“Where to? Phoenix mall? Raghuleela?” Mr. Buragohain was saying something about Inorbit being renovated and “it’s looking kickass!”, he interjected. Raghav squealed with gusto bobbing up and down in the backseat. The maroon coloured wagoner moved swiftly past the imposing figures of the state of the art housing society buildings. He held his head out of the window and grinned like a content puppy, feeling the bypassing tides of wind slapping his bulging cheeks.
“Get in, you thick-head!” a pair of petite but firm hands pulled him in and glowered at his sheepish face.
Shalin was 15, but her grim and sombre demeanour didn’t just project the juvenility that kids of her age conventionally possess. Her thoughtful and serious stature made her parents proud of their ‘mature’ girl but sometimes some serious concerns were raised when she preferred sticking with the grown-ups, stating her astute views in their matters, empathising as a counsellor would rather than mingling with the kids of her age just because they were ‘so-obnoxiously-silly’.
Then again, saner heads prevailed.
As if balancing out the maturity quotient, the 11 year old Raghav was an apt example of juvenile-ism at its peak. Naughty, clumsy, pouty Raghav was the cause of laughter as well as worry in the family. This relative difference in the maturity quotient, resulted in a pair of steadfastly aggressive incidents of being at loggerheads with each other in their small family. Unsanctioned, brutal, unlicensed scuffle could be witnessed any day at almost any time.
She smacked his head angrily and warned him with dangerous eyes. He scowled deeply and spat out some exclusive cuss words he picked up from a really cool guy in school. Shalin recoiled in disgust and eventually world war –III unfolded. Mrs. Buragohain sighed wearily and changed her mind of intruding, and wistfully waited till some war-injuries got inflicted on any one of them and hoped that the war would come to a pensive end. Mr. Buragohain glanced at the rear view mirror and mumbled something to his wife who responded bluntly and decided, nothing could be done till they realised on their own or some external factor triggers in.
But the 70 year old betel chewing elderly figure, jammed at a corner of the backseat, couldn’t take it anymore. She grabbed the frail figure of Raghav and tugged him out of Shalin’s clutches. With both of the armies apart, a lot of fuming at each other with murderous eyes happened. She pushed Raghav to one side of the backseat and left Shalin at her corner, placing herself at the LOC.
A cold silence descended.
Shalin started to look outside the window absorbing her anger as much as she could. Still raging inside, she placed her elbow on the window sill and dived into a brooding trance.
Rest of the evening proved to be quite eventful with another bout of fight breaking out between the duo, prompting mommy and daddy to make peace with staggering pile of ice-creams, video-games, and pizzas with different toppings. It was nearly dinner time when the car took an additional halt at the supermarket because Mrs. Buragohain had some extra stuff to pick up, much to the dismay of the rumbling stomachs. Both of the warring parties voted to stay back with Grandma while the parents went off tugging a shopping cart along.
Hanging his head out of the window of the stationed car idly, Raghav was getting supremely bored. Even picking at his solemn sister didn’t seem to be fun anymore. Shalin was ruffling a packet of chips for the few remnant crumbs while closely watching her grandma. She rumpled the packet and threw it out of the window which hit Raghav on its way out.
“Mm…er…mm…Aita… can I ask you something?” she edged closer to the front seat where Grandma was comfortably seated now.
Grandma seemed to be lost somewhere as it took another bout of throat clearing to get her back,
“You don’t really like being here, do you?” she asked critically.
“What? Why would you think that? No… of course I like it here,” Grandma sat up straight and looked at Shalin with mild amazement.
“It’s ok, I can understand. You are here just ‘cause mom and dad insisted upon you being here. Not their fault, you know, they love you. They want you to be with them, like I want them. And you love them enough to oblige them with your presence. But I know, you miss being home. You miss tottering around the paddy fields, tending the cattle, don’t you?” she concluded with a thoughtful face that made her grandma wonder.
“Now who will tell, this young lady is 15! Impressive theory, but no, I like being with you people. I like this place. You all are my family, aren’t you? I do miss being at home but doesn’t being with family solve the whole purpose of it, so I am here and I am happy,” she stated with a convincing note.
Shalin looked at her thoughtfully. With a deep sigh, she spoke,
“But don’t you miss him?” she asked solemnly.
Grandma wheeled around.
“Who?” She uttered.
“Gawd! Grandpa! Of course!” Shalin rolled her eyes at granny’s inability to get her point.
Grandma kept staring at her.
“Oh, don’t deny ok!”
Granny collected her senses and began to chortle lightly batting Shalin away with her hand.
“Aiio Gukhai! You kids na, such big talks.”
“Tch. You grown-ups just never answer anything directly!” exclaimed Shalin highly irritated for being dispensed off as a kid.
The laughter died down slowly and Grandma pursed her lips looking away, with keen tired eyes.
Shalin grabbed her chance, she started slowly,
“Two people, who are more than together, bound by vows… commitments and family ties…, sharing major parts of their lives together… Surviving through so much, adjusting through god knows what… and life kind of becomes unthinkable without the other… But then, one day, it dawns upon that he is not there… And you know you can never have all of it again, without him… Isn’t it… like losing a piece of you? But you have to live… you know… for others… And I know it’s not easy, it’s…”
Grandma silently thanked her stars when the door beside the driver’s seat clicked open and Mr. Buragohain got in. Shalin looked at her mother with sheer annoyance when she gestured her to budge in so that she can squeeze in beside her. Nevertheless, she slid back. Squashed between her mother and brother, she pondered upon other raging thoughts swarming inside her mind. What she missed was Grandma’s moist eyes, brimming with suppressed tears she was so desperately trying to blink away.
That night as Shalin curled up beside her Grandma on the bed, they both whispered away to the melancholy of the night, life-lessons, ‘and then your grandpa would…’s were shared and the elderly lady unwrapped her life that she almost forgot she had in front of her wise little grand-daughter who listened in rapt silence before dozing off in the middle of one such interesting story. The last that Shalin could remember thinking….
Pickle eating competition? Isn’t she just awesome!
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