevious eyes could not envision what terrible times fate had in store for him!
Mr. Sharma’s father, Suraj had joined the 26th Indian Infantry Division in 1942, when the world war II was at its peak. The British were recruiting men from their colonies all over the world to join the army. Casualities were high and so more and more people were required to fill in the space. Mr. Sharma’s grandfather had been seriously ill since almost an year now and everyone in the household knew that death could strike at any moment. In such a situation, Suraj did not want to take leave of his father, whom he so dearly loved. The young man’s father had often expressed his sorrow at the loss of his other two sons. How he tried all means to solve the family dispute between the two elder brothers, but their wives were adamant and firm at their decision. The two families left Sharma Niwas for good, paying visits only once or twice an year.
Suraj’s heart ached at the thought of leaving his father on his death bed. He did not want the old man to die, being deprived of the love of his sons. He knew for a fact that his elder brothers would not turn up anytime soon. He wanted to tell his father how much he loved him, he wanted to tell him that he was not deprived of love.
The father too wanted to see his son’s face during the last few days of his life. But a week before death was going to pay a visit, Suraj had to leave.
Since Suraj was the son of a retired Subedar Major of British Indian army, he was expected to continue his faithful service in place of his father, to the nation in the hour of need. And to this call of duty, even his father could not refuse, for he was a man of high morals and values.
With tears in his eyes, he was ready to bid his son goodbye. Not being able to take his eyes off from youg man in uniform, he made a gesture, asking him to come closer. Suraj reached for the old man’s hand and brought his ears close to his face.
“Love our homeland, love our house, love our people as I have loved. Come back with victory shining on your face, and make sure our sharma Niwas always stands young and bright.”
14 years old Mr. Sharma, was standing close to them, intently listening, as his grandfather spoke his last words. He knew what he meant. He knew that his last words were not just for his son, but also for his grandson.
Two months later, when the news of Suraj’s death during war, reached the household, Mr. Sharma knew that his grandfather’s message was now to be his aim in life. The fourteen year old boy had a heavy load of responisibilty on his shoulders now.
The few members left in Sharma Niwas now, were Mr. Sharma, his mother, his two elder sisters and his grandmother. Only one male member in the family, and not a single one working!
Mr. Sharma’s mother was an uneducated housewife and his sisters were both engaged to eligible bachelors. They were supposed to be getting married in a few months. All the family savings had to be used for the same. The mother’s heart shrank at the thought of the coming days. How were they to survive after the savings were used up in the weddings ceremonies?
She would cry all night long and grew weaker by the day. She appeared older than her age. Her face lost all the youthful charm and deep dark circles appeared below her eyes. Mr. Sharma was very worried about his mother. On one hand he had to think of some way to earn and on the other, he had to get back his mother from the depression and weakness she was going through.
One day when he came back from school, he saw his mother sitting by the window pane, lost in thoughts with tears rolling down her eyes. She held a few 100 rupee notes in her hand, which were soaking all her tears. Mr. Sharma stood there, looking at her intently. He knew that now was the time to say something.
He went close to her and hugged her shivering body.
“Ma, please do not cry. Your son is still alive. Look into my eyes. Don’t you see a reflection of papa in my face? He has not gone away. He has asked me to take care of you and our house. Yes he did. In my dream last night. Do not worry ma. These are not the last few notes left for our survival. I shall earn for us. Do not worry.”
His mother kissed his forehead and smiled at him. She could not apprehend the seriousness behind the words of her 14 years old son. She had considered them as mere childish thoughts. It was only the next morning when she heard the sound of the main gate opening at 5 am in the morning, that she realized how truthful had been the little boy’s words.
The school bus came speeding up to the bus stand and stopped with a loud horn. Mr. Sharma was woken up from his thoughts. He bent down with a hand on his back, to pick up the newspaper. Every morning, the sight of the thick, folded, newspaper was a reminder of the days of hardship. And yet those days seemed to be “good and old”. For the pain that the loneliness of the present day caused, was nothing in comparison to the hardships of those long gone days.
That day, 67 years ago, he had started working as a newspaper delivery boy. He would get up every morning at 4.30 am, deliver newspapers, went to school, worked at a local teashop in the evening, came back home and studied till late in the night. He began earning enough to provide 2 square meals a day for himself and the two other ladies in the house. His mother began doing household chores in a few neighbourhood houses. That provided for his school fees.
All this hardwork was too much for a 14 years old boy. He wished to play, enjoy with classmates, and lead a carefree life. The only boy of the family who had been pampered so much, was now left on his own. Ever since the family had shrunk to 4, he thought he would never have anything to look forward to that would make him happy. He thought he would have nothing to look forward to after getting up early every morning.
But the strength he needed was provided to him on the very first day when he began work. At around 6.30 am he would deliver newspaper at the Singh’s. And at exactly that time every morning, the Kapoor’s youngest daughter Sonal would be standing in the Balcony, with her glass of milk, waiting impatiently for the newspaper. She was 13 years old then, and a keen reader. One could always find her sitting in the balcony early morning, reading the newspaper. In the evenings too, she was found reading a novel or her textbooks.
The girl was beautiful beyond imagination. She had light brown eyes , a fair complexion and sharp features. Her hair were slightly curly and reached her shoulders.
When young Mr. Sharma saw her for the first time, he could not take his eyes off her face. She stood there waiting for him to throw the newspaper into the balcony. But the boy was dumbstruck. “Hey you! Hurry up!”, she said. The voice awakened his soul and he came back to his senses. Even after she had gone away, he kept staring at the spot where she had stood. He did not know what happened to him that day, but since then, he had a happy reason to look forward to after waking up early every morning.
Though still, extent of his suffering cannot be explained merely by words. Each day was a struggle to survive. Each day was a struggle to breathe in the world. Days went by without any progress. Months went by, without any improvement in the financial status. He was far away from the knowledge of any luxuries now. All he could think of was what his grandfather had said to his father. He had to work hard to be able to keep up to his wishes. He had to bring Sharma Niwas back to life.
Often while lying in bed, he would recall the stories that his grandfather told him about his life and family. From all of that, he had created a picture in his mind of the times when Sharma Niwas was as lively as a summer fair. He himself had never known of the joys of a joint family. But the stories he heard of his dead relatives, made him long for that life.
Once while telling him about the many mischiefs of the kids in the household, his granfather said to him, “I have experienced sheer bliss in the joint family life. But alas, you my child could not enjoy the love of your uncles, aunts and cousins. My heart longed to play with my grandchildren. I imagined them to be atleast 5 in number. But look what fate had in store for me. I just have you now. My child, we cannot change the past, but I really wish that you and your father experience the abundant joys of children and grandchildren, of many family members, all living under one roof.”
How ironical was life! The house that once seemed like a summer fair, seemed nothing more than a haunted house.
Mr. Sharma’s grandmother passed away when he was sixteen. Life had been sailing on an infinite river. The bank where his sufferings would end was completely out of sight. His mother had been growing weaker by the day and survived not more than two more years.
On the day when his class 12 result came out, the boy came running back home to announce the news that he had topped with a 95%. He knew in his heart that now the boat of their sufferings was nearing the shore. But the sight of his mother lying in the bed, left him agape. She was shivering all over and was breathing with difficulty. Days of physical work had her body weak to the core. She had fainted many time while working, but she never said anything to her son, in fear of increasing the pressure of survival on him. She knew that they could not afford a doctor or medical treatmeant. And so she decided to silently approach the day of her death.
And that day was ironically the happiest day till date in Mr. Sharma’s life.
His happiness disappeared in a moment, and tears rolled down his cheeks. He bent down near his mother and that is when she spoke her last words, in a low voice. “Only you can bring an end to the suffering of Sharma Niwas. The bright future awaits you. Do not give up. We all will be watching you from above. Do not give up. Bring this house back to life. Do not give up, son. Do not give up.”
