They say, one who looks into his family history will find a secret sooner or later.
…and it happened with me, though not so soon.
I was an inquisitive child. My burning curiosity had at times put me and my sister in trouble. There is a plethora of mischief bottled in our memories. The trick was to never get caught and we never did. All our secrets were safely locked in our hearts.
Little did we know that we were not the only ones with secrets. It ran in the family. A family of four. Only four of us and no one. I would hardly see baba at home. He was a quiet man otherwise, rarely smiling but never angry. Ma, I would see her in and around the house, cleaning, dusting and cooking. Sometimes, I would catch her staring at me with a strange expression.
Strangely, no one visited our house. It was a small house in a small, obscure town. Neither did we go anywhere except school which I found utterly boring. There were no friends. Girls were all dull and it was only with my didi that I found my excitement and solace. She had the answer to almost everything, even to my absurd questions.
It was a Sunday. Baba was at home, in his room taking his afternoon siesta. Ma had gone out to bring groceries. Someone knocked on the door. I looked at didi. She was almost asleep. I sneaked out of the room and opened the door.
There he was, a young boy of my age, a complete stranger, standing at the door. It seemed, he never expected me, for he stepped back. My curiosity was piqued by now. “Who are you?” I asked without giving him time to manipulate his answer. He hesitated, “I am Arvind. Please call your baba. There is a letter for him.”
“Give it to me. He is sleeping.” I told him very confidently. He looked a little uneasy but I could never know if it was the straight face or my deceptive sincere looks that he quietly handed over the letter to me.
Surprised, I brought it in. “Didi, wake up. It is urgent.” How could I leave this opportunity for yet another mischief?
Since then, there have been many regrets. What if baba was awake and he had opened the door? What if, I had handed over the letter without opening it? What if, I had not read the letter?
Would things be different now? This thought could never leave me in peace. That day, there was no looking back. We took the letter in the backyard and very carefully opened the envelope. It had the stamp of Bhopal. It did not ring any bell with either of us. It was a very short letter forever changing our world.
The letter was addressed to my father by a man called Rajan. He wrote he was coming in a few days to take his daughter with him.
Daughter? We were old enough to understand that one of us did not belong here. But which one of us? We came back to our room and fixed the envelope. We tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together but failed.
I, always the bolder one went to baba’s room. He had woken up and was reading a book. I handed over the envelope and looked him straight in the eye. “Baba which one of us?” His perplexity quickly changed to shock when he looked at the envelope. He did not utter a word for a long time. Silence loomed like a ghost between us. He must have guessed for he did not ask anything. He just replied.
“None.” His voice had a thunder-like quality and for the first time, I felt scared. He tore the letter and threw it in the waste paper basket. “Get back to your room.” I reluctantly turned my back when he said, “You both belong here and never doubt that.” I looked back at him and for the first time saw him as my father. He was to be trusted as he wouldn’t let any harm come to us. I quietly left the room.
Baba went away that afternoon and we could only guess. He came back after a week. Didi, I and ma hardly spoke to each other. I caught ma wiping tears many a time but she was as enigmatic as she was earlier. I couldn’t bring her to talk.
As soon as Baba arrived, we were told to pack our essential clothing. “Where are we going?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“Home.” He said calmly.
It was another city, a big one where I and didi completed our studies. Next, so many years were uneventful. I went abroad to work.
One fine day, Baba passed away in his sleep, along with him, went our family secret. I brought ma along with me. Didi was happily married.
I, to date, do not know what happened in that one week when baba went somewhere. Ma, I know wouldn’t open her mouth ever. Alzheimer has left her in a helpless state. So, here I am lightening my load by writing my story. I still wonder, “Which one of us?” Perhaps, in my heart, I know this but neither have the courage nor the will to accept it. Here, my curiosity failed me…