The room had been cleaned, and now bore the fragrance of tuberoses; contrary to the dreary, pungent odour of heavy medicines and sedatives for the first time in months. The sun was peeking from behind the dark nimbus clouds, filtering into the room and illuminating a new day in that room.
Faint sounds of ruffling pages and whispered talks were perforating the alien silence of that room. A chubby young boy, maybe five or six years old with big-eyes and ruffled hair was sitting on his mother, Prerna’s lap, browsing photographs of his grandfather together for a tribute to be played at his shraddh ceremony. Prerna kept reminiscing stories of Dadu as they flipped through old albums and soft copies of pictures that suddenly began to feel so recent.
“Mumma, everyone keeps saying that Dadu is ‘gone’. Where exactly do you think he’s gone? He was just sleeping...Baba put him in an ambulance and took him away, so he must know where Dadu is...”
Prerna’s eyes turned limpid as she struggled to find the right way to explain this to him. After a few moments she said, “Dino, look at this toy robot. It walks, talks and fights because of the battery inside it. If something goes wrong with the wiring of the body of the robot and it stops working, we remove the battery and put it into a new toy. This robot then becomes a lifeless piece of metal. We must then put it away, and play with new toys. It's the battery, that’s the life of any toy, not just the body parts. Whatever happens to the body, the battery inside can always be recharged and reused.”
“So, Dadu’s battery has gone to get recharged?”
“Yes baby, batteries of people get charged from the stars.”
“Can we not give him a call?”
“No, he doesn’t have a phone”
They continued, oblivious to the fact that Dino’s teenage cousin, Isha, was behind the door, listening to the ensuing conversation.
A few days later…
“Mumma, mumma…..look….I got a letter !…. Addressed to me!!”, Dino’s excited squeals filled the household and his sparkling eyes filled with wonder. Prerna came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her batik kaftan, annoyed at the shouting. Her dark, wavy hair spilled out of her hurriedly tied bun. She frowned in surprise and confusion, as she recognised the address to be that of Isha’s family in Delhi.
Together, they tore open the envelope and Dino started reading with Prerna’s help - he’d just learnt.
Star Alpha Centauri,
RA 14h 39m 37s,
Dec -60° 50′ 2″
12th December, 2020.
How are you?? I’ve missed you so much, my baby.… interested in what’s been going on on my side? In short, I’m having a great time here. I am feeling much better now that all the pain’s gone. I have resumed my morning walk, just that now it’s across the galaxy. I have been given a shiny white home on Alpha Centauri. If you look carefully, you might even be able to see it. There are fragrant fields of white tuberoses and a massive red and yellow swing in my garden. I spend a lot of time listening to old songs and watching you and everyone in the family. I try to wave my hands and attract your attention sometimes, but you’re never looking this way. Watch less tv, and come on the terrace often, I miss you.
How are Mumma and Baba? I know they miss me. Tell them what a great time I’m having, and that I'm happier and healthier here than I was over there. The home must feel very empty now. Don’t you want a little baby brother or sister? You should ask your parents to bring home a baby. Tell them that I love them and bless them.
Write back soon.
With lots of hugs and kisses,
Prerna’s eyes welled up and her heart filled with maternal love for Isha. She didn’t tell Dino - He was jumping up and down in mirth at having received a letter from Dadu. He immediately started pestering his mother to help him write a letter back.
B-16, Wing 2,
17th December, 2020.
Wow !!! I'm so hapy happy you wrote to me. Mumma read your letter many times. Im very happy that you are having a good time. We also miss you a lot, espeshely especially mumma. Do you know Dadu, that I got a new shiny red and black bicycle? Now I cycle every evning evening in the park from 5-5:30 with my frends. Then I play till mumma calls me. You should wave your hand at that time - I might see u. After that I watch tv, so don’t wave at that time. You forgot your teeth in the cubourd. Bye a new denture from amazon. Dadu, my blue police car is not working. Who wil fix it now? Can I send it with this leter? Fix it and send it back fast. I love you. Write back fast fast.
Prerna was, at first, very sceptical about deceiving her son this way, but looking at how excited Dino was, she gave in and posted the letter back to Isha’s house. About two weeks later, Dino got a reply back.
Things slowly started settling down and the family started getting used to a new life without Dadu. Monsoon petrichor filtered into cooler winds, neonatal leaves that used to glisten in the rain now maternally shielded newer leaves. Many letters were exchanged in these months. Though Prerna and Isha’s mother spoke every day, they consciously never brought up the letter topic, leaving it as an affectionate affair between the two cousins.
During the winter holidays, Isha, her parents and younger brother, Tintin, came to visit. The house was lively and bubbly and noisy after a long time with the boys having a gala time and the mothers struggling to keep the house civil. Isha, however, was sitting alone in Dadu’s room and reading the same letters that she had written to Dino, wondering if playing with his innocence was callous and cruel on her part.
Suddenly Dino burst into the room - he and TinTin must have been playing - but when he saw his cousin reading the letter with a melancholic countenance, he said softly, “Didi, I know it's you who has been writing the letters. I have known about it for a long time now. I still continued writing the letters because Mumma becomes very happy when these letters come and when I post my replies. I purposely didn't tell her that it isn't Dadu who’s been writing the letters because she’ll be very sad. You also continue writing the letters as if I never told you this...for Mumma.”
Writer: Shashmita Sanyal
Editor: Hirday Lakhwani