“Are you sure dadi?” I asked sounding stunned.
“Yes I am, it’s time I give it to someone I trust the most. I am giving this to you because you never lost faith in me.” She said as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Oh Dadi, I always believed you and now everyone does”, I said as I held her hand.
“I might not need it anymore. You keep it as my greatest treasure, will you?” She said as she placed her diary in my hands.
I stared at the little black diary. All these years we would find ways to read this, we had all pondered for years over what she would write in it everyday.
She was so secretive of it, she wouldn’t let anyone come near it. Many a times I had seen her smiling to herself, or crying while filling those pages. This was truly her greatest treasures.
“Dadi I don’t know if you should give this”, I said still looking at the diary.
She closed my hand with the diary in it and said “You should have this, only you will come to respect it, I know.” She said smiling at me. Now go, I am very sleepy, it’s been a long long day.” She said as she lay down. “Put this blanket on me, will you beta?”
“Yes Dadi, good night”, I said as I put the blanket on her, switched off the lights walked away with the most precious thing in my hand.
“Why did she give it to me?” I thought feeling her diary in my hands.
As much as I wanted to read it, I wanted to put it away safely for I did not want to invade her privacy. “But she gave it you Simi.” I thought. Probably there was something in it she wanted you to know. With my heart racing I ran into my room before anybody else could see me. I closed the door behind me and sat down to read. As I turned the page it read
2 April 1956
I found this book by the empty plot months ago but today I finally have something to write in it. I heard Dadaji telling Papa that he has seen a boy for me. He is in the Army. He showed his photo to Papaji. I nudged Minti so many times to go have a look, but we all know how it is. Nobody can dare say a word in front of Dadaji. I saw my Papa smiling as he saw the photo. How I wish I could take it from him. He went in to the kitchen to show the photo to badi beeji and mummy. Even they smiled. I saw a tear trickle down my mummy’s eyes.
I had to see him, as soon as Papaji left the kitchen I ran to mummy and asked her, “how is he?” Beeji retorted “are you shameless, how can you ask how is he?”
“Beeji I am marrying him, okay, then you tell me how is he?” I asked as I sat down beside her on the kitchen floor.
“Look at her, asking me how he is.” She said as she went back to cutting the vegetables.
“He is in the army na beeji?” I said now pressing her legs in a bid that she would tell me something.
“He is nice, has mustaches.” She finally said smiling.
“Mustaches! I don’t want to marry him.” I said.
This time beeji hit me on the head “you silly girl, we never asked you, your dadaji has already said a yes. This is not for you to decide. Come here and help me. You are getting married now. When will you learn?” She said angrily as she handed me the knife.
So now I know he is in the army and has mustaches, but how is he? Tall, dark, fair, cute or handsome. If I asked beeji more she would really thrash me today I thought as I began to cut the vegetables.
Simi giggled to herself reading the diary. She couldn’t fathom the fact that her grandmother was so anxious of how Dadaji looked. She flipped the pages to where she finally got married.
4 June 1956
Today is the 10 th day and I haven’t seen the front door of my house. I don’t understand the big fuss is, they have just locked me inside the house. My friends had come to play the other day and beeji shooed them away. I am just getting married why don’t they want me to come out. Anyways Minti is coming in sometime. I have learnt how to wear a saree by now and will wear my wedding saree soon. I love the smell of fresh henna on my hand, mummy made it just yesterday, I can’t help thinking about him. I can’t wait to see him. After weeks of thinking how he looks, how he would be. I will finally get to see him today.
“She hadn’t seen Dadaji at all before her wedding”, Simi thought to herself while reading. How weird?
She read on. Same date different time.
4 June 1957
I think I almost dug my nails so deep in my palms that I have hurt myself. I can hear the baraat coming. I Can also see from my room window onto the porch. My family are all running around trying to get everything in place. Everybody is so happy, and I am just sitting here in the room. You own wedding is so boring. Everyone is out there talking laughing and here I am all alone.
As the baraat approached, there was so much crowd at the front gate. I still managed to take a peek at him. He was on top of the horse. For a second I thought he looked at me. My heart skipped a beat when I saw him. There was something in the way he smiled at me. Now I know that the moment when our eyes met we were in love. I also know that I can’t wait to spend my life with him.
Simi smiled to herself and she read further.
15 June 1957
“It gets a little difficult to walk with the ghunghat but I am getting used to it . I almost walked into a window today. I can’t see that well, how does one walk with something covering your face all the time. I don’t see him the whole day. They are always in other section of the house and I in another with my mother in law and hers. Just the other day he came at the kitchen door where I spent most of my day now. He asked for water, that was the first time I heard him speak. My mother in law looked at me and gestured me to give him water.