After reading the newspaper, Mr. Sharma sat at a corner of the bed and began staring at the photograph on the wall. It seemed like just yesterday when he had fallen in love with the beautiful girl standing next to him, in her wedding attire. It seemed like just yesterday when he had put sindoor on her forehead. It seemed like just yesterday when he got up early morning, just wishing to catch a glance of her.
After his mother’s death, the young boy was left alone in the huge house. He used just one room for himself and locked the rest. All his days were used up in working to earn his own living, and working harder to improve the prospects for a better life.
He had his goal clear in his mind. Studies had never been an obstacle and he was ready to as much harwork as possible. But to live the family life that he had in mind, he had to get married. And he knew exactly who he wanted to marry.
When they were children, Sonal and Mr. Sharma did not realize that with every passing day, they were falling in love. Everyday after throwing up the newapaper, he would stand for ten minutes at the same spot, looking at her reading the newspaper, sitting at the tea table in the balcony. Initially, she did not pay any attention to him and did not even spare him another glance.
It was an everyday ritual now. But with each passing day, both were growing up, both were getting in touch with life, learning new things. But the realization of love did not come easily.
Three years went by. Sonal was now 16 and Mr. Sharma was 17. They had never had any conversation yet. Only a regular exchange of glances.
It was July, and Mr. Sharma had fallen seriously ill. For fifteen days he could not go to work. For the meantime, someone else was employed in his place.
On the first day when the substitute came, Sonal was shocked to see a different face. The man threw the newspaper into the balcony and cycled away. She kept standing there for another ten minutes, thinking about the boy who had been delivering newspaper since three years. It was then that she realized the fact that she had not been totally ignorant of his presence afterall. Somewhere, she too looked forward to seeing him every morning. And his absence made her accept that fact.
For fifteen days she eagerly waited for him to turn up. But everyday that new face disappointed.
On the sixteenth day when he finally turned up, her face lit up with a huge smile. He was confused as to why this girl who had never spared him a glance, was smiling at him now!
She raised one hand and signalled him to wait. She went running inside the house, got a pen and paper and started writing something on it. Then she folded it and threw it at him.
“Where were you all these days? I was worried!”. The boy could not believe what he had just read! He was on cloud 9!
He took out a pen from his pocket and wrote at the other side of the paper, “I was ill. Could not turn up for work. I missed your beautiful face.”
She smiled back cheerfully at him after reading this, and went into the house as she blushed.
Mr. Sharma got up from the bed with some difficulty and walked up to the almirah. He took out a bundle of letters and placed them on the bed. With shivering old hands, he opened them one by one, reliving his youth as he read them.
A tear fell on each sheet of paper. The words began soaking his tears of loneliness. The soul of his beloved had departed ten years ago. Since then, everyday he read those letters, hoping to find her in those words. Hoping to relive those memories.
His wrinkled hands caressed the bed sheet and her beautiful face appeared before his eyes.
He then took a deep breathe, as if breathing in the air of those long gone days.
An exchange of letters and affectionate glances was regular now. Mr. Sharma was diving in a ocean of happiness. He did not have all the comforts of life, nor was he leading a comfortable life. Strong doses of hardwork were still required day and night. Sleep was to be given up for days. Final board exams were approaching and he knew his future depended on it. He could no way give up on the precious time he had. During all this, Sonal became his strength. Her letters, her words, her smile, inspired him to work even harder.
Though the hardwork paid off when he topped with 95%, but his world almost came to an end after his mother’s demise. He was left alone in the huge house and all he knew now was that he did not have to give up. He had to build his family and rebuild his life. And for that, he needed a life partner. And none other than Sonal could have been the perfect one for him.
In those days, most of the females were married at an early age. And he knew that as soon as Sonal turned 18, people would begin asking for her hand in marriage. Time was running out like sand gravels from the fist. He had to get a job and be presentable enough to ask her hand in marriage.
Sonal’s father, Mr. Amit Singh was a Political Science lecturer at Delhi University’s Hindu College. He was man of high morals and believed that education is the essence of life. His daughters were never deprived of any facility and were free to choose what subjects they wanted to study and how much they wanted to study. Sonal was the brightest among her three sisters.
She knew in her heart by now that she only wanted to marry Mr. Sharma. She had asked him all about his family during their few meetings and was glad to know that he was afterall not a lower caste fellow. Tragedies of life had stooped him to low jobs and he indeed belonged to a family with a rich cultural background.
She knew that he needed time to settle down and get a job after completing his studies and for that she needed to delay her marriage by declaring that she did not want to marry anytime soon. She did this on the pretext of studying further. Her father had no objections and he encouraged her to get into a good college.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sharma joined Hindu College, and was now Amit’s student. No doubt he was an excellent student and never failed to impress his teachers. He would always greet his teachers by touching their feet and respected them from all his heart. This was one thing that his grandfather had taught him. “A guru is God”, he said. “The one who imparts knowledge to you, should be worshipped by you.”
Mr. Sharma never forgot the values that his elders taught him. And as a result of it, he never failed to touch the hearts of people around him.
Very soon, he was a favourite of Amit and he took keen interest in knowing what the boy had planned for his future. They would often sit together over tea in the canteen and would talk for hours. Amit was touched by the boy’s heart melting tragic story. He knew that he would do something big in life. And in order to help him, he suggested him to sit for the civil services exam, since he had a good command over humanities subjects. The boy could not deny his master’s suggestion and agreed to begin the preparation under his guidance.
Time passed away quickly and soon Mr. Sharma had graduated. He now knew what he had to do.
Sonal was in her final year now and he decided to gather the courage and ask Mr. Amit for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
It was not the first time that he was visiting the Singhs. Amit had invited him for dinner a couple of times in order to introduce the young man to his family. But this visit was going to be much more formal and different in objective.
It was a Sunday evening, and the Singhs were having tea in their balcony when Mr. Sharma arrived, dressed handsomely in a formal suit. It was his father’s and he was certain that it would be lucky for him.
When Mr. Sharma annouced the purpose of his visit, to his surprise, Amit’s face lit up with a smile. He said, “It would be my pleasure to give my daughter’s hand in marriage to you. Had I not known you any better, I would have thought twice. But since we are well aquainted, I have no doubt in the fact that a hardworking and passionate person like you will be the perfect match for my daughter. I was indeed thinking on the same lines yestersday. And it is my good fate that you turned up with the same proposal today.”
Sonal was standing near her father and was blushing as her father spoke those words.
He then turned towards her and gave her hand in the young boy’s hand.
Sweets were served and talks about the wedding began.
The wedding took place some months later on an auspicious date announced by a priest. It was a family affair and not many people were invited since already there were supposed to be very few people from the groom’s side. Mr. Sharma’s sisters, brother in laws, and some far off aunts, uncles and cousins were invited for the wedding ceremonies. However, only 25 people turned up.
It was 12th August 1950. He knew that from this day on, everything was going to change. The loneliness of his life was going to come to an end. He wouldn’t have to live alone in the huge house any longer. He was ready to brighten up his own life and shower all his love and care over Sonal.
Since the wedding morning, his heart beat was racing. He had been envisioning this day since so many years. To be precise, He has indeed been envisioning Sonal in her wedding attire. He could not correctly come to imagine how beautiful the girl would look as a bride. But the images that he had formed in his mind in all these years, appeared before his eyes as he sat on the horse.
The Indian wedding traditions have a touch of royalty to it. Even a middle class groom feels like a prince as he mounts the horse. And the beautifully dressed bride feels like a princess, with the Solah Shringar (16 important elements for an Indian bride).
