|Dolls created by Jayashree Karthik|
Meera and Mohan walked into the compound in a determined stride and reached the open door. The kids that had been watching them ran along their sides.
They stood at the doorway and Mohan called out, “Choudhryji.”
Surendra walked out from his father’s bedroom when he heard the call. His hair had gone a shocking white with barely a few black strands in between. But, otherwise he looked exactly the same as he had appeared during his son’s wedding to Chanda.
Before he opened his mouth, Mohan called out, “Surendraji, kaise hein?”
Surendra gave the couple a vague smile as he was baffled as to who his uninvited guests were. Moreover, the man seemed to know him. Good manners prevented Surendra from directly asking them who they were. He invited them in, “Please come in. Sona,” he called out, “Bring some water.” It was obvious that he did not recognize his daughter-in-law’s parents. Mohan was not too surprised as living in the city had changed him and his wife quite a bit. Even their style of dressing was very different today as compared to fourteen years ago.
As Mohan and Meera sat down on the worn out sofa, Sona walked out with a steel tray on which were two tall tumblers of water. She pulled her sari further down her forehead when she noticed that there was a male guest. She offered the water to the guests and waited for further instructions from her husband.
A small smile lifted the corners of Mohan’s lips as he said, “I think you have not recognized us, Surendraji. We are Chanda’s parents. You must remember Chanda, your son Veerendra’s child bride.”
Surendra’s face turned red with anger. “Don’t take that name in this house. Veera is dead as far as we are concerned,” he said rudely. Then, realizing that it was not fair to the guests, he said softly, “Do excuse me, Mohanji. I do not mean to offend you. In fact, you are more of the affected party then we are. But that boy has brought us nothing but shame.” There was so much regret and pain in Surendra’s voice and Mohan did not miss Sona’s lips twisting in anguish. Her hands were clenched at her sides.
“Surendraji, all that is water under the bridge. We cannot change what’s already happened. Let’s try to do something about the future. Tell me something, where is Choudhryji?” he asked looking to the left and right.
“Pappa is having a fever and is resting,” said Surendra, addressing Mohan’s question first. Then he said, “You have a big heart, Mohanji, that you are ready to forget things so easily. I am not able to condone my son’s behaviour.”
“If Choudhryji is ill, then maybe this is not a good time to visit. We will come next week, I think,” said Mohan as he got up from the sofa.
“Wait, do not go away,” said a feeble voice from across the hall as Choudhryji came walking out of his room, leaning heavily on his walking stick. While his facial skin was folded over with wrinkles, his white moustache was as thick as ever. He walked slowly across the hall as Surendra moved swiftly to help his father to the easy chair that was placed to the side. “Do sit down, Mohan. I am so glad to see that you have it in your heart to visit this old man after what my grandson did to your daughter,” he said, the pain obvious in his voice.
Mohan and Meera moved forward to touch the old man’s feet. They had a great respect for Choudhryji that had not disappeared even though their son-in-law had vanished into thin air.
There were tears in Choudhryji’s eyes as he blessed the couple who were kneeling in front of him. He touched Mohan’s shoulder and said, “Do sit down, Mohan, and you too Meera.” The two of them went back and sat on the sofa. “Sona, get lunch ready for our sambandhis,” he ordered, still the patriarch.
Surendra’s head was bent in shame as he did not have the guts to face his errant son’s parents-in-law. His father continued to hold court. “How are you all, Mohan? How is little Chanda nowadays? She must have grown up to be a beautiful young lady. Tch! We are the losers not being able to receive her as our daughter-in-law.” There was raw pain in the feeble old voice.
“As I was just saying to Surendraji, please let bygones be bygones Choudhryji. Let us look forward to the future,” said Mohan. Meera nodded her head.
“But what’s the use?” said Choudhryji. “We don’t know where Veera went. There is just no way can we set right the wrong that he did to your family and especially to Chanda.”
“Well, actually, Choudhryji, that’s what we came to speak to you about. We had been to an astrologer a few days ago. Vidyasagarji is a learned man with more than 40 years of experience in the field of astrology. No prediction of his has ever gone wrong over the years. We…”
Choudhryji raised a weak hand to stop Mohan mid-speech. “I don’t mean to be rude, but we have lost faith in astrology, Mohan. That’s just a load of rubbish,” he said, his voice bitter. They had been to half a dozen astrologers after Veera had run away. None of them had been able to help them locate the boy. None of them could recommend a pooja or havan that would bring Veera back home. They could not even tell Veera’s family whether he was alive or dead. So what use astrology? He told Mohan all that.
“I can well understand your frustration Choudhryji,” said Mohan, his enthusiasm unabated. “But things have changed. I believe Veerendra’s horoscope was written wrong. Vidyasagarji could see that within a few minutes of reading the horoscope that you had given me. I…”
“What?” This was Surendra, a small light of hope dawning on his face. While he lived in denial, his love for his son had not decreased over the years. Surendra found it easier to remain in a state of anger over the missing boy rather than breaking down in sorrow. Sona had been standing behind the door leading off the hall towards the kitchen overhearing the conversation. She had not followed her father-in-law’s orders after she realized that their guests were none other than Chanda’s parents. She walked out on hearing her husband’s exclamation, her heart beating hard with new optimism.
Mohan turned towards Veera’s father. “Hahn Surendraji! The astrologer was kind enough to create a correct horoscope to match the date, time and place of birth that was mentioned in the original horoscope that you had given us. And moreover, he predicted a beautiful future for your son and my daughter,” said Mohan, not bothering to control the happy note in his voice.
Surendra looked at his father askance. This was news indeed! And there was hope too! He turned towards his father to see a tear rolling down the old man’s withered cheek. “Pappa,” he called out as he rushed over to kneel beside his father and held his right hand. The old man’s hand was chilled.
Meera felt quite emotional too as she held on to her husband’s hand tightly. She could so well relate to their anguish as it was so close to their own. And they still had their daughter with them.
Choudhryji said, “Are you sure, Mohan? You will not give any false hope to this old man, will you? I can’t take any more disappointment regarding Veera.” His voice broke as he mentioned his favourite grandson’s name.
Mohan walked up to Choudhryji and held his other hand. “Why don’t you send Surendraji to Jaipur, meet the astrologer and find out for himself? Surendraji, you can take a copy of your horoscope and see what Vidyasagarji has to say about it. Once you are convinced that he is a talented man, you can go ahead and talk to him about Veerendra. What do you say?”
Surendra held on to his father’s hand tightly, willing him to agree to Mohan’s suggestion.