I was so nervous I almost stumbled as I got up. I handed him a glass of water, as I held out my hands I felt his hands touch mine. It was like a lighting that ran through my body. I just froze in that moment and went completely red in the face, thank god for ghunghats, nobody could notice me blushing.
Simi flipped the page.
24 July 1958
Today is such a special day. I couldn’t sleep all night knowing he would come today. I did not tell anyone in the house. He had to know first. I got up so early and got ready. I Kept looking at the front door so many times from the kitchen window, his beeji almost hit me on my head. “Where are you lost? Get back to your work.” She said sternly.
The moment I heard a knock on the door I knew it was him. I ran towards the door when I saw bauji walking into the porch. I had to retrace my steps and look through my ghunghat.
There he was standing in his uniform. He looked so smart in it. I felt so proud every time I saw him in his uniform. He touched bauji s feet. “God bless you beta, God bless you with all the happiness.” He said. “Come, come.”
I saw him searching for me, he finally saw me standing beside the pillar.
“Bauji, I will just freshen up and change. Then I will come and sit with you.” He said gesturing me with his eyes to come with him.
I ran back to the kitchen. “I spilled something on my saree, can I change and come?” I said sheepishly.
“Ya you spilled something, was I born yesterday. Don’t I know my grandson has come. Whole day you din’t do any work but just stared at the door.” She said.
“Go now. What are you looking at me for?” She said.
I ran into the room. I saw him waiting inside for me. I took my ghunghat off and looked at him smiling at me. As he opened his arms I ran right into it. His arms wrapped around me. “I missed you”, he whispered in my ear.
“Why do you leave me and go then?” I said.
“I am sorry, I wish I never had to”, he said ruffling my hair.
“I have to tell you something, you are going to be a father.” I said finally looking at him.
He opened his mouth in excitement but tears came out instead, he hugged me again so tight and said “oh, you make me the happiest man on this earth.”
SImi’s smile grew wider. She was actually reading about her grandparents. How her grandmother fell in love with her dada and it was too cute she thought. She now flipped the pages to the date, all of them especially her grandmother dreaded all her life.
15 September 1960
I will not believe a word anybody is saying. He just went for his duty. I know he will come back. My heart knows he will. How can they say something has happened to him. For the first time I spoke in front of everybody, after so many years I finally spoke. When that General said “I am sorry bauji but we could not find him. As the enemies were closing in, we had to go away. I am sorry but we will have to believe he is no more. Either he was already killed or even if he was alive they will kill him.” He said as his voice broke taking his hat off.
Beeji broke down hearing this, I have never seen her bawling this way. She was uncontrollable. Baauji went into a shock, for so long he did not react at all.
I could not digest it, how could he go? How could he just disappear into thin air. It was just not possible. How could everyone believe he is gone?
I stood up and asked the general “Have you seen his body?”
“No beta, but ..”
“That’s it, you have not seen him dead. How can you come here and tell all of us he is dead.”
“There is no chance ..” he started.
“I am sorry sir ji for daring to talk to you but I know one thing that he is alive. My heart knows. The day something happens to him, I will know. Till I am alive and breathing, he is alive.” I said as tears came streaming down my face and I couldn’t talk anymore.
He tried to console me but I did not want to listen.
At this point beeji slapped me so hard I almost fell. She screamt “How dare you. You have become so shameless that you would talk to a man who is a stranger to you in front of us. Have you no feelings, your husband just died?” She said.
I don’t know where I gathered so much courage from and God knows from where but I screamed back “Beeji, even you think your grandson is dead. I won’t! I will not believe he is dead till I see his body in front of my eyes. He promised me he would come back. I just know that nothing has happened to him and he is alive.”
I won’t believe anyone, let them perform his last rituals, I am not wearing that white saree. I will drape in the brightest red one, wear a big red bindi and red bangles. He loved me in them. I will live as his wife not his widow.
Simi just stared at the page, she could see blotches here and there on the page. It looked like her grandmother had cried immensely while writing this.
All these years everyone told her, “he will never come back. It has been so many years.” She always hushed them and then cried like a baby. She would always say “I know he is alive, my heart will know the day he dies.”
As impossible as it seemed, Simi always believed her Dadi from the start. There was something in her eyes that was so convincing, Simi too for her Dadi’s sake believed that one day he would come back.
She remembered as a child, her mother used to tell her that after a while everyone started rendering her beeji as mad.
“Oh Uma, the death of her husband, has done this to her.” One Aunty was heard saying when her Dadi had walked in, in a shimmery gold and red saree into a pooja a few years after her husband had dissapeared.