The auspicious hour came closer, and the baraat (wedding procession) of the groom came to a halt as it reached the bride’s house. The courtyard was
decorated with red tents and streamers. The groom was escorted to the centre of the courtyard where the priest was sitting in front of the sacred
fire. The wait for the bride to enter seemed never ending. Then finally, the breathtaking beautiful girl was escorted to the courtyard. Mr. Sharma’s eyes fell upon her and to his disappointment he realized that the wait was still longer. As the
custom, the bride’s face was veiled. He could only see her face when they were left alone in the
room at night.
The usual wedding customs were followed, the priest chanted the mantras ( Indian wedding
prayers), the bride and groom took seven pheras (moving seven times around the sacred fire), the groom put sindoor (red powder that symbolises the
married status of an Indian woman) on her forehead, and the mangalsutra (auspicious
necklace that symbolises the married status of an Indian woman) around her neck.
After the wedding ceremonies were over, the bride left for her husband’s home in a palanquin.
Her heart beat raced and she smiled under the veil, thinking about her new life and home.
The palanquin of the princess stopped in the driveway, and was laid down between the gardens.
That night Sharma Niwas looked like a little palace. Colorful lights were twinking like stars all over the outer walls and trees. The interior of the house had been lit up with candles and the married couple’s room had been decorated with red and white roses.
As Sonal walked in the corridors of her new house, toward her new room, she felt as if she had been transformed into a very different person. She recalled Mr. Sharma’s words. “I’m glad I won’t have to live alone anymore. And with you, my love, I am certain that my dreams of reviving the beauty of this house won’t fail.”
His dreams were her own now.She was a married woman now. This house was her own. This house was her dream. This house was her palace and she was heading towards her Prince.
The long wait finally came to an end. Amidst the candles and roses, he unveiled her. And in her beautiful young face, he saw the face of the child he had fallen in love with 7 years ago.
Mr. Sharma took his stick and began walking out of the room. He headed slowly towards the stairs at the end of the corridor. He took each step carefully and with a lot of effort, he managed to reach the first floor.
He hadn’t been to here since a few years now. After his wife’s death, he got all other rooms locked, and spent all his time in his own room.
The corridor was dark and filled with dusty layers. Cow webs hung ironically like decorations.
He reached a room at the end of the corridor. The door had a dusty iron lock. The upper part of the door had two small glasses fitted into it , on left and right. They too were not transparent anymore. A thick layer of dust had been spread onto them.
He lifted his right hand and rubbed the glass clean.
His tiny eyes peeped through the glass and he saw that everything was just the same. The furniture was still intact. The only difference was that the inhabitants of the room had been replaced by spiders, rats, insects and dust.
But his eyes slowly turned away from the real scenario, and he began envisioning the past. The nurse, the old ladies of the neighbourhood, the painful cries of the mother and then of the child. And the young Mr. Sharma, wiping away tears of joy as he held his first baby boy in his arms.
The first child of the family, Vijay was born in this room, four years after their wedding. The couple decided against having a child soon after marriage. They were themselves young and barely managed to earn their own living.
Mr. Sharma had started working ws a school teacher and gave private tuitions to children in the evening. Sonal, however was still in her final year of graduation. After she graduated, she too started working as a school teacher and together, they were earning enough for themselves.
But Mr. Sharma had bigger dreams. He was not satisfied being a mere school teacher. His aims were higher. He had not deviated from the path that Sonal’s father had shown him. Day and night he worked hard, preparing for the civil services exam. Leaving no stone unturned, he gave his first attempt when he was 23.
His dedication and hardwork led him to the happy ending of the difficult path he had chosen. His dream of serving as an IPS officer (Indian Police Service) came true. He was appointed the Deputy Commissioner of Police in the west district of Delhi.
He had a goverment job in his hand, a huge house in his name, and a wife whom he loved. He could finally call himself well settled and was ready to have a family. All the dreams he had dreamt for his future were coming true, one by one.
After the birth of their first child, they had two more sons within the next four years. By the time Mr. Sharma was 30, he was father to three sons.
His family was complete now. Sharma Niwas was springing back to life. With their handsome salaries and savings, the couple managed to get the house painted and renovated. A gardener and cook were hired for a full time service.
Whatever the house might have gone through in all those years, but the laughs and cries of the little children brought it back to life in no time.
Vijay, Akshay and Aman grew together in Sharma Niwas. Their parents, with dreams of seeing them as gentlemen someday, left no void in fulfilling their children’s needs. Mr. Sharma had indeed worked hard for the post of an officer, so that he could give a comfortable life to his children.
He wished for them to be educated, reputed and well settled in life. And for that, just as he had planned his own life, he began planning and working for them too.
He admitted them to highly reputed private schools, joined a sports club with them, provided for private tuitions and taught them himself too.
Sonal proved to be the perfect mother and spoke to them about values and morals in life. Both of them played the role of parents and friends at the same time.
Everything was perfectly planned. But, well, life doesn’t always work as we plan it.
The three children turned out to be complete spoilt brats. Inspite of all the efforts that the parents made, their grades were never upto the mark. Not that they were not intelligent. They just didn’t want to study. Till the time they were in lower classes, they scored average and managed to pass. But by the time they were in class 8, their interests began to shift.
They all knew what wrongs the other was doing. But none protested. They all supported each other. Mr. Sharma was under the illusion that he was bringing up his sons well. But what they were doing in school and after school was unknown to him. It was only when their results were out, that they were scolded by Mr. Sharma. But everytime they had the same excuse. “We promise to do well next time.”
The father’s heart would melt and he never refused to give them another chance. Sonal would often tell him not to be too liberal with them. But Mr. Sharma would always look back and think about his own sufferings when he was fourteen years old. He had always wanted his sons to live a happy youth, and for the same reason, his heart would not allow him to be harsh with them. He would forgive every mistake, thinking that they were still children and would become sensible soon.
But they went on drowning. The elder one was first to drop out of school. When he was class in 9, Mr. Sharma found him smoking at a nearby paan shop while coming back from work. His heart sank at the sight, for he had never thought that his little son could start smoking at such a young age. On asking his neighbourhood friends, he got to know that Vijay was an addict to smoking. Later, packets of cigarettes were also found in his room. Mr. Sharma knew that he had gone way too ahead this time. Still, he decided to speak to him calmly.
After dinner one night, he summoned him to the garden and began talking to him. Vijay seemed not interested and kept looking at his watch, for it was time for another smoke on the terrace. Not being able to make him confess about his habit of smoking, Mr. Sharma posed the question directly. “Son, do you smoke?”
Vijay. “Haha. What kind of a question is that dad?”
Mr. Sharma. “I’m asking you seriously son. Tell me truthfully. I won’t scold you. We can discuss it calmly.”
Vijay. “Discuss? What do we need to discuss? It is my life. I don’t need to inform you as to what I’m doing!”
Mr. Sharma. “But son you are just fourteen years old. It’s not .. ”
Vijay. “Listen dad. Don’t interfere with my life. Let me go now.”
He stood up and started walking back.Mr. Sharma had lost his temper by now. Vijay’s words had pierced his heart and he shouted, “alright then. If it’s your life, earn for your own living. I’m not here to give you pocket money so that you can burn my hard earned money and your future into smoke.”
Vijay ran into the house without saying a word.
That night Mr. Sharma could not sleep. Vijay’s words were still echoing in his head. He wondered where he had made a mistake in bringing him up. He had tears in his eyes after a long long time. It was then that he realized that life wasn’t going to be easy afterall. Bringing up his children wasn’t going to be easy. Even after having all the wealth that he dreamt of, he was not happy in his heart. It was hard for him to accept that this ignorant, rude and selfish young boy was his own son. His dreams of seeing him as a successful educated gentleman further brokedown when he failed in his class 10 exams and declared that he did not wish to study anymore.Sonal and Mr. Sharma tried their best to convince him and enlighten him about the importance of education in life. But no word could convince Vijay. He was firm in his decision and said that he was ready to do anything, but education was not his cup of tea.
