Friday, October 10, 2008

Questions & Answers

Nandini’s eyes had been blinking almost in sync with the on screen cursor when her alien impulse had taken over. It wasn’t like her to pause and ponder about such an obviously celebratory event, but she did. And she hated it. Not because of what it represented, but because of what it suddenly reminded her of. Herself.

The tussle in her heart had started a little over fifteen seconds ago. Like always at around 10PM that day she had collapsed on the rickety computer chair to check her email messages. Considering the small window between 10:01 and 10:10 was the only time she could call ‘her own’, she had to make quick decisions. At exactly 10:11, her ailing father would yell from the next room – ‘How much longer should I hear that God forsaken chatter? Is it not enough you do that every day for 10 hours in the sweat shop? Not a minute of peace in this darned house! Why doesn’t He take me sooner?’ – and then would word off some choice curses that Nandini had memorized better than her own birthday.

As much as it would be considered a cliché to have an irrational and bad-tongued old man in any house, there was a small nugget attached to it. There were only two occupants in the house – the old man and Nandini. Despite having to live with a father who had stopped caring the day Nandini’s mother had died two years ago, not once had the girl grieved. She did miss the affectionate silence of her mother whose judgments were always muted by the obnoxious husband’s maniacal behavior. But without words, Nandini’s mother had provided the psychological balance she knew the girl would require some day to manage the old man given her bad heart condition.

And she had been right. Till the dusty evening, when she had exhaled for one last time watching Nandini hold her hands together praying for a little more time from God. Apparently that prayer was answered since the heart that had stopped beating within the mother now beat within Nandini. The only difference was – Nandini was now beginning to ask questions. Not just about who she was, but also about what she was becoming.

The first question that came to Nandini’s mind the moment she had read the subject line from Savita’s email was – What could it be? The two word sentence that contained more exclamation marks than the roses in Mrs. Goel’s garden next door definitely had the hint of mysterious exuberance – “Guess what!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Gingerly, Nandini had clicked on it to find out what it is she was being asked to deduce.

Two seconds later, Nandini’s question had been answered with ten more questions – lethal and naked.

“…….nandi!!!!!! i am expecting da!!!! we got the tests done today….and its confirmed! we don’t know the sxe yet but I want a girl nandidiiiii!!!!! Ok bye….will talk to you soon ok? just wanted to let u know!!! Jeevan says hi! bye!!!!111”

Notwithstanding the typo Savita had made with quite possibly the most important word of the message – sex – Nandini was suddenly overcome with two kinds of reactions. One, the more obvious one that wanted to click on the ‘Reply’ button immediately and express how happy she was that her class mate was becoming a mother. And she even proceeded to do that. But the moment the cursor requested Nandini to start feeding her joyous response…she had frozen.

She suddenly asked herself – ‘Why is this happy news making me feel sad?’

A question that had never been asked before. Not to others. Not to herself. Having lived a stereotypical single child life with a silent mother and a loud father, Nandini had never found it relevant to know what was ahead. Even when she chose to do an undergraduate degree in Commerce instead of the more preferred Computer Science, she had noticed almost no retaliation from the family. Even when she had announced that she would be working an evening shift from 1PM until 9PM for a company no one had heard of, there was no debate over it. The first time she had arrived in a cab driven by a stranger at 10PM, her mother had opened the door and let her in without asking a word about how her first day had been.

No. There were certainly no questions anywhere. Needless to say, there were no answers either.

The first time Nandini had realized a probable cause was when she had turned 26. Two years after her work had begun. The fact that she had been born under an ‘inauspicious’ star according to her birth chart had vaporized any little hope her parents had had in getting her married to someone. The vermillion smeared faces of several God-men had prophesized the same thing – ‘Terrible star. No hope now. Better wait...’

Nandini now wondered why no ‘peace making’ prayers had been offered to ‘calm down the stars’. And how long was the wait supposed to be? She wondered why no advertisements had been given out to find out if indeed there were people out there who didn’t believe in this kind of thing. She was unsure why there had been absolutely no initiative even when three years later her mother had passed away with the same silence that she had lived all her life in.

Questions – with no one to answer.

But that didn’t help how Nandini felt now. She was 31, working for a dead end job answering calls from all over the world when there was no such thing as ‘her world’ to begin with. There was no one left in the family that she knew of, who would come forward and ask her – for once – What do you want Nandini? For some reason, she felt she had answers now.

This fact fell around her like shattered pieces of her precious years when the cursor blinked on the screen and mocked her. Its constant visible/invisible factor made Nandini realize how similar her life had been – known/unknown. Within her aging gut was a fire no one had cared to explore. Inside her chaotic mind were patterns of words strung together – the ones she called hopes. The ones she labeled dreams.

Dreams of a family, a partner. Images of a whisper in her ear, and a mischievous hug somewhere. Flashes of a kiss on the lips and the gentle squeezing of the hand. Frames of heads on shoulders and tears with a landing pad. A belly filled with a piece of herself growing bigger each month...

These had been things both Savita and Nandini had shared together somewhere in the past. But now…all Savita had were answers and Nandini, well she was just now starting to ask questions.

A scary choke ran down her throat as these thoughts clouded her tired eyes. A stream waiting to erupt and satisfy the greedy and selfish soul bubbled somewhere in between when she suddenly realized – 10:09PM.

She wiped her eyes to get rid off non existent tears and straightened her back. Within the next remaining minute she had typed a three sentence response that captured everything that was appropriate, happy, celebratory and wonderful about life.

She switched off the light in her room as she lay down in bed for the day. As she blinked into the darkness she heard her father starting to cough. She knew it would last a good ten second, so she chose to weep herself free during that time. And then she grieved.

After ten seconds all the worlds had been restored again…for another day.


4 reflections:

Anonymous said...

Nice SK... .(-:
warm rgds..

Madhura said...

Answers to Nandini’s questions are simple. If she is beginning to ask questions, she should find out answers for herself! She has already started realizing the life all she missed because of the non initiative attitude of her parents who associated her fate to the fact of being born under an inauspicious star….. She was neglected all the time, not given the guidance to shape up a better future. No one cared for her and no one was left in the family to turn for a help..... Though she is financially independent, let me assume that the girls having a profession like hers are not preferred over others as a prospective match.
Despite of all these happenings, it’s great that Nandini is still obedient, cares and respects her father. First of all she should stop grieving over her fate. This is not the end of the world….. I don’t mean Nandini to go unethical or loose her moral values, NO….. She herself has to look out for such a life partner who has rational thinking, who is ready to accept her, respect her profession and also kind enough to take care of her ailing father. I agree, it’s easier said than done. But still….life is full of hopes….. She should remain optimistic. Perhaps she can reach her friends for help…..

This is really a master piece Shashi….. The grief over reaching a helpless situation beyond control is heart touching. Leaves a reader with lot of assumptions and conclusions according to their own perspective.


shakri said...


Thank you! I am glad you liked it. :)



shakri said...


A very insightful response there Madhura. I can tell from your words that the character of Nandini really spoke to you.

I am an optimist too. I agree with you that Nandini is definitely on the cusp of something brave. That email she recd. from her friend was probably just the push she needed to re-evaluate her life and take control of it the way she sees fit. I am just not sure what else lies in front of her and what her obvious options are. We have to remember that her father is still around - meaning there will be his shadow always lurking on her in every move she makes. Even the right ones. Despite this, we can only hope we caught Nandini at a moment in her life when questions meant much more than answers.

Thank you for the response. It is refreshing to see that my readers are able to connect with the characters I narrate so well. Truly the one thing that continues to constantly motivate me to explore new lives and stories.