“I don’t know what to do”, her mother in law had said. We have yelled her left and right. Sat down with her and consoled her for hours to make her believe he is dead. He was my son, but I can’t run away from the truth but this girl refuses to believe anyone. How I also wish he was alive, but you tell me if he was, he would have come back by now.” She had said hiding her face in her pallu. “I know she has gone mad. She had lost it the day she heard of his death.”
For years people made fun of her, jeered at her, but her beeji never lost faith. She would dutifully do karva chauth every year. She would pray for him every morning. Put on her bindi everyday. Every fast she did for him, every prayer she said was a hope that he would come back, it just made her conviction even stronger.
As I read on it said
17 April 2007
“Even my sons laugh at me, our sons. They don’t believe you are alive. Do they not realize our hearts beat as one. How can I be alive if you are no more. I know you will come back one day. You promised me before you left “I will come back no matter what because I love you. We have a lot more memories to make.”
When you will come back, we will start from where we stopped. We will make our memories afresh. We will live, laugh like there is no tomorrow. We will be together again.
Simi had read fairy tales as a kid. So many love stories. Yet there was one right in her home that touched her the most, every time her Dadi would cry trying to convince someone of him. She would come running to her beejis aid “please stop it, don’t keep saying it. If she says he is alive, he is”, Simi would say hugging her Dadi.
There has to be some justice to her love, her patience, her wait. I used to ask God everyday. Don’t torture her like this, if he is there please bring him back.
Little did I know against all odds my prayers, more than mine her prayers would be answered soon.
There was an open firing in the border a few days back, our soldiers had walked into the other side to bring back an injured soldier where they stumbled upon a hut. They found an old man chained inside.
I still remember the day the phone rang. We were all sitting by the porch. Dadi was sitting in a corner knitting a sweater. Shortly after the phone rang, my father came running into the porch.
He was panting, his face was red. I could read excitement and shock all over his face. He turned towards Dadi fell on her feet and cried like a baby.
After some ten minutes, he finally gathered himself together. By this time all of us gathered around him worried.
“Ma, I am sorry, I am so sorry. Please forgive me Ma”, he said holding her feet.
Beeji looked at him perplexed “what happened?” she asked holding his hands.
“All these years, nobody believed you, he is alive Ma. My father is alive.” My father said as he broke down again.
Dadi’s s eyes widened. Tears came streaming down her face. As she tried to wipe them, she folded her hands in prayer to God and started to cry.
I couldn’t contain myself any longer I went and hugged her. She cried and cried and cried. I just held her and let her cry. It had been 55 years. 55 long years my Dadi had relentlessly waited for him to come back, day and night. 55 years she spent convincing everyone around her he is still alive. Such is the power of love, only her heart knew he was still alive.
“How?” My mother asked.
“They found him on the other side. Chained in a hut”, My father said.
“Chained?” Dadi gasped.
“Dadi forget about all that, he is coming home!” I said in excitement.
“Yes they are bringing him. I have to go the headquarters to receive him.” My father said as he got up to go.
“I will come with you”, Dadi said getting up.
“No Ma, you can’t go. You are not well, please stay. I will get him.” My father said pressing her hand.
Dadi wasn’t well for a long time. Her heart was very weak and she had 90% blockage. She had become very frail off late the doctor had said last week “It’s like she has no life left in her anymore. Her heart is getting weaker by the day. Sometimes I feel like she is not letting go. She is still holding onto something. Last time I said she won’t last six months, now it’s been a year, I am surprised with her heart so weak. God knows why God is not letting her go peacefully.”
Now I knew why, but you took so long I said looking up as if talking to God, but thank God you kept her alive till this day. I thought as I tried wiping a tear.
Dadi walked into the kitchen with her walker and sat by the stool.
“Dadi what are you doing here”, I asked. “You should go rest, he will be here in sometime.”
“I will make kheer.” She squeaked like a little girl. For the first time I saw her eyes gleam with excitement.
“Dadi, I will make kheer”, I said.
“No”, she rebelled. “I will, he loved the kheer I used to make.” She said as she smiled to herself.
“Dadi it will take hours, I don’t want you falling sick, not today.” I said.
She looked at me like a little child trying to pacify me into having her way.
“Mom”, I said looking at my mom.
“It’s okay beta. Ma we will all help you, but you make the kheer”, my mom said winking at me.
She smiled at my mother like she never had before.
After we were done with making kheer. I took her up to get changed. She rummaged through her cupboard and took out a bright red saree .
“Dadi, are you going to wear this?” I asked.