Vijay dropped out of school but did not stay at home. As soon as he would get up – and that would be quite late – he would walk straight out of the house and roam around with friends all day long. He got no pocket money now, but a few convincing words spoken to Sonal would melt her heart and she would give some money to him. The rest of his needs were fulfilled by friends, from whom he borrowed money.
He spent his days playing cards, smoking, drinking and sleeping till late. Mr. Sharma saw very little of him now. By the time Vijay got up, he was off to work and when he returned home, Vijay was not there.
Vijay had was not concerned as to what was happening back home. He was not in his senses most of the times. But his father was so deeply concerned for him that he spent all his time thinking about him and his future. He could not leave him all by himself. He wanted to do something for him. Anything. He began looking for alternatives. He wanted to engage him into some kind of work so that he didn’t spend his time drinking and smoking.
After a lot of thinking and discussions with Sonal, they decided that they would rent a small plot of land in the neighbourhood and set up a grocery shop which Vijay would handle. All the arrangements were made and Vijay too agreed, hoping to earn some money so that he could pay off his debts.
After the setting up of the grocery shop, his routine did change, but his habits didn’t. He continued the drinking and card business in the shop itself. Customers who came were shocked to see the plight of the shop. Nothing was organized and the sales were not upto the mark. But Vijay was satisfied with whatever he earned. He was glad that he was able to earn a few rupees even without studying. But never did he acknowledge the fact that all that he was earning was because of his father who paid for the rent and stocks in the shop.
Mr. Sharma would visit the shop from time to time to see how Vijay was doing. Tears welled up in his eyes every time he saw a cigarette and drink in his hands. Without uttering a word he would walk away and tried to speak about it to him at the dinner table. But just like he had answered back rudely an year ago, he did the same now. And whenever such an argument took place, Mr. Sharma would stroll in the gardens till late in the night. His own childhood flashed in front of his eyes. The long days of hard work and suffering flashed in front of his eyes. The sleepless nights spent studying for a better future, flashed in front of his eyes. Mr. Sharma began looking weak and older than his age. All his time was spent lost in these thoughts.
And during all this, he completely lost track of his other two sons. Never in his dreams had he imagined that one of his other sons too would be heading on the same road as his elder brother.
Akshay and Aman were in class 8 and class 10 by now. The younger one, Akshay, was doing well in studies but Aman was on the verge of failing. Sonal spent all her free time teaching them, and kept a strict watch on their academic performance. But Aman showed no improvement. With great difficulty he managed to pass his class 10 exams. But his academic career too came to an end when he failed his class 11 exams and declared that he too did not wish to study further. When being scolded and beaten up, he argued that his elder brother too had taken this decision and now he could not be denied the same.
Waves of tension and sadness passed through Sharma Niwas every moment of the day. Mr. Sharma had lost all hopes for Vijay and Aman. He would look at his youngest son Akshay and wonder what result he was going to throw back at him in future. He now spent all his time talking to Akshay and making him realize that what his elder brothers were doing with their lives was wrong. He made him understand how difficult life gets as we grow older and it shouldn’t be treated as trash. He told him that true happiness could be achieved only after suffering and hard work. He inspired him to study and work for an even prosperous and happy life. He promised that he would stand by him at every moment and told him that he only expected his children to be truthful to him. Even if he gets attracted to trying alcohol and drugs, he would help him stay away from them. Unlike his brothers, he expected him to be polite and atleast listen to what he had to say.
Aman had been a spectator to all that had been happening in the house of late. He understood that only if his brothers had listened to their father, the situation could have been better. He had observed how rudely they had behaved with the aging man. On the other hand, Mr. Sharma had never given up on them. Many times he even tried to tell his sons about how much he had suffered in life to build up all that he had today. But whenever he started speaking about it at the dinner table, Vijay and Aman would pretend to be sleepy and rushed into their rooms. It was Akshay alone who would sit back even after finishing dinner and listened intently to what his father had to say.
Aman too joined his elder brother in the grocery shop and they both engaged in drinking, smoking and playing cards all day. Mr. Sharma was growing weaker by the day and Sonal would weep while lying in bed till late. Akshay’s innocent face was their only comfort and hope now.
Days, months and years passed by. Nothing changed. The residents of Sharma Niwas were constantly engaged in arguments and fights. Mr. Sharma knew that it was too late now and it was impossible to change certain things. Yet his heart won’t let him give up on his spoilt sons. He would try to talk to them about work and life, but they always seemed not interested. Sonal too tried to talk to them politely, but nothing changed their attitude towards their parents. Moreover, they started beating up Akshay when he didn’t obey them and they secretly tried to make him drink and smoke. But the youngest one never got trapped in their words.
When Akshay was in his final year at school, Mr. Sharma and Sonal took extra care of him. As soon as Mr. Sharma returned from work, he sat down with Akshay and helped him with his studies. The father and son enjoyed this time together. Mr. Sharma would tell him about how he had studied and managed to score well when he was in class 12. Akshay would get really inspired by his father, and resolved to score even better than his father did. By the end of the school year, as exams were approaching, he began locking himself up in his room, so that his drunken elder brothers wouldn’t bother him with their nonsense talks.
The phase of hardwork ended soon, and after his exams, Mr. Sharma took a few days off from work and took him out of town for a short trip. The father and son spent great time together and discussed their future plans. Akshay had told him that he was expecting to score above 95% and that he wished to pursue a degree in English literature. Mr. Sharma had tears of joy in his eyes, when he realized that his dream of seeing his son successful was going to come true. His hard work had not gone waste after all. He had atleast one son who was a reflection of his young self. His hope in the betterment of life had been restored completely and he looked forward to spending his time everyday with his youngest son.
Akshay’s result was out soon and he scored a 96%. ”Now that’s like my son! This score calls for a huge party”, announced Mr. Sharma. Ever since his sons had started going to school, he had been looking forward to the day when they would make him proud by scoring even better than him in class 12 board exams. This dream of his had been broken twice by Vijay and Aman when they dropped out of school. But Akshay did not disappoint him.
That look of satisfaction on Akshay’s face, reminded Mr. Sharma of the day when his own result was out and he came running back home to announce the news to his mother, only to find her on her death bed. He did not want this day of achievement in his son’s life to go uncelebrated.
Sharma Niwas was beautifully decorated like a bride that evening. It looked no less than a house where a grand wedding celebration was going to be held. Lights were put on, strings of flowers were put on, tables were arranged outside in the gardens and candles were lit up on each table. A buffet was set up and drinks were served.
The whole neighbourhood turned up. Mr. Sharma’s colleagues, friends and relatives turned up. Sonal’s parents, relatives and cousins were invited too.
The house seemed to be rejoicing that evening!
Sonal dressed up in her best saree and Mr. Sharma dressed up in his brand new black suit that he bought specially for the occassion that afternoon.
And Akshay, the star of the evening, turned up dressed like a gentleman, in a white shirt and black trousers. Mr. Sharma couldn’t stop smiling when he looked at him and he asked, ”How am I looking dad?”. To which he replied, ”You look like my son.”
And then he hugged him tight and told him that he was very proud of him.
The two walked out into the gardens where Mr. Sharma called out to the guests to seek their attention. He then introduced Akshay and raised a toast, telling them about his achievment. Everyone clapped and cheered and came forward to congratulate him and wish him success for the future.
While he was getting all the attention, Akshay had a tensed look on his face. His mind was wandering somewhere else. Mr. Sharma had been observing him for quite sometime now, and he noticed that the boy was looking here and there every second.
”Are you waiting for someone son?”, he asked.
Akshay. ”Yes dad. I haven’t seen Vijay and Aman bhaiya (brother) since afternoon. Where are they?”
Mr. Sharma. ”I don’t know. and you don’t bother. Enjoy the party. It’s all for you!”
