“Didi, see this. Do you like it?”
“Wow Meenakshi, how do you do it? How do you create such magic every time?”
“Oh, come on didi, if my brush creates magic then what would you say about your pen which creates all those enthralling stories and poems?”
“Oh well, my beloved pen, haha…” Poonam blushed and then laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Meenakshi enquired in a curious tone.
“Because right now it just fell off my table and slid under the bed and I am not sure how to get it”, Poonam replied as she propelled her wheel chair forward and bent to look under the bed.
“Ok. I will get that for you, obviously. But tell me something, in this age of computers, why do you still use pen and paper to write? Don’t you find editing and other stuff in MS Word more convenient? I have always wondered about this”, Meenakshi queried.
Poonam cleared her throat and went on to say. “Because, the last words of Papa to me were “Beta, your handwriting is lovely”. Just before our bus fell off the bridge, he was reading his birthday card that I had crafted for him, with the message in my own handwriting. Those words keep ringing in my ears. Every time I write something and look at it, I feel like Papa is looking at it too”, Poonam sniffled as she finished her sentence.
“Oh didi, before I get stuck here like an over grown Alice in the rabbit’s house, please quickly guide me to your pen”, Meenakshi giggled, in an attempt to lighten the tense air that her question had brought, unintentionally.
“By the way, Alice drank the bottle of mystery cordial that made her swell up and get stuck in the room. Jeez! What the hell have I drunk or rather eaten to get stuck under this bed. How on earth did I grow this fat?” Meenakshi chuckled.
They both burst into laughter.
“Ok, go to a little left and the pen would be right by your elbow”, Poonam said as she bent again to flash the light from her phone to help herself see through.
“Oh, Ok. Got it! But what is this thingy that feels like a photograph? Ok let me get out first, without hurting my fat belly”, Meenakshi said, making a baby-voice, trying to be funny.
She came out and handed over the photo to Poonam and then asked inquisitively, “So, tell me whose picture is this?”
“You and Aunty, my dear”, Poonam replied after a brief pause, with a lump in her throat.
“Isn’t she wearing that blue saree with white polka dots?! That was my favorite you know. She reminded me of Dimple Kapadia whenever she wore that. This picture must have slipped from my purse last night. I knew something fell off, but then, I didn’t pay attention,” Meenakshi had dimples on her cheeks and perhaps, some tears in her blind eyes as she reminisced.
Some aching stillness presided over the room.
Both the girls were reminded of the dreadful scenes from that terrible night when they met that fatal bus accident, to which one lost her eyesight and the other, her legs. Being the lone survivors in their respective families, they decided to live together. Earlier, they were neighbors and childhood friends. Now they were sisters too.
Few minutes later, Poonam’s mobile phone rang and broke the stinging silence.
It was a call from the Bombay Art Society. Meenakshi’s painting titled “Darkest Nights, Brightest Stars” had won the first prize in their annual competition and was chosen to be showcased in an international exhibition in Paris. The jury had commented that it appeared to them as what could be called as the Indian version of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’. Not in terms of the design or composition but its hallucinatory character and it’s violently expressive form.
Listening to such high words of appreciation, Meenakshi jumped with excitement. Quite literally. Tears of joy rolled down her cheeks.
Poonam asked astonishingly, “You are a wonder my dear. What do you think when you paint? How do you do it?”
Meenakshi replied, “Didi, I simply replace everything that the eyes would do for a sighted artist with my sense of touch”.
Pausing for a few seconds, she further added, “Didi, I remember the day when I was about to be discharged from the hospital after that failed surgery, feeling hopeless and devastated and you had that epic book of poem in your hand, ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton. You read out the quotes to me. “This horror will grow mild, this darkness light”, and “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.” Those quotes changed everything for me. And you too, of course. This would have never been possible without you”.
“Oh, yes. I remember every bit of that day. But do you know that Milton had composed that poem, his most famous one, only after he had become blind in both of his eyes?” Poonam asked smilingly.
“No wonder they say the darkest nights produce the brightest stars”, Meenakshi commented thoughtfully.
Walking towards Poonam, she sat on the floor, by her chair and said, “Tough times do make us aware of our many blessings. They present to us the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. And if we are willing to look in the right direction, they reveal to us the many hidden aspects of life. Didi, you know, the way Baba was hell bent on making me a doctor, many-a-times I wonder if I would have been able to become the artist that I am today, if not for my misfortune”.
“Yes, my dear. We view the night as adverse when our focus is on the darkness, but when we shift our focus and look up, we get to see the real beauty. Millions of stars adorning the beautiful dark sky, twinkling for us.
Anyway, I am just so proud of you sweetheart. God took away one sister from me only to give me another, in the form of you. Today is a very special day and calls for some celebration. I don’t mind ditching Savitri Kaki’s roti and lauki ki sabji for a dinner at ‘The Yellow Chilies’. Do you?” Poonam smiled and kissed the forehead of Meenakshi as she shook her head.