Since 9th November 2015, my life has been extremely difficult , extremely challenging…. without my dear wife Tina. It was a horrible, spine chillingly black day, the day my wife perished in a road accident, whilst in her 7th month of pregnancy. She not only left me bereft but also pushed me into the battle of raising our premature newborn daughter,all alone.My Ahana… whom I was supposed to hold warmly and kiss gently,staring proudly at my infant in my arms.But my unfortunate fate decreed that I should stand outside the glass windows of NICU(Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) watching my tiny wrinkled,pink-skinned daughter trying to lift her tube entangled hand, as if to show me she was alive and still breathing. My eyes welled over with tears and my heart was filled with anxiety for my child. The smell of the hospital instilled in me,a sense of fear of an unknown future. One which I had never imagined I would see, even in my darkest dreams.
It has been 5 years now, Ahana has grown up into an adamant, hyperactive and restless kid,at least for me.Every day is a nightmare fo both of us.My naani(grandma)who stayed back to help us out during this trying period, pushed me hard all the time to remarry. Ahana’s Lakshmi nanny, who is supposed to help with her daily routine, waits for me helplessly,to feed her, change her into her blue star-printed pyjamas, and rock her to sleep my arms. Nothing has transpired as planned in the last 5 years, perhaps I shouldn’t plan anything for the future.
My deep sleep was disturbed ,when my daughter woke me up to relieve herself in the wee hours of the morning. Hastily,I took her to the washroom .
”Darling,why don’t you go alone?You will complete 5years tomorrow.” I asked her with a barely perceptible note of irritation in my voice, while tying her pyjama string.
“No way papa,that swirl flush will swallow me,”she protested in fear ,hugged me tightly and drifted off to sleep.”
Life is not easy for kids either. I sighed and tried to sleep again.By the time,I tossed and turned a few times and closed my eyes.
ZZZZZZZZZZ ……my mobile alarm started vibrating “Ufff!!! Another terrible morning”,I murmured and sank back into deep dreamless sleep..
Knock!!Knock!!Lakshmi nanny was at the door.That meant I was late by half an hour at least. I turned towards my sleeping child and shook her gently. “Ahana…Ahana…,wake up sweetie”.I hurriedly handed over the still sleeping Ahana to Lakshmi nanny and rushed to the shower and got ready for office swiftly.Meantime,Ahana was all dressed up in her uniform by her nanny for the new school.
“Same boring, cream coloured shirt papa”, Ahana complained loudly.
I hugged and kissed her,to avoid further embarassment .We both left home with neither of us looking forward to what lay ahead.
We reached school late on the first day, after creeping through a huge traffic snarl.I disentangled my little Ahana’s hand tenderly and whispered “Good luck”. Strangely, she opted to leave me in silence rather than throwing another tantrum,as I had expected. I fervently hoped she would like the school and settle in . We had already changed two play schools in the last three months.I was leaving the premises, anxiously with my fingers, crossed when a young woman detached herself from a small knot of parents, crossed me hastily, accidentally dropping a bundle wrapped in dry fig leaves on the floor. A the time I picked it up,the lady had vanished in the crowd.As I was already late for the office and did not want to waste my time in searching for the owner, after all, it was just a coil of fresh jasmine flowers. I did not anticipate then that this tiny fragrant bundle would change my life forever.
It was a long tiring day in my office. The clock hands had already crossed 8 pm. I looked up at the ceiling, “My day is not over yet”, I sighed wearily as I left the office. The minute I opened my car, I could smell the fragrance of jasmine wafting through the air and it reminded me of my brief encounter that morning at school.
Mmmmmm…..!the smell was pleasant and relaxing to my soul. I couldn’t help but think of that lady who had dropped that bundle. It lifted my spirits to take on the remaining evening. When I reached home, Ahana was waiting for me on the couch near the door as usual. I scooped up my daughter in my arms and her eyes were shining and eager to share exciting stories of her new school. But all she spoke the entire evening was about her class teacher,
“She is kind, she is energetic, she dances well, her name is Madhavi” my daughter prattled on. I was struck by the name, it seemed to touch a chord in my heart, though the name was not very common. Anyway, I was filled with relief that my daughter had finally found a school she liked.