Akshay. ”No dad. I can’t enjoy without them. They must be present here on my big day. I must go and call them. I think I know where they could be.”
Mr. Sharma. ”No Akshay. Please don’t go. I’ll send a servant to look for them.”
Akshya. ”They wouldn’t come if you send someone else. I need to go myself. I must.”
And he hurried out of the house. Mr. Sharma shouted to his back, ”Come back soon son.” ”Don’t worry dad. I’ll just be back with my brothers.”, Akshay said as he turned around and waved at him. Mr. Sharma stood at the same place for a while, looking into space, even after he had gone. It was only when Sonal put her hand on his shoulder, that Mr. Sharma came back to his senses. ”What are you looking at?”, she said. ”Nothing. Akshay has gone out to look for Vijay and Aman. He’ll be back soon.”, he said.
But Akshay never came back alive.
After half an hour, Vijay and Aman were standing at the huge iron gate of Sharm Niwas. With them were a few other people.
Mr. Sharma ran up to them when he couldn’t spot Akshay standing with them. He looked at his two sons and saw tears streaming down their eyes. ”Where is Akshay? Where is my son?”, he screamed. The crowd made way for Mr. Sharma, and as they parted, he saw Akshay’s body lying on the ground. His white shirt was stained with blood all over. His face was hardly recognizable. His eyes were shut. He was dead. Akshay was dead.
Mr. Sharma broke down and hugged the blood stained body of his son. A chill ran through everyone gathered at Sharma Niwas. Rejoicing had turned into mourning within a minute. There were only screams and cries to be heard now.
After Akshay had left the house half an hour back, he went running down the road to the grocery shop where his brothers worked. It was supposed to be a five minutes walk, but Akshay was in such a hurry that he chose not the walk, but to run. He reached the shop within no time, but found himself standing on the opposite side of the road.
The road was busy that Sunday evening. In a hurry to cross the road, he started taking quick steps, and simultaneously called out to his brothers sitting in the shop. ”Vijay bhaiya! Aman bhaiya”, he shouted.
As soon as they looked up to see who was calling out, a truck came rushing down the road and hit the boy.
Within seconds, a huge crowd gathered around the spot. Vijay and Aman ran to where the boy was lying. Vijay held the bleeding boy in his arms and put his head on his chest. He was still breathing. A doctor from a nearby hospital was called for. But before the doctor could reach the spot, Akshay started breathing heavily, trying to say something to Vijay.
”Please tell dad that I’m sorry”. These were the last words of the star of the evening.
When the doctor reached, the boy had already stopped breathing.
”He is no more”, said the doctor.
Walking on the first floor, the old man reached Akshay’s room. On the door was hanging a small cardboard, full of dust. Mr. Sharma rubbed the dust off, and the words ”We miss you son” became visible. Tears started flowing down the wrinkled face of the old man. Memories haunted him again. These weren’t the sweet memories of the long gone days. These were the bitter ones. Memories of the days after his beloved son’s death. It seemed as if after Akshay’s death, Mr. Sharma never experienced happiness again. The short span of happiness that he worked hard for all his life had been take away from him in a snap. He wished for nothing more in life now.
For more than a month after the demise of his son, Mr. Sharma locked himself up in his room, coming out only for meals. Infact, the few days that followed, he hadn’t even had water, let alone any meals. In the darkness of the room, he sat weeping, screaming, praying and cursing his destiny. His only hope had been taken away from him. He felt like there was nothing more to live for. Many times he thought of committing suicide. But then Sonal’s face would appear in front of his eyes, and he would be reminded that the first love of his life needed him more than anything else.
After mourning for months, Mr. Sharma resumed his daily routine and started working again. A lot had changed in those days. No sounds could be heard from Sharma Niwas now. There were only painful waves of silence and silent weeping. None of the four members spoke to each other of anything else other than that of important issues.
Another two years passed by. Vijay turned 24 and Aman turned 22 that year. Every day had been the same in Sharma Niwas. Though everything seemed to be the same from outside, strategies were being made by the two elder sons. And then one day, a storm struck the household and things were never the same again.
Vijay and Aman had grown up now and the little income they had from the grocery shop wasn’t enough for them. They hardly managed to earn enough for the regular supply of drinks and smokes. They often lost a lot of money in card games and then had to borrow money from friends. So, almost always, the two were in debt to someone or the other.
One day, one of their lenders spoke to them about something that seemed to the brothers a very fine idea. The lender told them that their house, Sharma Niwas, was now worth a huge sum of money and could be sold off at a very high rate. They could demand Mr. Sharma their share of the property by selling it off and buying a smaller plot of land at some other place in Delhi. And the amount that would be saved, could be used as an investment in starting up a joint business. Moreover, there were many companies looking for land in Karol Bagh to construct hotels. They could speak to a property dealer and ask him to arrange a deal. That way, they could have some share in the hotel business too, by investing the money there itself.
When Vijay and Aman heard this suggestion, their eyes sparkled with joy and excitement.
Vijay. ”That is indeed quite an amazing paln! We should surely talk to the old man about this. The property is indeed ours now and we both can use it the way we want.”
Aman. ”Ofcourse. And anyways, the house is too old fashioned and we don’t even need such a huge house. It would be better if we sell it off and buy an apartment somewhere.”
That very day, the two brothers brought up the issue on the dinner table.
Vijay. ”Umm. Dad. We need to talk to you about something.”
Mr. Sharma. ”Yes?”
Aman. ”Dad, we don’t have a steady income and our needs are increasing everyday. and then we’ll be getting married in a few years. So .. we need .. umm .. a better source of income than the grocery shop.”
Vijay. ”Aman is right dad. We should start thinking about our future.”
Mr. Sharma was shocked. The two spoilt brats were talking to him politely and interestedly. This must have happened after some 10 years! Mr. Sharma could already smell something fishy. But what they were going to say, he had never imagined in his wildest dreams!
Mr. Sharma. ”So are you planning to get back to studies? It’s never too late you know!”
The two brothers exchanged surprised glances. ”Where is this conversation heading?”, they thought.
Vijay whispered to Aman, ”We need to get straight to the point. This old head won’t understand if we talk politely.”
Aman. ”Dad. We met a property dealer today. And he is offering a huge amount for the sale of our house. There’s a prominent businessman who has many hotels in India, and he has agreed to set up another branch here. We could earn a lot. We could invest in the hotel business, start up another business and buy a small apartment elsewhere. We anyways don’t need such a huge house. It’s a waste anyway.”
Mr. Sharma’s heart stopped beating. His body went numb the moment he heard these words. A tear fell down from Sonal’s eyes. She looked at Mr. Sharma, who seemed to have lost his senses. Without a second thought, she got up from her chair and slapped Aman across his face.
”Have you lost your mind? Do you even know what you’re talking about?”, she said.
Mr. Sharma was shaken by the sound of the slap and regained his senses.
Vijay. ”What is wrong in what he said mom? This house is our property anyways. We well decide what has to be done with it. And if we both agree, what is your problem?”
Mr. Sharma. ”You senseless pig! You moron! YOU cannot be my own son. You cannot be my own blood.”
He dragged the two boys by their arms and led them to the temple room of the house. The room had statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and on the walls were hanging paintings and photographs of the ancestors of the house.