“Yes. She said smiling running her hands through the saree. “You know Simi, he had got me this the first time he took me out”, she blushed like little girl when she said it.
I had never seen her this happy, this content. Of course she used to smile and laugh a lot but her eyes were always sad. Today I could see her eyes filled with joy.
She wore her bright red saree, big red bindi, blood red bangles. Dark kohl in her eyes.
Even at 76, Dadi looked so beautiful. She was glowing like a new bride.
“How do I look Simi?” She asked smiling at the mirror.
“Oh Dadi, you look beautiful.” I smiled as I remembered how she looked earlier in the day. I went back to the diary, I had to know how she felt when she saw him in so long.
8 December 2015
As I sat by the chair on my porch, I kept looking out for him. He was finally coming, he was finally home. After all these years I would see him walking through that door again. Only time had changed so much, I don’t have to be in a ghunghat standing in a corner waiting to steal a glance at him. So much had changed in so much time.
I saw two shadows approaching. As everyone ran to the gate. Just like I had years back, I tried peeping through the crowd to look at him. No he wasn’t on a horse this time. He was waking by his son. He stood there by the gate looking around trying to remember a home he had returned to years later. For a second he searched for me and our eyes met. I knew the moment our eyes found each other, we had fallen in love all over again, and I again could not wait to share my life with him.
He walked towards me. Of course he was older, very very weak, his face had sunk in, his hair had gone white. He couldn’t walk straight, had to walk with our son’s support, but still nothing had changed, the way he looked at me, the way he smiled, his warmth, I could still see the love for me in his eyes. Nothing had changed. It was just like starting from where we had stopped.
“Meenu”, he said as he stood by me.
My eyes just went blur. I just held his hand. How I had longed for this moment. I cried, he wiped my tear and said “I told you I will be back, sorry I am a little late”, he said smiling as he took help from our son and slowly sat beside me.
His face was aged so much, it was so scarred yet his eyes were just the same. His hands had become so weak and wrinkled yet his touch had the same warmth it did years back.
We just looked at each other, there was so much to say, so much to ask, there were so many questions yet time just stood still when I looked into his eyes. How after so many years I found the same solace looking in his eyes I did years ago. How without saying anything,we spoke so much in just a few seconds.
I looked at my family who was looking at both of us with equal excitement.
“How are you?”, I asked. “Are you okay?” I asked worried.
“Oh yes”, he said looking down at his hands.
“Ma I don’t think we should talk about it right now”, my son said as he put his hands on his father’s shoulder.
He held his son’s hand “So big you have become, he was so small, just ..”
“5-6 months when you saw him last”, I said.
“Has it been so long.” he asked looking at our son.
“Yes, it has”, I said wiping a tear.
“Yes, it’s been very long”, he said looking down again.” He paused as he looked around at the courtyard, but I am okay, I can talk about it.” he said patting our sons hand which was on his shoulder.
“Soon after they caught me, they realized I was a code breaker. They did everything possible to have me help them.”
Everything possible I thought as I clenched his hand.
“I did not give in, they use to drug me and get their work done.” He said shuddering, but
now I am out .The only thing that kept me alive was your face”, he said looking at me. “The promise I made you, I had to come out one day”, he said holding my hands. “Thanks for never giving up on me, thanks for waiting”, he said. “Our son told me”, he said as he looked at our son.
“I just knew it”, I said looking at him.
I knew it I kept repeating in my head. I knew he wasn’t dead.
Simi started to cry as she read the diary. Her Dadi had finally won after years, she finally made everyone believe that she wasn’t mad, she wasn’t crazy. She looked around at the wall clock, it was almost five. Time had just flown by Simi thought reading her Dadi’s diary.
Suddenly she heard a scream. It was her mother.
“Ma”, her mother shouted.
Simi ran up to her Dadi’s room, half knowing what would have happened.
As she stopped by her Dadi’s room door, she saw her mother crying by her Dadi’s feet.
Simi knew she had gone, her Dadi had gone.
She suddenly realised her Dada wasn’t in the room. She ran to the library next door and opened it, She saw her Dada on the rocker with a book on his chest, the way his body was lying, she realized he too was no more.
“Maa”, she yelled.
Her mother came running “oh god”, she said as she walked in.
“Aman.. Aman..where is your father, Simi?”, she yelled as she sat down down crying.
“Mom don’t cry”, I said sniffing.
“I know it’s horrible but Ma I know..I know they both are happy.” I said still holding onto the diary in my hand. My mother looked at me in bewilderment.
“This is why Beeji was not letting go, she was waiting for him. They have gone Ma..They both have gone but to a happier place where they are…together.”