It was 9th November 2020, I woke up with an agonised mind, as it was Tina’s 6th death anniversary. All I could think was how someone’s death could pause anyone’s life like this. I couldn’t move on, perhaps I didn’t want to move on? Grief had cocooned me in her warm fuzzy arms and I was becoming or had already become apathetic.
“Daddy,” Ahana’s urgent call recalled me to my senses.
She stood there looking like a princess in her star-spangled light blue dress(she is very fond of stars, as she believes, her mother is a sparkling northern star in the sky), eyes shining with anticipation. It was her birthday too.All that I could do was give her a warm hug which might not be good enough for a 6yr old on her birthday. Alas!. A look of great disappointment swept across her face .
We both reached the school on time, that day. Ahana who was very excited carried her bag in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other. She had already begun to fidgeting around in a high state of excitement. I hugged her and told her hesitantly that we would visit her mom’s cemetery in the evening, to pay our respects. She gave me a dejected look and moved silently into the classroom.
I left my office very early that day. On the way home, I picked up some red roses and lilies, along with some white candles, but worried subconsciously about convincing Ahana.To my surprise, my daughter was waiting with her nanny, in the lobby, carrying her backpack on her shoulders. Usually reluctant about visiting her mother’s grave, she looked curiously compliant. We both reached the graveyard, just before dusk.
More than the silence of that place, my daughter’s silence squeezed my heart painfully.I felt teary when Ahana held my hand tightly. I lighted up the candles and kept the roses on the tombstone. Noticing Ahana busy pulling something from her small bunny backpack, I asked her curiously,
“What are you searching for?”
“ Wait, Papa”, she replied annoyingly. Finally, she took out the bundle of jasmine and placed it beside the roses. She then knelt and prayed. I was struck dumb.
“Papa, are you happy?” My little darling asked me, quietly.
I was completely baffled and couldn’t speak anything else but smile at her.
While returning, I was on the verge of asking her about the jasmine,when she interrupted me and said, “Thank you Papa,do you know you fulfilled my birthday wish today!”.I was astonished to hear that,because I hadn’t even wished her “Happy Birthday”.
She continued and said, “This morning Miss asked me about my birthday wish.Do you know ,what I replied to her?”
I shook my head side to side cluelessly.
“I said, I want my papa to smile on my birthday,he always remains sad and unhappy throughout the day,because my mom left us to become a shining star in the sky when I was born.After the class he takes me to a place,where he lights up candles and cries.I never want/wish to go there.Miss held my hands lovingly and gave me this bundle of jasmine and told me,that is your mother’s resting place,you should place these flowers and pay your respects. Perhaps,this loving act would bring a smile on your father’s face.She was absolutely right.You smiled.How did she know it papa?”Ahana questioned me ,eagerly.
“Maybe ….she is an angel”,I replied irrationally,
“Madhavi miss is an angel!”, My daughter laughed out aloud and made me feel awkward.But the name “Madhavi”, again felt familiar.
The next morning,I woke up a little earlier than usual and in high spirits.Holding my brush in my mouth,I started searching for my branded shirts and pants.To my amazement, I realised later ,they all were pressed and kept in Tina’s wardrobe and had not been touched for past six years.I took them out ,selected a plain pink shirt with ribbed navy blue tie.I might need Dior Eau Sauvage too.I hadn’t put on any weight and looked as smart as before said my mirror without disappointing my unusual, hard effort.Though,Ahana woke up little late,she was ready on time.She was amazed to see her neatly shaven,perfectly dressed papa whom she had never seen before. She hugged ,kissed and expressed her contentment. We both left home, holding hands and rushed inside the car hoping for a good day. She was playing music while I was driving. At one point in time,we both were singing and trying to sync with the song. We reached school 10 minutes earlier than usual, perhaps I was driving quite fast that day. We walked slowly and our two pairs of eyes, searching for someone eagerly.
It seemed my legs didn’t want to reach the classroom at all.“Shall I take Ahana to the classroom?”, Someone gently disentangled her hand from mine and started walking beside me. Before Ahana exclaimed “Madhavi miss”, I recognized her promptly (maybe, because of my instinct or the hypnotizing jasmine fragrance that seemed to surround her). Madhavi was not gorgeous to look at but was pleasant for sure. She looked graceful in her neatly pleated cotton saree. My heart was beating very fast even when they went on ahead of me. I was still standing on the same spot in the corridor, hoping that Madhavi would turn back to look back at me.