”Open your eyes wide and look! Look at him. My great grandfather. HE built this house. HE built Sharma Niwas. Look at his sons, here. .. My grandfather and his brothers. And their children. My father, his brothers, his cousins, .. here, look. My mother. My uncle and aunt .. My cousins. Look here, my sisters. .. Do you both even know the number of people who spent their lives in this house? The number of people who breathed their last breath in this house? The number of people who worked hard to keep this house alive? Do you even know the amount of pain I went through to give a new life to this house? The hard work I did, just so that this house could witness generations and generations of care takers like those that my ancestors had been? Do you know what the last words of my grandfather were? Do you know what he told my father when he left for the war? Do you know what words my mother spoke to me when she was on her death bed? Do you know of the dreams that I dreamt for our house? For our future family? Do you know that I spoke of all those dreams to your mother when we were not even married? And She, yes, SHE, she told me that my grandfather’s and my mother’s last wish wouldn’t go unlived. She told me that she would stand by me as we give a new life to the house that had been inhabited by me alone for years. She told me that I would see our sons growing in this house, and that together, we’ll see our daughter-in-laws stepping into this house and that together, we’ll see our grandchildren growing in this house. .. Look at her. You see how she is crying? And let me tell you, she is not just crying because of the words you just spoke. She is crying because in a matter of moments you crushed not just our dreams, but also proved us failures. Yes. Failures in bringing up our sons. Failures in being able to nurture our dream. And why just our dreams? In a matter of moments you crushed the dreams and hopes of all these people who once lived in this house. You crushed the dreams and hopes of my grandfather, my father, my mother, my sisters, my wife and above all, MINE. And you both have no realization of these facts. And I am not to be blamed for this. Because I wasn’t the one who left you darkness. It was your own mind and heart that you shut on all those days when I spoke to you of my dreams and of my life, and of all the suffering I went through, of all the sleepless nights I went through in a corner of this house, of all the hard work I did, just so that my sons don’t have to live a lonely childhood. And mark my words, today, it’s not just your mother who is weeping. It’s not just my heart that is weeping. But all these souls departed to heaven, who must be looking down at this moment, are weeping their hearts out. And YOU! YOU BOTH wish to sell off SHARMA NIWAS and build a hotel in its place? How could you even think of doing such a thing? How could you believe that you could prosper by doing so? How could you believe that you could prosper by crushing our dreams and receiving curses of all these departed souls?”
Mr. Sharma choked, coughed and fell down on the floor. Vijay and Aman left the room without saying a word. And the weeping Sonal, held Mr. Sharma in her arms and comforted him.
He looked up, swinging his head from left to right, looking at the paintings and photographs of his ancestors, and said, ”Forgive me. Forgive me. I seek forgiveness from all my heart. I have proved to be a failure in life. Forgive me for bringing up sons who have no respect for all you great men and women. Forgive me.”
And he wept all night in that room, seeking forgiveness from the Gods and his ancestors, who were no less than Gods to him.
That night, Vijay and Aman went on the terrace to drink and smoke. None said a word for a long time. They sat with a glass and smoke in their hands, looking up to the starry sky, contemplating over what had just happened. After some 20 minutes, Vijay spoke up.
”What the hell is wrong this is man! Why is he creating such an issue! It’s just a damn house.”, he said.
Aman. ”I don’t know. Maybe he is attached to it or something. But anyways, we are the heirs to this property. We can do whatever we wish to once they’re dead.”
Vijay. ”Absolutely. But brother, he isn’t dying anytime soon. He’s just .. what .. 50 years old?”
Aman. ”Maybe. But then we’ve got to think of something else. I can’t earn my living by running a damn grocery shop all my life!”
Vijay. ”Same here. This isn’t the life I wish for. And you know dad has so much money saved. The safe is filled with jewellery and cash. But he wouldn’t give a damn thing to us. To his own sons!”
Aman. ”Hold on. How do you know about the safe? You’re talking about the one in his room?”
Vijay. ”Yes. That’s the only one in the house. All the cash and jewellery is in there, including mom’s.”
Aman. ”Good Lord! And how much would that be?”
Vijay. ”Worth a lot. Though that’s not all. He’s obviously not stupid enough to keep all the money in the house. A lot of it is in the bank too. But yes, all the jewellery that they own is in the safe.”
Aman. ”But when did you see the safe opened? And how? He never lets anyone touch it!”
Vijay. ”Well, I was sleeping in his room the other day. Actually, I hadn’t fallen asleep. I was just lying down and then suddenly he entered the room, and I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. .. And then you know how the cupboard is just next to the bed? .. Luckily, my face was on that side and I didn’t have to move. I just slightly opened an eye and saw that he opened the cupboard, looked back to confirm that I was sleeping, and then quietly pulled out a wooden plank kind of a thing on the right side of the cupboard. You see, that’s a wooden cupboard. And the safe inside has no key to it. That’s the catch there. Once you pull out that little wooden plank, something shifts from underneath the safe, and then you can pull it out like a drawer.”
Aman. ”Oh my God! You’re a smart thing man! .. Well, now we know exactly what to do.”
Vijay. ”What do you mean? .. oh oh .. Wait .. You mean we’re going to steal all that money?”
Aman. ”Yes, and the jewellery too .. Tonight. They’re not even in their room. I’m sure he’s still lying on the temple room floor, crying like a baby. And mom obviously won’t leave his side. They’ll fall asleep in a few hours there itself. .. We won’t get a better chance. Come on!”
Vijay. ”But what are we going to do? He’ll obviously find out about it soon and then we’re so dead! He’s a damn police officer! We’re going straight in the lock-up then! I know he won’t tolerate our behaviour any longer!”
Aman. ”Like you care? And well, he won’t put us in the lock-up! We’re his sons. He wouldn’t want to be insulted in front of the whole police department. Besides, I have a plan.”
Vijay. ”What plan?”
Aman. ”We’ll run away.”
Vijay. ”Run away? Where to?”
Aman. ”Any damn place! We could go out of town! With all that cash and jewellery, we could have the time of our life! We could set up our own business, or invest the money somewhere. Who needs an educated head to be rich?”
Vijay. ”Umm .. Alright. Since I don’t see any other options!”
Aman. ”That’s like my brother! Finish up the drink and let’s go!”
That night, around 2:00 am, Vijay and Aman came down from the terrace. They walked to their room, tip toeing, and packed all their valuables in a bag and came down.
When they passed the temple room, they found the couple peacefully sleeping in each other’s arms. They knew this was their chance. Without a second thought, they entered the couple’s room, swept clean the safe, leaving only the paper work.
Without turning to take a look back at Sharma Niwas, they went away. They went away, leaving the aging couple on the floor of the temple room. They went away, leaving the house without an heir. They went away, without a look of regret on their faces. They went away. And they never came back.
The next morning at Sharma Niwas was more worse than anything that the couple could have imagined in their lives. The day of Akshay’s death seemed to be a little less painful, than what they felt when they found out that their two sons had eloped, with all the jewellery and cash in the house.
As soon as Mr. Sharma got up the next morning, he went straight to his room and found the safe in the room open and empty. A chill ran through his body. He could not have imagined that his own sons could have done such an act. The first thought that came to his mind was that he’d forgotten to lock the front door at night. He assumed that thieves would have come have in.
But the next thing he heard was Sonal shouting, ”Where are Vijay and Aman?” They check their room and found the cupboard empty, and almost none of their belongings could be found in their rooms.
They knew it then. There were no thieves in the house the other night. Infact, their sons had become thieves to their own house.
Mr. Sharma had a heart attack that day. He fell to the floor, crying in severe pain. For days he was admitted in the hospital. He did not speak a word for months after that event. Psychiatrists were called, who tried to make him speak up. Sonal sat in front of him, crying, hoping that her tears would make him come out of his depression and comfort her. But nothing. Nothing at all.
The 50 years old man was lying in a hospital bed, with severe fever, weakness and a pale body. He was no less than a dead body. He could think of nothing except his sons and his long gone family. He could see his life moving in front of his eyes. He could see himself as a little child, playing in the gardens of Sharma Niwas. He could see himself as a lonely young boy, working hard to survive. He could see himself falling in love with the love of his life. He could see himself holding his sons in his arms. He could see himself in his uniform. He could see himself as a proud father of three little boys. And then he could see his life turning to ashes. Step by step. It was like a huge fire burning him up. Sometimes that fire would extinguish, when Akshay appeared before his eyes. And then it would blaze again, reminding him of all his pains. And yet, he found himself standing in the middle of a wild fire, calling out to all three of his sons. Feeling sheer love for them. Even for Vijay and Aman. Even after all the disappointments they had given him. He felt love for them. He called out to them, while his body was burning, while he was in immense pain. But none of them turned back. He felt himself turning to ashes. And then they were all gone.
Meanwhile, Sonal had no clue as to what to do to get her husband back. With her sons gone, her only hope to live a happy life with, was her husband. But he was undergoing his own severe phase in life.
Mr. Sharma had been discharged from the hospital after a month. Yet, he made no progress. He still spent all his time lying in bed, and was fed a liquid diet.
Sonal spent all her time kneeling in front of God. She did not know how to make her husband come out of his depression. He hadn’t been to work, and his colleagues came to visit him often, but none could make him speak.
Then, one day, Mr. Sharma had a dream that woke him up from his sound sleep, and also from his depression. The dream was a sign that told him that Akshay would come back.
It was afternoon when he had this dream, and when Sonal came back from work, she found Mr. Sharma, sitting up in bed, shouting ”He’ll come back. He’ll come. Akshay will come back! Yes, he will.”
Sonal ran upto him and hugged him tightly, like a mother hugging her crying baby. She calmed him down and made sure that he spoke to her normally, just like he always did, before the boys left.
Mr. Sharma soon came back to his normal self, began speaking, eating properly and going to work. But nothing could lift the heavy weight from his heart. He wasn’t living anymore. He was just surviving now, doing the important things.
Sharma Niwas looked more and more dull each day. The house which once looked like a summer fair, looked like a haunted house now. Mr. Sharma dismissed the two servants, saying that he wished to see nobody around the house, except his wife. The couple came back from work every evening, tired, and with nothing but sadness on their faces. After all, what was there to be happy about? Everything they had was lost. The children they hoped to live and die with, were gone. And though they knew in their hearts that they would never come back, still, they both sat in the gardens for tea every evening, looking at the huge iron gate, hoping that they would hear the sound of it opening, and will see the faces of their sons again.
But each day, their hope shrank. Each evening the sky seemed darker. And each night, the sky seemed less starry. .. Days, months and years passed by. Nothing changed in that house. And nothing changed in the lives of its residents.
Soon, the year of Mr. Sharma’s retirement approached. It was 1987, and Mr. Sharma turned 58. On his last day at work, his colleagues gave him a farewell party. The senior officers joined them too. It was a small formal affair, and everyone showed their love for Mr. Sharma, by giving speeches about the kind of person he was, and by giving him gifts that he could preserve and keep as memories of his work life. As it was the custom, the retiring person’s family members come to take the aging person back to home. He had seen his seniors’ retirement parties, and how their young sons had come to the take them home. He had often observed the expression of satisfaction on the faces of the fathers and sons. They reflected the hopes for the future that they both had from each other. But Mr. Sharma wasn’t lucky enough to see that expression on the faces of his own sons. And that was the moment when his heart wept and pained, in memories of his sons, who would have come to take him back home.
At the end of that day, Mr. Sharma invited his close friends from work over dinner, and they all enjoyed a warm get together at Sharma Niwas. That evening was spent under a full moon and a starry sky, and the air seemed fresh, as each one of them shared stories from different phases of their lives. After a long time, a peaceful smile came over Mr. Sharma’s face and he sat without saying a word, just looking at the happy faces of his friends, and thinking that these people with whom he had spent so many memorable days of his life with, would be going away from him too. The days of his work life had come to an end too. And that marked the beginning of his old age.
After one eventful day, the lives of the couple came back to the point where it was. Sonal had retired too, and now all their time was spent at home and they were living on the savings and pension that they got. Once in a blue moon, they went out to visit their friends and Sonal’s parents.
Their lives seemed to have come to a standstill, with no source of joy, and all the reasons for feeling pain and sadness. But Mr. Sharma was always thankful to see Sonal’s face the first thing in the morning. That renewed his hope in love and faith in life. Years might have gone by, but the love they had for each other had not lessened even a bit. It had only grown. And it was growing more each day, even in their old age.
But the tests of life never come to an end. There is no limit to a person’s sufferings in life. It is like a storm that destroys everything when it passes by. And this storm never calms down. It passes by again, and again, as soon as things begin to settle again.
And so, after a few years, the storm that had taken away his Grandfather, his mother, and his sons, came back once again in Mr. Sharma’s life, and this time, it took away with itself, the person whom he loved the most. And the person who had loved him the most.
That Thursday morning, Sonal received a call from her father, asking her to join them for a short family trip. She agreed at once and went straight to tell Mr. Sharma about it. But she found him lying in bed, feeling weak. She wished that he could join them too and said that she would not go without him. But Mr. Sharma did not want her to give up on the little joys that were left in life now, and so he asked her to go without him.
And by the time it was evening, he regretted his decision and wished that he hadn’t let her go. The news of Sonal’s death in a car accident was received late in the afternoon. And that, was the end of all joys in Mr. Sharma’s life.
There comes a point in life when a person is deprived of all joys. There seems to be no way out, when the thunder storm passes by. It leaves a person drenched with sadness, tears, and drain all his hopes and strength. Mr. Sharma’s life had reached that point. When the 66 years old man, who lost his beloved, returned home after her cremation ceremony, he found himself standing at the point where he began the real journey of his life.
Standing at the front gate, he looked at the house, and then looked at his hands. The silence that had taken over Sharma Niwas, reminded him of the days when he was an 18 years old boy, who lived all alone in that house. Even 48 years later, everything seemed exactly the same. It was as if he had been transported back in time. But how he wished he could go back in time now! How he wished he could live those hopeful days again!
But the 66 years old wrinkled hands reminded him of all the times he had been through, and of how long he had come from those days of his lonely living at this very house. And now, it was time again for him to live that life again. But the difference now was that he had many more reasons to shed tears now and a much greater extent of pain in his heart. His body was becoming weak everyday, and he had nobody to depend on now.
He spent his days in one single room, sitting all day long, contemplating about life, and only getting up for his morning and evening strolls and meals that he had to cook for his own self now. Most of the times he ate only bread and sugar with milk. At other times he cooked rice and pulses. All the strength he was left with was used up in doing his daily tasks. The depression he was undergoing had separated him from the outside world and he did not wish to see anybody at all. His savings and pensions would have allowed him to employ more than one servants, but he did not wish to see anybody around his house now. If not his family members, he did not wish to see the trace of any human being in Sharma Niwas.
Days, months and years passed by. His body turned weaker, and his heart grew heavier. Old memories haunted him. Every little corner of the house had it’s own stories to reveal. Every little thing in the house had it’s own set of memories to revive.
Sitting on the terrace at night, Mr. Sharma would look at the dark black sky and the little silver dots that we call stars. He wondered what nature had to say through this wonder. ”Little lights in darkness”. The stars were like little lights of hope in darkness. He wondered whether that was the message they were trying to give to the world.
In his lonely life, the days seemed less bright and the nights had lots to say to him. The stars were like his companions. Every night he would go on the terrace to stroll after dinner, and he spoke to each one of them, and vented out his feelings and hopeless desires. In the stars, he saw the faces of his people who had departed from the Earth, long time ago. Among the million stars, he looked for the very special and the brightest ones. Like a little child looking for his lost parents in a crowd, he would look up to the sky and point out to some of the stars, and waved at them. And the moon, for him was his beloved. Shining the brightest, and the biggest source of light in the night sky.