Yes ! she turned back and smiled at me. I must admit that she had a mesmerizing smile.
Oops! I had forgotten to thank her for yesterday’s loving gesture.
”It’s OK, I will meet her tomorrow”, I pacified myself. The school bell rang to remind me, I was late for the office.
I returned home from the office that evening with much curiosity to hear more stories of Ahana’s Madhavi miss. When I opened the door, my daughter was not to be seen anywhere in the living room. The house was unusually tranquil. My grandmother and Ahana’s nanny were standing outside my bedroom, rolling their eyes and peeking inside the darkroom. I joined them to see what was happening. What we all witnessed was that Ahana was about to sleep on her own, hurrah!. It was real, not a dream, I checked by pinching my grandmother. In that dark room, one couldn’t miss out on those glowing fluorescent yellow stars decorated up at the ceiling. We closed the door quietly and moved away from there.
“Where did you buy all those stars Naani?” I asked my grandmother, while we were eating our dinner.
“It was a birthday gift from her Madhavi miss. Ahana kept praising her teacher throughout the day. She loves her. It seems like the teacher is also beginning to like Ahana, she goes the extra mile to give her separate attention. Did you know? Ahana wore her pyjamas, arranged the bed on her own, made me lie down aside and started her own stories on stars and planets. She did not forget to point out the shiniest star near light and told me that was her Mumma, it brought tears to my eyes for obvious reasons”.
After a small pause…
My grandmother gave me a curious look and asked me” Did you meet her teacher? Who is she?”
Though I didn’t expect that question from her, I managed to evade it. Things that had happened in the past few days had compelled me to think of giving another chance to my pathetic life.
The next morning I woke up, filled with all happiness knowing that I would talk to Madhavi that day. To my surprise, my daughter was not only awake, she was drawing something very seriously.
I asked her, “Why don’t you get ready for school?”.
She looked at me with a grinning face, “Papa, today is Sunday. You can sleep for some more time and I will not disturb you”.It was disheartening to know that it was a Sunday.
I went near her to have a look at her work. She showed a half-made emoji card
”It is fantastic, Ahana”!I told her encouragingly.
But I was dumbfounded to see the envelope addressed to Ms Madhavi.R. Ravichandran.
That name…..Madhavi.R.Ravichandran…..For a moment, the memories of that fatal evening flooded my mind. A turmoil of emotions ran through me. .Wasn’t it the same girl I had donated Tina’s eyes to?… I was completely baffled by the inexplicable mystery of life.
“Is it Madhavi Miss’ birthday today? Why are you making it? I gathered up courage and asked her.
Ahana replied ”No papa, Madhavi miss assigned us to make an emoji card representing how we would like to see our life in the future? A smiley life or sad life. We have to finish and submit it tomorrow itself. She promised us that she would come back sometime in the future to meet us.
I interrupted her in some confusion, “What do you mean by ‘come back? Is she going anywhere?”
“Yes! Papa, she is leaving the school tomorrow as she is getting married this weekend”.My daughter replied with tears in her eyes.
My soul was dejected greatly and I struggled to control myself. I had no power to control the situation. I seemed to plumb the depths of misery but hardly knew why. My fate could have been kind enough to write out the chapters of my life better. It was a sense of loss for something that I never really had……
Gathering my composure with great effort, I offered my help to finish her emoji card. But she refused and continued decorating her card all by herself.
I couldn’t sleep that night . When I took out the card from the envelope to see it again, it seemed to whisper to me,” No one’s presence is needed to make someone happy, perhaps just a random act of kindness is enough to make their life better.”
Yes, this was the same Madhavi .R.Ravichandran, to whom I had donated Tina’s eyes. That night, I understood the overreaching power of kindness. Even if they are only random. Fate, in the form of Madhavi, had held out a helping hand unknowingly, just as I had those long, sad years ago. I decided to draw a smiling future all by myself.
Along with Ahana’s card, I put in my own “smiley” emoji card, with my name -Aayant Singh Arora written at the bottom and sealed it.