Lost in memories of his childhood and youth, tears would fall down from his cheeks and the cool breezes would dry them up. The aging man might have appeared like a weak creature from outside, but he was a tough and strong man even after all the days of his hardships. He had never given up on life. Even after losing his precious ones, and watching his life turn to ashes, he never gave up. Even after losing all his hopes, he did not lose his faith in God. And for that reason, he was rewarded with little hopes of light.
12 years after Sonal’s death, the 78 years old Mr. Sharma, was woken up from sleep early morning by the sounds of trucks outside his house. By now, all his strength had been drained. He was hardly able to get up and barely managed to walk with the help of his walking stick.
It was a winter morning in December 2007. The old man rubbed his eyes as he walked out to the front gate to look what was happening. A little boy jumped out of a car and his mother ran after him to catch hold of his tiny hands.
A family was shifting into the house next to Sharma Niwas. The couple was young and their child was a four years old naughty boy, named Aryan. As soon as he caught a glimpse of Mr. Sharma standing at the gate, he ran upto him and hugged his right leg. Mr. Sharma caressed the little boy’s head with his hand, and a smile lit up his old barren face.
Before he could speak to the little boy, his mother came to take him back. Aryan was reluctant to go away from Mr. Sharma, and noticing the sudden liking of the boy towards the old man, she said, ”I think he likes you uncle.”
With the smile intact on his face, Mr. Sharma blessed both the mother and the child. She then told him that her name was Priya and she was shifting into the the house next to his, with her husband, whose name was Dhruv and her little boy. They were new in Delhi and she was looking forward to the company of her neighbours. Mr. Sharma invited them over tea in the evening and she readily agreed.
The small family came to Sharma Niwas that evening. Priya and Dhruv wondered why the house seemed uninhabited. Even five minutes after they knocked on the front door, nobody turned up.
They assumed that the family had gone out suddenly, and they turned back to leave. Just then, Mr. Sharma opened the door, and invited them in.
In a very weak voice he said, ”Sorry for keeping you waiting. My walking stick had fallen under the bed, and it took me time to find it. .. Please come in.”
Priya was shocked to see the plight of the house. The corridors were dark and there was just one light in Mr. Sharma’s room, where he invited them to sit. The couple exchanged suspicious glances. It was no less than sitting in a haunted house, in that dark December evening. Everything was still and quiet. No trace of any other human being in the house.
”Where is your family uncle?”, Priya asked.
Mr. Sharma looked at her for a while, and unable to say a word, he began crying like a little baby. Aryan had already climbed the bed and was now sitting on Mr. Sharma’s lap. As soon he noticed that he was crying, he hugged the old man, and asked in his gibberish baby voice, ”What happened daadu?”
”Oh, I’m sorry uncle. Aryan lost his grandfather last year. He was very attached to him. I think he’s assuming that you’re him.”, Dhruv said.
Mr. Sharma. ”I wish I was his grandfather.”
Priya. ”But where are your grand children uncle? And your wife?”
And then, after many years, Mr. Sharma spoke his heart out to someone. With tears in his eyes, and a choking weak voice, he told his life story to the young couple and the little boy, who was listening as if he understood each and every word.
By the time he ended, Priya and Dhruv had tears in their eyes. Dhruv got up from his chair and hugged the shivering old body of Mr. Sharma. ”Don’t worry uncle. We are there now. We are your family now. We’ll take care of you.”, he said. Mr. Sharma wiped off his tears, and held Dhruv’s hands in his and kissed them.
Mr. Sharma who had grown very weak in the last two years, now had someone to take care of him. His weary old body would not have to make efforts to cook for himself and clean his room. Priya visited him every morning and evening, bringing him his meals, dusting and cleaning his room from time to time. Aryan would come along with her everytime and was always reluctant to leave. In just a few days, the little boy and the old man had developed a very deep bond and the expression of satisfaction on their faces when they were together, was worth noticing!
The next three years passed quickly. A spark of light had entered his life, like the stars shining in the dark sky. Though that did not change the fact that his life was in darkness. The emptiness in his heart at the loss of his wife and sons was still intact. He still sat in the garden every evening, looking at the gate, hoping that his sons would come back. But every day his hope vanished. Every day his heart cried. In this darkness of his life, the neighbouring family was like rays of hopes that gave him the strength to live on and on.
And now, on this August day in 2010, as Mr. Sharma came down to the ground floor with much difficulty, he felt as if a heavy weight was being lifted from his heart. All the memories from every corner of the house, came flashing in front of his eyes, and as he reached the stairs that led to the garden, he fell down suddenly. The sun was shining bright, and the old man was feeling terribly weak. A little pain rose up in his heart and he grabbed his chest with his hand, writhing in pain. His eyes closed slowly from the intense brightness of the sun over his head. A blank sheet of white light appeared in front of his closed eyes. And on that white sheet, he saw glimpses of the life that he had lived in Sharma Niwas. 81 years of life dedicated to a single cause. A life dedicated to fulfilling the dreams of his grandather, his father and his mother. Of all the hopes of reviving the beauty of Sharma Niwas. Of the hopes of his ancestors to see Sharma Niwas springing with life forever. And the his own wishes to revive the joint family life in that house which was known as Sharma Niwas.
But alas, the man who had spent his life working hard to fulfill the dream of having a family to live with till his last breath, breathed his last few breaths, lying on the outdoor stairs of huge house, that once seemed like a summer fair. But he died all alone in that house, which now seemed like a haunted one.
At 10 am, the huge iron gate opened, and Aryan came running in with his mother, only to find the dead body of the old man lying on the stairs. And with the end of that day, the soul of a beautiful man had departed to heaven, where he reunited with the people he had loved so dearly. Except one. And that was Akshay. But how could he have found him in heaven? Akshay was kneeling down in front of Mr. Sharma’s dead body, in Sharma Niwas. And Priya was shocked to see the 7 years old boy hugging the dead body, and shedding tears at the death of the old man. With tears in her eyes, she thought to herself, ”A little child who does not even know the meaning of death, is crying as if his own life is coming to an end. I guess, that’s what happens when one loses his soulmate.”
An year later, the face of Sharma Niwas had changed completely. Three more floors were built in the house and everything had been designed according to the 21st century style, except the original ground floor and first floor. It did seem like a summer fair once again! Many years before his death, Mr. Sharma’s lawyer had visited him to talk about his will. Without disclosing a word about his sons, he told the lawyer that he wanted to sign his will in the name of an NGO that would set up an old-age home cum orphanage in Sharma Niwas. The concerned authorities then visited the old man and everything was discussed, in front of the lawyer and the will was signed.
Mr. Sharma’s and his ancestors’ dreams of keeping alive the spirit of family life in Sharma Niwas had been fulfilled. Children without parents and old people without children ( or old people with children like Vijay and Aman, who were no less than dead), served as family to each other.
On the head of the huge iron gate, was a board that read :
”HARSH NIWAS – THE HAPPY RESIDENCE. FOUNDED BY MR. DEEPAK SHARMA”
PS. This story is a tribute to the countless number of old people like Mr. Sharma who spend their lives working hard for their families, and for fulfilling certain dreams of their ancestors. They do not ask for too much. They only seek a little love and care. But the countless number of heartless people like Vijay and Aman, leave their aging parents for their own selfish motives and do not acknowledge what their parents did for them all through their lives. Should human beings be so heartless? Should we leave our parents without any love in their old age? Should we not provide them with the same amount of love that they showered on us through our growing years? Can we not provide them with shelter in our homes? Can we not show them a little love and care?
Look around yourself, you will find many people like Mr. Sharma. Don’t let them be on their own. Provide a shoulder for them to lean on in their old age. Talk to them about their life. About their dreams. About their hopes. You’ll find a spark of light in their eyes as they speak. You’ll find a spark of happiness in their voice. And then you’ll know exactly what I mean and what I wish to convey through this story. Thank you for reading. God Bless you!